“Mom, who’s this?” my son calls from the living room.
With my hands fully immersed in the kitchen sink full of soapy water, I turn to face him. I can see the kids have pulled out a photo album. “Hold on, let me come look.”
As I walk toward them, drying my hands on a towel, I realize they’ve found an album from my final semester of college. Memories start flooding back as I kneel down beside them on the floor.
“That’s my friend and me when I lived in D.C. It’s a long way from here,” I reply, pointing to us, with the Washington Monument in the background.
As we continue to flip through the album, I remember my first day there. I was only 22. I took one step out of the airport, and a wall of humidity met me. The sun was beating down on that hot August day. Wide-eyed, I stared up at the tall buildings around me, traffic whirring by. I stopped walking and stood beside my brand new suitcases. People scurried past me with their rolling luggage. No one made eye contact. I definitely wasn’t in Wyoming anymore. Reaching into my purse, I pulled out a single sheet of paper. Although I’d read the address several times in the last few weeks, I paused and leaned on my luggage to steady myself. This was my new home.
Glancing up, I drank in my surroundings: high-rise buildings, concrete, and hot sticky air. I watched as yellow cabs slowed down in the street, people in suits raising their arms to stop a driver. I inhaled, grasped the handles of my suitcases, and tentatively stepped closer to the curb. My eyes wandered cautiously, and I slowly raised my arm in imitation of the other travelers. Eventually, a cab pulled up and the driver hopped out of his car. He came around to help me load my suitcases into the trunk: my entire wardrobe for the next four months, crammed into two bags.
With a thud, the driver closed the trunk. I walked to the back door, climbed in, and sat down. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. The blast of the AC was a welcome relief on my sweaty face.
“Where to?” the cab driver asked.
With false confidence, I recited the address, and he nodded. The cab accelerated, and we were on our way. I peered out the window, taking it all in.
Three weeks before, I was living at my parents’ house on summer break from college. Earlier that year I’d applied for an internship with a senator in D.C., but weeks and months had gone by without a word. I’d mostly forgotten about it until I received an email in early August. “You’ve been accepted as a press intern in our senator’s office. The internship starts at the end of the month.” My stomach turned flip-flops. Was I really going to do this?
I said yes.
The next few weeks flew by as I found someone to lease my apartment, adjusted my school schedule, and said goodbye to my friends and family.
The night before I left, I went to my boyfriend’s house.
“You’ll come and visit me, won’t you?” I cautiously asked him as we sat on the lawn. In the silence, I passed my hand back and forth over the newly cut grass. The dark night surrounded us. An occasional car drove down the street.
He sat across from me with his arms draped over his knees. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s only a few months. We’ll see each other at Christmas.”
Pulling my hand from the lawn and folding it into my lap, I replied, “Okay.” I was thankful for the darkness which hid the disappointment on my face.
Weeks later, with my briefcase on my lap, I sat on the orange seats of the Metro. This was my daily commute to Capitol Hill. The hot summer had faded into an east coast fall. The humid days floated away as the leaves began to hit the ground. In the previous weeks, I’d traded some of my false confidence for real confidence. In the mornings, I put on comfortable shoes to walk the few blocks to the Metro stop, taking the Red Line to the Capitol. When I arrived at my office, I sat at my desk and swapped them out for the dress shoes tucked inside my bag. My days were spent researching topics the senator was involved in and writing press releases with the deputy press secretary. She was only a year older than me and quickly became a friend and mentor, not only helping me with my writing but navigating the Senate and the city.
Changing shoes once more at the end of the day, I walked back to Union Station, swiping my Metro card for the ride home. One of my roommates, Chrystal, greeted me at our apartment. We’d never met before August but were paired together: a girl from Wyoming and a girl from Idaho. Both a long way from home. I dropped my bag on the floor and sat cross-legged on the couch as we swapped stories about our workdays. We passed the evening in an easy conversation. Once the dinner dishes were cleared, I called my boyfriend back home. In a typical conversation, I ended up arguing with him, not happy with who he was spending time with while I was away. I moved into the hallway and sat on the floor, so my roommates wouldn’t hear my sobs. As I hung up the phone, I wiped tears on my sleeve, quietly opened the door, and walked back into our apartment. Chrystal greeted me with a hug but didn’t ask me any questions—her presence was all I needed.
In the remaining weeks and months, Chrystal introduced me to more people. We visited monuments and museums and tried new food. She felt like an anchor when I kept trying to pull away, back to the comfort of where I grew up. She was mature beyond her years, and her confidence was contagious.
A year and a half later, I stood at the end of an aisle. My dress flowing, my hands clutching a bouquet. I’d spent the morning getting my hair and makeup done while butterflies popped up in my stomach. It was a warm spring day, the perfect day for a wedding.
The guests stood up and the bridal march began. I turned to face the white chairs filled with people. Chrystal walked up the aisle toward me, toward her groom.
She said yes.
We said yes to a friendship that crossed state lines. Through the years we’ve kept in touch through Facebook, text, and the occasional phone call. I flew back to D.C. to visit when her career took her back there after college. Later, we met for a long weekend in San Francisco, seeing the sights of a new city together. When she relocated to Texas, I spent a weekend exploring her new state with her. When I got married, she was there with me in Wyoming and later came to visit me at my new home in Montana. We’ve been there for each other in the good times and bad, and everything in between. Like most long-distance friendships, we go through phases where we talk often, followed by times when we’re out of touch. Even then, I know she will always be there for me.
Almost 15 years have passed since that fall in D.C. Now, sitting here with my kids, I run my fingers over the prints in the album. The Washington Monument, a football game in Virginia, a group of interns huddled under umbrellas, trying to stay out of the pouring rain in New York City. These are experiences I know I’ll never forget.
Flipping to the end of the album, I find one of the last photos: Chrystal and me with our cheeks pressed together. We have big smiles on our faces. I left D.C. that winter with more than a degree. I left with a friendship I knew would last a lifetime.
I close the album and pick up my phone, typing out a quick message to that girl from Idaho. Chrystal responds back, and we pick up right where we left off.
This essay was originally published at Sweatpants & Coffee.