A Friend A World Away

So, here’s an exciting life update: I recently found out that I will be spending the summer in *drum roll, please* LONDON! I am doing a summer internship program through the University of Missouri School of Journalism. This internship program was legit one of the reasons I came to Mizzou’s J-School as a freshman, and it’s surreal that it’s actually happening now. My best friend, Sarah, is doing it with me, and I can’t wait to take on London and Europe with her. Bonus: my awesome convergence professor, Judd, is the faculty member this summer.

London is by far one of my favorite cities in the entire world and I am stoked to go back and explore it more in depth. One of my longtime friends, Christie, lives in Reading (which is about 30 minutes away by train) and I was able to visit her the last time I was in London, which was 2013.

Interesting fact: Christie has been one of my dearest friends since I was 12 years old, but I have only met her once in my entire life. Confused? I feel like this blog post is the perfect opportunity to revive this essay I wrote for my college application (trust me, it will all make sense after you read it):

My sweaty hand gripped the railing of the escalator as I descended from the platform into the sea of people. My heart raced, loud thumps that had only intensified over the 30 train ride from London, now ringing out over the muffled chaos of the bustling station. My anxious eyes darted from face to face, scanning the crowd until…there. There she was. The girl with whom I’d been friends for six years yet had never met.

Christie and I began writing each other the summer before I started sixth grade. When I had my mother send my letter requesting a pen pal to her friend in England, I hadn’t the slightest idea what to expect back; thus, my elation a month later when my inbox dinged with a message from a “.uk” address. Christie’s first letter was mostly general tidbits about her family, school, and interests. Although our initial emails were tidy and introductory— “What kind of music do you like?” “Do you have any pets?”—they proved crucial to the construction of this special world I’d begun building in my head: the place where Christie lived. We had exchanged pictures, but, besides her blue eyes and long brunette locks, I knew nothing of what Christie mentioned in her letters. Like imagining a scene in a book, I pictured Christie’s world as a quaint English town; colorful flower tufts adorning balconies of charming Tudor homes that lined narrow streets, blanketed in cobblestones. When Christie wrote about her friends, I placed her in a gaggle of uniform-clad girls, chatting and gossiping as they walked to school.

As years went on, our emails blossomed in substance and length as we delved deeper into each other’s worlds. She went through middle school with me and experienced my angst of starting high school. I felt Christie’s grief at her grandparents’ passing and her joy at her eldest brother’s engagement. Each letter became a portal into England, into her life—at least, what I dreamt it to be. I “heard” her emails with a Hermione Granger-esque lilt and continually added details to the place I envisioned: Christie’s “mum” baking scones while a tea kettle whirred on the stovetop, and Christie’s little brother running around in the winter, cheekily throwing snowballs at the neighbor girls.

My friendship with Christie extended far beyond the bounds of virtual reality where it existed; it was a reliable place I could go to seek comfort and conversation with someone to whom I was so close, but also somewhere I could lose myself in imagination. That’s why, when my family traveled to Europe this summer, I had mixed feelings about visiting Christie. Of course we wanted to meet, but after having spent six years as pen pals, the environments we had created for each other were extremely elaborate. Deep down I’d always known that her school would not really be tipped with the conical spires of Hogwarts, and that her voice would not ring with the exact posh timbre of Emma Watson’s; however, the entire train ride to Reading I couldn’t help but feel like the snow globe was about to shatter.

***

“Americans don’t say ‘fortnight’?” Christie asked incredulously. “You call bangs ‘fringe’?” I jokingly countered. Both of us, having admitted our nerves about meeting, soon realized how silly our apprehensions had been. Lounging on her bed, making fun of each other’s accents, Christie and I connected instantly. As she showed me how to delicately spread the clotted cream over my scone like a proper Brit, I could feel the dense stone wall of cyberspace crumbling away.

Although there are pros and cons to seeing a movie after you read the book, in this case, I’m undoubtedly glad I saw it. While the world I had pictured was reconstructed, I can now truly see Christie’s beautiful gothic church, and hear her real voice in my head. Even though I’ve seen reality, I believe in the unequivocal power of words. Through words, Christie and I were transported into each other’s lives and built a friendship as strong as any other. And, whenever I feel the urge to re-immerse myself in the captivating enchantment of England, I merely have to open my inbox.

Since then, Christie and I have grown even closer and Skype regularly. Although our friendship is unconventional, I feel a unique bond with her that I don’t have with anyone else. We’re only able to Skype about once a month or so, but when we do we can talk for hours. I’m so looking forward to meeting up with her again this summer in London!

christie

When I first met Christie outside of her house in Reading, 2013

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