I met you when we were in the third grade. You were the new girl, sitting all alone at recess, and our teacher told me to go and ask you to play. From that day forward, we would call Mrs. Wills our guardian angel. As repayment for putting you out of your misery, you brought me my homework the next week when I was sick. We rode the same bus, and we had figured out how to get to each other’s houses by cutting across the field. Typically, we weren’t allowed to get off at other people’s stops, but we had convinced the bus driver that we were sisters. So, we spent every day at each other’s houses until our parents demanded that we come home. Even then, we would “go on a bike ride” or “walk the dog” and then meet halfway and sneak off to our secret spot in the woods to explore and pretend. We spent years playing, arguing, and experiencing important checkpoints of life together like real sisters.
My comfort food is your mom’s spaghetti. My happy place is the memory of waking up on your couch on a Saturday, wrapped in a quilt, your dog Paige gently snoring beside me. We spent the weekends playing cards, World of Warcraft, and Littlest Pet Shop. That’s the problem with living in an air force town though. People come, and people go. Your dad got stationed a few hours away halfway through middle school, and then a few hours farther in high school, and then across the Atlantic by the time we were old enough to drive. We had already become two insanely different people by the time we hit puberty. You were into pushup bras and makeup, I was into the bible and that one jacket I wore every day that hid me from the world. Absence made the heart grow fonder though, and we kept in touch. We saw each other on breaks, traveled together, and remained entangled in each other’s lives even as we transitioned from one stage of life into the next.
Our family dynamics were complex. From the outside, my life was pretty serene. Yours was, at times, tumultuous. I was quite grounded, or so I thought, when I was young. You struggled with self-image and self-betrayal. You leaned on me for support which I tried my best to provide. I worried when you moved away, but we saw each other as often as we could. When your older sister threw an anti-prom, we helped decorate and danced our hearts out, wearing dresses that made us feel like princesses. Your dress did not hide your scars. When you lived by the beach, I spent my spring break there with you. I got sun poisoning and went to court with you after you got caught with pills at school. You moved back to my hometown for a few months, but we had grown so far apart that we barely saw each other. I was hanging out with the cool kids for the time being, and you were sitting with the scene kids at lunch. Things like this would happen from time to time. We’d go months without talking, convince ourselves that we’d outgrown one another, but our names were carved on each other’s hearts. We had always had unconditional love for the other, from the very beginning. You are my best friend, unequivocally, and I know you believe the same of me. We’re stronger than family. We choose, over and over, to remain in one another’s life.
The summer after my graduation, I went on a cross-country road trip. I picked you up in Phoenix and we camped under the stars in Flagstaff. I fashioned a funnel from a water bottle because you were too scared to pee in the woods. We saw the Grand Canyon, the San Diego Zoo, and finally the Pacific Ocean, where you almost lost your life to a killer seal. I flew out to Germany when you graduated high school. I got to meet all the friends you made there. You told me about her bad trips, your suicide scare, and how you had given up drugs. We went to art museums, and castles, and drank radlers with our moms.
We’ve been a hundred different people since we met on the playground, and we’re both intimately familiar with each phase the other has gone through. That’s my favorite part of our friendship. There is no explanation needed for why things affect us the way they do, why we feel what we feel when we feel it. Most people go through life without experiencing a relationship with someone who has been there from the beginning, and understands intimately who you are as a person without judgment. That is something truly special that I appreciate more and more as we get older.
Yesterday was your birthday. As adults, we’re closer than we ever have been. I call you almost every day, and when I’m really going through it?.. multiple times a day. Knowing that you love me and want the best for me can get me through anything. Since leaving home, I’ve discovered a lot about myself and how the way I grew up affected me. You’ve been there through it all. Every toxic breakup, every diagnosis, every identity crisis, career move, and life decision. You’ve been my biggest cheerleader and, at times, the only reason I believed I could get through it. We are the strongest people in each other’s lives, and the most fragile. I am so proud of you and the progress towards healing that we’ve both made, thanks in part to our friendship. One day, we’ll be giving the maid of honor toast at each other’s weddings. We might start a compound, raise our kids together. It only gets better from here. We’ll leave this world the way that we were ushered into it, as sisters, side by side.
Happy Birthday, Adrianna Gilbert, I hope you know that you deserve the world.