A tale of true friendship that stands the test of time and distance.
My first memories of meeting Serena Lung are the same as those I have for every present best friend: a blur. They consist of a hazy collage of nervous laughter as we entered the unfamiliar halls of Year 7 in Hong Kong, walking side by side as complete strangers who hoped to find a confidant in one another. Over the months, we found a balance between our similar likes and different personalities, becoming two names that wouldn’t be heard without the other—Sanjana and Serena, Serena and Sanjana. That year was an unscripted montage of crazy sleepovers, awkward homemade music videos and discovering a new phase of life together. Then, as quickly as we became friends, we received the news no tween BFFL’s wanted to hear: I was moving back to the States.
I braced myself for what I knew would come: the inevitable fading of friendship. Wrapping my head around this idea was devastating, more so than losing someone over an argument or a falling out. This time, it wouldn’t be because of differences or who we were as individuals, but because of a more heartbreaking situation—the neutral passing of time.
Then, something amazing happened. Thanks to our naive determination to fight fate—and more importantly, the inventor of Gmail—we sent our first emails to each other. They were signed off with what seemed like an infinite amount of XC’s (not to be confused with XO’s because we were quirky). And although we didn’t realize it at the time, this was the start of a unique friendship that has passed both tests of distance and time.
To write this piece, I did what I do once a year: go through the emails. It fascinates me to this day how we ended up transforming a 1-year friendship as 12-year-olds into a lifetime of sisterhood. Although we Skyped and WhatsApp'd, those 8,000 miles between us were canceled out by the bond we shared through those emails.
It lasted as long as it did in the beginning because we were young, defiant and full of tenacity. Our friendship was what we made out of it; if that meant long, rambling emails to one another about the minuscule details of middle school weekdays, then so be it. As we entered our mid and late teens, the emails became longer and more spaced out. They grew with us, becoming more introspective, patient and kind. We helped each other find ourselves despite being unable to walk those Year 7 halls together anymore. It was refreshing to email her after the end of a long month, where I could tell her about all the people she’d never met and the situations she hadn’t experienced with me. Our long-distance friendship was a perfect mix of an outsider’s perspective with an insider’s heart.
It’s been a little over 7 years since I left Hong Kong. For the first time since then, I got to reunite with Serena in New York this past summer. Although we had many emails under our belts by then, it was still nerve-racking. Were those online paragraphs enough to sustain the core of our friendship? How well did long-distance make up for the restaurants we didn’t discover together or the movies we had to summarize to each other? But if roaming unknown streets of Brooklyn together taught me anything, it was that we cracked the secret of friendship...and it was simpler than I thought.
The basis of friendship is fulfilling a mutual need for connection and commitment. Take away the factors of distance and time, and you’re left with hard work and unconditional love. Those XC’s don’t only symbolize our own version of hugs and kisses but are a simpler promise to just be there for each other. They’re a promise to check-in, to listen, to rant and to laugh about the lives we’re building on our own.
This afternoon I woke up to a new email titled “INTERNAL SCREAMING.” I couldn’t help but smile to myself, knowing that wherever she was and whatever time it was over there, I could count on her email, and she could count on mine.