When I was nine years old, I arrived at sleepaway camp with my best friend, Fran. Anxious and reluctant to go to camp in the first place, I listened as the counselors announced bunk assignments. Sheer panic set in when we were assigned different housing. The thought of being separated from her terrified me, and on top of that, I had never been away from home.
The one thing I was counting on to get me through the week in the woods was being with Fran every step of the way. We were quite the pair. Physically, we looked like opposites: I was tall and very tanned, while she was short with creamy porcelain skin. My parents called us Mutt and Jeff, after the comic strip about the mismatched couple. Fran was my lifeline and I couldn’t face the frightening unknowns of summer camp without her. With tears in my eyes, I pleaded to the counselors to put us in the same bunkhouse. They relented and reassigned, and I survived the week with the help of my Kindergarten friend.
I think back to those days often, and of our friendship. We spent our summers side by side, riding our bikes, counting mosquito bites, and playing games borne of our grade school imaginations. We were only kids at the time, but we did a good job at staying in touch over the years. When I left for college, she attended a school nearby. Staying close took more effort in the days before Internet and cell phones, but we did our best to stay up to date on each other’s lives.
As we got older, first jobs, first apartments, weddings, and baby showers followed. Our friendship became more distant as life got busier and more complicated. Our contact was less frequent, but every time we got the chance to catch up over a phone call, our talks were meaningful and authentic — like we hadn’t missed a beat.
A few years ago, I got a call from Fran after not speaking for a while. She was in tears, and she shared the hardships going on in her life. I sobbed upon hearing that her father had passed. I had many fond memories of him and felt the pain of her loss. We were there for each other in times of need in a way that only someone who has known you almost your entire life can be. Her continued presence through the ups and downs of life made me realize how special our relationship is and I’ve come to cherish our friendship more than ever.
Over the years, other friends have come and gone in my life — some to my surprise or dismay — but Fran has always been there, even in the distance. She is the one friend who’s always remembered my birthday, without any prompts from Facebook to post well wishes on my timeline. Fran is the reason I tell my children to hold on to their childhood friends — even as the tether is stretched and twisted over years, miles, or life changes. These friendships are unique, and help remind us that meaningful bonds will always hold a place in our hearts.
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