7 months into the most tumultuous, tragic, up-ending year our generation may ever live through, I can confidently say this: my best friend (and her messages, even nearly 6,000 miles away) are what have kept me sane.
I’ll admit, my best friend Sam deserves a Nobel Prize for her work as my unpaid therapist and... WhatsApp deserves an honorable mention for allowing us to stay so connected, even halfway across the world from each other, during a global pandemic.
Turns out, when living through history in the making, you really need your person. Mine just happened to move to another country two weeks before the world shut down, four weeks before I lost my dream job due to COVID, and five weeks before my bank account hit a new low. I’m talking, low low. And I’m one of the lucky ones, healthy and home. Let’s face it, 2020 feels almost Shakespearean...so layered, so dark I’m convinced that if made into a feature film, Quentin Tarantino and M. Night Shyamalan would both get up half-way through and walk out, insisting it was simply too much. They’d be right.
So this year may have taken absolutely everything we collectively hoped for our futures and lit it on proverbial fire, but I will say if there’s been one bright spot for me, it’s been this: I’d planned on spending this year adjusting to doing life without my best friend right by my side...instead, we’ve been learning to navigate this new normal screen to screen, closer than ever.
These last 7 months should have been some of the loneliest. I live alone, I’ve quarantined alone, and my minimal virtual interaction diminished greatly when I was laid off early in the pandemic. I don’t have much family, my casual coworker relationships crumbled under the strain of layoffs and forego-ed virtual happy hours, and I’ve been single for a year.
That wasn’t the plan. It was all going to change in 2020. I was going to date this year - having finally reached a point in my career where I felt like I had some time to devote. I was going to do the online thing. Meet a good girl, finally, plant some roots here in LA, put a bit more effort in with my neighbors, my coworkers, maybe even adopt a dog. A cat? A fish, for sure. That was the plan my best friend Sam and I had devised - okay, she did, I - ever the introvert - knew that I didn’t really need all that. It seemed like fluff. Extra. I’d eventually settle down, maybe win over a few more coworkers but I wasn’t in a hurry: I had my person. Sam.
She’s been my person, my people, my family, my confidante, my all-I-could-ever-ask-for...for two decades and change.
Polar opposites, Sam - with her larger than life personality, wild mane of fire-red curls and contagious laugh as loud as her voice - is the smooth to my rough, the wild to my safe, the Thelma to my Louise. I’m anxious, she’s sure-footed. I’m wound tight, she’s wild and trusting. I’m slow to boil, she’s boiling baseline.
Everything she does, she does with her whole being. Everything about her is fast and all-encompassing, even the way she texts. That has been a saving grace during quarantine - I’ll wake up to 5 to 6 messages thanks to the time difference, and everything I send gets all of her, complete, full-focus.
We all need a friend like that. Especially now.
Neither of us can really remember a time we weren’t essentially joined at the hip - having bonded over a shared love of the class pet in Kindergarten. Even then I realized, I didn’t need much - just one friend who really got me.
At 30, we’ve navigated essentially all of life’s twists and turns - from first kisses to first jobs, my coming-out to her first, second, third, fourth and fifth heartbreak, community college, student loans, escaping our tiny, tired town to carve out careers and happily ever afters in LA...all of it.
We can practically finish each other’s sentences, we know exactly what the other is thinking with just one glance, and we have done everything side-by-side, hand-in-hand...except survive 2020.
That, we've done phone-to-phone.
Sam’s the planner. Her plan? To work her way up in wardrobe design, fall wildly in love with a producer, move to a beach town where she’d pop out one kid, adopt two, and of course, have me, my someday-wife and maybe-dog move next door.
Whenever I’d stumble across an ocean adjacent open house or particularly cute pup, I sneak a picture and text it her way, even if I was seeing her in an hour or two. She’d immediately respond with a series of SOON emojis and heart eyes, all meant to say: the future’s bright, girl!
It had to be, because Sam’s the type of woman to dream the dream and walk the walk so brilliantly you couldn’t help but believe in her plan. I’ve believed since before I could drive.
Growing up, we were desperate to escape our hometown: small, suffocating, judgemental, cold. My family was complicated, hers was uninterested. We became each other’s support system out of necessity. She started insisting that we’d move to LA to pursue our dreams at such a young age that I can’t ever remember even agreeing...it just made sense. We’d leave the small minds and small towns far, far behind, and seek sunshine, success, and happy lives, together.
And we did! Everything was going according to plan. Until she met, married, and moved to be with the love of her life - all within 6 months! Like everything Sam does, it was fast, fierce, and fully fated in the stars.
His name was Patrick, they met on a trip in Barcelona - Sam was there with her boss, and I couldn’t afford to take the time off..or buy the ticket. I stayed behind in the apartment we shared, taking a few extra writing gigs to supplement my paycheck, telling myself I wouldn’t miss the next trip. We’d travel the world together once we’d reached a certain point in our careers...it was all part of the plan.
Little did I know, our whole plan was about to change.
The night they met she sent me a WhatsApp at 2 am:
“Pretty sure I just met my future husband. Not shitting you. Only problem is, he’s living in Spain for the next two years. Some job assignment. Minor detail. We’ll get him back to LA orrrr...maybe we move here? DEAD SERIOUS!”
By the time I texted her back a few hours later, they were talking about extending her trip to join him in Mallorca for a few days. By the time she touched down at LAX, she’d texted me what she knew for certain ...
“Maya, he’s the freaking ONE.”
And, he was.
It was fast and some could say foolish but Sam has always been certain and sure - that’s what has made her Sam. She just knew - about everything. Patrick was it.
I was heartbroken and happy for her all at once. Though in my mind no man could ever be good enough for Sam, Patrick came pretty close. They glowed together. I would have loved for all that glowing to stay in LA, but I had to face the fact that my person had found her other person, and he happened to live across the globe.
The day I dropped them both off at LAX for their 14-hour flight into newly wedded bliss and new lives, Sam squeezed me until I was breathless.
“Remember, text me every single day. We’ll WhatsApp video call every night at 6 PM your time so I can make sure you’ve actually left the office. I’ll text you when I wake up to write, I’ll send you pictures of my daily adventures to the local coffee shop or whatever, and you’ll visit in April. Just take a little out of savings if you have to. Trust me, it’ll be the trip of a lifetime! I love you. You’re my person. I’m always right here. And if all else fails...his assignment is up in a year and a half. No time at all. We’ll be home before you can miss me. Got it?”
It was early March. She was still glowing. She had this whole new life and world to explore, and a person to grow with. I was - for the first time in my life - completely and totally alone. I squeezed her back in agreement and headed home to start counting down the days until April.
That was the plan.
Less than a week later, news of COVID sent our world to a grinding halt. Panic ensued as I pushed through a jammed grocery store to stock up on essentials - frozen chicken, water bottles. Panic was palpable as people pushed their carts, frenzied. It all felt apocalyptic and normally, Sam would be right there. I swallowed down the rising anxiety, pulled my phone out to snap a picture and sent it to Sam.
“Are you guys ok? This shit is nuts.”
“I was just about to call you! It’s going to be okay. We’re okay where we are. Patrick’s office sent them home and they’ll be home for a while until this all gets squared away. It will. Take a few deep breaths. Don’t get boxed wine, this shit calls for a step above Franzia.”
I laughed as I grabbed a decent looking chardonnay. She always knew just what to say, even under the weirdest of circumstances.
Weird turned to wild as the pandemic swept through our world. The weeks stretched on, numbers went up, uncertainty ran rampant and Sam’s texts felt like my only constant.
“M. So much for newlywed life, huh? Patrick and I are certainly making up for lost time or whatever...learning every little thing about each other with all this closeness. I kind of hate it. Love him but wow. How are you? How did that blog last night turn out?”
“Any crazy deal-breakers yet? ;) Just kidding...he’s pretty perfect. Just like you. Weirdos. It turned out decent...I just sent it in. I’ll send you a copy to read, if you want?”
“Oh come on, I bet it’s perfect. Send, send! Why are you so hard on yourself? You’re agood one, Maya Powers. Remember that piece you wrote on the alternate ending to Titanic that made Mrs. Fulmer cry? That’s when I knew I was dealing with the next great American author. What are you writing today?”
We’d spent the majority of our lives physically together, and while our text threads flowed continuously like one never-ending conversation, we didn’t dig into tough topics or even complete conversations via text until Sam moved and COVID hit. We didn’t really need to. We were never that far apart. We could convey what we needed to in a few simple sentences, a string of emojis. This was different.
Suddenly, with texting as our major form of communication - our texts turned to paragraphs sent rapid-fire, our selfies served as hour by hour updates, and our WhatsApp usage skyrocketed. As days turned into nights and the world turned into a space we no longer knew...Sam and I texted through it all. Or, I should say, our texts got us through it all.
Less than an hour after I was laid off from my job, I opened my WhatsApp and poured into my keyboard.
“They let me go. I’m sort of in shock. They said they needed to let most of the marketing and content team go...it just doesn’t make sense to keep us on right now, no matter how badly they want to. Shit. Nothing really makes sense right now. I just got off the phone with Marsha. She was emotional about it, said it wasn’t her call, that I’d be the first one they’d bring back on when things calm down.”
“Maya! Girl. I’m here. I’m so sorry. This isn’t your fault. There’s nothing you could have done. I know you’ll want to blame yourself, think you could have tried harder or something. That’s bullshit and you KNOW it. Listen to me: you’re one of the greatest writers I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, let alone loving! You’re going to bounce back. Fuck them! Or don’t. It’s really hard right now and it’s okay to feel that. Just honor those feelings and take a day. Put on some Real Housewives, grab that Franzia and don’t you dare stop texting me. I’m gonna be right here, let’s binge-watch the same season and not think about anything except the magical creations of Andy Cohen for a few hours. OK?🥰”
I smiled despite myself, despite everything.
I’d planned on spending the night looking for more freelance gigs, filing for unemployment, and flip-flopping between self-blaming and dark despair. Everything I’d worked for felt...gone.
Sam knew that was really what I needed. At least for the night. Hours of mindless TV and shoveling in cold leftovers was the ticket. Even though I kept refreshing my bank app until my laptop died on my lap, calculating just how long I had until things were going to get a whole lot worse. Spoiler alert: not long.
That night, we texted until nearly 1 am my time - Sam staying up the entire night to text with me about everything from Bravo’s latest housewife to her newest obsession, Jamon Iberico, to marriage so far, and oh, memories of one particularly fun trip when we both got food poisoning. She kept me laughing, an impressive feat only she could pull off.
I woke up with my phone tangled in my sheets, and even more texts to read.
“I LOVE YOU X’s a thousand. I wish I was with you.I’d give you the biggest hug and tell you to stop panic-lysoling the hand sanitizer bottle. Just kidding. Safety first.😜😘❤️”
“I promise you - and you know I’ll never lie to you - everything is going to be fine. You’re going to find a new gig, a better one, I’m going to get us out of Barcelona ASAP and home to you...and we’ll move to the beach. Soon!! k? XO.”
“Hope you slept off that Franzia. LOL. Remember that hangover of 2009? You’re prob feeling similar this morning. JK. Kinda. Text me when you wake up. Remember, I’m here. I’m always right here.”
And, she was. Sam had always been my dearest friend and confidante, but through the next few months, Sam filled an even greater role, even from nearly 6,000 miles away. She was my full-blown partner-in-pandemic - thanks to WhatsApp.
Our phones turned into virtual diaries - every thought, feeling, fear or even random musing turned into a message exchange. Our phones kept us connected 24/7.
What was once a continuous conversation of random chit-chat, turned into an unending thread of solid support, and cathartic confessions. We talked through anything and everything, I’d panic...she’d talk (or text) me down. She’d panic, I’d do the same for her. Then we’d both decide on a Netflix special and watch together - texting our reactions back and forth. Ah, friendship in 2020.
Sam wasn’ the only unpaid therapist! I was able to see a side of her I hadn’t really seen in years - a vulnerable, less-sure-footed Sam. Maybe it was the pandemic or the way typing on a screen sometimes feelings safer than saying it out loud but Sam shared her newlywed woes, I helped her work through their first fight, and often reminded her that none of this was textbook so whatever she was feeling was...pretty okay. We went back and forth like that, I’d have a day, then she would, alternating between laughing and surviving to stumbling and sobbing. Whatever the day or the emotion, she could read it so clearly in my texts and I in hers. We were totally in sync.
Thanks to all my free time, the time difference, and technology...we were never really not talking, unless we were asleep and even then, we passed out with phones tucked under pillows like we were teenagers again - feverishly texting a new flame. Sam and I had reached a new level in our friendship, one that was so open, honest, real and raw that I couldn’t help but feel grateful - an emotion I didn’t think was possible in 2020.
Even all these miles apart, even when it felt like the world as we knew it was ending, we were able to make the other feel our love, our support, our solid commitment to this one-of-a-kind friendship. We were getting through it, screen to screen.
I know that texting can get a bad rap. It can seem shallow, impersonal - a medium to split your time, your presence, your focus: be physically one place but mentally be in five. If this time has taught me anything, it’s that that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I’ll argue that texting can be one the most personal and packed forms of communication - keeping you connected with the people you prioritize, regardless of where you are in the world. Strengthening bonds and serving as daily digital hand-holding. Keeping you close to the person or people that life simply wouldn’t make sense without. A way of keeping you connected to your Sam.
So that’s how I got to today.
It’s almost August. I’ve found some freelance gigs and started driving Doordash. It’s enough to cover me until I can find something more permanent, and I will.
I’m a pretty great writer, after all...as Sam often reminds me.
I moved into a cheaper apartment, and weirdly enough, this tiny, out-dated studio is a few miles closer to the beach. When I can, I mask up and head out on a walk, make my way down to the ocean air. It’s a few miles but it’s fine - I need it. I text Sam pictures of the houses that sit side-by-side. She always responds with one too many emojis and that same, contagious confidence that our future plans are still pretty bright, simply because we’ll be side-by-side.
I’ve come to realize that, there are very few certainties in life and 2020 has made that crystal clear...but 7 months into this dumpster fire of a year, I still know one thing with absolute certainty: I have the world’s greatest best friend and near or far, she’s my constant. I couldn’t be luckier in that sense.
Oh, I learned another thing in 2020.
There’s this desktop app called Keepster. It’s pretty awesome, you can do a ton with it, but I chose to create a custom, professionally printed chat book out of my messages. It was exactly what I needed to thank Sam for being my person through 2020 and beyond. So, I packed that book to the brim - nearly 800 pages, filled with some of our favorite texts, chats, photos, and emojis...moments and memories that tell a pretty great story: the story of us.
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