I met my best friend Sarah the day I put my whole life into her hands.
In Fall 2014, I loaded up everything I deemed worth bringing – the pictures and the twinkle lights and the high school keepsakes – into my parents’ Honda Odyssey and drove south. The front steps of my dorm were crowded with the early move-in team, who’d been there three days and seemed to be astonishingly well-adjusted. Sarah waited with them, equally terrifying and exciting me with a peppy unloading process that led to everything I owned being tossed into strangers’ eager hands.
I joke that Sarah moved me in to college that day and never left my life, but that’s exactly what happened. She was so ready to embrace college, and I couldn’t help but get swept up in the way she loved life. I’d tiptoed through high school with more caution and insecurity than I would have liked, and Sarah challenged me on that. I felt myself start to reach for what I wanted, to take risks and tell people how I really felt, at her encouragement. Her raspy laugh became one of my favorite sounds; we floated effortlessly from hyper, senseless inside jokes to deep, serious secrets we never would have said aloud to anyone else.
We had a great time that first year unlocking the weird – and I mean weird – sides of each other, but the rich, reflective conversations we have are what always stand out most in my mind. We generated a language of our own – over margaritas, on our cheap futons and on the steps of Catfish pizza – that opened up a place I can always safely return to. One fated Instagram comment of hers on a particularly vulnerable post of mine – #truebutwhatsup – became our way to insist that we were there for each other. We started throwing the phrase at one another jokingly, but also when it was clear that there was something one of us was struggling with and not elaborating on.
Our problems grew bigger than the freshman year worries of date parties and extracurricular applications. We grew too, together, strong enough to take them on. Grief and anxiety and heartbreak showed up for each of us, uninvited and threatening to steal our happiness, but we had refuge in our long, satisfying heart-to-hearts. Her listening ear and insistent validation made even the emptiest moments bearable. She knew what it meant to show up for someone; to just be there in a way that gets lost in an era of removed electronic intimacy. I once came home to a candlelight lean cuisine dinner on Valentine’s Day the week I lost my grandfather, and I laughed through so many stinging tears on her couch my senior year.
True to her vibrant, adventurous core, Sarah moved to New York a few weeks after we graduated. New York brought out her freshman year self all over again – the city was just another, bigger campus to explore and make her own. Frat parties had turned into rooftop bars and the library into The Met, but her same craving for life still drove everything she did.
When I visited her the fall after graduation, we fell right back into the business of unintentionally making moments that became larger than life. Walking arm in arm, our words came fast and easy as we made up for a summer apart. The place we built freshman year was still there, effortless and spacious enough to hold the thrilling uncertainties of being twenty two. Lush rooftop patios, a hundred-year-old Victorian bar and a rowboat in Central Park became the backdrops to the same rambling life talks we used to have stretched out on the Oval on Friday afternoons.
I remember more than once wanting to slow everything down, to savor the feeling of standing under the blinding, absurdly big screens of Times Square and feeling totally at home with her by my side. A few cocktails the last night of my visit were enough to send us quite literally dancing home in the streets, laughing breathlessly at how ridiculous we must have looked to the passing traffic. We’d always had a way of floating over the rest of the people around us like that, untouchable and slap-happy and sentimental all at once.
Before I knew it, it was time to fly home and she was hugging me and pushing me into an Uber bound for the airport. Leaving her never gets easier, but the place we’ve built with hours upon hours of walking and talking and laughing will always be there. I turned back to look at the surreal canvas of lights and latticed bridges behind me, expecting to feel sad, but overwhelmingly I felt grateful. Sarah was back in there somewhere, with all the same memories only the two of us could explain, and I was headed home newly inspired to keep on diving into life with the same exuberance she did. Before I could even finish my “thanks for having me” text, she’d already wished me a safe flight. Looking out my window seat, I took in the skyline that became my best friend’s new home and smiled. I couldn’t wait to see what we’d get into next both on our own and together.