Film Literature was the college course where I met someone who would change my life. No, it wasn’t my husband. It was actually his sister, almost two years before I would meet him. Across the room, I saw someone who was right up my alley. She came everyday looking a bit sleepy (or possibly hungover) like I did. We both sported gym shorts, old t-shirts, and a teased rat’s nest on top of our heads. We had no one to impress. I liked her right away.
The next semester, we had more courses together and ended up socializing outside class. A close-knit friendship developed deeply and quickly. We both brought relationship baggage stories to our weekly margarita date table; but more importantly, we brought friendship baggage to the table and weren’t keen on investing in people quickly. But we clicked in a way that you can’t force, you can’t fake, and you can’t expect.
Over the next few years, she and I continued to develop a friendship. Though, we referred to each other as soulmates. She supported me during my dad’s cancer return and his death. She loved me through the pain of my divorce and the scary excitement of a new relationship with her brother. She and her family welcomed me as one of their own instantly. Nearly every weekend and holiday, we spent together. I woke up with her family on Christmas morning the month after my dad died because my family stopped our Christmas traditions and did every year after. We dressed up and double dated every New Year’s Eve.
For several years, our paths were on the same track. We were both teaching middle school and working for her dad on the family farm in the summers. We were both in love with our significant others and dating men who were also friends. We went to concerts. We went to movies. We made silly memories nearly every weekend. It seemed that the fun would always continue.
As life would have it, however, our lives started to deviate from one another’s. She got engaged and married. She continued teaching in her hometown. She got pregnant with her first child. Her life was shaping up beautifully and traditionally and mine was full of upheaval and new beginnings. Her brother and I broke up for awhile. I left teaching to pursue graduate school. For the first time in our friendship, we were no longer seeing each other on a weekly basis and we no longer knew how to relate to someone who was suddenly so different. She had no idea what I was going through as a graduate student. And I had no idea what she was going through as a mother. The busyness consumed us and our lives marched onward and away from the closeness we shared.
The first Christmas that things were a little off, she gave me a small plaque that quoted Winnie the Pooh. It said,
“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.
During those transitions and several years after, a void began to fill in our friendship. It was full of hurt feelings, miscommunication, and anxiety. It was small things at first. Then big things. We didn’t attend important celebrations for each other. We stopped including each other in any event that wasn’t family related. Friends that were once comfortable acquaintances no longer were. Promises were made. Promises were broken. Anger, resentment, disappointment, and sadness became commonplace. Our interactions were pained and tense.
But occasionally, we would reunite for margaritas and reminiscence and laugh until the early morning hours. Those nights would feel like the old times again. But, we would quickly sink back into strangeness. See, it wasn’t always about the two of us. It’s a difficult balance trying to navigate the role of friend and the role of sister. It often felt like a triangle of feelings and incidents because as hard as we tried, it was impossible sometimes for her to separate me from my husband/her brother and it was hard for me to separate her from him, as well. So any small issues that we shared, sometimes got tangled up in the issues that we might have shared with him. In the beginning, we were really bad at being friends and sisters.
By this point, we lived two hours away from one another and we settled into a habit of seeing each other only at family events. It made us feel like our friendship only existed because of my relationship with him. If that dissolved, would we even speak again? How could two people who were so close, now regard one another as strangers despite a more intimate connection?
I think we have both had moments where we gave up. In moments of defeat and frustration, we accepted the relationship that had mutated over the years. We don’t text. We don’t send silly memes and articles. We exist in silence. But, then one of us makes the first move. You see, we both have hope that the intimacy we shared can be revived. The bridge has been set on fire, but there is a strong foundation for rebuilding. One of us always tries to rebuild.
For her birthday one year, I got her a statue of Pooh and Piglet. She knew what it meant.
Summer 2016, nearly ten years after we met, we had a conversation that probably should have happened long ago. We vowed to do better. We vowed to communicate more. We vowed to make more of an effort and coordinate our schedules for just our families to spend time and make memories like we used to. I texted her the other day. It said:
Me: I just realized we have been friends for 10 years this fall. How is that possible?
Her: Woah. I can’t believe we have been pals for almost a decade. That can’t be real.
Me: “We’ll be friends forever, won’t we Pooh?”
Her: Even longer.
She is the aunt to my children and I’m the aunt to hers. She is my husband’s sister. I am her brother’s wife. There is a messy, but beautiful connection there that is important. But our connection to him is not all defining. There was a reason we were Maid of Honor in each other’s weddings. There was a reason we were best friends. There was a reason we haven’t given up in the years that things haven’t been the best. We have seen the ugly sides of each other and still chosen to love each other. We have been hurt by each other. We have been disappointed in each other. But we hope for each other.
I want to be her friend. I want to be her sister. And I know she feels the same.