Best Friends Forever (Photo courtesy Shira Mizel)
I met Emma during a pop raid at a Wisconsin girls camp. Camouflaged in black, we crept stealthily toward the vending machines. I don’t remember what movie line I whispered, but it prompted Emma to ask shyly, “Isn’t that from Garden State?” Instant connection. We talked for hours that night on a tiny twin bed. I admired her bottomless cheer, compassion, artistic skills, cheekbones, and spot-on impressions. We were attached at the hip for the next three summers.
The staff referred to us as “Shira n’ Emma.” They commissioned our antics to write songs and emcee talent shows and didn’t question our schedules when we attended every activity together. Emma played with the worms as I fished. She laid on the tennis court as I practiced my backhand and whenever a ball hit her, she said, “thank you, may I have another” to no one in particular. In the arts and crafts building, I haphazardly slid beads onto string as Emma made intricate lanyards and stunning paintings.
Saying goodbye after each eight-week session was painful. I remember crying on the toilet once because Sia’s “Breathe Me” was playing in the next room — it was our song. Frequent phone calls kept us close and I was even able to fly from Scottsdale to Chicago to visit her a few days each year.
In our final summer at camp, Emma and I participated in a weeklong canoe trip along Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. I manned the stern, she the bow, and we ambled down the river sharing lofty dreams.
At one point, anxiety over an upcoming portage inspired us to imagine the worst: We would trudge through muck, with clouds of enormous mosquitos buzzing around our heads and ugly trolls clinging to our legs. By the time we had to carry the canoe on our shoulders for a stretch, we were ready for anything.
I applied to Vassar once Emma did (yes, I followed a girl to college). After deciding to defer my acceptance for one year and travel, I feared that by the time I returned, her new life wouldn’t have room for me. I worried that she would discard her soda cap pendants and thick-rimmed glasses and befriend the elites. I envisioned her becoming a cultured academic with better things to do than dance in our dorm and play “Would You Rather?” I worried that when I came back for my freshman year, she wouldn’t be weird anymore. I unleashed my insecurities to her over the phone.
“If we change,” she told me, “we’ll only become more of what we are.”
The trip drew to a close and Emma and I were finally reunited. College got off to an exciting start and sometimes I was a great friend: When she was bed-ridden with mono, I kept her company and brought her comfort food, including her favorite cider doughnuts.
Other times, I was selfish. When I dated a cute but possessive senior, I ignored her well-meaning advice and sometimes even blew her off to hang out with him. After two months of the rocky romance, I snapped out of it and sought her readily given forgiveness.
Toward the end of last semester, my old insecurities returned: she was indeed growing out of me. I ignored the signs during months of restrained conversation. She tried to make plans; we just had different ideas of a good night. She wasn’t judging me when I dealt with social stresses in unhealthy ways; she was genuinely concerned. I didn’t realize that just as my victories uplifted her, my personal battles were a burden to her. Everything she said came from a loving place. My sensitivity, not my personality, kept her at arms distance. Protecting my ego will never hurt our duo again.
When we finally abandoned passivity for openness, we realized we had been harboring the same concern: That time will distance us. We’re growing up, reluctantly. I’m confident that our mutual commitment to honesty will keep us afloat.