New Jersey to Texas. Six days in May, 2021.
When she and her husband moved 10 minutes down the road – five minutes closer than our previous record – there was no question I’d be right over to help unpack, consciously appreciative that, somehow, married and in our 30s, my best friend kept moving closer and closer.
When the separation was final and she found her next home half a continent and an entire time zone away, there was no question I’d help with that move, too, no matter how profoundly this comparatively inaccessible relocation hurt.
I devoured articles about friendship throughout the pandemic. I had to know I wasn’t the only one struggling with suddenly wanting to run screaming from the very people I’ve referred to as my family of the heart, the kind of friends you have annual traditions and vacation plans with, and now also apparently aren’t immune to the stress fractures of life in the time of COVID. Whether it was despite or because of her inclusion in the small in-person bubble hubs we allowed ourselves, those feelings never creeped into our relationship.
Instead, I worried the distance would be a death sentence as I found myself alone in my best friend’s mostly empty new living room, 1681 miles from any possibility of weeknight concerts, impromptu G&Ts and sushi, Galentine’s Day, movie marathons, holiday gatherings, city adventures, beach birthdays, and drop-everything post-tragedy afternoons of comfort TV. Meanwhile, every declined invitation suddenly ballooned into insurmountable guilt and regret over aborted memories, starting with wasting our senior year as roommates by running off to my then-boyfriend’s every weekend and ending with not making better use of almost a decade as neighbors.
We had talked about a road trip for years; neither of us needed to address that rapidly dwindling opportunity. The reality was modified by how both our lives and the world had changed since these plans’ carefree college genesis: the three-day route was redrawn in the 11th hour due to a fuel shortage; her two cats joined us as travelling companions; working remotely, I conducted interviews from the passenger seat, plunked out transcriptions in hotel rooms, and dashed off articles using empty boxes as makeshift desks; and none of this was even happening until our vaccines were fully effective.
Immersing myself in work while she ran errands in her new city gave me some space to openly, indulgently weep without feeling selfish, though I dimly registered some indignance over being denied one more shared experience. Alone with the cats, I bitterly accepted my real problem: My friends back home were everybody but the one person I wanted in close proximity, and I was pissed off at every one of them for that personal injustice I carried with me through the Appalachians’ Shenandoah Valley, across the South, over the Mississippi River, and into every room of a house I will never know as intimately as its predecessors. Given the option between grief and anger, I finally let myself choose an irrationally redirected anger that absorbed the brunt of what I wasn’t quite ready to feel.
Music has always been one of our most steadfast similarities, though our three-day drive was accompanied by playlists winding through terrain as distantly familiar but wholly impersonal to me as the verdant western-reaching landscapes. Secretly grateful that I was neither compelled to warble off-key and upset my “catnieces” nor recasting shared favorites in shades of departure, I followed a similar approach in choosing my background noise while working in grateful, conflicted solitude.
Spotify would not stop recommending Tame Impala earlier in the year and I gave in, getting deliriously, deliciously stuck on The Slow Rush and especially Lost In Yesterday, which easily grabbed twice as many listens as its littermates. I played the album endlessly in that unfamiliar living room, where this ode to and warning about nostalgia issued its synthy, upbeat one-two punch. It asked “Does it help to get lost in yesterday?” and tactfully reminded me that “you’re gonna have to let it go someday.” Simple enough notions, but they needed a catchy vessel to penetrate my unwillingness to look past a goodbye I never wanted to face.
Six days after I tearfully hugged my husband and dog goodbye before hurtling the farthest I’d traveled in 16 months, I tearfully said goodbye to my best friend, got on a plane, and put the most distance between us in 17 years.
If it calls you, embrace it
If it haunts you, face it
Life goes on, and one story changing doesn’t negate all the others that haven’t. Because, eventually, terrible memories turn into great ones, but you’ll miss everything in between if you’re too lost in yesterday to appreciate what’s in store for today.
Stereo Story #607