When I was ten years old, my mother and stepfather moved us to a new school. They’d gotten married two years before, and were tired of renting. They found a house to purchase in a new town, so we said goodbye to that old rental. I’m sure I was sad about that move. The rental was across the street from a park, which is where I learned to ride a bike. There was a girl who lived across the park who I think was my closest friend. But I have no memory of what she looked like, or her name. My memories of that rental house are in bits and pieces. If memories had colors, these would black and white.
My world exploded into Technicolor in 5th grade, when I moved to my new school and met Ali. She was also a newcomer to this school. We had a crazy teacher, Mr. Kessler, who swore up and down he was 110 years old. He was an incredible storyteller and nurturer of children. Mr. Kessler had a white beard and white hair, and made us laugh every day. Ali and I delighted in needling him and trying to catch him in a lie about his obscene age. Ali was also in my 6th grade class, and by 7th grade I was walking to her house many days after school. When high school came, we hung out with different crowds for a few years. But by the end of junior year, we were back together again. Our senior year was so full of silliness and shenanigans and joy that we took out a full page ad in our senior yearbook, proclaiming our friendship and displaying our inside jokes for all the world to see (well, the world of our high school anyway).
When I was with Ali, I felt free. There was no need to act cooler than I was, because she’s a naturally silly girl. Her father has a streak of humor running through his bones, with a belly laugh and a smile that transforms his formidable face into pure mirth. Her mother sings show tunes endlessly, floating around with a deep well of love inside her heart – love for her husband, kids, music, and the Catholic saints. To this day, it’s common place for Ali and her brother to burst out in song at totally random moments in totally random places.
When you spend your childhood with a family like that, you naturally understand that you are loved just as you are. During our senior year of high school, I showed up to Ali’s house every morning by 6:30. Her mother would be bustling around, trying to get her brother out of bed, and Ali would be halfway through her morning routine. I’d sit with Ali in their bathroom, watching and chatting as she finished getting ready. I remember countless mornings, afternoons, and evenings sitting around that house. There was one chair in the living room that was everyone’s favorite. If you left the chair to get something, you had to say “Chair Back!” before you got up or it wouldn’t be available upon your return. I’m certain there were fights about whether or not I said “Chair Back!” before running to the bathroom. We got into arguments as if I was part of the family… because I pretty much was.
The summer we turned 19, Ali’s parents decided to move to Oregon. At that time, I was attending college 400 miles away from our hometown, so the sting of their move was lessened a bit. I’ll never forget driving away from their house for the last time, though. I must have cried 1,000 tears that day. I was eager to scope out their new digs the following summer, in a suburb of Portland. Her parents had found a three-bedroom apartment, and her mother filled it with all the beautiful antiques and trinkets that made her house a home. We spent our days doing Portland-esque things, like picking wild blackberries along the side of the road and having lunch on the Nike campus (what can I say, I’m a Nike fangirl, yo).
Ali lived in Portland for several months before she befriended the bartender at her restaurant job. Their relationship quickly turned from friendship to love, and they were married the same month I graduated from college. They spent part of their honeymoon at my college graduation party, which is the sign of a pretty amazing BFF (and husband!).
After I graduated, from a town halfway between San Francisco and Portland, I had to decide where to do my adulting. Arcata was the perfect place for college, but too isolated for the type of career I wanted to have. Portland was the obvious choice, because Ali and her parents were there. So I moved to this amazing city with much joy, eagerly anticipating my PR internship and living in the same town as Ali again. It wasn’t long before she broke the news that her husband had joined the army, and after basic training they were moving to Germany.
I was devastated, and so excited for them. They had incredible opportunities to travel Europe and learn the history and culture of their new continent, falling deeper in love all the time. When I found out she was pregnant, I was even more excited – even as I found out she couldn’t be my bridesmaid because her first son would be born just days before my wedding date. I’ll never forget calling her in the wee hours of my wedding day, sitting on the curb outside my hairdresser’s salon. Tears were streaming down my face as I listened to Ali’s advice about your wedding day, marriage, etc. Later that night, her mom gave a brief speech about what Ali would say if she’d been able to witness our beautiful wedding. I was cried pretty intently again, during that speech. Many of our guests, who’d never met and didn’t know Ali, thought she had died. I can’t think about that memory without giggling. This story is just one on a long list of stories from our past that consistently bring a burst of laughter whenever I think about them.
Ali moved back to Oregon when her oldest was four, and her youngest was just five months younger than my first born. She has always been such a confident mother, knowing exactly how to engage her children no matter the circumstances. I learned so much from her over the years, laughing hysterically all along the way. Because that’s the thing about a BFF who’s naturally funny and loving. The laughter, the sorrow, the worry – it all gets jumbled into this beautiful mess of pure, authentic joy. I never have to second guess myself when I’m with her. I know she loves me, no matter what, and she’ll be there to laugh – and cry – with me, no matter what.
Today, Ali and her family are moving to San Antonio after seven precious years in Oregon. My heart constricts as I think about the movers packing up her home; the laughter that rang through the house as we cleaned out her fridge or folded final loads of laundry. My mind wanders through our trips to the beach. The hours and hours of hanging in kitchens, cooking and talking and marveling at the miracles of our children. In my heart of hearts, I know those things will happen again. And our connection will be just the same as it was when I said goodbye to her last night. It was way past my bedtime, and all of our children were asleep – so we had a rare moment of uninterrupted dialogue. While we chatted, I sat on the floor at her feet, helping organize entertainment options for her flight with little ones. When my yawns finally propelled me off the floor and out the front door, I didn’t cry as I walked down the path to my car. Because I know that our easy, pure connection won’t fade – no matter the time or distance between us.