We were two bookish, brown-haired girls riding the same bus to Crozet Elementary, diving for duckweed in Mint Springs lake, dressing our dolls, sloshing miles along creeks in oversized rain boots, together, together, always together.
Our regular weekend sleepovers were the setting for a recurring game in which we acted out scenes from The Lone Ranger. Villainous One-Crutch Joe, the damsel in distress, the eponymous hero: The roles were interchangeable, but she was usually both the kidnapper and the kidnapped, and I was typically the one galloping in first to defeat and then to rescue her, in that order.
Halfway through high school, I moved seven hours away. Our goodbye lasted for half a summer: Our last hike, our last swim. We exhumed a time capsule we’d buried in the sheep field behind her house years before when we were still in elementary school. The symbolism in that act was not lost on us, straight-A English students that we were. Our friendship, our shared childhood, had come full circle. A few weeks later, I was crying in a strange bathtub in a rented house in New Jersey, bereft.
But despite the distance and years, we never dropped the thread. She was the one I stretched the phone cord around the corner for, and then she was at the top of the favorites list in my cell phone, and then she was the one I tagged most on Facebook. At our sleepovers—fewer and farther between, and with more emphasis on sleep—we would remember our old game and laugh.
Growing up forced us into the roles for real. When she got lost in the figurative woods, struggling under an invisible weight so heavy I was afraid she’d never get out from under it, I tried my best, from a distance, to be her hero. But she was tougher than any girl in a black-and-white Western, and she made it out beautiful and whole.
She stood next to me on my wedding day and told the story of our long-ago Lone Ranger make-believe to all my family and friends. To them it was a pretty girlhood memory; to us, the years had layered on extra meaning. My eyes had been nearly dry all day, but I sobbed into my napkin as she finished her toast.
I moved home to Virginia not long after, and of all the reasons I had to be happy—new job, new house, new place to start a life—the one that made me giddiest was that she and I were sharing a zip code again more than a decade after I’d left. I was wrong all those years ago, I said to myself, when we dug up our Tupperware time capsule and I thought we were closing some kind of loop. Now we had come full circle.
Just over a year ago, my marriage came to a shuddering halt, and all my new happiness teetered, each carefully stacked block of my life threatening to tumble.
All but one. The night I realized it was over, she raced away from a dressy holiday party to hold me on my couch. I clung to her and cried and dripped snot all over her fancy lace shirt, and I knew I had been wrong again, because if anything represented us coming full circle, it was her riding in now to beat back the demons and save the damsel—me.
And that is secret of the truest love I’ve ever known, one that needs no blood relation or vow to sustain it: Around and around we go, two bookish, brown-haired girls, always saving each other.—Graelyn Brashear
Graelyn is the news editor at C-VILLE.