I don’t have a best friend. I have several.
My first best friend and I shared the ages five to thirteen in a tiny village in southern Germany. We explored our world freely. The church bells and the colour of the sky were our only reminders of when to go home. We played in the woods. We watched frogspawn turn into tadpoles. We climbed trees. We built igloos and snowmen. We ate wild raspberries and blackberries straight off the hedge. We rode our bikes everywhere. Then, one rainy October afternoon, everything changed.
My family moved to Australia. We cried our goodbyes. It was 1986. There were no mobile phones. Land line telephone calls between the two countries not only had the echoey quality of talking to someone from outer space, they were also prohibitively expensive. So, we had letters, written on tissue thin airmail paper. They took about a week to get from one country to the other, but their regular arrival heralded a brief respite from being an adolescent in an alien landscape.
Five years, countless letters, and a handful of five-minute phone calls later, I flew back to visit her. We fell into each other’s arms and then spent a couple of weeks going out to pubs and clubs, flirting our way around parties – and then dissecting the parties in conversation afterwards. We made mix tapes and got radical haircuts.
We saw each other more when I lived and worked around London in the early noughties. She came to visit me in Australia in 2006, when my first baby was a couple of months old. We’d planned it all year. And then I was forced into the deadly inertia of depression for the first time. I have no memory of her visiting, but she’s told me since that she cried after seeing me, because I was unrecognisable.
Before I embarked on another baby, I had the urge to show her I was back. I took the long flight and a train. Late afternoon winter sunlight poured through the high windows of Munich central train station. We ran towards each other, arms outstretched, and then it was straight into easy conversation. Sometimes I think the shared memories of our childhood imprinted us with some common DNA.
This first close friendship became the template for all the others that followed. I have a pattern. I value quality over quantity. I mentioned on my home page I’m not into cliques. Cliques imply hierarchy, and I don’t do hierarchy in my friendships. I first recognised this when I was thirteen. My first year in an Australian school. The group of girls I’d been sitting with told me:
‘You can’t sit here anymore.’
And I felt… relief. Relief to have a reason to leave that group of identical heads covered in tight, crunchy perms. I was flame faced – only because I hadn’t left before they told me to.
My next friend drew me to her with her curiosity, and kindness. She was the only one in the school who asked me about where I’d come from. We grew into different university degrees and cities and countries. And yet thirty-two years after we clicked, the core of us is the same.
I thrived on moving from school to university. Conforming no longer equated to popularity. Popularity lost its currency. I could breathe. Friendships grew over sleepless nights on intern duty together, weeks doing prac work all over the country, and being trapped in the intense bubble of having six or seven 100% exams in the space of a week, twice a year for five years. We didn’t need a reason to celebrate. Parties ran on cheap alcohol, loud music, and marijuana smoke drifts.
I have friends made at work, who are sprinkled all over the country. They know the emotional challenge of following a euthanasia appointment with a puppy vaccination. They anticipate what you need before you know you need it. You walk into work and the day looks better when you realise you’re working with them. Because even if the day is filled with loss or difficult conversations, they will be there at the end of it.
It has taken me a long time to make friends with other school parents. Partly because this environment is rife with cliques. Partly because I am wary of people who parent competitively, and who have no interests other than their children. For the first few years of my children’s school life I admit to judgment. I haughtily steered clear of, or barely engaged in, social activities designed to bring parents together. But over time I’ve chosen best friends from this demographic too. I have found people I can laugh with, who don’t turn parenting into an Olympic sport.
My best friends and I have all had our challenges. At times we have diverged. We have moved jobs and countries, experienced marriage and relationship breakdowns, coming out, the death of parents, severe illnesses, becoming parents, and more. All things that could have seen our friendships falter.
Yet instead these difficulties only reinforced why we chose each other in the beginning. We knew instinctively that once we were friends, it wouldn’t matter if we didn’t go to the same school, live in the same country, work in the same job, or didn’t see each other for years at a time. We are bound by a special magic. It allows us to call out to each other across life’s obstacles:
‘I’m here for you as you grow into who you’re meant to be.’
(Please note: I have omitted friends I have found as a result of my illness from this post, not because they are anything but best, but because they deserve a post to themselves, which I will write in time.)