When I met her, I had been 18 for about 24 hours. It surprises me that I don't remember the precise moment of our introduction, but in my defense, that day had been crazy; last minute packing, a two hour drive, hours waiting in a registration line, my parents fighting while I cried, and hauling boxes and suitcases into a tiny room, wondering where on earth I was going to fit the contents of those boxes.
She had curly hair halfway down her back, and luminous skin, crooked teeth, and parents who seemed so much nicer than mine. She taped pictures of a boy doing tricks on a bike on the wall, and she had a mickey mouse bedspread and posters. She already knew the other two girls sharing our room (yes, four girls in a room) and she had a brother who already had a year of college under his belt. I envied her confidence. She did not have a lot of stuff, and, as I would learn later, not a lot of money either, but that never seemed to be an impediment.
It was a hard year. I was not an easy person to love, and we were all so young, trying desperately to figure out who we were and where we fit. Somehow we all managed to survive, and we had lots of fun along the way, along with some moments that were not so much fun.
It is an odd practice, this matching of people at random to live together for so long.
There have been ten other roommates since that day. Nine of those ten have vanished into history. It is remarkable that of all the women who have shared my space, she has persisted in my life.
Last night I sat in my living room, amazed at how she has not changed. I watched her daughter climb in the playland at Chik-Fil-A, smiling and waving to us below, and I held her daughter's little hand in line for ice cream. I looked at photographs of her beautiful son who graced this world for only a few hours, his tiny body cradled in her arms, fighting for life. I sat in her van and listened to her talk about her grief, and how much she wants her son's short life, and her own pain, to mean something. We talked about old times, and the people we both knew, and the unresolved conflicts that had happened so long ago. We healed old hurts, and in the end, nothing mattered but the love that still holds strong between us, twelve years after that day we met.
There is a Girl Scout song whose lyrics tell us to Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold. The song is right. This woman, randomly chosen to share my room, who became so much a part of my life, is truly gold.