I always say Emily and I have known one another since we were six, but when I trace the first time my mother pulled into the Nagler’s driveway on Sherwood to our Parent-Toddler Co-Op days, I realize we were younger than that.
Six just sounds right. I think it’s because six is the same color of the spots on the stuffed dog Emily gave me, and the maple syrup we’d drizzle over Jim’s fresh hotcakes in the morning, and the wooden deck behind their house hot under bare feet in the summertime. I think it’s because six is a tangible word, but then again, aren’t they all? Every word has shape and color and texture, and if the name Emily were these things, it’d look like the drop and crest of the hill next to the courthouse, be clothed green, and feel smooth as lemon cream pie.
She looks at me funny when I talk like that.
I’d like to say we were four, not six. But aren’t some of the most significant friendships the ones that are difficult to trace back to the start?
With approximately seventeen years of friendship kept in different places, we’ve seen it all, most of it together. But the interesting rule about being friends with Emily is it isn’t always necessary to reflect on those things. At least not together.
So maybe, today, I’m reflecting on my own.
Emily heads to New Zealand today. There, as an exchange student, she will be considered “the Canadian.” At her university in British Columbia, she is considered “the American.” Here in Northwestern America, with me, she’s just Emily.
“I want to prove to myself I can do this on my own,” Emily said from the passenger seat of my car on Father’s Day.
She can. She will.
Emily is capable because she is calm. She is collected. It’s in her straight-faced disposition, the way she balances with one foot flat against the other leg like a flamingo while waiting for something and snaps her fingers when she comes out of a dressing room in a new outfit.
The majority of her friends, including me, I’ve noticed, spend a lot of time in their heads. Emily spends most of her time out of hers.
Life looks comparatively simple when the most difficult problems are the ones in front of you–a hiking trail, or a math-based physics equation, or a change in weather. Emily knows what she can and can’t control. She takes what she can and leaves the rest.
The best advice Emily ever gave me was to let things die. She told me this over Skype during our second year of university. By that time, we were more accustomed to dealing with distance.
I tend toward sentimentality. Emily does not.
But sometimes I think it’s because I remember that Emily does not forget.
I’ll be honest about Emily because honesty is all I know how to be; she can be an unfriendly stranger and a strange friend.
The other day she admitted that she’d rather not talk to people she didn’t know. She told me that in the past, people who didn’t know her said that firsthand, she came off as intimidating and unimpressed.
It took me a long time to understand these observations because I never got the chance. I never had to walk past her in the high school hallway, or introduce myself at a get-together, be her tennis partner, fellow Glee Club member, or Environmental Club volunteer. I knew her name as well as I knew mine, knew her favorite Girl Scout cookies and had seen Lauren antagonize her to tears. We had braces and bad hair together. We have an archive of home videos we thought at the time were hilarious and cool but are really just embarrassing and totally off-limits for wedding material (I’m serious Emily; I will kill you.)
And that is why I’d call her a strange friend. I know all her funny faces (wide eyes, slack mouth, followed by a laugh), odd habits (repeating others’ words loudly and abbreviated), and silly indulgences (Kevin jokes, Cheez-Its, stupid-funny movies like Hot Rod.)
That’s the Emily I wish the cynics could see, but at the same time I like that I, and her sister, and my sister, know these things exclusively. I like that it has taken seventeen years to get there.
Emily doesn’t really give encouragement unless it’s asked for because I don’t think she recognizes it as a need. That’s why she never–I mean, never–asks for affirmation herself.
When adolescent girls forlornly peered into her bathroom mirror while getting ready for school dances, complaining about their hair or their waistlines or the athletic width of their shoulders, Emily simply ordered them to stop. She didn’t shower them in compliments, or start picking herself apart like most girls do, but simply said, “Stop. You’re fine.”
Emily said her biggest confidence is her personality and her biggest insecurity is her ears. Because of this she rarely wears her hair back, and tells me I’m lucky I grew into mine.
But here’s the thing about Emily–she’s beautiful. She’s one of the most beautiful girls I know.
Maybe she never complained much about herself because she knows she is beautiful. It’s hard to say, because she doesn’t act one way or the other, and if there’s one thing I know about Emily is that it is actions, not words, that make her decipherable.
Apart from Emily’s natural beauty, the reasons she is my favorite model for my portfolio are because of her innate fashion sense, her willingness and ability to collaborate creatively, and the ease that comes with having known one another for the majority of our existences. Because of this, we feel free to boss one another around, to tell one another when the other needs to cooperate, or focus, or trust. Our creative eyes sharpen with the help of the other. Our ideas grow and flourish into a finished product.
Friendship is a lot like that, too. With the encouragement and correction of the other, we are constantly sharpening one another into straighter, smoother, smarter people. Lonely ideas become insight and memories when they are shared. What was once inside of us becomes visible.
Emily and I have difficultly pinpointing what we would and wouldn’t be without the influence of the other, because we don’t have a before and an after. To memory, it has always been this way.
I believe that without Emily, I wouldn’t have an example of someone who does let things die. I would have spent more of my childhood indoors reading stories than I would have outside telling them over campfires and mud pies. I would have had greater trouble navigating the small, close-minded community where I attended all my years of school in one building, while Emily, twenty miles away, felt free to wear dresses to class and choose clubs over team sports. The amount of time spent with Emily and her family on holidays and on camping trips and birthdays would be void–years of my life would have been filled with something unfathomably different.
Emily is a rarity because she does not excel at, nor struggle, with one thing.
Her drawings have strong lines and recognizable features. She is an exquisite dresser and has an eye for interior design. She took upper-division math and science classes, participated in a variety of clubs and athletics, can prepare a delicious three-course meal and is an effective mediator because she is both calm and commanding.
“I can’t decide if I want to go in an arts direction, or a science direction,” she said to me about her degree in Environmental Design.
I am not surprised Emily chose a vague major, one that has a big door instead of a narrow one.
I’ll say this, though: Emily is not perfect.
Unless you want to quarrel, Emily is not to be bothered in the morning, especially if she hasn’t had coffee. On the second night in my first apartment, she threw up from drinking too much and then made me answer her phone the next morning when her mother called, angry that the car wasn’t back in time. Emily never wanted to watch The Prince of Egypt with me as a child and still rarely lets us watch films that involve persecution or war or death because she says they’re too sad, and it’s easier to pretend things like that don’t happen. She can’t dribble or shoot a basketball to save her life, yelled at me when I locked my keys in my car and sometimes forgets to ask important questions. She fell into a fire on her nineteenth birthday and has trouble sharing the thoughts and conflicts inside of her if they are particularly serious. Despite her extroverted personality and endless energy, she has difficultly expressing herself to others and would rather avoid situations than address them. She judges quickly. She’s often forgets Skype dates and usually picks out one question to answer in a text message instead of all of them.
Still, Emily’s friendship is strong because of her fierce loyalty and consistency.
I’ve seen Emily physically pull a friend away from a boy with bad intentions and yell at him for being deceptive and selfish, then sit in the back with that friend while she cried and I drove. On the same night she threw up in my apartment, I sobbed myself to sleep, comforted only by the thin arm she held me together with.
Emily is punctual, practical, hospitable, rational, reasonable, sturdy, someone you can make plans with and trust she won’t bail. Emily is the girl who has woken up from dreams about defending her friend in a jail fights, because that’s who she is. True-blue. She’s the friend who will fight for you.
Emily was born without enamel on her teeth and wanted to name their first dog “Britney” in honor of Britney Spears. She was born in England. Her middle name is Sara.
We used to have picnics in her backyard, where we’d lay out a blanket and eat Goldfish crackers and squishy grapes out of the plastic blue dishes from her play kitchen set. During one of those picnics, she showed me her box of wishes and said one of them was to go to Disneyland.
She told me when we were in kindergarten that she and Lauren used to have a baby brother named Brandon, who had died (untrue.) She used to get migraines that started after breakfast and sent her to bed, screaming and writhing in pain until she threw up. On special occasions, her mom would let us sleep in the big bed and bring us cold pancakes as a late-night snack.
Emily eats meals slow and desserts fast. I’ve only seen her cry twice.
She won ping-pong tournaments in high school mostly from forfeits and made it her goal to photobomb every yearbook picture she possibly could.
We got to go to Spokane overnight with my mom to find a Jr. Miss dress, but Holly and Lauren got to spend a month in Canada and we will always be a little bitter about it.
During her first year at university she ate like a vegetarian every other day because it is “good for you and good for the environment.” She saves her money for travel and clothes and nights in the city.
She gets my jokes because hers are the same.
It took growing up for Emily and I to realize how different we are.
The difference is in how we spend our time. The God I’m so sure about and she isn’t. Our health regimens, the places we live, the interests we have. The people we hang out with. Our desires, and the timelines we hope to attain them in. Our methods of relaxation. The ways in which we interact with others, and the fact that she is out of her head as much as I am in mine.
But that’s okay. Something about it works. The difference doesn’t matter as much as the way in which we apply it.
What I like is the fact that we are links for one another, links to things we wouldn’t otherwise bother ourselves with. I like that my first reunion with Emily in months started with her yelling at me over the phone to find the correct bus stop, and that once we got into the car with one another we didn’t feel like we had to say a word. I like that she didn’t act like it was weird that I wrote a letter to God and placed it in the branches of a tree at Granite. I like that she brings me down to earth and I can bring her out of it.
I like the fact that if I were leaving for some new country, Emily would be able to write a post about all her memories of me, all my bad habits and good qualities, because she knows me back to front.
But here’s the thing–Emily wouldn’t. That would mean writing, and writing can be boring.
Have the time your life, Em. I’ll be right where you left me.