I’m lying on the living room floor, talking into the phone while chewing on my hair, just like I used to in high school. Occasionally I cackle and roll over. My voice drops as we conspire. My best friend of thirty years is on the other end of the line.
My husband glances at me and smirks as he walks by, amused by my girlish antics. I feel bad for him and most men, who never get to experience friendship like this. It’s like a river, wide and narrow, deep and shallow, always changing but ever-present.
“You’re my best friend,” he said to me once between the bedsheets.
“Bernice is my best friend,” I answered matter-of-factly.
It amazes me that I now have a best friend and a husband. A decade ago, I confided in Bernice that I doubted my ability to have a serious romantic relationship.
“After six months or a year, I can’t stand the sight of them. I’m just not cut out for long-term commitment.”
She reminded me of our friendship. “You are not the problem,” she said.
This phone call, when I told her about a slight from someone in my family, she said, “Well, I might be biased since I’m on Team Lindsey, but they are totally in the wrong.” She’s only half-joking. Everyone deserves a Bernice.
We talk about the heavy stuff, my struggles with anxiety and my therapeutic journey, her pandemic fears, and grief at her father’s passing. We talk about the superficial stuff, popular videos and memes, funny occurrences in our day-to-day. New recipes and restaurants. Old memories from our high school theatre production. The price of gas. Or mutual enemies. You name it, we’ve gone there.
Now, her voice comes to me through the phone line, heavy with exhaustion and regret. “I should probably get to bed. I love you.”
“Love you too. Good night.”
But then, our rapid-fire conversation picks up again.
“Did you read that?”
“Yes! Did you see that?”
“Yes! “What did you think?”
“Loved it. You?”
After a few more attempts, we press the red buttons on our respective cell phones and go our separate ways. We both have to get back to reality. She, to bed to prepare for another long day of teaching and parenting. Me, to roll out my back and decompress with some unrealistic reality TV. This is friendship in middle-age.
These marathon phone calls don’t happen as often anymore, but they never get old. In fact, they make me feel young and euphoric. A smile still tugs at the corners of my mouth all evening as I move through my routine. I apply moisturizer and brush my teeth with a goofy grin on my face, my husband shaking his head at me.
In junior high, we would spend entire snow days on the corded telephone, eating Captain Crunch and watching Who’s the Boss, talking about everything and nothing. We never ran out of things to say. And the few silent moments were completely comfortable.
A lot has changed since then. 1500 kilometers and an ocean separate us. She has gained a child and lost a father. I have discovered my life’s purpose in writing. Yet, although we have both aged and changed, something stays intrinsically the same.
She is still that little girl who wore the same outfit as me on the first day of Grade One. We buried a plum pit from her lunch in the schoolyard and fantasized about coming back as women to a full-grown tree. We imagined plucking ripe fruit from heavy branches and juices running down our chins.
The pit rotted in the ground, but our friendship did not. It has grown and matured, with layers of experience and memories. Over time, we’ve built a friendship like a tree, bigger and stronger with each passing year, the rings denoting the good and the bad.
Sometimes, our friendship stagnated. We risked letting it slip into the past, getting caught up in new life journeys and friendships, travels and trials. But one or the other of us hung on that extra bit tighter and kept the hope burning a little bit brighter.
Now, we have been enjoying a bountiful crop for years. The tree is so strong it needs less maintenance, but we love to prune it when we can.
Last year, when Bernice was vacationing with her family 400 kilometers away from me, I didn’t hesitate to make the drive to see her for just one day. I was nervous about how our relationship might have fractured and faltered after a year-and-a-half separation and a global pandemic, but she was there for me, just the same yet slightly different. I hope she would say the same.
Bernice. My friend closer than family, who knows me fully and loves me entirely. I’m so lucky to have her, and our phone calls. A friendship that never gets old, in middle age and beyond.
Lindsey Harrington is an Atlantic Canadian writer. She was the 2021 recipient of the Rita Joe Poetry Prize and has had short stories published recently by Long Con Magazine, Off Topic Publishing, and the Icelandic Connection. She is currently working on a short story collection about breakups in all their forms, called Coming Apart. When she’s not writing about heartbreak, she lives happily with her husband and two dogs. Follow her at https://www.instagram.com/lindseyharringtonwriter/.