“Where do you live?” the stranger asked, as we sat in the Rocky Mountain National Park waiting for our bus. “I live in Switzerland,” I said, looking up towards the unfamiliar mountains. “What brought you to Colorado?” she proceeded. “I came to meet my best friend,” I smiled gazing over at the woman who has blessed me with her friendship for the past 32 years. Jenifer and I looked at each other, smitten that our plan after seven years of absence had finally became a reality.
I met my best friend in 1984 in a crystal blue swimming pool in the San Francisco Bay Area. From the moment we exchanged a shy and tender seven – year – old, “hello” we were inseparable. We spent days, weekends, weeks, months and holidays entangled in one another and we were never supposed to live apart until the day, as we approached our 16th birthdays, we were forced to.
After spending nine remarkable years understanding what it means to have a true, honest to God best friend, we were involuntarily required to test our friendship from afar. I left the Golden State for the Garden State and then immediately headed off to college, remaining on the East Coast; all the while, Jenifer stayed on the West Coast. For poor students, we did our best to remain close. We called, wrote letters, and stole short holidays together, always resuming our friendship exactly where it had left off. I was elated when Jenifer announced she would be studying for a short stint in Baltimore, a perfectly near location to my new found home in Delaware. At last, we were together again, if only for a short while.
Now, some 32 years later, and once again separated geographically, we remain best of friends. Despite international living arrangements, and families of our own, we still manage to keep track of one another. We check – in every couple of weeks or so and reserve a sacred place in our lives and our hearts for one another. Time has inflicted separation between us, but our bond remains impenetrable.
As I located Jenifer in the Denver International Airport, my face grew tight from smiling and my eyes held back anticipatory tears. Could it really be her I wondered as I embraced the one person who had seen me through the best and worst of this life? After a moment of hugging, then laughing, then falling right back into our old rhythm, my heart eased, of course it was her, the sister I has always wanted, the friend and the support I remember was now in my grasp. For three days we would trek through Colorado, two single mama’s regressing to our 12-year-old selves, in a city so far from our ordinary lives.
Those three days were bliss. We napped in a sacred lull of quiet that most mothers can only dream of, we hiked mountains, enjoyed meals, sipped wine, dove into deep conversations, shared the pleasures and pains of life, witnessed beauty in natural settings, sang like our ridiculous younger selves and never once stopped looking at one another. We pinched ourselves with the reality of our feat and reminisced about times long past and created new dreams for the future.
We never spoke of our departure, rather imagined our next meeting – our next big ploy to dive back into the familiar arms of our never-ending friendship. We didn’t look back when we said our good-byes, as the sun rose over the Colorado horizon. Thinking too much about leaving her felt far too painful. Instead, we rushed off to our gates, with planes to catch,and eager families ready to greet us on the other end.
But as I neared the gate alone, my face returned to that tight smile once again. I felt a surge of gratitude rush over me knowing that in this world of utter chaos and uncertainty, there are but a few people who understand the true essence of me – who have crossed milestones in my wake and held my hand through adversity. Jenifer is one such soul. To have a friend that is genuine and true, who loves you despite of your deepest flaws and who has stood by your side when it felt as if the world was closing in, is what makes this life so remarkable. I gazed back to witness her departure with a heart brimming over with thanks.
As I witness the growth and coming of age of my own children, I reflect on my own childhood with the realization that my experiences through those formative years would have never been as extraordinary without Jenifer’s presence. Jenifer and I share a deep, deep history, a past together neither of us would ever change and a childhood that was made complete by having someone so dear to share each incredible and turbulent moment with. Colorado wasn’t about a destination, it was more about the reconnecting of two friends that share so much and still have so many more miles to cover.
“A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.” – Unknown
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward