When I was in my tens, which is an awkward way to say say I was in middle school, I met the loves of my life. Their names are Amy, Elli, and Valerie, always in that order. When I say their names, it comes out as one quick string of syllables, like a song lyric you’ve sung a thousand times but you aren’t quite sure what it is that you’re singing.
Over the years I’ve sat down to write about these women and found, as I am finding now, that it’s nearly impossible to find the words to write about people who have influenced everything from how I wear my hair, to how I talk about sexual assault. We’ve cried together, screamed together, laughed together. We’ve walked 10 miles in blazing heat to beat curfew, together. We’ve picked each other up at gas stations in the middle of nowhere, rolled down hills, flown across states, and eaten countless boxes of mac and cheese, together. We have sat in silence so many times, together, that we’ve exhausted the words that needed to be said.
I think we’re almost too good to read.
When we met I was about the size of a matchstick, and brooded constantly about the fact that my clothes still came from the kid’s section. If I had known that I wouldn’t look like a proper human until I was 18 I might have spent less time complaining and more time enjoying discount clothing. It was 1999, and while I admittedly adored “The Artist Formerly Known As”, I was far too much of a loser to have any idea how to party.
Unlike the foursomes you see in movies, we weren’t simply and easily “just together”. We went to different schools, I was in a different grade, our parents ran in different circles. There was literally zero chance that our siblings would end up romantically entwined, or that we would have crushes on the same boys in math class. We were all from different sides, different socioeconomic landscapes, of the same Midwestern valley, drawn together by a small children’s theater in an old elementary school at the bottom of a hill behind a water park. It was all very Ohio.
Amy was, and is, tall with hair that hit her chin at a curve and a laugh that broke the sound barrier. Elli was all limbs and corners, and had bangs that hit the middle of her forehead, unfinished like most of her sentences. Valerie sang from her fingers to her curls. She became my style icon the very first day I met her.
I remember asking Amy if she thought we would all four be friends for forever. I was always the sentimental buzzkill, ruining a naturally fun moment with anxiety and a constant need to be loved. My therapist would tell me that it’s because I’m a child of divorce. I would counter and say it’s just because I’m obnoxious. Amy told me she didn’t know if the group would always be friends, but she knew that we would always be.
Amy was darkly loving like that. She was soft in the heart and hard at the jawline. She was a romantic, poetic even in the notes that we folded into footballs and shoved through the school bus windows. She had more depth than the pool where we played Sharks and Minnows, which was a lot for any 12 year old brain.
But she was certain of me because I was safe. That’s the other way I can be obnoxious. I have the loyalty of a golden retriever and once I love you, I will stick to you like a Styrofoam peanut in the middle of winter.
I met Amy first and loved her like the way you know you love cheese, instantly and unconditionally. I knew immediately that I wanted to spend every snow day with her. That’s the kind of love it was.
We lived within walking distance of each other’s houses, which was important because our parents worked hard and watched the evening news on a specific schedule. Teenage heartbreak peaks during the evening news.
Most of our friendship was defined by walking. Neither of us would own our own car until deep into our twenties. Driving hand-me downs with holes in the floor and questionable airbags was a privilege. Our geographic proximity gave us an allowance to deepen our bond and to this day, regardless of professions, or hometowns, her friendship has been the most inexpensive friendship I’ve ever subscribed to.
“What a pair.” Her dad would say, as we lay giggling on the floor. And what a pair we were.
To be continued….