Best friends forever. It’s a hefty promise made by small children to one another every single day, a promise which carries a weight and intensity that they truly can’t comprehend.
I made one such promise once. I was the wise old age of six back then, when I wrapped my white knuckled pinky so tightly around that of the little brown curly-haired, bug-eyed girl in front of me and we pledged our unshakable allegiance to one another forever.
Well. No one tells little girls that childhood best friends don’t always stay thick as thieves. Life happens. Growing up can sometimes mean growing apart. Or worse, you stay best friends. You keep a stronghold on your unbreakable bond of sisterhood through it all and come out on top. In that case — no one tells little girls that best friends don’t die together.
When Amanda and I promised to be best friends forever, like most little kids do in the moment, we meant it. But unlike most little kids, we kept our word.
That’s not to say we were impervious to life or adulthood. Growing up did mean growing apart for us at times. We went to different high schools, I moved from our hometown in Oregon to the East Coast when I was 18 and have never stayed put long enough to let roots grow anywhere or with anybody since. Amanda stayed around our hometown, got married, and had a couple of kids.
Our lives looked very, very different. It never mattered though. It was one of the things we loved about each other. So even though sometimes being caught up in life made us shittier at being the best long distance friends in the world, neither of us ever, ever questioned what we meant to one another and what we still had.
We still had our unbreakable bond of chosen sisterhood. Twenty-two years strong and no signs of ever stopping.
Until it did.
No one ever tells little girls that best friends don’t die together. But guess what? No one tells twenty-eight year olds, either.
I used to think those dramatic movies were so lame. The ones where someone gets a dreaded phone call and they freeze, their face falls blank for a moment as the phone slips from their hand in slow motion and bounces on the floor. That’s when their face kind’ve contorts into something unrecognizable and they fall to their knees, crying. Imagine my surprise when I came to find that it is basically just like that.
When news of the accident had started spreading back home, I was already asleep in my bed with my phone turned off in my time zone a few hours ahead.
No one wanted me to find out through text message or voicemail, so I woke up to a small wave of “call me, it’s an emergency” messages. Terrified, I started returning the messages immediately. But, still being a few hours ahead, everyone back on the west coast was asleep.
Trying to distract myself from my anxious, racing thoughts, I decided to peruse Facebook while getting ready for the day. That lasted about five seconds. Every post was a link to a news article about a car accident and was captioned with something like, “tell me this isn’t true” or “oh my god” or “I just can’t believe this.”
I have never regretted clicking on an internet link so much in my entire life. Maybe if I could go back and unclick it, it would unhappen. Maybe I would have handled it better if it came from a comforting, familiar voice. Maybe. I don’t know. But that’s not how it happened.
I was greeted with haunting photographs of a mangled vehicle, courtesy of local news stations. And when I saw her name and her son’s name and the word fatal, my phone slipped from my hands and fell to the floor.
No. No, no, no. No. It was all I could say. It was all I could think. A whisper at first. A mumble. A whine. A cry. A sob. A scream. A blood curdling shrill so intense I went blind for several seconds.
I tried to run. I’m not sure where I thought I was running to. Maybe back home, to find them and hold them and laugh away another lie on the internet. But my legs gave out after two steps and I fell to my knees in the hallway, screaming those silent sobs that take your breath away. I lay there for quite some time. Tears. Snot. Puke. Silence.
Some invisible hand had come along with a rusty, jagged knife and crudely cut away such a large part of my soul that I had no other choice but to lay there in shock and take it. I’m still taking it.
There have been days were I haven’t slept and days where I haven’t even gotten out of bed. There have been days where I drank beyond too much and days where I haven’t drank a drop. The one year mark since she has been ripped away from me is fast approaching and I am no closer to figuring out how to be without her than I was the day she died.
I have lost family members, friends, and colleagues over the years, but there is something different about the magical unicorn that is a lifelong childhood best friend. Something that only a rare few people will ever truly ever understand.
No one forced us to be friends, or more, to stay friends. We weren’t related. We didn’t live under the same roof. When we fought, it was up to us to make up. No mediated it. And trust me, we had some doozies!
We stayed friends, because every day for 22 years we made the conscious decision to stay together. To love each other. To commit to our belief in one another.
I mean, we chose each other at the age of six! I wouldn’t trust a six year old to choose my outfit, let alone my partner-in-crime for a lifetime. Yet, Amanda and I did right by ourselves with each other. I definitely got the better end of that deal, too.
And I’m not saying that because people tend to remember the dead more fondly. I’m saying that because she is one of the greatest humans I’ve ever known.
Amanda is so beautiful. Just a gorgeous, stunning woman. The nicest, kindest soul you’d ever meet. It is really unfair to be both so beautiful and so nice and for it to be so genuine. She always seemed so together. Very gentle and loving and just the best damn mom you could ever imagine.
And then there is me. I’m crude and crass and unapologetic and a little bit on the wilder side. I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a kid. When I lashed out at her, she stood there and took it and embraced me and called me out and fought to love me. I challenged her. A lot. And never once did she make me feel like I wasn’t worth the trouble.
I have never believed in regrets. I wouldn’t go back and do anything in my life differently. Except for her. I would go back and I would be less of an adult. If she were here right now, I would be a 29-year-old that loved her best friend like she was six. The daily doldrums of life would never be valid excuse again.
Sure, you have a job, you have kids, you have shit to do. Yeah, we all do. But find a way. Make it work.
Before Amanda died, she and I hadn’t seen each other in almost six years. Whenever I was back home, our schedules could never sync up. We excused it away with “life.” With “obligations.” With everything that means absolutely nothing to me now.
If either of us would have known that my last trip would be the last opportunity that we would have, we would have made it work. But we didn’t get the heads up on our impending nightmare. So we let our chance slip away.
That doesn’t mean we loved each other any less. That doesn’t mean our friendship was any less valuable. It just means that I will spend every day for the rest of my life wondering what I could have done differently. What I should have done differently.
A few days before she died, she reached out to me. She just wanted to remind me that I was her family. We were sisters. And we loved each other. She saved my life with that conversation. Had she opted out of that chat that day because she was tired or busy, I wouldn’t be here right now. The pain would have killed me. Maybe not directly, but it would’ve found a way. Some days, I’m still convinced it might.
Maybe I don’t deserve to love her as much as I do or hurt as irreparably as I do because of how long it has been since we sat in the same room together. But when she left, she took such a massive piece of me with her. I will never function as a whole person again.
So, please. Don’t be too busy today. For somebody you love, wake up tired tomorrow. Have an extra cup of coffee in the morning with a smile because you filled your soul with a new memory and extra love. Because you never know when you’re going to have to wake up without them. Waking up tired is always, always better than waking up empty.
Amanda and I said best friends forever. Not best friends until 28. But no one told us that. No one told me that. So I’m telling you: Forever doesn’t look the way you once thought it did. One of you is going to be alone for a while. So you need to make it count while you can.