I see my life as a series of miracles. It’s hard not to, really. Some are bread crumbs guiding me forward, some are life saving, some make me belly laugh…and all are awe inspiring. Here’s the story of one that changed my life forever:
Sometime in late 1993 or early 1994, my mom took me to visit Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.
A group of prospective students and their parents were guided around campus on an official tour. I remember nothing about the tour except for one particular girl (surprise, surprise, right?). She had a friendly demeanor and we kinda’ smiled back and forth at each other, nodding and oohing and aaahing at appropriate times for the tour guide. If we spoke, it was probably only to exchange names. She reminded me of my favorite actress, Annabeth Gish. She had dark hair and brown intelligent eyes—she seemed like the girl-next-door…with surprises up her sleeve.
After the tour each child/parent unit moseyed in different directions. About an hour later my mom and I were eating snacks at the student center, sitting across from each other and gazing out the huge windows overlooking the street. Students were coming and going, greeting each other happily, lugging heavy backpacks. And then I saw the girl from the tour and her dad—they were walking along the sidewalk outside the student center. My mom and I simultaneously waved in greeting and soon they were sharing our table.
Her name was Amy and she was from the Bay Area of California. As we were both spending the night in Walla Walla with nothing to do, she and I made plans to see a movie that evening. We chose Threesome, starring Lara Flynn Boyle and a Baldwin brother.
Amy’s dad, Pat, took us to the movie and then wisely chose to see something different. Before the movie started we were jabbering like life-long best friends and when the movie was over all we could talk about was how mortifying it would have been if her dad had stayed in the theater with us (due to the, um, obviously sexual nature of the movie).
Neither of us knew if Whitman would be where we ended up. Amy had other schools to tour and I (meaning my parents) had logistics to work out (financial aid and the like). Amy and I exchanged addresses and phone numbers, though I don’t recall that either of us wrote to or called the other. Remember, this was before Facebook, cell phones, and the internet…
Whitman ended up being my choice for college. I’d known it was home from the moment I laid eyes on it.
In the late summer of 1994, my mom drove me from Denver to Walla Walla. Leaving home and everyone I knew to go to a place with nobody I knew was as scary as it was exciting. My head was filled with the promises that college would be the best time of my life and that I would meet the friends I would have for the rest of my life. I really wanted that to be true.
I showed up at Whitman 9 days before the other freshmen because I had signed up for a “scramble.” Mine was 4 days of backpacking and 4 days of kayaking in the Cascade Mountains. It was a way to get a jump on the year, have a self-esteem building adventure, and meet some classmates. I was so grateful for the experience—it was challenging and breathtakingly beautiful. I had blisters on every surface of my feet. I’d never smelled so bad. And I learned that not all cheese needs to be refrigerated ((mind blown)).
I don’t think the scramble made official move-in day any easier, though.
While I had been on my wilderness adventure, my mom had continued on to Sequim, WA, to visit her parents. On move-in day she came back to Walla Walla with all my stuff still tightly packed in the car and helped me drag it all up to my room in 3-West of Jewett Hall. I arrived before my roommate, so I took my pick of bed and started unpacking. My mom needed to get on the road for her long drive back to Denver. She maybe didn’t have to be in such a hurry, but I could tell she was fighting back tears…and my mom does NOT like to be seen crying.
Before I knew it, I was alone…watching out my window as my mom got into the car and drove away. It physically tore at my heart to see her drive away—like taffy being stretched to its max and then breaking. I lost it. I sat down on my bare mattress and sobbed. I’d never felt so alone. I could hear other kids and their families carrying things through the hallways, bumping into walls, bumping into each other, laughing, talking loudly. I didn’t know what to do so I continued unpacking.
About 5 minutes later I walked out of my room to see what was happening in the hallway. Towering there before me was the happy and familiar face of Pat Vallely—Amy’s dad.
My face lit up and with open arms I almost tackled him as I yelled, “Paaaaaattttt!!!” We hugged and I panted, “Where’s Amy?” He said, “Just a couple doors down! Follow me, I’ll take you there.” No joke, she was 4 doors down on the opposite side of the hall from my room. Given that there are at least 3 dorms on campus where freshmen might end up—and multiple floors in each of those dorms—the odds of being near each other had not been in our favor (nor was it a given we’d both end up at Whitman).
With the tiniest flick of its wand, the universe assured me at a time of intense fear and loneliness that everything was going to be okay. Amy was just down the hall.
Amy ended up leaving Whitman after sophomore year to move to Alabama to be near family. The distance has never been an issue—over twenty years later, she’s one of my closest friends. Our lives have tracked very similarly, in a macro and micro way. No matter what’s going on, she’s always there with love, support, words of wisdom, and a book recommendation. Here we are at her wedding, a long time ago:
I could write 80 posts about how much I adore this woman and about the serendipity that nips at our heels. There are so many memories: that time freshman year when we were studying for Spanish and she realized I didn’t understand what it meant to conjugate a verb; the time we mistook the clock on Mem for a full moon; spending Thanksgiving with her family in California and experiencing her mom’s yummy southern diabetes-inducing sweet potato casserole; meeting in Columbus, OH, for a weekend to get caught up and being surprised by how much we liked it; meeting both of her children as babies and watching them grow up; the thrill of seeing her name on my caller ID when she’s calling from her “phone booth” (aka car)—especially when I can take the call; the gift of having witnessed her as a mother and a wife and a daughter and the rock-star employee of the ages…
Early 2015 in Denver, CO
I knew the immediate impact of the miracle I experienced on that move-in day, but I had no concept of how much fuller the rest of my life would be because of this amazing woman. To have a friend who has seen the best of you, the worst of you, and everything in between…and loves you no matter what…that’s the miracle that Amy and I have in each other.
Although I missed it by a few minutes with this post–Happy Birthday, my friend. May our 40s be exquisite. I love you.
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