Eight years ago, my best friend and I both moved to California. She to Los Angeles, me to San Francisco. We hadn’t planned it that way, exactly, but the similarities were there. We both wanted a change from our homes on the East Coast, we both wanted to meet new people, learn about new communities, and learn about ourselves. She left for a job, I left for graduate school, and for the first couple of months, we talked nearly every day. Perhaps it was important for us to know that the other was out there—that our connections to our former lives, and, thus, ourselves—was something we could tap into with just a phone call.
We visited each other at least twice that year. When she came to see me, I remember running down the four flights of stairs to greet her on my hilly street. It was raining, and we hugged with the cab door open for minutes while the cab driver patiently waited. Hugging her was like being home, but now, I was at home in my new home, with her.
Then, naturally, we eased into our new lives. We made new friends, even some best friends. We had boyfriends and even a fiancé. We had different apartments, new jobs, new interests, hobbies, dislikes. She’d started sailing, developed a penchant for costume parties with her group of friends, was quickly moving up the ranks of the major company where she worked. I’d finished school, was working at a job I loved, invested in a relationship I cared about. We talked less and less. I stopped knowing who most of her friends were; I hadn’t met the man she was engaged to marry.
But not once did I question my position in her life, nor she in mine. Every year, we saw each other at Christmas. As the quintessential ‘Jewish friend’, it had become a long-standing tradition for me to spend Christmas dinner with her and her big family. A couple of years went by when this was the only time I saw her. But one thing we never did was get overwhelmed by the things we no longer knew about each other. It was clear that those things—what her boss’s name was, what photos she had up on her walls, the way she was spending her Saturdays, things like that—were things you knew about people who you were close with in proximity.
Though I missed knowing those things, I felt confident in what I did know, and what I always will know, about her: the subtle look on her face when she doesn’t approve, the stories she’ll tell you at a bar when any given number of topics come up, how she can’t recognize a single soul, the way to give her two sets of advice: the one she wants to hear, and the one she needs to hear. I know her morning routine, the position she falls asleep in, the exact and unnerving ways she is exactly her mother. The way that sometimes we reach for each other’s hand to walk down the street, at the same time, without saying a word.
Does it sound like I’m in love with her? You could say that. But not in a romantic way. Friendship love is something altogether different, though just as meaningful. She won’t hang up the phone with me before saying “love you”. And while it’s common to say you love your friends, perhaps especially your girlfriends, have you ever realized how much you really, truly, wouldn’t-be-the-same-without-her mean it when you say that?
In a fateful yet unsurprising twist of fate, just as we both moved to California within months of each other, we moved home to the East Coast within months of one another as well. In fact, she moved into my neighborhood. People who know us both laughed and rolled their eyes. “Of course,” they said. “We didn’t even plan it!” we’d cry innocently, realizing only later that that was what was so obvious.
That I can walk to her house any time I want still feels unbelievable. That we can exchange keys the way we did in high school (when I used to drive her car—don’t tell!) makes it feel like we’re still kids, enjoying the luxuries of an insular grown-up world. As if we’re re-growing up together, even though we already have. And we did it, largely, together. Now, we’re navigating our lives as true adults, both living on our own for the first time, with a big chunk of life experiences behind us, but recognizing the small ways we’ve changed. I’m dragging her to art shows—something I never would have cared for pre-SF, and she likes to joke that I’m “the culture in her life”. She good-naturedly agrees when I make fun of her for drinking the Soul Cycle kool-aid (no offense, readers!) and for dressing for a blizzard in 50 degree weather.
It’s great that proximity has surfaced those every day details for us again—I know the details of her work life, what she eats for lunch, that she needs a new car before winter; she knows the very boring yet intricate details of my leaky ceiling and recent boy travails.
It’s the stuff of everyday life. And it can bolster a friendship, but it cannot create one nor sustain one over a lifetime. No—when that happens, it’s unique, and there’s no magic formula. You know it when you have it, because you’ll have it for life.