The stack of holiday cards is heavy in my hands. I butt them against the table—long end, short end, long end, short end–feeling their corners align in a satisfying way. My work is done: addresses checked, stamps stuck, return labels smoothed, flaps sealed.
But I don't have a card for you.
You and I became friends right before we had breasts and body images and boys. Right before pimples and periods. Right before it became stupid to spend an entire afternoon smashing up fruits and vegetables to concoct the perfect poolside drink. Right before it occurred to us that jumping off the side of your porch into the snow-covered bushes 15 feet below could be dangerous. Right before we realized we ought to keep our mouths shut about the tingle we got from spinning around and around on the tire swing.
And then you left. Right before we took the plunge into full-on adolescence. You took with you our secrets and our shorthand. And I had to start over, because we'd never really had anyone but each other.
I always look for you at Christmastime. Not that our holiday memories were oh-so-special. It's the cards. The work of corralling addresses. Of deciding whom to add and whom to prune off the list. Of pinpointing the last bit of news exchanged and then crafting an update.
You've never gotten a card from me, but you've always been on my mind.
I found you once in the nearly 30 years since you left. I tracked down your phone number and made a Hail Mary pass, never expecting you to return my call. When you did, I was so scared I had to shut the door to my office before picking up the handset. We talked for less than 20 minutes.
I cried after we hung up, because I realized we'd lost that glorious moment of knowing each other "right before." Right before you'd had a rough go of it. Right before you'd made decisions that didn't turn out the way you'd hoped. Right before you became rudderless, wild and damaged. Right before you went from being "my best friend growing up" to "this girl I used to know."
A few days after the call, the photo you promised to send me arrived. I wasn't surprised that your face was blurry.
These days, it would be easier than ever to locate you. It takes a lot less courage to ping your in-box than to place a call or commit pen to paper. But, I'm sorry, it's just been too long.
So I will simply wish you a happy holiday. I hope you are safe and warm. And sober. That you are surrounded by love. That your travels are safe. And that someday maybe our paths will cross again.