I have three friends in Washington state, although during my June visit my social circle widened considerably to include their parents, siblings, boyfriends, neighbours, relatives and friends of friends (yes, I am the luckiest girl!) Perhaps it’s more fitting to say I originally had three friends in Washington state and that Ashley, Caitlin and Jennifer were the preeminent reason for my trip to the Pacific Northwest.
First, some backstory. Caitlin is compassionate, centred, calm and smart as a whip. She makes a stellar bowl of whipped cream and always knows the right thing to say. One day she’s going to make an award-winning social worker. Jennifer is a walking bottle of sunshine, with bright blond hair and a beautiful smile to match. She’s a go-getter, rarely fazed by anything and writes the loveliest letters. Ashley – my first friend of the three – is the most creative person I know and a marvel with a Polaroid, a set of watercolours, even just a pen and paper. She’s hilarious, sweet, extraordinarily kind and changes her hair colour as often as the weather. I love all three dearly. In spite of the five thousand odd miles that separate us in daily life, we act as most best friends do – exchanging a steady stream of anecdotes, advice, letters, emails. As often as time allows, my sister and I huddle around a laptop, faces lit by the screen, to catch up with our American girls and their families. But until June it had been four years since we’d hugged in person, which made my trip particularly special.
The best part of the whole affair was that neither Caitlin, Ashley nor Jenn had any idea of my imminent arrival in their hometown. Ashley’s mother (who I can now also count as a friend, hey Cindy!) and I planned my trip in secret over email, biting our tongues for six whole months – a veritable triumph for two self-proclaimed gossips. Yet somehow we didn’t breathe a word and the surprise came off like a dream.
After a day and a half hiding out at Ash’s family home on the shores of Lake Washington, we snaked along roads edged with evergreens to Ashley’s graduation in Bellingham. Comedic situations inevitably arise when you find yourself in your friend’s university town without her knowledge. I skulked around campus in a Jackie O-style disguise and spent the ceremony wrapped in a headscarf and sunglasses, frantically disappearing behind a large paper programme whenever Ashley waved her family’s way.
Connor snapped these pictures of the ‘big reveal’ and they make me so happy, capturing as they do two best friends giddy with joy and surprise at being reunited. Congratulations on your graduation, Miss Ash. I’m so proud of you. It was such a pleasure to celebrate with you and your incredible family. It will forever be one of my favourite memories.