She steps to the microphone, brown hair swinging, all confidence and hips swaying: a woman. This woman, who opens her mouth and rocks a Brandi Carlile song: “And all of these lines across my face/Tell you the story of who I am/So many stories of where I’ve been/And how I got to where I am/Oh, but these stories don’t mean anything/If you’ve got no one to tell them too/It’s true, I was made for you.”
She sings out, passion winding around the notes as so many vines up a sunny wall. She belts it, each syllable carrying memories on them.
“Hi”, she said. “Are you Kate? I recognize you from a show last year.”
“I’m Charlotte. Wanna sit with me?”
It’s hard to be a freshman in high school, hard to be a teenager: it is a turbulent wash, living in the wake of a jet engine, each emotion and thought and action carrying unnecessary weight. From that first introduction, I found a friend who became a constant. She put my feet on the ground and reached out when she, in turn, needed help finding solid earth again. It is said that your first best friend is the first love of your life; how true that is!
We were dorks together, giggling in drama class and putting on our own talent show and watching musicals again and again. We swam in the rivers every summer, fell in love with boys and then out again. We visited each other at first jobs and skipped school to go to the beach and knew each other’s favorite foods. Many, many times we cried with each other.
I think most girlfriends have some physical ritual, a way of finding each other or holding on. For us, it was back rubs. In her basement with the TV blaring, or in my living room sipping scalding tea, we would trade off, first me and then her. We felt out the thick knots in each other’s necks and along shoulder blades, those maps to our stress and grief and challenges. We followed the coordinates home, each taking away the other’s hurts. How intimate it was, how trusting: these are my wounds, would you please heal them? And we did. In our adolescent fumbling, we saved each other in the way only teenage girls can.
College loomed ahead, closer every year, an eventual separation we both dreaded and craved. Looking back, I see with clarity that it was a test: will we survive the distance and the time? Is this, in fact, one of those friendships that are worth fighting for? Any long-distance relationship, no matter the resonant, is hard. Ours was no exception. There were months of not talking, hurt feelings, loss of knowing someone inside their own skin almost better than you know yourself. But throughout it all we maintained a beacon for one another, calling each other home on breaks, finding our way to the ley lines of our friendship.
There came a night when I realized that I would not lose her – a small night, insignificant for so many reasons. We were both in college at the time, 2000 miles apart, I remember that much. The date is lost, the season gone. All I remember is us, sitting on a couch in my parents’ home, feet propped against each other. I was poking at her a little and she jabbed in return. There was nothing memorable, except for the familiarity of it all. We had just been reunited and everything in our lives was changing, but not this. It came out of nowhere, that moment of clarity: this person, she is forever.
Smash cut to now: we recently celebrated our friendiversary – her 30th birthday marked 15 years of us. Our lives are woven intensely, the whip-stitch of our sisterhood made of her shows and my poems, the breathless moments when we were brave together, the seconds when we were the only people who believed. There is a fathoms-deep love here – is it too much to ask that we be old women together? I have no doubt. When I am unsure of everything else in my life, she is the one whose hand I find. It is, as ever, gloriously outstretched.
And here we are tonight. The June night is starry overhead, there is magic here. She is wailing on these songs with her band, raising her voice so that she is heard; I, stunned in the audience, am filling quickly with words inspired by her fearless voice. Under the stage lights, it is easy to see the fierce swelling of her belly, where her first baby is growing quickly. Her son, my nephew. Is it really that easy? This joy between us, tethering hearts and bones, gossamer strand holding firm in an otherwise shaky world. “Don’t stop believing,” she sings. Never, I think, and in a moment of grace, I know that she knows.
The next day her boy kicks up against my hand, strong little bear, separated from the world by skin and blood and placenta. Brave little bear, growing to be born into a world that could be full of sorrow. We will make it one of hope instead. We will rejoice over his toes and kiss his cheeks and tell him every day that he is loved beyond measure. He kicked up, and she and I locked gazes. Like so many times before, we had no need for words.
Here she goes, on her next great adventure, and here I am, right beside her.
Amy Bunker is a published poet and author living in Oregon. Her work has appeared in Bacopa Magazine. She is a social worker by trade, and currently is a supervisor for children’s advocates in the juvenile court system. If she is not writing or working, she is likely helping to raise her two small nieces, who do an excellent impression of young badgers. She lives with two lazy cats who imagine themselves as wild hunters, and spends her weekends working on farms around the area. Though she does not sleep, she rightfully considers her life to be a charmed one.
Photo credit: Briana Tozour