“The wedding was amazing, but now I’m hungover!” she downright sings. Even her hangovers are energetic and entertaining. “Text me your address and we’ll grab lunch!”
It’s just like any other phone call with my best friend. She’s telling me the adventures of last night as I drive back from my morning class. The only difference is that, for once, we have an opportunity to spend some time to face to face, which we haven’t done in almost a year.
At a red light, I text her my address (God bless autofill keyboards) and make my way back home. I manically clean up the house (using an impending guest to inspire what hours of self-chiding cannot) and patiently wait for the rental car to pull into my driveway. When she gets here, we spend a few minutes hugging each other, futilely making up for months upon months of missed hello and goodbye hugs, before she asks:
Side by side, we make absolutely no sense. I’m sporting what can only be described as “laid-back yogi in cold weather”: sweatshirt, baggy cotton pants with a tank top and spandex leggings underneath. She’s decked out in black skinny jeans, a leather jacket with a side zipper, and slicked back hair. She looks like she’s on her way to a rock concert or an exclusive club, and I’m on my way to a yoga studio (which I technically am, after I get lunch). We look like two strangers from opposite sides of town, not two absurdly close friends who have known each other since they were 10.
But then again, we’ve never made sense. I’ve always been a bit like basil and she’s always been a bit like chili powder. I’m a social introvert and she’s an antisocial extravert. I stay silent until I can gauge just how much of my weirdness a person can take; she’ll bust through the room, unapologetically letting people know exactly how weird she is. She can outdrink almost anyone I know and I get sick after 3 glasses of wine.
Our lives in the real world have been just as different. I met the man I was going to marry while still in college; she went through a major break-up just as I was getting married. I moved away from Boston and into the woods of New Hampshire; she moved away from Boston and into the heart of Chicago. Our career paths have veered and zigged and zagged, neither of us in the same place professionally at the same time. But none of that ever really mattered. We were still each other’s first person to contact, whether there was a slip-up at work, a bump in the dating road, or a new essay draft that needed reading.
I remember people clicking their tongues when I got married, warning my newly-single best friend that “things will be different” now. And to that, we both said, “How is that going to change anything? How would anything in our lives ever change anything about our friendship?”
What people don’t get is that you can live completely different lives and still be on the same wavelength: that your respective paths can go in a thousand different directions, but still intersect where it matters; that you can live a solid timezone away and still talk to each other like you’re about to go out for coffee together. It takes a specific type of bond for a married woman with two cats, a mortgage, and the idea of hypothetical future motherhood on her mind to talk for hours on end with a woman with first dates, new apartments, and staying child-free on hers, and still feel like you can completely relate.
“Wouldn’t you want to spend more time around people who are, y’know, doing the same things as you?”
Quite frankly? No. Not in the way I like spending time with my best friend.
We get it. There’s no other way around it. We’ve been friends since we were in middle school because we get it. We’re each other’s writing partners in crime because we get it. The exterior is different, but at our base, we know how similar we are. We’re kindred spirits from an environment that could’ve crushed a lesser person’s spirit. We both know what it’s like to attempt to build a life on an unsturdy foundation, to figure out our own definitions of love and respect. We both feel the constant desire to create, create, create. We know that when one’s emotions are knotted up, the other will find a way to untangle it. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, one knows exactly how to get the other’s feet back on the ground.
We stop at an Irish Pub on the main strip in Manchester. She mentions that, unless you’re in the south side, you cannot find a proper pub in Chicago.
“It’s like a bunch of rich people decided to create a watered-down version of what they think an Irish pub should look like,” she tells me. “It’s nothing like this.”
As a man with an acoustic guitar begins to set up in one corner of the pub, my best friend shows me pictures of the wedding she attended, pictures of the bride and groom and the beer that was on tap.
“They are so adorable together. You can really tell these guys are right for each other,” she says, before adding: “I think I’m pretty lucky to say that, every wedding I’ve been to, were for people who you just knew were right for each other.” She talks about the guy she has started seeing and I talk about the man I’ve been with since 2006 and both sides of the spectrum complement each other perfectly.
We start driving around after that, making our ways through and around towns that I now know by heart. The best part is that, after almost a year of not seeing each other face-to-face, when we get out onto the road, it’s like a thousand Sundays before, when we were younger, driving around 3A in Massachusetts, back when our cars had ridiculous nicknames (like Fucker, or the Chevalier). It’s like a million afternoons after school, when we were too young for cars and instead walked to the 711 and then to the nearby park.
The assumption is, when someone you love has returned, you need to pull out all the stops, do something big and eventful. But we’d rather pick up exactly where we left off, doing the things we’ve done countless times before. We talk about the things we always talk about, topics that we slide into like a familiar pair of jeans. We even end up on New Hampshire’s version of 3A. All we’re missing is an iced coffee from Mary Lou’s and a dated mix CD in my music system.
“People at the wedding kept making dumb jokes about Chicago,” she says. “Like, ‘Oh, you live in Chi-raq?’ No, you’re not funny, and no one says that. ‘Chiberia’, yes, because it’s fucking cold there. But ‘Shit-cago’? No. Actually come to Chicago and then make a judgment call.”
Three days later, we’re in the car again, this time driving to Portsmouth — a city we constantly went to when I first crossed the border and New Hampshire was still new and uncharted for both of us. We walk down maybe one or two of the downtown streets before immediately going over to the water.
Even with the biting winds and the setting sun, we take in the salted air with a smile on our face. Our hometown — home of the 711 on North Street and Great Esker Park and the Chevalier and Fucker — stopped feeling like home a long time ago, but the Atlantic Ocean is forever home to us. It doesn’t matter where we are on the east coast, or how far inland our permanent addresses may be, our hearts will always feel a little bit fuller here. Our noses are turning red and I’m immediately regretting my lack of layers, but we pause, standing still, watching one of the bridges to Kittery open, a supreme sense of calm in the midst of shivering skin. We get coffee like we’ve done a thousand times before and we drive back to my house, talking about everything, nothing, and whatever is in between.
The best part is that our good-byes are not long and drawn out. We part like we have a million times before, like we’re going to see each other tomorrow. And, in a way, we will. We will talk the next day, and the day after that. We’ll continue to tell each other anything that comes to mind, from our issues with Kim Kardashian to our issues with trusting our own intuition. And then we’ll email each other a draft or a blog link with a hopeful, “What do you think?” One of us will start a conversation with, “My family…” and the other will end with, “…I know what you mean.” I’ll remind her to breathe and she’ll remind me to take it easy. And I’ll roll my eyes over “Chi-raq” while she rolls her eyes over “Cow Hampshire”.
And we’ll both shake our heads at “Beantown” — because, seriously, nobody from there actually calls it that.