I’m falling in love with my best friend again.
I don’t mean that in any sort of romantic, husband-replacing way. I mean that when she moved to Seattle last month, I found part of myself I didn’t know I’d been missing.
Hilary and I have known each other since 7th grade reading class. I still have the coral-colored t-shirt I borrowed in junior high and accidentally-on-purpose never returned. (It’s very, very soft. And a little short.)
Growing up, our friendship followed a predictably rollercoasterish pattern. We spent symbiotic summers bouncing between each others’ houses, playing by the river in McCall, and sneaking out of the house late at night to do nothing besides be out of the house late at night. There was a group of us, with secret symbols and code names and personal mottos. All the things a girl could want.
Each winter, ski racing would start up again, and I’d travel a lot for various races. Hilary and I would fight, dependably and bitterly. One year, she threw all of my schoolbooks out of our locker. They skittered clear across sophomore hall, right in front of everyone. “It’s not like you need a locker anyway,” I remember her saying through clenched teeth. “It’s not like you’re ever here.”
Somehow, over the years, we’ve kept it alive, even living (sometimes literal) oceans apart. (I suppose it helps that her husband is in the military, and that they’re constantly stationed in exotic locales I can’t help but visit.) But the more time we spend together, the better we do.
A few weeks ago, Hilary and her family moved to Seattle. To my neighborhood. Ten blocks away, to be precise.
In the weeks before she arrived, I almost panicked. We’d never lived close with real grown-up restraints on our time – things like jobs, and laundry, and families, and other friends. We’d never had to say I’m sorry, I can’t have coffee, I have a deadline. Or No, I can’t turn on NPR right this instant. It’s bath time. Our careers don’t collide in any way, really, and our recreational interests have long since diverged. I wondered whether we’d have anything to talk about, and whether I’d be able to be around as much as she might expect.
Mostly, I was afraid of getting kicked out. The first time was bad enough, and I have a lot more books now.
But it’s been good. Really good. We’ve had meals and walks and coffee and even a few late-night phone calls. (Only now, “late” is a lot earlier.) We’re settling into our new version of permanent summer, with the added benefits of age and hindsight.
There’s nothing that builds friendship as well as time. Hilary was there when I got my braces on, for goodness’ sake, and for the beginning of my orange phase. We’re no longer so twinnish and predictable together, but her company feels necessary, like that good wool blanket you keep in the back of the car. I feel warmer with her here, even on the days I don’t see her.
The funny thing is, since Hilary arrived, I’ve been feeling pretty good physically, too. Long ago, we formed a habit of talking, about nothing and everything, without thinking about time. I’ve been surprised to find I can still do it – I can still fall into a conversation without envisioning its end, or watching the clock, as I admit I do so often. She doesn’t make me nap, or tell me what to eat, but she calms me. (I wonder how much modern medicine might improve if doctors started prescribing long-term friendship.)
I’m helping her, too, I think. The other day I babysat, so she could go see a movie with another friend, for the first time in months. I raced around the house with her toddler, Abi. We read seven books. Then we napped together. As she snuggled up against me, I couldn’t help but feel like my best friend had blossomed into two people. I felt so lucky.
Abi woke up and looked at me with woeful, sleepy eyes. “Eeeeeaaaatttt,” she pleaded desperately. “Cheeeeeeese.”
Wouldn’t it be great, if every time you got hungry, you could just wail the word “Eat,” and food would come your way? (I’m going to work on that with Jim: “Eeeaaatt. Enchilaaaadaaaaas.”)
“Yes,” I said to Abi. “Eat. Let’s eat.”
We sat on the kitchen floor together and ate cheese. (Abi wants to name her baby sister Cheese, too. I believe her suggestion is still under consideration.)
In high school, when a crisis hit, our group of girls would flock around the victim with food: Ben & Jerry’s, or hot, gooey rice crispy treats. We shoveled food in through tears and laughter, usually slumped against the cupboards on someone’s kitchen floor.
Sitting there, with Abi, I thought of how life evolves, about how what qualified as a crisis before – a mean rumor, or a disastrous exchange student – lead us to the same spot Abi needed, to cure post-nap hunger pains. They say comfort always comes in the kitchen; I sometimes think it has more to do with the kitchen floor.
As I was leaving that day, Hilary said, “Call me for dinner. We’re always available.” Her intonation reminded me of her mother. Standing there on her porch with one foot in the house and one stepping into next week, I’m sure I reminded her of mine.
I took a deep breath. “I think I need to work on being a little less available,” I sort of half-whispered, still afraid of not being the friend I’d want, if I were her. It occurred to me that almost twenty years ago, I might have passed her the same words in a note, written on purple paper and folded into some nifty shape.
“Okay,” she said.
And it was as easy as that. No book throwing. Just complete understanding. We hugged good-bye.
The next day, I emailed her: You have plans for dinner?
She responded: Coming to your house?
I seared salmon, and topped it with a Thai basil salsa verde. You could call it an Asian chimichurri, which it was, or a pesto made with all the green things leftover in one of my refrigerator’s produce drawers, which it also was.
We chatted and gossiped while Hilary picked the basil, then tried to convince Abi that salmon is not poisonous. (She much preferred dipping her rotini into the green sauce.)
Then we had ice cream (no crisis required), and talked about nothing and everything, without thinking about time.
Hil, I’m so glad you’re here.
Thai Basil Salsa Verde (PDF)
Smeared into Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches or scooped onto grilled salmon, this bright, slightly spicy condiment opens the door on the word “pesto.” It keeps nicely in a sealed container in the fridge for about a week without turning brown.
TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: About 1 cup
1 packed cup Thai basil leaves (the kind with purple stems)
2/3 packed cup fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large clove garlic, smashed
Juice of 1/2 large lime
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Add the first six ingredients to the work bowl of a food processor, and whirl until very finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.