Through the first part of our lives, we gather friends. Grade school, high school, university… this is where we nurture bonds, create a second family for ourselves – especially when the one we were born into may not, for whatever reason, be close at hand.
But somewhere, between the textbooks getting boxed away and the wedding invitations coming in the mail, that seems to slow down. Reaching across a table of glue and popsicle sticks and saying, Hey, will you be my friend? is no longer considered socially acceptable. Asking someone you’ve met at the gym to go for a drink when you don’t want to sleep with them can be more conducive to cold sweats than asking someone you do. You become set in your ways: less willing to share your life story yet again, especially when that story is already so long and worn out.
Unless you’re lucky.
I’d been back in Montreal about a year when I met Ally and Rachel. We met at work – normal enough – but didn’t really get to know each other until a very unfortunate turn of events came Rachel’s way. There really is no better way to bond with someone than sleeping on their pull-out couch while they’re being stalked by their ex-husband. But even as it was happening, one thing was clear: these were two women I’d been waiting to meet my whole adult life.
Put it this way: each of them has taught me something I needed to learn. I am about as outgoing as Wiarton Willie, while Ally makes lifelong friends with people on elevators. I constantly question myself, my abilities, whether I’ll make it in this world and what people really think of me, and Rachel simply believes she’s capable of whatever she puts her mind to – and that her friends are, too. They are the elements I lack… on top of which, good lord, do we have fun.
If I could put together a video montage of the times we had together over the last year and a half, it would be worthy of MTV, or at least a commercial for Stride gum. Us strolling through the sunshine in Central Park, and shopping up a storm in Greenwich Village. Drinking margaritas on a cottage dock at sunset. Drinking warm beer at a “Cyberlesque” show at Café Cleopatra, where Rachel, a self-proclaimed wasp, cheered along with the best of them to topless blue aliens and leather-clad drag cops. Tony, Rachel and I whitewater rafting, and, after an epic nosedive into the Riviere Rouge, climbing back in and screaming victory at the top of our lungs. Celebrating our new house. Celebrating Rachel’s new house. Celebrating a lot of things, actually. One of my favourite memories of my wedding is Rachel helping me with my dress and crying with happiness. After everything she’d been through, she stood there, sniffling, and said, “I love a bride.”
Told you she’s positive.
But now, what I secretly feared would happen has happened. Someone caught wind of one of my magnificent friends. Someone whispered something to someone else, and things were set into motion. And Rachel got a job at the UN, and is moving to Switzerland.
How could we not be happy for her? An avid skier gets to live at the foot of the Alps. A brilliant mind gets to work with one of the most environmental movements in the world. Plus it is so rare, in life, to see someone get what they deserve. Rachel deserved this from the start, but after everything she’s been through, I don’t think anyone deserves it more. This is a girl who, three months into her marriage, uncovered a pile of lies that would put a daytime soap opera to shame. Who watched her dreams of a family and a future crumble, and still stood up to a police force who refused to do more than the bare minimum to protect her. And who, after all that was over, lost her job. But she never lost her faith. Rachel never, as Journey would say, stopped believin’.
Still, I gotta admit: I’m broken-hearted. My cheerleader is gone. My ray of sunshine is in another time zone. For Christsakes, how often in life does this kind of friendship happen? I deserved these girls. They were my reward after a lot of lonely moments over the last few years. And now, half of them is gone.
I called Rachel a few weeks ago, in tears, to inform her of this fact. “What am I going to do without you?” I sobbed, while she stood in line at the visa office.
And she said, simply and firmly, “We’re going to be friends forever.”
I boo-hooed a bit more before she had to let me go. But by the time we hung up, I understood. This isn’t just anyone flying across the ocean, flinging some offhand comment about friendship. It’s Rachel. And if there’s anything I've learned, it’s that if Rachel believes something is possible, it probably is.