I lived in room 424 and she lived in room 324. I drove a bright yellow Geo Storm and she drove a bright orange VW Bug with plaid interiors. Kym and I met in August of my Junior year in college. We were Resident Advisors together and after one weekend of being on duty we were best friends. Kym is the keeper of my twenties. She knows the stories she can share (the night we dressed as ninjas) and the ones that are best forgotten. She knows when I’m lying to myself and tells me. We ate breakfast together, dinner together, walked to class together and dated sets of roommates. There isn’t a kiss, crush, or heartbreak that happened between ages 19-28 that Kym doesn’t know about or witnessed.
As college faded into the past and our lives became involved with husbands and careers and children our hourly communication drifted gradually into once every couple of months. The two lives that were so completely intertwined in college eventually became two parallel lives in different cities and often in different states.
This past September Kym’s husband was deployed to the middle east. Deployments are never easy, but Kym has waited through them before and was prepared for the four months ahead of her. We talked before her husband’s deployment and exchanged some sporadic emails in the month that followed. She was doing fine and keeping her family on track. In November I called to check on her and she shared her excitement about her mother flying down in the next couple of days. Her mom was going to stay with her for a month and she and the kids were so excited. Three days later Kym called to tell me that her mother would not be flying down because she had been admitted into the hospital with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. A reoccurrence of a disease her mother had battled only 18 months prior.
Her voice was different. I knew, as only a friend of 20 years can know, that she had crossed her tipping point. She said she was okay and she said she would manage and that she didn’t need help but it was all a lie. Her voice. The sadness and despair that lurked right under the surface was evident. David insisted she come and stay with us until her husband’s return. She resisted. I insisted that she stay with us for Thanksgiving, but she said no. I started calling weekly, texting regularly, and trying to gauge her needs from afar. In December, she finally relented to come for Christmas – Kym, her four kids and two dogs. When they finally spilled out of their car and I caught her in my arms I didn’t want to let go.
The holiday was magical. There was joy and laughter and kindness and children and puppies billowing out of every corner of my house. We ate cookies, played games, shopped and talked until midnight EVERY DAY. We retold old stories, made new ones, and fell into the easy friendship that has sustained for so many years – the only thing missing was the cafeteria food. We cried at every doctor’s update and smiled at every phone call from overseas. We rolled our eyes at our children, shook our fists in frustration and laughed at the mothers we have become. And after ten days and with the promise that we will not allow so much time to pass between visits she packed up and drove home.
Friendship is hard. It is hard to find friends, make friends and keep friends. Most of us can look in our rear view mirror and see friendships that were dropped along the roadside, either due to time, or circumstance. Female friendships are even harder, frequently the victim of hurt feelings. But if you are lucky enough to have a friend — just one — that can look into your eyes and know your heart, who willingly shares your tears, and who can make you laugh at every corner of life – you are the richest person of all. And this Christmas, as I was surrounded by my parents, my sister, my brother-in-law, my nephews and my best friend I realized there wasn’t a single thing I wanted for Christmas.