Safe Space

Last night, I saw my oft-mentioned friend Miller, whom I met fifteen years ago when she was hired to replace me after I got promoted at my first job out of college and I was tasked with training her. What I remember most about her first day was that every system in the office was going haywire and everyone was in a bad mood—which was appropriate preparation for the rest of her time there.

We were not friends from the start.

Miller loves to recall how she hated me when we first met. Because she thought I hated her. She was stuck at the reception desk, and I would blow by with knitted brows and a snarl, informing her brusquely, "I'm going for a smoke." She thought, reasonably, that I was a total asshole. It was only later, after she realized we were working in an actual hell, that she began to understand my seemingly stroppy demeanor.

We became friends on a very specific day that both of us can name. Miller had thrown out her back, and she was stuck at home by herself, barely mobile. A few years earlier, I had been in the same position, but I was living with someone; I hadn't been on my own and couldn't imagine how I would have gotten through it without his help. So, even though I knew Miller wasn't too fond of me, I headed over to her place after work, armed with pizza and the offer of good company, and we've been friends ever since.

By coincidence, we lived two blocks apart in all of Chicago, when we first started working together. We would spend all day in the office together, ride the train home together, and then spend at least an hour on the phone every night, processing the day's garbage and talking about nonsense and quoting Eddie Izzard at each other.

Fridays, in the summer, when we had half-days, we would go to lunch at Leona's, and sit for hours and hours between the lunchtime and dinnertime rushes, talking and laughing and splitting appetizers. And then we would leave a 100% tip, or more, for whichever member of the waitstaff indulged our languorous lunches.

Eventually, Miller left the job at which we'd met, and moved on to another firm nearby. I stayed for a few years more, until I quit to move to Scotland to await Iain's visa approval.

Miller was the first of any of my friends or family to meet Iain. By that time, she was living and working in London, and when I told her I was crossing the pond to meet a Scotsman with whom I'd fallen in love after meeting online, she was understandably dubious. "And then I saw them together," she would say, if she were telling this story.

We all went for dinner at a Greek restaurant, and Iain tried moussaka for the first time, prompting him to declare, "Fuck you, lasagna! I'm a moussaka man now!" We laughed so much that night, the three of us, and I remember this feeling of perfect contentment, because Miller had met Iain and Iain had met Miller and they liked each other. She's such a nice girl. He's such a great guy. They whispered to me in turn.

In the intervening years, our friendship has spanned decades and continents, as Miller has lived in Ireland, England, and Brazil, and I have lived in Scotland. Relationships in both our lives have come and gone. Now we are both back in the US, living on either side of a state border.

We're different in some ways: Miller once told me that if she wears her heart on her sleeve, I wear my brain on mine. She reacts; I deliberate. She is as naturally outgoing as I am naturally shy. And we are very, very alike in some ways, too. We are both risk-takers; we are both voracious devourers of information; we are obstinate. We are fiercely ourselves, in tenacious defiance of the sometimes overwhelming pressure to be something else.

Our friendship has endured, while others have fallen away, for some of the obvious reasons—we talk shit out when we piss each other off; we have grown in similar trajectories; we have that ineffable thing that is typically described as chemistry, which keeps us drawn to one another—but also for the simple, magnificent reason that we are each other's indefatigable champions.

I believe in Miller. And she believes in me.

Every harebrained, crackpot scheme; every impulsive move to another country; every possible and impossible dream either of us has had, the other one is there.

It's not that we never expect the other to fall; it's just that we promise to be there if that happens. There are plenty of people who will try to talk you out of something, and precious few who will simply say, "If it doesn't work, you're strong enough to survive it. And I'll have your back."

We don't compete. We don't audit each other's choices. We don't offer unsolicited advice. We don't judge. (I mean, shit, I'm sure there are times we've each internally thought: "She's lost the plot!" but, you know, lol.) We just get each other's backs.

We have always, without any plan or discussion, offered one another the very humanizing and invaluably supportive gift of as much room to fail as to succeed. A safe space.

Our friendship wasn't forged in activism or ideology, the way many of my adult friendships have been. We were two fat girls working admin in an office, who happened to cross each other's paths, just as they were learning how to be grown-ups. It was chance.

Well, chance and a pizza from Villa Palermo.

Last night, as we split appetizers, Miller showed me the long pink scar on her left forearm, left by a bike accident earlier this year. I showed her the tattoo on my left forearm, inked earlier this year. Arrange whatever pieces come your way. Marks of our journey.

May it continue ever on.

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