I met my best friend when I was fourteen.
The first memory I have of her is of a very solemn girl in a blue hoodie, a dark braid resting on her right shoulder. I’d heard of her before, though. My mother, seeking treatment in the aftermath of my dad vanishing from our family, met with my future best friend’s mother, a nutritionist and naturopathic counselor.
“My nutritionist has a daughter, too,” my mother told me once. “She’s very quiet girl and reads a lot. She reminds me of you.”
I was then regaled with stories of the bees the girl and her mother kept. It was a charming image. I felt fondness for this girl even though we’d never met. When we did, I liked her immediately—despite her quietude, her serious nature (so unusual for a twelve year old). Incredible protectiveness bloomed inside me as I learned about the bullying she’d endured and how deeply it had hurt her.
It took us about a year, but by her thirteenth birthday, we declared ourselves best friends. A thrill shot through me every time she addressed me that way to others. I’d never been anyone’s best friend, though I had wished to be all my life. Apparently, those blown out birthday candles and fervent wishes on stars and eyelashes were good for something, because when Sophie* became my best friend, it was glorious. No other word can truly convey the extent to which I adored this girl, from her inestimable hazel eyes, to her braids, to the adult-like way she spoke. I loved everything about her.
We were inseparable. Once, as I was rolling up my mat after yoga class, my teacher smiled as Sophie left the room, and said, “I think you’ve found your soulmate.” I had. Sophie and I didn’t need words to speak. We spoke through expressions and looks. We spoke through synchronized laughter, through shared blunders, through long walks and inside jokes that made me howl until my throat was raw. Everything came to be part of her. The sky, the blue wildflowers, the birds. I had never loved so hard.
It took me several years to realize, suddenly yet not so suddenly, that I was, in every sense, madly in love with Sophie. There’d already been plenty of indications I wasn’t straight—my fierce tween crush on Maria in The Sound of Music, an infatuation with one of my middle school pals, the shock of warmth I experienced when Emma Watson appeared onscreen in the Warner Bros’ rendition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, looking achingly grown up—but this. This took the wind right out of me.
I spent the summer of my seventeenth year imagining telling Sophie how I felt, blushing obscenely whenever we got together, and staring at her when she was occupied with something else, wishing I could kiss her. I realized doubly that I’d had these feelings for quite some time, and that nothing could quell them. This was put to the test that fall, when some things she said led me to believe that there wasn’t the slightest chance of her liking anyone at all. I trailed after her in my mind, burning with love and the sharp teenage pain of wanting someone who did not want me back. Gradually, Sophie became softer. She rested her head on my shoulder more and more, giving me a sad, tender look every now and then. Gradually, I began to hope. This hope flared into a great and terrible frustration—either one of us needed to say something or our entire relationship would fold because we never addressed the elephant in the room. I knew it had to be me, that if I took another breath without speaking my truth, I would crumble. So I told her, and she said the same back, and we were in love.
We didn’t get the chance we deserved, though. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly thereafter, and that meant Sophie’s life became one of trauma and brave faces. So we loved each other in between. We walked in the woods and placed flowers in each other’s hair. We watched Sophie’s mother as her curls were shaved off before the chemotherapy, all of us laughing through our sadness as if that were the secret to life itself. We went to a Van Gogh exhibit and stood together, absorbing his spirit and understanding too well the deep, full melancholy that lived within him, the quiet grief through which he said goodbye to this world and turned to face the next. We held hands in the backseat of my car, while my mother drove us home beneath the peachy, dying light.
And then college—for me, not Sophie, not yet. The dreadful despair of separation, the promises that nothing would change. But change betrayed us. While Sophie’s mother improved, I found myself in the throes of inexplicable panic and disorientation, my body wracked with palpitations, tremors, spasms, and awe-inspiring dread. I was losing myself and no one knew why, until months later, screaming myself hoarse and begging for God, death, any higher force to come lift me from my nightmare, my mother yelled out as if electrocuted, “What about Lyme Disease?”
My intuition, my angel-gut, knew this was the key to my misery. But in the interim between announcing our feelings for each other and this sudden discovery, Sophie and I had grown distant. We tried so hard not to, we did. Neither of us could stand the thought of shattering the bond we had, but anxiety had begun to brew, sickening us with mistrust. Monthly, I turned into a corpse, my mind and body infested with the die-off of bacteria that had caused my issues, inflaming my brain and making me feel as if the string connecting me to my glowing adoration for Sophie was severed, leaving me trapped in my head, unrecognizable.
So I let her go. Because I love her. Because I have many things to work through, and because she does too. Because there is healing to be done. Because our love cannot be extinguished due to circumstance—I will not let it. Because Sophie came to me, heavenly, as if in a dream, and though it twists my heart, our season of togetherness is over for now; the birds off to another, warmer place; the leaves crunching beneath our feet.
*Name changed for privacy and identity protection purposes.