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In My Own Words

Best Friends Forever

Sharon Racine

(May, 2011) I had to ask my mom how and when Jackie and I met. Youíre probably thinking that Iím a terrible friend for this memory lapse, but I like to consider it a testament to the fact that I can't remember my life when I didnít know Jackie. As far as Iím concerned, sheís been my best friend since before I can recall.

Come to think of it, I donít know many people who can vividly remember their kindergarten years, which is exactly when, as my mother informed me, Jackie and I met. I can picture our classroom perfectly in all its toy-strewn splendor, but the exact moments in my mind are tangled and simplified, like a dream I know I had but canít quite wrap my head around. I vaguely remember bonding in our kindergarten classroom, "cooking" together in the play kitchen or bickering over the best Barbie doll. We were both five years old and we both loved dolls, so naturally we became friends instantly.

Jackie hosted our first play date, and seeing as she had a pool, I was more than ecstatic to go to her house. Iím sure things began as they normally do when youíre five years old and making new friends Ė shy giggling eventually overcome by a mutual interest in whatever activity youíre both engaged in Ė but believe me when I tell you that it ended much, much differently.

As Jackieís mother Joanne recalls, we were swimming in the back yard and my mother had just arrived to pick me up. Imagine their surprise when they returned to the backyard, only to find us splashing in the pool, sans bathing suits. When I asked Joanne about the story, she told me, "I just left the yard for a few seconds to bring your mom to the back of the house. When we looked out the window, all that we saw were two little white bottoms bobbing in the water like dolphins. I couldnít believe it! I was so embarrassed since I didnít know your mother very well, and immediately thought Well, this will be the last play date with Sharon. The two of you were laughing so hard."

Eighteen years later, and here we are. The Skinny Dipping Episode (as I like to call it) was only the beginning of many years of memories between Jackie and I. When my family still lived in Delaware, both of our families would take our dogs (my golden retriever Sandy and Jackieís yellow lab Amber) to the park, where they would chase after kites. Whenever I would ask Sandy Do you want to go see Amber? her ears would perk up and her tail would wag frantically as she circled excitedly around my legs. Sandy and Amber are both gone now, but Jackie and I still like to think of their camaraderie as the doggie version of our friendship.

My time in Delaware was short-lived. When I was nine years old, my parents broke the news that our family was going to move out west to Montana. Montana? Where the heck was Montana, anyway? I had hardly even heard of the state at that point in my young life - imagine comprehending that distance at nine years old. Alas, the date was set, and on June 27, 1997, we packed up our U-Haul and headed out west.

Fortunately, as future English majors, Jackie and I were ready to write, and write we did. A good chunk of our friendship was maintained through letters, and we were darn good pen pals. Some of our memories I revisited through the diary that Iíve kept since I was six years old (writing has clearly been in my blood my whole life), and some are from the many letters Jackie wrote me while I was in Montana. I kept every single one of those letters, from as far back as 1997.

Itís funny to look back on our pen pal years and have physical reminders of the strength of our friendship. As I paged through the early entries in my diary that recounted the happenings surrounding my familyís move out west, I found the goodbye card that Jackie had given me before I left. Dated June 24, 1997, the simple piece of folded white computer paper is covered in tiny yin yang stamps, and a trail of hot pink stamped paw prints runs across the middle. Winnie the Pooh block letter stamps spell out "BYE" directly underneath the carefully written words To Sharon, Love, Jackie.

The hot pink paw prints continue on the inside of the card, where they surround the words, Iíll miss you when you leave. I hope you have a good time. Iíll always think of you. I hope you wonít forget me. P.S. Youíll alwayís [sic] be my best friend.

When youíre that young, you just say things Ė at nine years old, we werenít thinking about the future the way that we do now. Jackie and I always just assumed and I guess knew in a sense that we would always be friends. We had been each otherís best friend for four years, so what was forever to us?

Our correspondence lasted for the two years that my family and I were in Montana, and the following years when we moved back to the East coast. We wrote to each other about just about everything, from family (February 4, 1999 - Do you feel really left out in your family being the middle child? I do! And I hate it. I feel like Iím an ant.) to food (April 4, 1998 Ė Did you have a good Easter dinner? We had ham with really good some kind of potatoes. Tell me what you had for dinner in your next letter!). Yes, we had the mother of all long-distance friendships, but it never fazed us. Our focus was solely concentrated on the next time we would be able to see each other.

We were even featured in the "Friends" section of the January/February 1999 issue of American Girl Magazine. Dubbed "The Buddy System," this particular "Friends" section featured six different girls from ages 9 to 12. Each girlís interests and hobbies were listed next to her photo, and the goal was to pick out which two girls were best friends. Jackie enjoyed fishing and collecting Beanie Babies, and she was a piano player and dog lover. I also happened to enjoy fishing and collecting Beanie Babies, and I too was a piano player and dog lover. Tough guess.

I could fill pages with the letters that we wrote back and forth, but one particular letter that Jackie wrote to me back in March of 2000 stood out to me. We had moved back East at this point, and my family was getting ready to move to Pennsylvania that summer. We were both going through that awkward pre-teen stage that everyone hates, but we found comfort in knowing that we could talk to each other. She wrote, I miss you so much! I canít find a friend in Delaware thatís like me or fits me at school or anywhere. Youíre my bestest friend forever, and I really mean that. I hope we always stay together forever!

We really did stay friends together forever. Once I moved to Pennsylvania in the summer of 2000, our friendship picked up right where it had left off; a one hour drive seemed like nothing compared to the 2,500 miles that had separated us only months before. We talked all the time, visited each other often, and became friends with each otherís friends from high school. Senior year came before we knew it, however, and pretty soon we were preparing to head off to college: Jackie to Mount St. Maryís in Emmitsburg, and I to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Once again, our friendship was stretched over countless miles of highways. Thanks to Facebook and e-mail, we didnít need to write paper letters anymore, but we still kept in touch frequently. The distance prevented us from seeing each other, sometimes for a year at a time, but we still remained close; true to our nine-year-old word, we were still always best friends.

Again, graduation came and went, but this time we were dumped headfirst into the real world. I hadnít seen Jackie in almost 2 years, and our busy schedules had prevented us from speaking to each other for quite some time. Neither Jackie nor I had jobs right out of college, so as we both spent our days searching for employment, we gradually reconnected over cover letters, resumes and interviewing tips.

And then she got me this gig at the Emmitsburg News-Journal. Now, donít think this is a clever plug for the newspaper (though it really does flow quite nicely), but I truly do credit my opportunity to write for the Journal with the revival of my and Jackieís friendship. As we worked together writing and editing articles, we contacted each other regularly again; since the newspaper was a shared component in our busy schedules, it was much easier for us to keep in touch even though once again, she was in Delaware and I was in Massachusetts.

I saw Jackie for the first time in two years only a few weekends ago, at her wedding. When she picked me up at the train station the day before the ceremony, it was as if we had never been apart. She hasnít changed a bit since we were five years old, and thatís what I love most about her; sheís the same Jackie today as she was when we were breaking the rules in her pool all those years ago. Itís comforting to know that a good friend will always be the same every time the two of you get together, whether itís been a week, a month, or ten years. I feel truly blessed to have a friend who is exactly who she always has been, and I know that her husband Sean is a lucky man to have her by his side for the rest of their lives. I am so happy for the two of you, and I wish you everything that is beautiful in life Ė you deserve it!

Oh, and Jackie Ė P.S. youíll always be my best friend.

Read other articles by Sharon Racine