When your friend tells you the news that she’s moving to San Francisco over a casual take-out night, you wince a little. The corners of your smile twitch upward because you want to smile, but your gut is pulling down, down – deep into the pit of your belly. So your face pulls like a kite string and it looks a little forced, because it is.
So you brace yourself for the coming weeks of goodbyes and endings and pray they’ll tie neatly into a bow, but you know they won’t. You know everything will be different now, because you’ll never drive to her neighborhood for Halloween; her family won’t be there. You’ll never meet at the darling locally-owned coffee shop, the one she introduced you to years ago when you were new to this town and lost in more ways than one.
And you’ll tell her you’re proud of her and you’re proud of her family. For taking a leap of faith that spans 3,000 miles and for embracing the today instead of the tomorrow. For doing something hard; for leaving the familiar and navigating the new.
And you thank her. You thank her for introducing you to her favorite hair salon and coffee shop and diner. You thank her for holding your hand on the hard days, through grief and loss and general bad decisions. For accepting you into her kid-filled world even though you were childless, and for leading you into that same kid-filled world when you suddenly weren’t. You thank her for the late night Chipotle and early morning teas. For calling La Leche League when you were sobbing on the floor, baby in arms. You thank her for forgiving you for the time you sent her a pregnancy hormone-charged email. For photographing so much of your life, for being the one behind the camera. For being the one behind you.
And then you leave her going away party and you fight your tears but then you let them out as soon as you hit the pavement, because you know this is a test that you’ve already passed. That the test was actually in the friendship itself – in the very fact that you let someone come close enough that their absence left tears. And you know it doesn’t matter what happens next, because the tears fell and your heart was changed in the time you were lucky enough to have together.
And you tell her that you’ll visit in the fall – after she’s settled – and you warn her in advance that you’re really bad at keeping in touch but that you want to make an exception for her. And then you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter either way, whether you write or you call or you do or you don’t. Because she already changed you. She fulfilled her duty, and you fulfilled yours.
And the rest – the future – just gets to be icing on a license plate-covered cake.