Even Longer

It was my friend Penny’s birthday this week. I think I first met Penny when I was about two. I think when you’ve been friends with someone for over thirty years, I mean real friends – your relationship evolves into something else. You unknowingly cross the border of friendship and head into family territory.

When the little travellers were really small we’d arrive back in Australia in complete chaos. Strollers, car seats, sippy cups, and jetlagged toddlers in various stages of sleep deprived madness. G and I would drive/fly from relative to friend to relative, sleeping in serviced apartments, hotel rooms, and family homes. Portacots were assembled, dismantled and then reassembled between lunch at a friends and arriving at a new destination to crash. Accommodation was rated by stair gates and highchair accessibility.

There are friends who have been a constant for us, the same people, the same houses. Sometimes I wish I would have started at the beginning, taken a snapshot each year and watched how we’ve changed. Arriving home pregnant, leaving with a child. Watching our friend’s families grow. The very first baby of the group has just turned fifteen, she and my first baby are now completely engrossed in the same book series and speak via instagram from opposite sides of the world, sharing photos of their favourite pieces of text. “OMG I just read that, that was my favourite part!”

My mother was watching us, perhaps the Christmas after the second little traveller was born, we’d all got together for catch up. We’d now ventured into a world where there were as many babies and toddlers as there were adults. Small children ambled through play equipment while babies were passed from person to person, drinks were poured and food placed on a picnic table. On the way home my mother told me that an onlooker would have had no hope of knowing which child belonged to who.

“The way you passed the babies around from one to the other, you all looked so comfortable together that it seemed to just rub off on the children.”

When we started our expat life I listened as women talked of friends they’d met in other locations. “How long did you know them?” I’d ask, truly believing that a real friendship was a long term friendship. Surely if you hadn’t shared all of those experiences you couldn’t really be true friends – not like my friends. We’d been in car accidents together, held each others hands through broken relationships and excruciatingly embarrassing drunken moments. We’d been camping together as teens, stood next to each other when we were married, and witnessed truly life altering decisions.

But then it happened. We began to make friends in Jakarta, I found myself feeling the same comfort, sharing the same information and receiving the same warmth. I’d visit my friend Leah for a morning coffee which would somehow turn into lunch and then what seemed like five minutes later I’d be flying home to cook dinner. We had different accents, different educations, different families, completely different lives. Spending time with her was the easiest thing in the world. Our time together appeared to evaporate before it began. As couples we played Canasta while babies played on the floor, we went to the pool, and laughed hysterically in restaurants after a night of silliness. Six months into our friendship we asked Leah’s husband Tim to be the godfather of our first child. We knew that wherever we were, we’d be friends forever. We wanted our children to know how special they were. When it came time to say goodbye I felt that there wasn’t much Leah and I didn’t know about each other – we’d managed to fit a lifetime of friendship into the space of eighteen months.

G and I were in the car when I mentioned Penny’s birthday and began to send a text, it was late in the day for her “Hope I’ve caught you, Happy Birthday babe…miss you, love you, friends forever”. I pushed send and tried to inconspicuously wipe a tear from my eye.

This expat life has had me say goodbye to friends in so many different forms. Friendships from home are a constant, maintained and loved from a distance. Friends on the road are there until they’re gone, the pain is exacerbated by the knowledge that you may never live in the same location again. And while friendships from home strengthen by weathering the distance, friends made on the road are all about depth, the core of a true friendship can be quickly dug when required or necessitated. “You think that? Me too!”

But no matter the length or location, a true friend is there forever.

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.” 

A.A. Milne.

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