When I was a senior in college, I was awarded a scholarship-loan called Governor’s Teaching Scholars Program. My parents and I attended an acceptance dinner in New Brunswick, NJ where we sat with another high school senior and her parents. We found out we were both going into teaching at Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey), and said, as you do, that we should look each other up when we got there.
Turns out we both lived on the same floor in the dorms and later were among a group of co-founders of a new co-ed fraternity on our campus. She was in Elementary Education, and I was in Secondary, but we became friends and spent a lot of time together. I was also quite good friends with her freshman year roommate throughout our four years.
Time passed, we graduated, I got married, we were both teaching in the same area, and she ended up dating a friend of my husband’s for a while and spent a lot of time at our place. She ended up moving to Central Jersey (where I was living) and teaching there, and we continued to have a lot of really great times, up to and including all the friendship and support she gave me when my now-ex and I split up, I moved out, and eventually moved to California. I hung in there with her through some interesting relationships of her own.
On a visit back after moving cross-country, I met her new boyfriend. They attended my wedding to my husband in 1999, and we attended their wedding in 2001. We both stayed in teaching and stayed in touch. We both got pregnant several years after our weddings, and she was due first, but my son arrived early before hers. After each of our doctor’s visits, through our shared pregnancy experience, we always called the other right away. Compared notes. Shared our hopes, anticipation, anxieties, fears.
Any time I am back in New Jersey, I always spend at least one overnight at their house. My husband and son have joined me on these trips, and our families get along magically. She and her husband also have a daughter now, but our sons started school at the same time, went through developmental ups and downs together, and even started Cub Scouts together . . . 3000 miles apart.
Sometimes, like recently, we’ll go months without talking. Life just gets busy. You know how that goes. But every time we do talk, we just pick up where we left off, catch up, laugh, cry, and wish the distance were smaller. We’ve gone through moves, job and career changes, health issues, losses of family members, extended family drama and events, and even though we don’t talk all that often, when we see each other in person, it’s like only a few days has passed. Even if our boys are a foot taller than the last time they saw each other.
To me, this is the friendship that has persevered through time and across miles the strongest because of a mutual love and respect I’ve never found with anyone else. We get each other. We have enough in common, but are different enough, that somehow we are a perfect fit for one another as friends. Are we “best friends”? I hardly think one could apply such a label to two people who go years without seeing one another and months without a phone call. But is there really such a thing as a “best friend” anyway?
I just know this: when my father died, it was sudden and unexpected. Smitty, the friend I’ve been describing, was the first person I called after speaking with family and finding out. We’ve always known and loved each other’s parents, since the day we met, really. She asked me when I’d be getting to town, and then she got childcare for the day of the viewing, and brought her kids along the day of the funeral, and she never left my side through the entire ordeal. Which I went through alone, as we couldn’t afford for all three of us to travel to New Jersey from California.
I worry that, when that day comes for my beloved friend, I won’t be able to return the favor because of how far away I live. But it wasn’t a favor anyway. It wasn’t a duty. It’s just what you do for someone you love like a sister.