My best friend of almost 10 years, “Anna,” sends me a text from the hospital—she’s in labor, she says, and she’ll keep me updated as much as possible. Anna keeps her promise and texts me every few hours. Between contractions she tells me how tired she is, how hungry she is, how much she misses her 3-year-old, who is back at home being taken care of by family members.
I want to be there, to bring her the chicken sandwich from Zaxby’s she likes so much, to visit the hospital in person with a handful of colorful balloons, to hold the baby when he’s born. But I won’t be able to do any of those things. I’ve never even been to a Zaxby’s restaurant because they’re all located in the southern United States, just like my best friend, more than 600 miles away.
I take a photo of the night sky with my cell phone and text her back, “It’s a full moon—that seems auspicious.” I wish her strength and health and my words on the little blue screen seem completely insufficient. Long distance friendship is sometimes a sorry substitute for being there in person.
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When the baby is born, I log on to Amazon, find the perfect gift, and choose two-day shipping to get it there soon, but not as soon as if I lived in the same town and could have delivered it in person. When the baby gets sick and she finds herself back at the hospital, I keep her company at all hours of the night through texts. The next day I go to the post office to send more gifts, for her, for the baby, for her 3-year-old.
Days after Anna and her baby go home once again, the baby’s health restored, I receive the official birth announcement in the mail. It’s a photo of her two beautiful boys and they’re wearing the matching shirts I bought for them.
Now Anna has entered the sleepless nights of motherhood and I want to sit in her living room, cook her a meal, and take charge of her boys while she takes a nap. But I can’t, and all the gifts in the world won’t cure her exhaustion. Instead I email her advice, telling her things that helped me through those zombie-like first weeks.
We’ve been together, yet apart, through it all—Motherhood, in-laws, marital spats, other friendships torn apart or faded away, weight loss attempts, bad haircuts, existential crises, the highest highs, the lowest lows, tears, rants, vents, and gleeful excitement that I’ve come to express via email simply as Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!
There have been career changes, manuscripts written, family issues, vacations, weddings, pregnancies, illnesses, death, financial problems, holidays, blizzards, hurricanes, perfect summer days and quiet moments in which we still found plenty to say. We have shared books, opinions, secrets, tears and laughter. We have texted each other everything from dressing room photos requesting fashion advice to pictures of babies recently born. We have supported, encouraged, advised, and even gently set each other straight when necessary.
We have come to accept that we can’t be there for one another, but we will always be here for each other. Long distance friendship isn’t easy, but it’s worth sustaining a million times over.