It’s hard to begin telling the longest love story you know, but mine begins with a bite. I was four years old and she was five; we lived in the same apartment building and I liked her toys and she liked the look of my arm, I guess, I don’t know, we’ve always told it as a single-sentence story. How’d you two meet? She bit me. Yeah, I bit her. It’s funniest that way, and at this point it hardly matters why it happened, only that it did.
We talk a lot about girlfriends on this site, “gal pals” with scare quotes like long lashes around an eyeroll, because, I mean, come on, but when I talk about this love I am talking about best friends and exactly that. Almost-sisters, other halves, as vast as the salt sea, love in a way that’s as different from romance as it is important.
She bit me and things happened. Hey, remember that time when. We blew bubbles and danced the tango at someone’s wedding. In first grade she fell and split open her lip and when it healed she let me touch the scar. We bought matching turquoise and purple wave-patterned bandeau bikinis at Target, not even on purpose, not even together, we found out when we were describing our new swimsuits to each other on the phone at the same time. We both got scabies on a school field trip and soaked ourselves in herbal baths and tried to hide our embarrassment. I taught her to eat guacamole, she taught me to drink lattes. My first-ever text was to her. We took swing dancing lessons in a class full of middle-aged couples and snorted with laughter over our partners’ shoulders. She came to every one of my terrible high school plays. I took her senior pictures. We sobbed in each other’s arms at high noon on the August day when I left for college, where I would be a literal thousand miles away; that night I slept in a motel in a town that means the same thing her name does, heaven, and started calling her every day.
We told each other about every boy and girl we met and kissed and fought with and hated. We were messy. Life was messy, like I’ve been sick and working all week and I’ve been doing just fine. She would call me crying or I would call her panicking and the other one would say, you just gotta remind yourself that you’re amazing, babe. Once or twice we fought, bitter and sudden and dizzyingly scary, and in the end we said we were sorry. We always will. Balayés par toujours, je repars à zéro. There’s nothing big enough to break us up. In part that’s because what exists between us is too big to break, too precious to remake. It is always possible to build a best friendship and it is always possible to build a sisterhood but it is not possible to build another childhood, not even possible to re-enact the whole of it for a new person. Both of our parents have since moved out of our childhood homes; all the schools we attended together have closed; our pets died. We are all we have left of our own pasts. I’ve never felt more alone, it feels so scary getting old.
Every best friendship has different particulars and ends up looking almost exactly the same on the surface, so it’s funny: I am telling you what happened and you’ll know what I’m talking about even though you were never there. She’ll know, though. She was there. She’s always been there, and that’s the whole point, and that’s what I mean when I say nobody loves you baby, the way I do.
In fifth grade we designed a symbol for ourselves (I want to write ourself there, a word that doesn’t exist outside stories like these, people blurring together at the edges): a little cloud spitting out lightning and behind it, a star falling, four points of five visible. Thundercloud and shooting star. I haven’t drawn it in years but it’s still etched behind my eyes in silver gel pen and smudged pencil and chalk, a tag, a proclamation, a double signature. It didn’t have a name, it was just us. She was thunderbolt. I was shooting star. At the time there were reasons and there are still reasons but at this point my favorite thing about those two icons are how well they resist slotting into an easy, metaphorical dichotomy – both light up the sky and then go dark again, both move swift and unpredictable, both can change the face of the earth. So what if one of us is fire and iron and one of us is water and air; they’re the same thing, really, and neither one is static. And are neither are we, even after all the raging and the burning out, the way storms and stars are wont to do.
Anyway, she turned twenty-four yesterday. I’m so proud of her. Next year marks twenty years of friendship. And, like, since I know she’s reading this: happy birthday, favorite girl. Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.