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Personal Essay: Two Sides of the Same Coin

A friendship for the ages



I can’t remember a time before I met Leili.


Even in the deep recesses of memory, Leili somehow is there in the periphery of every memory. Her long, braids swinging and dark eyes flash across my earliest memories like a supercut in slow motion.


Neither of us can recall when we first became friends; there is no secret handshake or resounding moment of camaraderie. Our mothers tell us that we were in the same infant room at Greystone House Montessori School in Northwest Houston, where our mother’s first met and bonded over the joys and missteps of motherhood. Leili was the loudest infant in the room, screaming and crying all day while I was the quiet infant in the crib next to her. Somehow, whether it was sheer coincidence or Fate, we became attached and our parents used our budding friendship as an excuse to become friends.


From then on, we were attached at the hip. Despite being placed into different pre-school classes, we would always find our way back to one another during recess and lunch. This separation became sort of an inside joke over our 20-plus year friendship; we ended up never having a single class together from kindergarten to twelfth grade.


Despite the forced separation, Leili and I worked around it in every way possible. We went to the same summer camp for nine years and spent our childhood summers swimming, horseback riding, and putting on musicals in the sticky summertime. That summer camp was our happy place, Leili and I still reminisce with rose-colored glasses on the muggy days spent brushing horses and playing 12 square with the other campers.


But the rose-colored glasses were never permanent. Our personalities clashed and viciously during our childhood. I have, what seems to be, a fucking hurricane of emotions above me at all times, resulting in my childhood being filled with easy-to-spill tears and lumps in my throat whenever I was mildly upset. Leili, on the other hand, was all fire and sharp knives, her words always finding their mark and burning my fragile ego as a kid. We never stayed mad at one another for long, but when we fought, it was always ugly. Leili and I would sit on opposite sides of the room, periodically glaring at one another and spouting passive-aggressive bullshit until one of us made a peace offering, usually in the form of a Cosmic Brownie.


And so, this was our shared childhood. Days of golden joy, then a petty argument resulting in tears (mostly mine) and sharp words neither of us truly meant that are thrown back and forth. Finally, a Cosmic Brownie to heal the wounds between us and the cycle starts all over again.


As the seasons changed, Leili and I grew into our volatile personalities. My fucking hurricane of emotions dialed down to a soft, rainy day and my wounded vulnerability became a sort of compassionate intuition. Leili’s fiery emotions and sharp words evolved into an intense emotional depth, like an instrument tuning to an A-note, she could pick up the slightest change and inclination without a word spoken between us. Yet, it wasn’t simply the subtle changes in our personalities, but the circumstances of our teenage years that somehow brought us together again and again.


I’m not sure where in our star-crossed lives the troubles started for both of us. Was it my manipulative, on-and-off-again ex-boyfriend or my grandfather’s death? Or was it her sexuality exploration or the impossible expectations her Muslim family placed upon her? Was it my newly-discovered mental illnesses or the oil-slick secret lying under my tongue for four years? Neither of us can pinpoint the beginning of whatever personal Hell the Universe had created for each of us. It goes without saying, between the ages of 12 and 19, our lives were not particularly joyful, not a single beam of light could penetrate the fathomless darkness in mine and Leili’s lives. The dark years slashed the strings of Fate that bound our friendship together, both of us diverging onto different paths, friendships, and careers. I would go months without seeing Leili in our high school hallways; I would hear about Leili’s problems and life through mutual friends but never straight from her. This was our life for years, the occasional wave in the hallway or conversation in the orchestra room after school, but nothing like our childhoods spent attached at the hip. Despite our paths diverging, we both still cared deeply for one another and not even school or contrasting circumstances could keep all of those strings of Fate from truly being broken.


Nightly car rides from orchestra rehearsals were spent catching each other up to speed in a matter of 15 minutes. Some nightly car rides were spent crying (mostly me; once again) and desperately questioning our existences, careers, and relationships. Leili was the hand, ever-reaching, into the dark to hold mine. The tears I spilt in her piece of shit car were met with an impossible kindness and understanding. Leili never shied away from my turbulent thoughts or self-doubts. She never judged me harshly for my misgivings or mistakes. Leili beheld everything I am and was not afraid of whatever she saw lurking beneath my words. And I never shied away from hers. There are secrets between us that I’m not sure anyone else can truly understand. I have seen every inch of her soul and I have seen what lurks in her darkness. And so, I stand, unblinking and unafraid of Leili’s mistakes and misgivings. To see the parts of someone’s soul and not look away, that is what we all wish for, isn’t it? That deep, mutual understanding we hear about so often in literature, music, and film. The kind of understanding that cannot be frayed, rusted over, or shattered.


Leili and I joke that we’ve always been soulmates. Jokes aside, I think she is. We are two sides of the same coin, twin flames in the dark, and the same beating heart. My heartlines on my hand always, always flow back to her. Our life lines have become knotted and entangled with one another’s, and there is no untangling that mess. I can’t move through my memories without bumping into her and all of our shared moments. Our friendship could be etched in stone and withstand centuries of wear and tear.


My mother once told me that no one could ever replace Leili, that her presence in my life has shaped me in ways I’ll never understand. She told me, “there are people that will come into your life and never really leave, no matter how far away they are.” Leili is currently 1,383 miles away from my current location in Denton, Texas. Leili attends art school in Baltimore, Maryland and will be in Osaka, Japan next year for an animation study abroad program. From Denton, Texas to Osaka, Japan that is 6,633 miles between the two of us, a number that I can’t seem to ever forget.


My mother’s pearls of wisdom seem to ring in my head like church bells every time I think about my impending distance from Leili next year. I am constantly assured that millions of other people face this sort of dilemma; some much farther and some for much longer than seven months. The fact that millions of others experience the same torn heartlines that span thousands of miles to hold onto a dear friendship comforts the anxiety I’ll feel when Leili boards her flight to Osaka.


But people walk into our lives and never truly leave us, and neither will Leili. Their presence can be felt with the lightest touch or a subtle mention of their name. They’ll leave a knotted mess of heartstrings in the corner of the soul and memory but never fade. If we could see the strings of Fate, there would be mountains of string on the street, knots scattered throughout homes, cords that dive into grave plots for eternity. We all have our mess of knots and bisecting lines across thousands of miles, some cut too early and others pulled taut against the current. And it’s these friendships, one’s that can withstand distance and time, that we search for. They can be found in family members, lovers, and in my case, my closest friend. We’re all looking for that twin flame, the hand in the dark to guide us back, the hidden smile from across the room, the act of kindness despite every outstanding circumstance. And even when our twin flame leaves our life, either voluntary or involuntary, their presence can be felt. Whether for better or for worse, these twin flames leave a remnant of themselves, sometimes in the form of a changed lifestyle or a miniscule opinion. We are changed for better or for worse.


And maybe my friendship with Leili won’t last forever. Maybe the distance and the time will not be able to make up for the missed opportunities and memories. But her presence in my life and the knots in our strings of Fate will stay. In fifty years, I won’t be able to look back on the supercut of my childhood without bumping into Leili and those blissful summers.


And so, our strings of Fate will stretch the span of the Pacific Ocean, and although they might fray, like Leili’s ever-reaching hand, we will hold on tight to one another and never let go.

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