Kalina and I met our first year of middle school, when I may have well as been Regina George. Not just because I was blonde, but because I had the attitude to match. One day, “the new girl,” Kalina, asked to sit next to me during science class.
“Um, someone’s sitting here,” I said. No one was sitting there. (I know, I’d like to give middle-school me a piece of my mind, too.)
But Kalina’s sweet heart and adventurous spirit softened me. One day, when my lunch schedule was switched, I didn’t know who to sit with.
“Is someone sitting here?” I asked Kalina.
“No,” she said. And for 15 years we’ve been best friends.
In high school, we were partners in crime — gossiping about boys together, slipping out to parties together, ditching class to play guitar in the bed of her truck by the lake, together.
“You guys are like the same person in two different bodies,” one of our friends said. We agreed.
After graduation, we both stayed in Florida. I went to an in-state university, and she followed her dreams, painting and saving up money to travel. While some people have their mothers stay over their first night at university, I had my best friend stay. In fact, Kalina helped me move all of my stuff into my new dorm, and we stayed up late trying to learn new songs to play on guitar.
But as I began classes, I saw less and less of my best friend. Soon, we only talked once a week. And then, once a month. The next time I saw her was on accident — we bumped into each other at a restaurant. I was supposed to stay for just half an hour, but we ended up talking until the place closed, and then continuing in her car until 3 a.m.
The next time I’d see her was even further away. I transferred to a college nearly three hours from where she lived, so I didn’t visit often. Plus, I was busy with school, starting my writing career, and meeting new friends in my new city. But every time something monumental happened in my life — a break-up, a new job, a new cat — Kalina was the first person I called.
“Kalina, I’m moving to Seoul to teach English!” I squealed one day nearing college graduation.
From South Korea, from a new time zone, keeping in touch with my best friend felt impossible. I mainly had to stalk her social media to stay abreast on her life.
In South Korea, I didn’t make many friends. I knew a lot of people from my English teaching program, and I loved my co-workers. But only one friendship ever felt like it “clicked.” As a fairly independent person who loves her “me time,” I wasn’t worried. But then, I made the horrible mistake of watching “Cheapest Weddings,” a poorly done reality show on Netflix. A mixture of tacky neon-green place settings and DIY wedding dresses made me laugh, but underneath it all, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread.
“If I ever got married, who would be my maid-of-honor?” I questioned.
Immediately, I thought of Kalina. But then I worried, “We barely talk anymore. What if she’d think I was silly asking her? Even worse, what if she said ‘No’?”
During a summer vacation visiting family and friends back in the U.S., I caught up with Kalina at a local bar with overpriced cocktails and dim lighting. After an hour of catching up and giggling (and someone mistaking us for a couple because we were so happy to see each other — seriously), I went for the big question.
“If I were to ever get married, would you be my maid of honor?” I asked.
“OF COURSE! You’re my best friend! I would love to be your maid of honor!” She exclaimed.
Suddenly, I felt ridiculous. Not only was I asking a hypothetical bridesmaid question with no wedding in sight, but I also assumed Kalina and I had drifted too far apart for her to still consider me her best friend. My Kalina — the girl I grew up with and had known for nearly 15 years.
Six years ago, after high school graduation, Kalina and I hopped in her tiny white truck and blasted music. She sped off and I put my hand out the window and closed my eyes. In that moment, I assumed we’d never lose touch. I assumed we’d always live near each other, and that we’d never stop laughing, painting, playing guitar in the bed of her truck by the lake.
Now, I know that was foolish. But what I never considered was that, even after 15 years, after 7,520 miles away, after having not spoken for nearly a year, Kalina and I would still be best friends.
Even if it’s been a few weeks, a few months, or a few years — call your best friend! Growing up and growing apart is scary, but it’s a normal part of life. Real best friends will be there for you to lean on, always. Here’s to another 15 years.
Originally published on July 9, 2018.