It was fall of 1999 when Lara and I moved to Texas. We were twenty-two and we packed up her old-but-reliable car. Loading and overflowing the trunk and backseat with our vital and unnecessary crap.
This is Lara.
Lara and I have known each other since we were thirteen. In some ways, we haven’t changed at all. In some ways, it was like two thirteen-year-olds taking a road trip. That’s how exciting it was– like someone had given our younger selves the keys to a car, some money, and a map.
This is me.
Before our trip, we had never spent a significant amount of time together. We’d met at summer camp the year we were officially teenagers. A time when I had bangs and braces and wore floral shorts. Lara sported 90’s glasses and a denim poncho.
We were the only two girls who didn’t have pierced ears. And whose parents didn’t own a television. And who had never heard of Easy Cheese.
Our friendship went on to survive a phone-based operation for the subsequent ten years: Lara in New Hampshire, me in Pennsylvania.
Those were years before the internet… Before everyone had unlimited cell-phone minutes. Or Skype. Or text-messaging. Or Facebook. Or even email.
We had to write each other letters. And then wait for the post office to deliver them.
We’d see each other at camp every year. Three weeks of cramming in all the time we could. A manic crunch of late nights and hysteria. Trying to fit an entire year into twenty-one days.
It’s hard– when you are thirteen, and fourteen, and fifteen– to be separated from the only person who understands you. To be apart from your favorite person on the planet.
Separated by all those states for all those years, the idea– of spending all the time in the world, with each other. Was almost incomprehensible.
The idea of getting in a car and doing nothing, other than finally welding our brains together, was beyond understanding. The magnitude of it rivaled time travel.
If you had said to us—you can trade this experience for a magic wand, a genie, the fountain of youth, and a cave of gold. We would have said, oh? No thanks. And driven off into the sunset in a car that didn’t have power windows or a cd player.
We packed our favorite books, a camera, and a notebook to write down what happened. We each put three-hundred dollars in an envelope— our fund for gas and motels and other shared expenses. And we left.
We drove off, with no direction, and no end point, and no GPS. Listening to Cher and clutching at each other in disbelief.
We went to Nashville, and Memphis, and Graceland, and Beale Street. We passed over the Mississippi River at midnight.
We drove through the Smoky Mountains. We got lost. We spent days staring out the windows at mountains and shacks and farms and gas stations and signs— advertising everything from discount fireworks, to the impending Rapture.
We spent our days talking. And talking. And talking. And singing at the top of our lungs. And laughing. And saying, I know! I know! Oh my God, I KNOW.
Looking at the map and asking each other — do you know for sure what state we’re in?
Rolling down our windows at a red light and saying– excuse me? Is this Arkansas?
Staying up late, in cheap, roadside motels. Talking, talking, talking… As thought we hadn’t just spent the entire day, and the day before, and the day before that, chattering at ever-increasing speed.
We saw our road-trip as a great adventure. And evidence of our remarkable spontaneity and imagination. But was really just us laughing hysterically at the slightest provocation. Toting a coffee pot, our own mugs. Hauling our own pillows and towels.
Lara is the only person who could possibly tolerate a cross-country trip with me, let alone enjoy it.
The time I batted my eyes at the Sherriff of Reliance Tennessee—giving him a flirty goodbye, and then nearly crashing into his police cruiser.
I had driven away briskly, without remembering the car was in reverse… Screeching backwards in a horrifying lurch. Lara and I straight-faced while I shifted into drive and pulled away calmly. Waving to the Sherriff to signal everything was fine.
Twenty feet down the road, tears streaming down our faces. The kind of laughter that prohibits breathing or speech. Me, wiping my eyes and sobbing and trying to see the road. Lara slumped against the passenger door. Bypassing all appearance of laughter, weeping hysterically.
For years to come, Lara would occasionally bat her eyes at me and coo in a fluttery voice—OH Sherriff! And then make the screeching sound-effects meant to convey nearly colliding with a police car.
We ended up in Fort Worth, Texas. And rented an apartment. The first for either of us. We went and looked at places to live together. With the same kind of astonishment other people reserve for marveling at their newborn children. We literally could not believe that we were doing this.
We looked at three apartments… The very least amount of time I have ever spent researching information to make an important decision. We ended up back at the first one, signed a lease, and went to buy cleaning supplies.
Maybe you can imagine our glee. If you think of yourself and your best friend. At a time when you were young, and yet to be beat over the head with anything unfortunate. Now give yourself an apartment. And the freedom to do whatever you want.
We didn’t have a sofa. Or a TV. Or a kitchen table. Or a computer. We bought futons, forgoing the frames, and putting them directly on the floor.
We made a shower curtain that documented every funny thing that happened. Snippets of dialogue and one-word references to experiences that escape me now.
We both had a small amount of money to begin with. Not a lot. But since we weren’t buying furniture. Or getting our nails done. Or going out to restaurants. Not even to Starbucks. Our expenses were low. And our rent was only $550—which, split between two people is practically free.
So at first, we didn’t even get jobs. We spent our days laughing and going to the library. And reading, and talking, and jumping up and down, and planning to take over The Alamo.
We laughed constantly. We laughed and laughed and laughed.
There was nothing that was not funny.
And we talked.
And talked. And talked.
And talked. And talked. And talked.
We talked a lot. Making up for all those years of deprivation. Sitting out on our small balcony in flimsy, plastic lawn-chairs we bought on clearance.
We would prop our feet up on the railing. Wearing pajama pants and ratty t-shirts. Sunglasses during the day. Cheap wine at night. To you, this sounds depressing and strange. To us, it was ideal and blissful.
We talked for hours, days, weeks. Late into the night. Out on the patio. Staring up at the sky, from the safety of our concrete bunker. Our parents, our boyfriends, our loves, our hates, the things that scare us, the way I loathe when people stand too close to you in line.
Nothing was too trivial, too abstract, too silly. We had been waiting for this since we were thirteen—the opportunity to spend as much time as we could, talking. And it was just as good as we knew it would be. Like meditating or taking drugs—a way of reaching a higher plane of consciousness.
Like opening off the top of our heads and leaning over and saying– look around, tell me what you see.
Our trip to Texas was all of the best parts of us. Of our friendship. Of being young. Of having an adventure.
Like a honeymoon— a time of giddiness, love, and general euphoria. To be accompanied by someone who expects nothing from you, other than your presence. To be with someone who wants nothing more, than to just be with you.
This year, we’ve been friends for 22 years.
Happy Birthday, Lara.
I will love you EVEN MORE… If you share me with your friends.