“This might have been a mistake,” I said. My friend Lily, head cocked in sympathy, nodded. “Definitely a mistake.”
It was a cold night, and we’d just met friends at a favorite bar in our neighborhood. Short on cash, I’d ordered the $4 well whiskey, neat. Its smell alone made my eyes water. And I’d been given a generous pour.
“Brave girl,” someone remarked as I held the tumbler to my lips.
“Would you like me to tell you a story, to distract you while you drink that?” said Lily.
“Yes,” I replied. “Please.”
“Okay,” she said. “This is a story about unicorns.”
And she began.
People say that when you find true love, you know. Though I’ve experienced this with the opposite sex before, the same phenomenon has occurred---delightfully, consistently, and much more often---in many of my friendships with girls, as well.
For instance, Kimiko, one of my closest childhood friends, shared a bus seat with me on a field trip in the third grade. We debated afterschool snacks, discussed the size and cuteness of our respective pet rabbits, played MASH---and subsequently spent the next seven years together, so close that we considered ourselves one unit (our combined name was Shimiko). When I moved to LA at fifteen, we traded photo albums, and put together a dictionary of terms we’d created over the course of our friendship---code names for crushes, words only the two of us understood.
And that was just it---there was much about the two of us that only we understood. In so many ways, we spoke the same language.
I knew the same was true of Maya, a high school friend and future Brooklyn roommate, when we spent an afternoon in the parking lot at our school, seated on the roof of her car. We were navigating what I remember to be a very complicated situation involving prom dates. My angst about the situation was almost certainly disproportionate to the circumstances at hand; still, she understood.
And when Linda, my roommate all four years of college, spent countless nights in with me while all of our friends went out, I knew I’d made a special kind of friend---one you know you never have to work to impress, one who understands your history as well as they do their own. Already a sister to six, she’s filled that role for me, as well. She’s family, a touchstone. She feels like home.
I met Lily only months ago, late in the summer, in East River Park. She and another college roommate of mine, Megan, were spending an afternoon sitting in the grass, talking, getting sunburns. We’d all recently been through break-ups; we were heavy-hearted. But that gave us something to talk about. And in the weeks and months that followed, I found so much of the happiness I needed in meeting Megan to do work at coffee shops, in going on late-night adventures with Lily. (When she told me the story about unicorns at the bar, I knew she was someone whose quirkiness I understood.)
Though I’m loathe to make a Sex and the City reference here (much internal deliberation happened before I wrote this paragraph), I can’t help but think of a scene that occurs toward series’ end---it’s one that always makes me feel like weeping. In it, Carrie, set to embark on her ill-fated journey to Paris, says to her friends, “What if I never met you?”
Megan and I had dinner together just last weekend and reflected on the past few months over steaming bowls of soup. “My year took a turn the day I came to see you in the park,” I said. “You were lonely in the same way I was. You understood.”
What a staggering gift, to have friends who say, “I know what you mean.” Who make you laugh. Who appreciate, and relate to, and love your eccentricities.
This is what it means to know someone.
It’s what it means to understand.