One of my truest obsessions in life is travelling. Fairly often, my manner of travel leads to flying, and on planes, I always choose the window seat, not because I particularly love the view, but because I tend to sleep on flights, the only way I can combat my anxiety and motion sickness while passing the time from the sheer boredom that comes from being trapped in a tin can thousands of miles above the ground for hours at any given stretch.
Last May, after what felt like centuries with connections and time zones, I grabbed my luggage, loaded up my pack mule body, and headed to the airport’s door. Following the directions I’d printed out before leaving home, the tiki bar was not hard to find as I emerged from the coolness of the airport into the heat and humidity of Mexico in the stirrings of summer.
The sight of three women that I often feel I know better than I know myself managed to override the over activeness in my brain and the pounding of my overanxious heart rate. As we each secured cans and cups for the drive, the four of us set off for the resort we’d call home for a few days as we rang in the year of turning 40.
My aforementioned motion sickness requires I take shotgun in any car, and as our driver weaved and accelerated his way through Cancun’s streets, I couldn’t help but think that I had a front row view to our impending deaths. While we’d been planning this trip for over a year, our contingency plans had included possible bail outs by mothers back home, but they hadn’t considered death by cabbie. As airstrips turned into hotels and stores became flora and fauna, I remembered another trip in another van where I’d stared down a snow-covered, mountain-pass interstate at what would surely equate to our tragically young deaths over 20 years ago.
That’s the problem with forever friendships: one thought always trails into another, and memories mingle with the ordinariness of every day until it is hard to distinguish one from the other. And in those relationships, the ones that transcend space and time, there is something almost mythical about experiences you share.
Over the years, just like our appearances, our words have changed. Homework, college, and childhood crushes have been replaced by words like careers, children, and cancer. If our pictures were used to track history, you could tell the passage of time not from our fashion and hairstyles, but from the way each year we start to lean a little closer in because at this point, we don’t just recognize the value in these friendships but we know in the deepest parts of who we are that we couldn’t survive without the other.
As teenagers, our mothers used to joke that if they didn’t know where their child was, all they had to do was simply locate another. And while it is true that we were always together in some combination and we may have once served as parental homing pigeons, time has now scattered us around the country, orbiting in our own circles while keeping our telescopes trained on the others so that we are always aware of each other even when we aren’t close enough to touch.
Among my childhood friends, we know each other’s flaws and failures, and we celebrate even the smallest triumphs as though they were Nobel prizes. Each of our friendships has experienced ebbs and flows, times when we drifted farther away only to return after a brief respite; however, like the memories we’ve built, I can’t remember a time in my life without them in it. And, in truth, I don’t want to.
For me, my childhood friendships are nothing less than sacred, and it is no secret that they come before anyone and anything else in my life. Simply put, they will always be my priority because many times over, I have been theirs. Even when it seems as though the miles between us might as well be light years, we always find a way back to each other.
We are old enough now to be thankful that things like cellphone cameras and social media didn’t exist when we were younger, but there is no less than a thousand iterations of photos like these. In them, there we are, arms slung casually around each other, faces turned in smiles and candid laughter. The backdrops change, and older ones may be a little fuzzy around the edges, but what those pictures don’t show is that those are the very same arms that have been used to hold each other up, reach down to lend a hand, or to stabilize our bodies when the world hit us with its worst.
I believe that there is magic in girls who become women together. That in shared histories, we manage to build stronger futures. We don’t need to remind each other that we are in this together because we know it as reflexively as we know the way to our respective parents’ homes or how to breathe. The word friend doesn’t begin to do these relationships justice, and we are connected as though our DNA is crocheted together—individual stitches that merge to become something so big and so beautiful that a casual observer would never know the curses, tears, and heartaches that went into making the overall whole.
That weekend in Mexico was filled with overindulgences, a malfunctioning bidet, and the type of laughter that comes from a place so deep within your gut that you physically ache after it dies down. During those few days, we woke up without the boundaries that everyday life often imposes on us, and we lived without reservation, which sounds far more exciting than the eat-drink-sleep-swim routine we perfected.
There were serious moments between us too, quiet ones where we shed all layers of pretense and said the things that we keep tucked away until eventually they explode out of us like lava, secure in knowing that we wouldn’t be judged or doubted, but merely loved even when we believed we didn’t deserve it.
Because for every fear and phobia I harbor, my girlhood friends are the port where I find myself safely docked. We each fall into predetermined roles when we are together, and there is a comfort in knowing how even when everything around us changes, we manage to stay the same.
I still refer to my friends by their childhood names, and they are each listed in my phone by what I called them rather than what the world knows them as now. I hold on to the girls we once were because in our friendships, together as well as individually, I am always reminded of who and what I was, am, and may one day become.
Among these women, I have my biggest cheerleaders, my co-conspirators, and the black and white to my oh-so-very grey. I am never more free than I am with them, and for that I am thankful. Nix. Shan. D. Jac. These women—they each represent the very best parts of me because we are bound together in more than just love and laughter and memories. They are my sisters by choice; the sisters of my heart.