I found an old photo yesterday—her and me, one of hundreds, maybe a thousand, of the she-and-me photos that chronicle the years of our friendship. I was cleaning out the guest room closet and stumbled upon my college memory box and there we were, forever frozen in pink fleeces, that piece of hair forever in my eyes, the sun forever making her squint. It’s from Mohegan Island, from the summer we spent in Maine, cleaning out old mansions, digging for rocks on the edge of the ocean, sitting on the splintered wood of the dock as we watched the sun went down, night after night. That day we took the ferry over in the early morning and I got seasick on the boat. Our legs, stuck forever in that moment, are tired from the morning we spent hiking all over the island. Alana had just found a tiny crab, living in its own pool, where he never had to think about the ocean or tides or even finding food because there, in that little cove, all his needs were met, and that’s kind of how we were that summer, suspended in our own tidal pool, cocooned between graduation and the real world.
I spoke with her yesterday. These days, it is not so often that we get an hour to speak to each other, because we are busy, with work and babies and writing and new friends and husbands. And it’s not even like we talk to each other and no time has passed because so much time is passed, and we feel the weight of the distance as our conversation is accented with “oh, I completely forgot to tell you,” and “you won’t believe what happened” but the familiarity is there, the comfort is there, and so while our words move quickly to cover all the gaps between us, another part of me relaxes because here I am safe. Here is someone I have called my friend for a decade, who has literally known me from the moment my parents stepped out of that dorm room and made me an adult.
I remember Alana talking about the sixth sense a lot that summer—how she wished she had a sense that would absorb the moment, that would soak it up, bottle it up for all it was, enjoy it at its fullest, ripest self. We were twenty one and twenty two, and already we understood how quickly life slips by, how you can blink and suddenly your college years are over and you are supposed to take all those classes, those relationships, those conversations, dance parties, mistakes, bad dining experiences, and use them to make something of yourself. But everything in our adult lives we had done together, and the moment we left the state of Maine, we were going to start doing them apart and it just felt like we needed to account for everything that had happened the last four years, because maybe if we could quantify and discuss it enough we could absorb it—maybe we could make it matter.
But maybe, Alana, it is because we can’t absorb it that it is beautiful.
She was my first best friend. My life is filled with beautiful women; my sisters are my dearest friends, in high school I had a group of wonderful girls I still love and miss. But Alana was the first person outside my family that felt like my person. We loved rollerblading, the same music, the same books, the same food. Everything Alana said, I thought, you too? And we were also so different—Alana was confident where I was unsure, she was talkative where I was quiet. She came into college so sure of what she wanted and I came in too unstructured, too disorganized, too unclear on what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be.
So much to learn, at seventeen. So much to learn now, at twenty seven, but I today I know that, and at seventeen I didn’t. I had never been away from my family, from my friends, from all the ways of life I was used to, and I felt separated from myself. My roommate, who came from Missouri which may as well have been the Moon, so far away and different it seemed to me, came in with confidence, structure, and a rigidity that would unravel by October break. Because sometimes it takes moving away to question everything you thought was right, and as freshmen, we both stumbled through it together. We didn’t know it then, and maybe we’re only just learning it now—asking those questions together, learning to examine what you believe and why, challenging each other’s ideas and beliefs with an honesty and gentleness make for friendships sealed by iron.
It was Alana who walked me through my freshman year, and then the three years after that. It was Alana who was there the day Andrew asked me out, who convinced me to go, who talked me out of breaking up with him several times in the years to come. It was Alana who met me for lunch every day, who went rollerblading with me across campus, who dared me to rollerblade down that hill and then helped me get home as my knees bled out. It was Alana who I spent my school breaks with, Alana who drove too fast and and without caution who took us on all our adventures. She was my sorority sister, critique of my ideas, my confidant, my truest, most loyal friend. Yes, college is where I met my husband, where I earned my degree, but before any of that, college is where I met my best friend. And before there was ever Andrew, or graduation, or job offers or huge life decisions, there was Alana.
The Alana and me we were in that photo didn’t know yet that in a few short months, she would meet her husband in Virginia. We didn’t know that in a year, we would be back in the same state, only an hour away from each other. We didn’t know yet about the lightning that would strike the barn at her wedding, about the cruise we would take in January, about the traffic jam in New York City that would bring out our road rage. We didn’t know yet about June, about how I’d tell her I was pregnant, about the beautiful floral baby sheets and clothes she would bring up to my shower. We didn’t know all the trips, the conversations, the laughter to come, but I think in that photo, we somehow knew it was coming, that we would be there for every mile stone in each other’s life—that friendships like ours are hard to come by but also far harder to lose.
A friend asked me the other day what I pray for June. I pray that she will be kind and creative and curious, that she will know the Lord from an early age, that she will marry someone generous and compassionate. But I also pray that when she grows up and is moved away, the Lord will give her a friend like Alana, who will help her come into adulthood, who will listen to her and make her laugh—a friend who will play a key role in June becoming who she is created to be.