Blondes Across Borders This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

She pulls back a strand of her short, curly blonde hair and gives me a smile from across the room. “What’s wrong?” she asks me, as she climbs onto her side of the bed. I give her a weak smile, “Nothing,” I reply, maybe a little too fast for it to sound natural. She looks as me questioningly but lets it go. She begins to talk about her boyfriend back home, her eyes glazing over dreamily as she reminds me once again that when they get married, I am invited to the wedding. I settle down next to her in the bed as she makes wedding plans, explaining to me that she wants to have her wedding in Nauvoo, and that that’s not so far for me to travel. I jokingly declare I might not even be old enough to drive by the time she’s married, and she laughs knowing that my 16th birthday will be in February and that she won’t even be back in the States until June. She continues to make plans as she falls asleep, and I try to listen, to reply at appropriate times, but my mind is someplace else. I keep thinking about earlier in the evening, and about how the person next to me isn’t quite the person I thought I knew.

On August 30, 2008, I—a scared and excited teenager—set off for a new world. Only four months earlier I had decided I was going to spend the first semester of my sophomore year in Ecuador. I had been sure about my decision, until this day, when I was confronted with the giant O’Hare airport and realized that Ecuador was going to be much bigger than O’Hare, and that everyone there wouldn’t even speak my language. I was just about to ask my parents to turn around, to take me back home, when I saw a girl with short, curly, blonde hair, waiting in line for the plane, wearing the same t-shirt I was wearing. I walked over to her, and quietly said “We’re wearing the same t-shirt,” she looked at my shirt, and then at her own, and sure enough we were both wearing the t-shirt our study abroad agency had told us to wear on the plane. Without saying anything else, she gave me a huge hug. I felt so comfortable in her embrace, even though we had never met before, and I knew then that we would be best friends. “I’m Emily,” she said, pulling me out of the embrace, even though I had figured that out since we were the only two girls going to Ecuador through our agency. “Zoe,” I replied, and gave her another hug.

Emily and I were almost inseparable in Ecuador. I had always wanted an older sister, and I had finally found one. She and I were almost the same person. We both were fascinated by the Spanish language and Ecuadorian culture. We’d often play a game we liked to call “only in Ecuador”, where we would say stuff like “You know you’re in Ecuador when…there’s a pharmacy on every corner,” and “You know you’re in Ecuador when…the eggs in the grocery store aren’t refrigerated.” We both loved to laugh, and we’d often come up with the silliest jokes that no one else would think was funny but it would get us laughing hysterically. We were both so close to our families, and we would hold each other when a wave of homesickness overcame us. We used to finish each other’s sentences.

Though we had only known each other for a short time, our mutual experiences made us closer than knowing each other for a long time would have. We were together for the good times, but we were also together for the bad times. One time we went shopping together at the artisan market, and among other things we purchased matching llama sweaters. These ugly striped wool sweaters with llamas on them were all the rage among American tourists (marketed as something worn by the natives which, of course, no native actually wore) and we eagerly put them on as soon as we bought them. We spent most of the money we had brought with us, because we had been warned not to carry too much cash around with us. After shopping, we got on a bus headed toward home, but unsure where it would eventually lead, got off soon. When we got off the bus a young man in raggedy clothes confronted us. He asked us for money and we politely said “no.” We had been asked for money all day, and had very little left in our pockets. Unfortunately this was no ordinary beggar. He pulled out a sharp piece of glass from a broken beer bottle and threatened to hurt us if we didn’t empty our pockets. Our hearts pounded as we remembered all the warnings and horror stories we had heard of tourists maimed by just such a thief. We gave him everything that was in our pockets (all of $1.50) and hoped it would be enough. Emily clutched her purse, hoping he was desperate enough to take the money and not demand more. She was right, and he walked away with our money. We were able to walk the rest of the way home, shaken but unscathed. Though no blood had been shed that day, Emily and I became bonded as if by blood. That day, we truly became sisters

Emily taught me many things, like how to text really fast, and how to make homemade Oreo cookies, and how to see the positive in every situation. But the most important thing I learned from Emily was probably something she never knew she taught me. That night, when I realized I didn’t really know the true Emily, we had been watching a movie. We had bought it off a street vendor for only a dollar, but the label was in Spanish so we didn’t really understand what it was about. It sounded like a romantic comedy, just what we were looking for for our sleepover. We made popcorn, got comfortable on Emily’s host mom’s bed (the only place in the house with a TV) and we turned it on.

The first scene was of a couple at a bar. The man sees some friends in the bar and invites them to sit at the table. The man then leaves to get the friends some drinks. One of these friends is a woman, and she sits right next to the man’s wife, and while he is off at the bar, she begins to flirt with the man’s wife. At this point, Emily asks me to turn the movie off. I agree, because it was making me a little uncomfortable as well.

Emily went to her room to find another movie to watch, and while she was gone I tried to figure out why I was uncomfortable. I realized that it was the smile on the wife’s face as she returned the flirting of the other woman. I was uncomfortable that this woman was lying to her husband and how she probably had been the whole time they were married. So, when Emily returned I asked her why she was uncomfortable with the movie, feeling sure she’d say the same thing. But she said something else, something I hadn’t even really thought about. It was the fact that there was a woman flirting with another woman that was the problem for her.

I realized in that moment that Emily and I weren’t the same person. I have best friends who are gay, and in my school people are very open about their sexuality. I am a strong believer in Christianity, but I would describe myself as a “progressive Christian” and unlike some Christians, I have never believed that homosexuality is a sin. But Emily did, and I realized that there were other things I probably disagreed with her on as well. She was a conservative, her parents had voted for George W. Bush both times, while mine voted for anyone but him. I live in a town with people of many different racial and socio-economic backgrounds, while hers is filled with middle-class white people.

As she slept there next to me I lay awake wondering: Does this change my relationship with her? Could I be friends with someone who was practically opposite from me in many of my major values and beliefs? Part of me realized that she wasn’t any different today than she was yesterday, that she had always been this way and I was just seeing her differently. But the other part of me didn’t think we could overcome this barrier. We were from incompatible worlds, there was no way I would be able to relate to her now. At this point in my thinking, when I had almost decided that this could ruin our friendship forever, Emily must have rolled over in her sleep, because I looked at her. I looked at her and saw the same smiling face I had seen that first day in the airport. I smelled her hair on the pillow next to mine, the same as it always smelled on our thousands of sleepovers. I remembered the laughing mouth that would talk a mile a minute every day at recess, grateful to have someone to speak to in English. I understood then that this wouldn’t ruin our friendship. I understood that we were similar, in important ways, and just because we were different didn’t mean I couldn’t relate with her. Emily was the older sister I had always wanted, and that wasn’t going to change.

That night I realized that Emily was not the person I thought she was, but that I loved her anyway. She taught me that people don’t have to have the same fundamental beliefs for me to love them. She taught me that love could cross borders. Maybe, even, that it should cross borders.





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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

CarrieAnn13 said...
Sept. 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm
This is an incredibly well-written piece!  I really enjoyed it. :)
 
Love.Hate.Passion. said...
Sept. 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Wow!

Again , a very well-written piece. I really enjoyed reading about your experience with your friend , and how in the end , you realized that she was different , but still loved her the same. Amazing job!

 
frosty1021 said...
Aug. 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm
It's really long but good! Maybe take out some parts about spending time with her and add more about what you will do with what you learned from her. Are you less judgemental because of her? Expand that more and it will be amazing.
 
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