on friendship and loss

Melissa Cowan reflects on the power of real friendship.

“There’s someone outside my window. Can you come over?”

It was 3am, I was home alone and I was sure there was an intruder outside. I crawled on the floor in the pitch black, got my phone and called my friend Becky, who lived at the end of my street. Ten minutes later, there was a knock on my door and there she was – no questions asked.

I stayed inside while she bravely went out to confront the intruder. Instead, she discovered an innocent but noisy possum. She gave me the all-clear and I joined her under the night sky, our conversation weaving through everything from philosophy to Sex and the City. She didn’t laugh at my irrationality or complain about being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night. She shrugged off my thanks, saying she didn’t need it. With anyone else, I would’ve felt embarrassed. With Becky, I felt safe.

Two years ago, a mutual friend called me over to her house, sat me down on the couch and held my hand. “Becky passed away,” she said. People talk about the world slowing down, but mine stopped. Desperate for fresh air, we walked around the block to get coffee and I didn’t bother hiding my tears. Memories came to me in fragments, my brain clutching at straws, trying to feel close to her.

There was the time I showed up at her house in tears, 22 and brokenhearted. “I’ll never be married with kids,” I sobbed. Maybe we’d be the free-spirited cool aunties instead, she said, travelling the world and having exciting lives. “We’re not all here to live the same story,” she said. After some consolation, she decided to do my tarot cards and I believed her when she told me there’d be New Beginnings.

She’d drag me out for runs around the block, ignoring my protests. We’d occasionally stop to observe clouds while I caught my breath (“Look at the sky!” she’d say). She appreciated the little things, knowing they were the big things also. Striding ahead, she’d look back at me struggling and say, “Just focus on the metre in front of you. Forget about the rest.” I now realise she was giving life advice, too.

She called me her ‘soul sis’ and I didn’t take the responsibility lightly. We carried each other’s secrets around in the vaults of our hearts. They say a friend is someone who knows all about you but likes you anyway. We knew too much to stop being friends.

Yet, female friendship isn’t all peaches and cream. Becky’s antics would frustrate me and she’d tire of me going over the same problems one million times. I  had to bite my tongue when I thought I knew better than she did and I’m sure she felt the same way. Sometimes I was jealous of how loved she was by everyone she met. Our friendship was never perfect. But it was always real.

When I think of true friendship, I think of this. It’s a no-questions-asked presence. It’s the ability to call out the bullshit and forgive it at the same time. It’s not needing words but using them anyway. It’s a platonic love that’s as deep as it is strong. It’s real and it’s rare – so if you have it, hold on to it. Don’t wait until it’s gone to realise how special it is.

As well as missing Becky like crazy, I’m grateful to have even glimpsed this level of friendship. The world is infinitely richer for having had her in it. There’ll never be another Becky, or a relationship exactly like ours. But there’ll always be powerful female friendships, making the world go round.