I changed school districts in the 4th grade.
I knew no one, and being shy 9-year-old me, making friends right away was a pipe dream.
But there was another new girl in school. Her name was Fatima. Whether it was due to our mutual newness or our often mispronounced names, we seemed to become best friends overnight.
Together, we carpooled to school. We swam in the ocean. We played Xbox for hours. We watched movies we were not supposed to. We stayed up late talking about boys and Spongebob until my mom shushed us to bed for the third time. Fatima understood the idiosyncrasies of my family — the words left unsaid at the dinner table or during an uncomfortably quiet car ride. What often made me feel so close to her were the words I did not have to say. She just already knew. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a sister.
And then she moved.
She moved thousands of miles away to Florida. As we drove her and her mother to the airport, Fatima and I listened to sad songs on my iPod in complete silence. There was nothing we could say to make ourselves feel better. How often we saw each other from that day on was completely up to our parents, not us. It was one of the saddest days of my life.
She and I have not lived within 500 miles of each other for almost 13 years. Yet, somehow, someway, it feels like she never left. If that is not true friendship, what is? Fatima largely defines my childhood. I can not watch an episode of Hey Arnold, or listen to “Like I Love You” by Justin Timberlake, or pass by a Forever 21 without thinking of her. Even though those long summer days of running around Mission Viejo mall in our neon colored flip flops drinking Jamba Juice smoothies are long gone — the pure joy our friendship gave me has ruminated throughout my entire adulthood. It provided me a standard of which to judge my friendships. The women I surround myself with. The people I allow into my inner world.
Fatima is pure light. She is resilient and knowledge-seeking. Thoughtful. Loving. She wears her heart on her sleeve without losing her commanding presence. Every time I speak with her, I am better. Evolved. Her voice is like sea breeze, filling my lungs up with the carefreeness that only the young can drink in. She reminds me of my younger self — the little girl who saw no limitations in life.
Today is her birthday. A day that means the world to me because it brought me my compass. My anchor. The other new girl in school who would become my lifelong friend.
Happy birthday, Fatima.
I love you.