One of the best things about growing up in Florida was that the weather was always perfect for driving around with the windows down. On my darkest days, overwhelmed by depression and wanting nothing more than escape, I could always find refuge there–windows down, music up, sun shining the way it only shines in Florida.
In high school I had a friend that was always game for a drive. We spent hours driving all over Orlando. We were seventeen and we were hurting and confused, but we could sit side by side in her green Cabriolet and find peace in the mixture of sunshine and melody. Every adventure we went on together ended there, in the safety of that tiny car with the sagging ceiling.
I have so many pictures of us in that car. After a school dance I’d dragged her to because Tom was taking another girl and I couldn’t face it alone. On the way home from countless movies that I’d snuck her into because I turned seventeen first. One hot afternoon we spent learning our way around a laundromat. Eating custard on our way to the church that offered us a place when we felt we didn’t belong. We grew up in that car. We found healing in those long drives with her carefully crafted playlists washing over us as the wind whipped our hair into our faces.
I look back on those sun soaked days sitting next to my very best friend, and I’m heartbroken by how it all ended. When you’re seventeen everything, the good and bad, seems infinite. The pain feels like it will crush you, but the miracle of friendship can always pull you back from the edge. The inside of that car, with blankets piled in the back seat to keep us warm in the colder months when the heat didn’t work, felt like that safest place in the world. But the searing pain of those years didn’t last, and neither did the magic we found inside that car.
When we started college it began to become clear that we were headed down different paths. By the time I got married and moved away the healing power of our friendship had fractured into shards too painful to hold on to. She doesn’t know my babies, I don’t know about her new life in a new state. We don’t know each other at all anymore.
As I’ve gotten older that’s been one of the hardest things for me to make sense of. How can a person who feels like an extension of yourself just not be around anymore? Two nights ago I sat down to begin the final season of a show she and I started together seven years ago. For years we watched it together every single week. Eating Pei Wei takeout and painting our nails. We discussed the characters and mysteries endlessly on those long drives. Just like the process of figuring out who I was and where I wanted to go, it was a journey that we started together but I will finish without her.
No matter how many years pour into the gap between us, I will always miss her and those aimless drives where we found rest in the mingling of sunshine, friendship, and the perfect song.