It seems proper now to call you by your birth name. For a long time, you answered to dozens of nicknames I tossed your way. They were always something ridiculous, like Angie Pangie Poopsa-Ramsie or Angeleenie.
You might be curious why I’ve chosen today to write you a letter. You’ve known me since I was a lightweight, even before I was allowed to shave my legs. We both sported our maiden names and guessed how many kids we would have when we grew up. I had short blonde hair and energy like a Monster drink, and you were a tall goddess with olive skin and wild curly hair the color of graying midnight. We were middle school twins, complete opposites but rarely apart.
It’s been over 18 years since I met you. Why today am I thrown back into those years that overflowed with rambunctious joy and 9 pm phone calls to talk about math homework and boys?
Well, I am Marie Kondo-ing my life along with hundreds of recently inspired Americans. The other day I opened my wedding day memory box, filled with Bridal Shower quizzes, pre-marital counseling notes, and a hundred or more cards. My fingers flipped through the Congrats and On your Wedding Day cards and stopped when I saw light purple paper.
I picked up the card, knowing it was from you. I have re-read it since my wedding day, the words inside making me ache with memory.
Glued on the front were colorful bits cut from scrapbook paper and old cards. You chose a little blue bird looking into the distance, and even an impossibly small green button. You took the time to make me a handmade card amidst a sea of Hallmarks and I will keep it forever because as Marie Kondo would say; it sparks joy.
It made me think about my wedding day and how you tucked behind the piano and sang “Love Never Fails” with such intention and accuracy. I wanted the world to fall in love with your voice like I had at with all our friends at sleepovers singing The Dixie Chicks, when your voice soared above ours, rich with vibrato and curvy like the edge of a cloud.
Your handwriting inside the card stood big and fluffy like an oversized stuffed animal, and it got sloppier by the end when you signed off with the classic, “Love, Ang.” Seeing the loops of your s’s and the tilt of your penned words made me tear up.
I’ve missed you.
When we graduated from middle school and split to attend different high schools, I hated that I couldn’t run laps with you on the basketball court or talk between classes, weaving all our important thoughts back and forth like the pigtail braids in our hair. Like, our Number the Stars book in English class. Or the way Mrs. Hendsbee’s bangs curled obnoxiously across her forehead. And of course, how Mark gave the best hugs and was the nicest of the boys we eyeballed daily.
I knew I would miss cornering you in the locker room after gym class, pleading, “Sing to me!” Your shyness prevented you from belting out your songbird voice. I never stopped harassing you to sing, sing, sing. When you performed in High School Musical, I sat next to your dad in the balcony and watched the tears drain from his eyes during your solos.
Your voice melted us.
When we attended college 650 miles apart, I bossed you around to send me your voice recital recording. You laughed and said, “I sound like I am singing underwater, and a baby is crying during one of the songs!”
But I didn’t care. I missed my old best friend, and I wanted to close my eyes, to remember. I wanted to stop being an adult for a second and go back to the giggles, the grief we caused our teachers, the note-passing in between classes. I wanted to remember the rush of air when we raced down the halls to the water fountain. Mr. Turcotte chiding us for “straggling in like wet dogs.” If I thought about it, I could conjure up the code names we gave to the boys.
Not all of my friends in middle school were as trustworthy as you. One Friday night when you invited the whole crew of girls over for a sleepover, we camped out in your basement. After pizza, we watched “That Thing You Do” and sang the catchy lyric over and over like a toy stepped on by accident that won’t shut up. We rolled around in our sleeping bags telling stories before we turned the lights out. I had to pee but didn’t feel like getting up out of my warm cocoon.
Hannah piped up, “Ooo oo oo, I have the best story. It’s so funny, you guys will love it.”
“Wait!” I squealed, “I have to pee!” But as I scrambled out of my bag, she began. Hannah had long, white lightning hair that fell straight like mozzarella string cheese. Her eyes were big, and she stared especially at me to hook me in the room.
You remember Hannah. She was the kind of friend who did the opposite of what you asked. If I told her a secret and asked her not to tell anyone, she wrote it on the homeroom dry erase board. She wasn’t always honest, but so funny you couldn’t ignore her presence in a room.
I crossed my legs and stayed, knowing Hannah’s stories were always hilarious.
“So my dad took me and my sister camping in the woods last summer,” she began. Soon the flapping of her hands and dramatic face animations sent us giggling. I thought, Man, this is getting really good. I can’t leave now!
“The rain started pouring and our tent was broken and falling on us. We were stuck inside!”
Suddenly, she flipped on her back and shot her legs straight up in the air.
“We had to HOLD THE TENT UP WITH OUR LEGS the whole night!” She shouted with emphasis while my friends and I slapped the carpet in laughter, gasping for breaths.
I finally rushed to the bathroom just a little… too… late. My pajamas were ruined.
As funny as her story was, I was so embarrassed and mad that Hannah didn’t wait for me before starting even though it was so like her to do that. Her lack of consideration grated me like sandpaper.
Ang, you were the friend who would watch my favorite movie with me even if you thought it was dorky. (You did this several times, due to all the Focus on the Family movies my family bought while boycotting Disney).
You were the one who patiently helped me through all my boy drama, both the “real” relationships and the crushes that never came to fruition. We sat on the floor of your bedroom flipping through Christian CD’s and talking about youth group, song lyrics and doubting God. Your parents didn’t let you listen to Avril Lavigne, and I snuck in country music as much as I could. We were both navigating the winding road of secular and sacred, Jesus and Jewel.
My heart was always safe with you. You never abused or neglected our friendship, and in return, I pledged you undying loyalty. Maybe that’s why I can’t quite get rid of you even when so so many of my friendships from youth have long since faded beyond the horizon.
I can’t explain it.
Our friendship was the thickest of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and it carried me through middle school. I needed your strong, quiet personality to ground me and you needed me to pull your hand out to the dance floor. We were knees and elbows dancing, our nerves shaking but our hearts syncing to the pulse of best-friendship.
The middle school years are in a time capsule, buried deep under the crust of millions of hours spent apart now. Our lives have shot off in different directions, and we are nestled with our husbands in opposite corners of the country. You are in the Pacific Northwest raising a beautiful daughter and speaking therapy-life into lucky people who sit on the couch opposite your warm, friendly presence. I am in the sun-hot southern peninsula tutoring language students, pastor wife-ing and getting embarrassingly lost in nostalgia.
It’s okay to be apart. It’s okay to admit it’s been a while since we’ve stamped a new memory on our friendship passport. It’s okay that we are in different worlds.
Treasuring you from afar is enough, even if I miss you. I know you are there where it rains and I am here in the oppressive heat, but my heart still leaks love and care like it did in 2003 when we hugged and cried at our 8th-grade graduation.
Live your life, sweetheart. And I’ll live mine.
Just know that my memories of us drip thick and sugary like honey, and they stick to me, not going anywhere.