It’s National Best Friends Day. And that means I need to send hugs to so many people.
I’ve never been the person who had one friend the confided every secret to. For a long time, the people closest to me had no idea that I was in agonizing pain every day. That I was heading to the hospital to have needles full of numbing drugs pumped into my spine weekly, just so I could survive. I was terrified I would lose them. That my troubles would bring them down and that they didn’t need to deal with another slew of medical drama.
I did everyone I called a friend a disservice those couple years. The friends I didn’t call because I didn’t have good news and I was loathe to bring them down. The friends I didn’t see because I couldn’t bear to go out any more than was absolutely necessary. I thought my friends needed “Fun Mary Fran” and I was anything but.
I wanted to protect them. I wanted their lives to be full of the light that seemed so absent from my life. For a time, I forgot that friendship was a two way street. I wanted it to be like it had been. Full of unabashed life-living. A band of good-time gals. I just wanted to be the girls who made midnight runs to Johnny V’s and cracked themselves up at inside jokes. The girls who’s biggest problems were our fashion homework due the next morning. I wanted to be the person who would stay out all night on International Illini night and make it to work at 8am the next day. I wanted to be the girl who knew how to bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch, no recipe needed, on demand when Grey’s Anatomy beckoned. I wanted to be Holly Golightly. A girl, her cat and not a care in the world.
Except, that wasn’t what defined my friendships. My college girlfriends banded together when a friend got pregnant sophomore year. They counseled me through dropping out of fashion school and realizing that I really should have gone to that big state school. We stuck together through bad boyfriends and worse life decisions. Growing up and learning how to live. We turned twenty one. Twenty five. Thirty. A phone call could pick up a conversation when six months had lapsed while babies were born and couples were wed. When tradgedy struck, there was never a question of if we were going. It was just how soon could we get there.
When there were exams to take and studying to be done, there was a friend to share notes and a pot of coffee with. When I spent weeks in the hospital, I ended up with notes from an entire fraternity (by way of a friend) so I could ace an exam. The same friend who was there when a roommate moved out without notice. A friend who called weekly after the car accident. Who talked me into a trip to New York so we could meet somewhere between Chicago and London, because we were used to the distance between Champaign and Urbana. Who told me to skip that trip when my grandma had a stroke hours before my flight was supposed to take off.
We played softball together. Ran 5ks. Slept on couches and ate greasy breakfasts. We celebrated the passing of CPA exams and the end of tax season. We wore shoes that gave us blisters to clubs so we could dance our cares away. We had all day cook-outs and all-night parties. And then we had bad bosses and terrible jobs. There were scares. There were triumphs. Art shows and graduations. Cross-country moves and tragedies. We went there and back again.
How I thought our friendships would be better if I kept my pain and my struggle to myself, I’ll never know. Because that’s what best friends do. They carry you through. They help you find the magic again. And you let them. They’ll send you text after text of funny memes or pictures of blinged-out canes. They’ll protect you fiercely when the internet starts to hate. Because, damn it, you would do the same for them.
You all taught me how to be a better friend. You taught me what it meant to be a best friend. It might have started with “sex on the inside” and fashion homework. Hated English teachers or preschool ballet and church choir. The time vortex on platform 9 3/4. But it sure didn’t stay there.
Because of you, I have my GFFs. I have people who currently have excellent taste in teeshirts. I have family that doubles as friends.
And now, at thirty, I was able to make another best friend. A friend who takes the time to bring Chipotle to the hospital and pack bags of good cheer when I’m going to have to stay for a few days. A friend who never lets it be too long (even when it seems too long) between coffee dates and “friday night gatorade” (margaritas after a particularly sweaty yoga sculpt class). A friend who reminds me to keep moving forward. To get stronger. To never stop fighting. A friend who, somehow, became irreplaceable in my life and taught me how no matter what we’re fighting, we don’t have to accept the terms.
I don’t have one friend who is the top dog on the pile of friends. I have a tribe of best friends. Inspiring, loving friends. People I can be just Mary Fran with.People who are there for the days when I’d rather cry than talk. People who are there to celebrate the wins.
People who know where the bodies are buried and where to get the best margaritas by the pitcher.