When a friend moves away

A photograph of a passenger plane flying through the air at sunset
As well as all the positive things happening in my life, there’s something bittersweet going on.

One of my very closest friends (‘in the entire world’- at the risk of sounding like a small child) has moved away. To live somewhere else. Maybe forever.

And not just ‘a little bit’ away, like Cornwall or the Lake District, or even perhaps Paris. She is quite literally on the other side of the planet, in Australia.

*Shheeesshhhhh…*

I’ve known her since we were at infant school. At first, we didn’t get along too well. She took the piss out of the name I gave my imaginary pony. I took great offence. We made each other cry on occasion, like little children do, testing the borders of our first human relationships.

Various dinner ladies were involved as judge and jury in squabbles by the climbing frames over who owned a pink, glittery eraser and a coveted troll pencil topper (all hugely important at to us at the time). They stood, and they sighed, (and probably rolled their eyes), before ringing the bell to mark the end of another rainy lunchtime.

But we got closer and closer over the years, morphing from tiny arch enemies in frilly socks to adoring friends who learned Spice Girls routines and called the numbers on the backs of shampoo bottles to ask if they test on animals.

But when we were in Year 7 those carefree days ended, and everything changed. Her mother tragically died.

My friend spent many weekends at our house watching films and eating cookies, sometimes crying and sometimes laughing hysterically. Sometimes, when you’re that young and something is so horrendous, laughing hysterically is all that’s left to do. Together, we muddled our way through her childhood grief, and watched it change and move into adulthood, always there and indelible, like ink beneath the skin.

Even at this young age we had been through so much together. Soon enough, we had a bond for life.

In our teens, when we attended different schools and couldn’t hang out as much, we sat on the phone for hours in the evenings. Still wowed by the notion of a cordless phone (we can talk, in my room? And I can twirl around at the same time, practice dance routines and not get tangled in wires?! Oh Lordy!!) I accidentally ran up a phone bill of over £200. Dad was, naturally, livid and so I reluctantly paid it back to my parents chunk-by-chunk from wages earned at a Saturday job selling discounted slippers and nighties to elderly ladies who said I looked like ‘that girl from Eastenders’ every time they came in.

When I found out she was moving away some months ago, I was shocked. I see her often, and we speak virtually daily. I experienced almost consistent denial ever since, punctuated by sudden moments of what felt like ‘grief’ (at the most random moments too). All it took was a song. Some awful Jamie Foxx number from a Great Ocean Road trip we took at 18 is still not an option for me, however cheesy it is, without projectile tears. Sporadically, tiny memories illuminated the shadows of my mind with a warm, familiar glow. Phrases she says a lot popped into my head, and it sunk in a little more.

She left on Monday (as in Monday just gone, Monday).

On Saturday there were leaving drinks, and being the kind of lovely soul she is, she made things easier for all of us by just saying ‘see you soon’ when she hugged us goodbye. She brought a bag of cosmetics and other things she couldn’t take away with her, offering for us to take whatever we want. I reluctantly avoided it, feeling a little nauseous at the sight of it because if she was abandoning her expensive Dermalogica face-wash it meant that this sh*t was actually happening.

Just before the night had drawn to a close and it was my turn to say ‘see you soon’ back, I had been in the pub toilets giving myself a (silent) pep talk. I had my strategy, I would just go out there, give her a squeeze, and get it over with quickly. One, two, three, like ripping off a plaster. Easy.

In reality, it was very hard. It’s tricky to speak even three little words, when you’ve got a lump the size of a small boulder in your throat… Was I being selfish to feel sad about this? Perhaps we all are, with our expectations of others, wanting them to always be around. Questions swirled around my mind.

But she’s gone now.

And on Tuesday, as I drove to the gym I imagined her in a plane, 30,000ft in the air, probably half asleep, and drooling with her gob open, somewhere between Singapore and Australia – and for the first time I didn’t feel nauseous with sadness.

I felt a sudden, overwhelming wave of pride and happiness.

She’s flying out to live in Australia to be with the man she loves. She’s going to enjoy a new, healthier lifestyle, right by the beach (she’s an outdoor type of girl, so I know this will transform her life). She’s going to live with a beautiful dog called Frank…

No matter what happens, whether she stays there for years, or she chooses to come back, myself and her other adoring friends will always be there for her.

I’m proud of how brave she is, taking this step. Not everyone could do something like this. I thought of all this, and all I could do was smile, widely and uncontrollably. What an inspiration. How lucky we are to know someone so courageous.

We will see her again, and regardless of that, I will always have her close to my heart. I always did, even when she was just a few miles away.

This morning I tried on some lovely new shoes I’ve bought. A flicker of a thought crossed my mind, as habitual and comfortable as an old jumper – ‘Oh, she’d love those. I’ll have to wear those next time I see her’, and I had a sinking feeling, because I won’t see her face to face for a very long time.

But it’s ok.

We’re lucky to live in a digital age, where miles are made shorter by the constant ability to connect. We have Whatsapp, and Skype, and Facebook to shares shoes, triumphs and our frustrations of the day. We have years of wonderful, blessed friendship to help fill ‘the gaps’ created by this new found physical distance between us.

All I care about now is that she’s happy, and healthy, and safe, and I’m sure she will be all of those things and more. (Erm hello, yoga on the beach anyone?!)

And so, looking at it this way, there’s nothing to be sad about at all…

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