It was my boss’s birthday party, and the bar was dark and crowded. I was nervously picking at my co-worker’s plate of cheese and olives, and trying to make conversation. It was one of my very first opportunities getting to know them outside the office, and I was excited to socialize with them and their friends as we toasted to the big man’s good health and chattered amongst ourselves in the back room of the delightfully dingy, candlelit Berlin bar.
She sat at the opposite end of the table. Tall, blonde, and strikingly beautiful. Her bone structure was killing me, and though I try to keep such thoughts out of my head, I instantly conceded to my high school-ish insecurities, figuring that a woman that winsome would be flighty or mean. I’d had bad experiences with the pretty ones. So when my other boss, who sat beside her, introduced us, and announced that she would be attending the letter writing workshop I was hosting in a few days, I was tickled, nervous, excited, all at once. I sheepishly smiled and quickly ducked off to the restroom.
Only one other person signed up for my workshop, and I’ll admit I was a pinch nervous, as it was my first time instructing a group, however small. I wrote down a little speech to give about the lost art of letter writing, why it was so important to me, and why it deserved a sacred place in modern society. I even included some quotes by mostly famous dead people about the romance and beauty of hand penned correspondence.
Natalie — that was her name — smiled and listened, and took photos of me while I talked. She didn’t laugh. She wasn’t laughing at me. This was not what I expected. I didn’t mean to expect anything, but old habits die hard, and I was used to being met with sharp laughter and some cloying statement like, “Oh, how cute. You’re so into this, aren’t you?” In fact, we drank wine and crafted the night away, talking about a shared love of writing, travel, adventure, the joy of life itself, and what had led us to Berlin. I biked home in a buzzed state of girl crushing contentment, grinning and rosy cheeked the whole way.
There was an initial testing period that consisted of Natalie sending me links to artists and playlists I might like, and we retweeted, favorited, liked, tagged, and “Oh, girl! Me too!”-ed each other until it was clear this friendship was on like Donkey Kong.
But it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment our friendship became “official.” There isn’t usually that one moment in time that a lightbulb or heart appears over a person’s head and they realize, “I love this person! I’m her Harry, she’s my Sally. That person is my person!”
Was it on Halloween, when instead of getting mad at me for having one too many at her private company party and hunkering down over a toilet at the karaoke bar until she had to carry the half dressed sun goddess out to a cab (which I proceeded to get us kicked out of), she brought me back to her flat, fed me bread, Tylenol, and water, and let me share her bed and wear her fluffy slippers?
Or was it when we went on our first trip together, sharing our mutually incurable wanderlust and melancholic vibes, poring over books and sitting together in silence, each penning equally deep thoughts in our journals, taking breaks to sullenly stare out the window as the Danish countryside stretched out before our eyes?
Was it the first time we argued? Me, upset and internalizing some random comment that she made (honestly, not even about me, and made after a day of traipsing all over town and not getting enough time alone), and refusing to talk about it, sulking and feeling miserable for over a week? Because when someone matters to you that much, you can’t go to sleep angry, or sad, or mad. You’ll be haunted until you patch things up. That’s how love works. That’s friendship.
I can’t say when it happened, but she became my person, and even better, I became hers. And it’s been a lot of work, it hasn’t been easy. We live in different cities and time zones now. She has a terrific job that makes her happy, and I’m scrounging around doing odd jobs to support my writing.
She’s a little more April Ludgate, I’m a lot more Leslie Knope. She reaches the top shelf for me, and I run to save us prime seats on the bus or train, so she can amble along at her own pace to meet me. She takes my picture, and I dance whimsically as she captures me the way she sees me. When I stayed with her parents and her mom discovered I was nearly five years younger than Natalie, she asked me, puzzled, “What on Earth are you two doing together? What an unlikely pair.”
But when I think about how much I love her sometimes, my heart swells to twice its usual size, a lump emerges in my throat, my nostrils flare, and my eyes tear up. It’s not easy to explain, but that’s how I know someone belongs in my chaotic journey of a life.
In my life, people don’t usually stick. They are a revolving door of sparkly new characters. And at first, I was genuinely skeptical of her. She was my “type”— a strong, independent, leading woman character. Combined with my forces, sometimes a combustible pairing. Would she try to manipulate me? I’d been hurt by pretty puppeteers before, so these fears weren’t coming from out of left field.
But she didn’t give up on pursuing our friendship when I was wary, and where she too had walls, I didn’t relent in loving her and tearing them down. It was the first time I hadn’t thrown in the towel and instead decided to stick it out, because it was worth it. She’s worth it. 100 percent. Every time.
So whether we lay in darkness and silence listening to Nick Drake records and feeling morose because we’ve death and despair on the brain, or whether we ride trains and drink cheap beer in parks, laughing and looking down the bottle to make ships and shapes out of tumultuous waves of ale, the time is well spent.
And I thank my lucky little stars I have her, because I waited a long time for her. Most little girls go to sleep at night thinking about their future husband—please be handsome, please be kind, be strong, be rich. But I thought, God, please give me just a friend who is kooky and weird like me, someone I can talk to and share clothes with and giggle about boys with.
I began to lose hope because we always moved and changed schools, and they never wrote back. My forget me not anthem became so tired and desperate, I almost believed myself invisible, capable of mysticism beyond my reach. I learned the art of letting go, and letting go again. And to open up quickly like a flower, and just as quickly wilt and fade away, because nothing is permanent.
But it all led me to the nomad.