Stories of Friendship: The one who’s been through it all

Last fall I started a Friday series about friendship. I’m resurrecting it for a few weeks to tell you about a few more friends I appreciate. If you’ve got a story of friendship you’d like to tell, I’m happy to post it! E-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com. You can find all the Stories of Friendship under the “friendship” category on the right sidebar.

We met in junior high, though I can’t tell you the circumstances for certain. Maybe we had a class together, I don’t know. What I do know is that we bonded over some typical junior high drama–a boy and a breakup. We became friends even though I was envious of everything about her. She was outgoing and a little bit flirty, confident and beautiful. In junior high, those things stand out, especially to someone who feels none of those things. For many years, I felt like I lived in her shadow, but I was mostly okay with that.

Katrina

I dug this photo out of an old album. But this is how I see Katrina in my mind.

Being friends with Katrina was a gift from an early age. That our friendship survived the junior high and teenage years is practically a miracle, hormones and drama and all of that.

Partway through our high school years, I think we were juniors, she moved to another town, graduating from a different high school. We kept in touch by letter (yes, old school because the Internet was still brand-new and hardly anyone used it), telephone, even the occasional visit. I clearly remember the day we were talking about our college plans and discovered that one college was on both of our lists.

We visited together one weekend, riding to southern Indiana in a van driven by an admissions counselor with a handful of other prospective students. We had different experiences that weekend but both of us eventually decided to become Aces at the University of Evansville in Indiana. Going to college 7 hours from home was a frightening and thrilling prospect for me, the girl who almost never left home, and it was made less scary by knowing that I’d know at least one person on campus.

I believe it was Katrina who advised that we should not be roommates, and I  see now the wisdom in this. It would have ruined our friendship, for sure.

Maybe even more surprising than our friendship surviving the teenage years is that it survived the college years. Our years at UE were filled with major life stuff as we broke out of our previously set molds. I can’t speak for her entirely but I know I made decisions I regret during that time. Still, I always had a friend in Katrina.

But she was also the reason I made the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

Katrina grew up in a church family. They were involved and she was always going to these lock-ins and retreats. I didn’t know much about this part of her life but I knew that it sounded kind of fun. When we got to college, I took a few baby steps toward faith. Katrina, at the invitation of her roommate, took a bigger leap and became involved in a Christian group of students on campus. I was not so brave or bold initially. But I trusted Katrina so I watched and waited.

And when drama caught up with me at college and I felt my world spinning, I stuck out my hand for balance and found Katrina and a new group of friends who were super weird about their beliefs but also super nice. They included me in their group, and even though I continued to struggle with envy of Katrina (a result of my deep insecurities), I was glad to belong. That  belonging led to a decision to follow Jesus and to be sure that I would not turn back, I asked Katrina to help me take the next steps that were harder than the first ones.

Partway through our college years, we had the chance to study in England for a semester. I use the word “study” loosely because we were 20-year-olds in England for an entire semester. We sat in classes and we had assignments and did homework but we also traveled a lot and tried new things. Having Katrina in England at the same time was another blessing even though we had our moments. I remember how much she and a few others friends hated Paris because it was so French. I think I was the only one of the group who had taken French in high school and had dreamed about Paris for years. I drove them nuts with my constant declarations: “Look! There’s the Eiffel Tower.” (FYI, you can see the Eiffel Tower from pretty much everywhere in Paris.)

After college, our paths took different turns again but our friendship was constant. We got real-life grown-up jobs. We kept in touch. We both found the men we would marry pretty much right under our noses. We had kids. We moved. We had crises of health and marriage and family.

Our communication is not constant and we haven’t seen each other in person in probably six years or more, but Katrina is the friend who has  been there through it all and is the person in my life who knows me the best. That’s weird to say about someone who isn’t your spouse, but she knows the childhood me and still loves me.

We chatted by phone recently, the first time in maybe a year. And it was like no time had passed even though she had another child in her house and so much had passed for both of us.

I recently learned something new about Katrina. When you’ve known a person for 25 years, you think maybe there’s nothing more to learn. Good thing I’m wrong about that. She posted on Facebook about her Myers-Briggs personality type (Google it if you don’t know what I mean) and I learned that my confident, beautiful, outgoing friend is an introvert. An introvert! I couldn’t believe it because I’m an introvert and I spent too many years believing there was something wrong with me and that everyone else was better than me and there was no possible way I could ever be like Katrina. (Not the right goal, just in case you’re wondering.)

So, it’s true. You can learn something new about someone you’ve known for two-thirds of your life. There was a time when Katrina and I were planning some 40th birthday madness in a few years, but I’m not sure I can wait that long. Though she is one of the few people I will willingly and gladly answer the phone for, I miss her and need to hug her neck and play with her kids. (Plus our sons–my only, her older one–need to meet. They sound like kindred spirits who will destroy something in the name of fun.)

She is my best friend. And maybe the first person outside of my family to tell me “I love you” and mean it.

Do you have a best friend? Or a friend you’ve known for decades? What’s your relationship like? And have you told them how much they  mean to you?

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