I have a vivid memory of the first time I knew that I was in the company of a best friend. We were at a playground halfway between our houses at the far end of New Orleans East. This was back in what I suppose was the heyday of that neighborhood, when kids roamed free and best friends could ride their bikes half a mile away without worry. At our playground, we’d sit atop the jungle gym and eat Twizzlers and Airheads and talk about junior high things. Maybe one of us had a Tiger Beat in our back pocket and we poured over pictures of New Kids on the Block and discussed Tiffany’s hair. It was the kind of casual dialogue reserved only for girlfriends—the kind of friends who don’t run out of things to talk about and the kind of friends who don’t need to talk at all. Like soulmates.
I don’t know who the first girlfriends were, but I imagine that just when Adam was bringing Eve to the brink of insanity, God created girlfriends. And it was good.
They have been my saving grace since the jungle gym. Regardless of which guy was my latest obsession, my loyalty to the girls never wavered. I lived for talking until dawn at sleepovers. The lunch table was therapy. And more life mysteries were solved sitting on the outdoor stairwell of my sorority house than ever since. Today, just when I think being an adult is a load of crap, I sit down with my girls and my stress melts away in a big belly laugh. Girlfriends are the endorphins we talk to, a euphoric high that cannot be bottled.
So why are they so easily lost? Think about certain faces on your feed. Do you ever wonder about the girlfriends who went through the worst with you, watched you survive, and yet still slipped away without so much as an argument to blame? I wonder how we can be so enamored by a person, only to let them sink into the abyss of past friendships.
Proximity, or the inevitability that they merely represented a season, not a lifetime, can be blamed for the drift. There are those who come and go. Their presence, at reunions or weddings, is like a homecoming, bringing all the nostalgia and sweetness from a time gone by. But the rest, those are the ones whose loss can rival that of a broken heart. Is it possible to get everything out of a friendship and just walk away like it never was? Maybe it’s change, and we either change with them or away from them. But I wonder when we drift, is it possible to not occasionally look back, and when we do, what stops us from reaching out?
Meaningful friendships are selfless work. The best ones require almost as much commitment as a romantic relationship. It’s hard to be there. It’s hard to meet, answer calls, and listen when they need to talk. We’re only allotted a handful of regretted invitations before they stop coming. Maybe this is why some people only have a few close friends. I get it. With obligations to other relationships and family, it’s too easy to let girlfriends slip by. That must be the magic behind the euphoria they bring because it’s like a miracle you get together at all.
I know enough to know that the best friends stand the test of time because as we drift, they drift just close enough. I was the first of my friends to have kids. I’m here to tell you being the first to have kids sucks. You miss almost everything. But if you’re in the right hands, friends adapt to you. You may not always meet them at the Columns for happy hour, but they show up at your baby’s party in City Park, the loudest and with the biggest gift. At least that was my case.
Before my husband could whisk me away at the end of our wedding reception, my squad stole me. We sat on a balcony, under the stars, and recounted the day with the same off the cuff humor as if we were back on the stairwell in college. Later, just as my husband was loading my suitcase, he saw theirs alongside mine—a joke, but also a message. They were part of the package. He would never get all of me.
Because at some point, maybe sitting on a jungle gym in a suburban playground, in a booth at a dive bar near campus, at a krewe social, or in the back row of a PTA meeting, we realize that there is something sacred about girlfriends that men just don’t understand. We are free to be vulnerable, and that feels so good. And if we’re very lucky, we never drift away.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.