The Beauty of Lifelong Friendships
The first thing I remember about Rachel was the back of her head. She was sitting in front of me at a job-hiring event in 1995 for a soon-to-open Borders bookstore in Tucson. I was a college student at the University of Arizona at the time and was applying for a part-time job. Tucson being a literary and arty college town, the room was full of young, hip, newly minted English-lit grads and creative-writing types.
When Rachel turned around and said hi, I did a double-take. She was the spitting image of Winona Ryder, straight out of Reality Bites. Her friendliness was disarming, and I liked her immediately. She had just moved to town with her boyfriend, Noah, from Maryland. (The story goes, they picked Tucson randomly from a handful of other cities out of a hat, and that’s how two East Coasters found themselves in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.)
Bonding Over Books
When we both got hired, we became instant friends. Rachel and I bonded over our love of books and writing. We spent nights working at the bookstore and hung out with coworkers after closing. We stayed up all hours talking at a 24-hour diner, eating pie and drinking coffee. We started an informal writing group with friends. She wrote fiction and I wrote poetry. We wore our Gen X angst like so much flannel.
Rachel and Noah moved back east after a year, and it wasn’t until 2001, when I moved to Brooklyn, that she and I again lived on the same coast. Over the years, we celebrated milestones together — weddings, baby showers, the terrible twos — she in Maryland, me in New York, separated only by a few hours and phone calls. When I gave birth to my son in 2004, she came to visit and gave him a little toy blanket that he loved, which we nicknamed Noel (a portmanteau of Noah and Rachel). Three years later, she would give birth to her own little boy, whom they named Noel.
I moved back west in 2013, and even now, it seems inconceivable that Rachel is so far away again. I flew to Baltimore in 2017 and we went to the Women’s March together in Washington, D.C. We were now mothers terrified about the state of the union, marching for the future of our country and our children. There, in a sea of half a million women, I realized how fortunate I was to have randomly met this one woman all those years ago.
Last summer, Rachel and her family, along with another family with whom they are close, drove west in an RV for a summer road trip, and we met up at a campground in Bryce Canyon in Utah. Under the night sky, grilling steaks on a fire, we found some respite from the raging pandemic. We watched our now teen boys awkwardly try to talk to each other. We grew sleepy after a few sips of whiskey. Long gone are the all-nighters of our 20s; we were now middle-aged women, creaky in places but wise where it counts.
"In a sea of half a million women, I realized how fortunate I was to have randomly met this one woman all those years ago."
As the pandemic drags on, we check in on each other over text. There are days that are seemingly impossible to get through — the anxiety, the boredom, the singular challenge of parenting teenagers in this extraordinary time. We both feel all this in our own way, in our respective corners of the country, and yet, knowing she’s there, three blinking dots away, offers an immense comfort.
I have known Rachel for more than half my life now, and though we only see each other every few years, it’s as if we’ve been having this never-ending conversation that began decades ago. We never try to catch up with each other’s lives; we just live them, and when we see each other along the way, we simply pick up where we left off.