So this one time, a girl from Washington moved to my high-school. She wore really ugly tennis shoes with jeans and a baggy grey West Virginia sweatshirt. She was a little bit shy, and a little bit not. But for some reason, I was drawn to her.
‘You don’t need to know how to play soccer. I’ll teach you. You don’t need to know how to cheer. I’ll teach you. You DO need to ditch that sweatshirt though.’ And just like that. I found my new best friend.
‘Sara from Washington,’ we called her.
We’d sit next to each other on long bus rides to Italy to cheer and play soccer…sharing headphones and dancing around in our seats to Yellowcard on repeat for 13 hours straight.
We’d come home from those long haul trips and sleep. Sleep like only a teenager can with the gift of Deutsche rolladens. One time we slept for 20 hours. I kid you not.
We’d watch Napoleon Dynamite and throw mattresses out the window of the second story just for giggles [surely there was a practical reason in there too? I struggle to remember the ‘why’…but those resulting deep belly laughs I can still feel like it was yesterday]. We’d star gaze on the trampoline, talking about boys, and have sleepovers on school nights… Always in sync.
Eventually, Sara from Washington went back to Washington. And I to Florida. We straddled the country for years. But no matter how far we drifted, I was still…always…drawn to her.
We haven’t really been in the same chapter of life, or the same pocket of the world for more than a decade. I mean, she got married and has two beautiful baby girls and is in the Air Force and has her Masters Degree and is just super woman. And I try to work and workout and travel sometimes. So yeah…not always in perfect sync, but deeply connected, nonetheless.
So, imagine for a moment…what it felt like when Sara from Washington calls me muttering those same sick words that I’d uttered to her 10 years prior…The exact same diagnosis. Hodgkins Lymphoma. The exact same ABVD poison regimen. The exact same ‘what in the actual f*#k.’
48 hours after she was diagnosed I stepped off a plane in South Bend to spend the weekend with her. Not because I could heal her. Not because I could make her understand that it would be okay. Not because it had even sunk in yet. But because, as always, I was drawn to her.
And devastatingly, reluctantly…I went into my old hyper-drive… ‘You don’t need to know how to do chemo. I’ll teach you. You don’t need to know how to laugh at yourself when you’re bald. I’ll teach you. You DO need to lean on your people though.’
And tonight, I’m feeling that same tug on my heart. Because tomorrow, I know exactly how she’ll feel. After six months of hell, Sara will feel the very words I wrote 10 years ago:
“It’s bigger than graduation, and turning 21, and winning the lottery, and finishing a marathon that you’ve been sprinting for over 6 months, and being born again…”
Tomorrow, at the age of 30, Sara is born again…into a world, post-cancer, that she’ll see through a slightly different lens. A lens that I prayed she’d never know, but one I’m certain that we’ll always, always feel in sync through.
Happy graduation day, Sara from Washington.
Welcome to the world where bad hair days are better than no hair-days, belly laughs feel twice as good and we know that ugly, baggy grey West Virginia sweatshirts literally.don’t.matter.one.bit.
Happy, happy day, best friend. My survivor sista.