“Do you feel like switching today?” she asks me.
“No Duhhhhh. I always feel like switching, Silly.”
Together we reach our hands over each other’s heads and pull off the imaginary helmets of hair, like oxygen-starved astronauts devouring air for the first time. She gets my red curly locks and I get her blonde braids for 60 glorious minutes.
That One Luscious Hour, after math problems but before lunchtime, was an epic chance to let down my two, imaginary Barbie blonde braids and swing them round and round, living out my 1/64th Native American heritage on the school blacktop.
That’s how she and I became best friends; the closest thing to sisters without the blood or cousins. Eighteen years of friendship woven since that very first hair swap. Since
we both first realized we could escape the world and what it was and the way it worked through one another.
The memory does a nostalgic little rain dance in my head as we sit across from one another. Newly 23, beautiful and no longer swapping hair styles during the coveted hour we’ve managed to uncover within a tangle of fulltime jobs and final exams; some would say we’ve moved onto more grown up trades: stories, jokes, qualms, and advice. All still just as knotted as my hair back in those days. Still just as silky and gold as her fine, fine braids.
Friendship. I can tell you that the definition sits on my kitchen wall, cropped and comfortable within the confines of a 4×6 frame. The black and white photo is a picture of my mother’s Aunt Kathleen and my own grandmother, Dee. The two of them were best friends. Inseparable. Passing away within one year of each other.
And while I assumed they were tied together so fiercely by their Irish roots, Dee always being the one to don a sequined green beret and fill her lungs with Irish proverbs, it turns out my Grandma was not a stitch of Irish. For that reason alone, the other girls shunned her. A Bright-Eyed German Girl with no friends just because of her nationality, growing up in a Big City that would one day mature into a Brewing Pot for the Irish, German, Mexicans, English, Vietnamese & Dominican population. Spades, Aces, Clubs & Hearts all leaning against one another in a House of Cards.
But Kathleen swooped in and swept Irish from the requirements of her friendship with Dee to create a bond between the two of them that lasted all their lives. And they were lucky girls, lucky to have one another in a life made for singing about bicycles built for two.
Sadly, I don’t know much about Kathleen. I don’t know whether she stood her ground and told those mean girls off, or whether she silently linked her arm within my grandmother’s and showed her first how to walk in the other direction. Regardless, I still believe she might’ve been a lot like my best friend, teaching me to stand up for myself without ever being a stitch of sorry for taking up space in this world.
She’s my Yellow, I would tell anyone about my best friend. She is absolutely my Yellow in the way that Kathleen was Dee’s Blue. The world would spin just fine without Yellow or Blue but it is so much brighter with those hues added in. Yellow in laughter. In Jokes. In talking as the sun goes down. In still talking when it rises up again. In the way a best friend knows your heart is breaking before you even hear the first crack. In the way she is a fellow artist, painting the mural of “Growing Up” alongside you, a mess of Gold and Silver Paint that crawls the walls of buildings you’ve both known since childhood.
In the way you sometimes part but manage to keep folding paper cranes out of the rich papers of Missing You and Needing You and Praying for You. Every Night. No matter the multitude of prayers spilling over into the lap. Your name. Always there. Without Doubt. An asterisk beside it.
The questions of a 20-something—Why am I here? And what do I do next? And was this the right move?—sit silent for the sacred hour that finds she and I in the same place. Sits Silent in the Name of Friendship. Suddenly there are no worries. No need to tap it out to the galaxy: LOL. Because we’re really sitting right there, kicking our sandals up and Laughing Out Loud over the way things used to be when we were chronic Curly Lock Swappers. No other places to be. No need to look down at our feet to make sure they are still planted into the ground. There’s just my best friend; the keeper of my stories and the secrets that left us linking pinkies. Promising never to tell.