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Page 87 of My Autobiography
was the eighteenth person off of the airplane. When I saw her I couldn’t think of a single better thing to do than tackle her to the ground with all of the hugs I’d been saving. People looked at us like we were crazy, but we ignored the jetlagged businessmen and continued with our hug on the tiled floor.
I was almost too excited to drive home, but I had to, so I tried my hardest to focus on the road. I couldn’t help glancing over every minute or so to make sure that her soft pale skin, cheerful smile, and fire-red hair were still actually there. She tapped her feet together and rolled the window up and down and fought me for control of the radio. It was as if she had never left, except that she now had innumerable new stories to tell me, and hardly let me speak.
“I could drink,” she told me, “like, alcohol. I was old enough there. I wasn’t very keen on drinking, but basically everyone sixteen and over in Germany drinks, and I wanted to get the whole experience, you know? But I couldn’t drive because the driving age is eighteen. Oh, and because I don’t have a license even here or in Australia, so I definitely couldn’t drive in Germany. So I’d go to parties with my friends and get really tipsy and then bicycle home. It was really funny. I bet you would have made a lot of fun of me once I started stumbling over my own feet, had you been there. Of course, you’re too cool to drink, aren’t you?” she teased.
“More like too smart.”
“Yes, well, so am I, and yet it’s just something everyone should do in Germany. You should visit Germany someday. It’s so lovely there. Everyone is so nice, so much nicer than -- what is this called? -- â€˜the D.C. metropolitan area,’ right? And the food is so good. I know you don’t care very much for fine food…”
It hadn’t occurred to me how much I’d missed her brilliant Australian accent until I heard her speak so quickly to me, like I’d been so familiar with until she left. I don’t think I would have been able to understand her accent, had she spoken any slower.
I hadn’t thought that Germany was such a fabulous place -- just fat people and beer. Perhaps some of that opinion was due to the fact that the country essentially stole my best friend from me half a year before she had to leave. Still, all of the television and film depictions of Germany aren’t impressive. However, judging by the gusto with which she spoke about the place, it must not be too bad.
“I never wanted to leave it there,” she said, a nostalgic look crossing her face. “Exchange programs are too short, you know?”
I didn’t know how to react. I’d never wanted her to leave here, either.
“You’re here with me now, though,” I reminded her.
“Yeah,” she said. “For now.”
My mom had lunch waiting for us when we got to my house. We ate and ate, failing to notice how much we were consuming because we were too busy talking.
“In Germany, meals are more of a social gathering than food,” she said. “Eating is an excuse to gossip.”
After lunch we went to the park, where she and I and our friends had spent so much of our free time in middle school. A few people from town recognized her, and we stopped occasionally to chat.
“Really?” they’d say when she told them where she’d been. “Wow, cool! So, wait, didn’t your family move back to Australia a few weeks ago?”
“Yeah,” she’d answer. “The exchange program I did was such that I had to fly back to America, but I’m going to join my parents back home.”
We visited the playground, and raced on the swings to see who could go the highest.
“Remember when you fell off the monkey bars and broke her arm?”
“Remember when you and David were walking around balancing those pillows on your heads and the cop came over and asked if you guys were okay?”
“Oh, yeah! He was so surprised when we turned out to just be goofing off. He must have thought we were complete basket cases!”
I took her hand and led her down the paths in the trees to David’s house. We three had a long movie night, watching films that remind us of each other, and of times when we were so far away from the day we’d be separated. It was almost magical, to have the three of us together again. I felt like a twelve-year-old, the same age I was when I met them. I wanted to flirt with David’s brother and wear baggy jeans and curse loudly because it’s cool.
She and I went back to my house for sleep. As much as we wanted to stay up all night and talk, we were both exhausted. We slept together in my bed, just like we did in middle school. Too soon, even before the sun was up, my alarm went off. She and I slowly got dressed. We moved sluggishly, as if in a trance. It didn’t feel right to be up this early, or to be getting ready to go where we were headed.
We drove in silence to the airport. The music came softly from the radio, and the sun rose. The trip there seemed infinitely longer than the trip the day before. Time was slipping through our fingers, and we didn’t know how to get a better grasp on it.
I walked her as far as I was allowed through the airport. We hugged at the gate -- a hug still worth everything to me. I ran my fingers through her curly hair and took a deep breath, storing away her scent for later when I would miss her and need it. Finally we let go, and looked at each other’s faces for a moment.
“I love you,” she said softly.
“I love you too,” I said. “So, so much. Promise you’ll never forget me?”
She laughed. “Christina, I don’t think you understand how impossible that would be for me.”
Then, for the second agonizing time in my life, I watched my best friend turn around and walk away from me, her destination farther away than I could fathom. Alone in the airport, I let