Nineteen years ago, I left my best friend, left the country, and went off to college.
We were sad.
On one of our last nights together, as best friends, she gave me two gifts: a key chain and a statue; both of Quan Yin, goddess of mercy and compassion, to match the jade pendant I'd worn around my neck.
We'd only met when I was fifteen, at a grocery store where we were cashiers. She was a year older than I, and more experienced in many ways.
Oh, how I looked up to her in those early days. She was so happy, no, jubilant about everything. Her laugh would shake the room. If she smiled, everyone smiled. Everyone wanted to be around her, to be her friend. We all orbited around her infectious joy.
She taught me about boys, how to get them, what they wanted. She gave me lessons with a water bottle.
We did bad things together. Drank. Smoked. And got away with it. Always.
She'd drive us around, talking and smoking. She'd have to pull over as her fits of laughter made driving perilous.
If she was laughing her ass off, anyone near her was laughing their ass off.
We had a ritual when lighting a cigarette. We knew the habit was unhealthy, so whenever we'd light up, we'd pick something to celebrate; as if concentrating on a positive would counteract the negative we were doing to our bodies.
We tried so hard to not be sad on that last night. We tried to celebrate that last smoke. But we knew something was ending. We were sad. I had guilt over leaving her behind.
We remained close throughout college. Even though I was a country away. I called. She called. We wrote letters and sent cards.
Summers were fun. Cigarettes were celebrated.
I graduated from water bottles.
I finished college and landed back 'home'. We had jobs and rent and responsibility but found time for irresponsible fun.
She got pregnant. She struggled with a troublesome relationship.
I babysat when I could while going to nursing school.
I moved away again.
We stayed close. Called and wrote often. She came up to Vermont with her two year old daughter for a visit.
I flew down to Florida for her wedding. I sent her new husband care packages in Afghanistan. She came up to Boston when Owen was born.
I have four sisters, but always considered her a fifth. Neither time nor distance seemed to effect our relationship.
When I went into labor with Bea, she was my first phone call. It was 2am here, but she was in Germany, so I knew she'd be awake. It was her birthday. Bea was born on her birthday.
And maybe having a newborn and a tube fed Deaf kid are my excuse. Maybe having two kids and a husband away at war is her excuse. But. The phone calls became less frequent. Internet birthday wishes aren't the same as a card in the mail.
Distance seemed to be finally growing between us despite our many years apart.
And I looked forward to seeing her this summer. The first time in 7 years. The first time she'd meet Bea.
It was today, for a whole hour. And we didn't have much to say to each other.
And it was as I expected it to be.
I don't know if I'll ever see her again. And it is ok. Really.
But I will speak to her again. And tell her that I still have that key chain. It is the only one I have. It is holding all my keys right this very moment.
Who keeps a key chain for 19 years?
And I still have the statue of Quan Yin. The one with the removable hand. And though I've moved a dozen times or more since she gave it to me, I still have the hand. The little teeny hand that should have gotten lost in countless moves.
How did I not lose that hand?
I need to tell her I never lost the hand.