Blasting the 2010 hit “Airplanes” in her black Mini Cooper, Jemima Swindells and I alternated singing parts – she rapped B.o.B.’s verses and I sang Hayley Williams’ chorus. On our way to Culver’s for our weekly kid’s meal, I glanced over at Jemima and realized I only had a few months left of this. After sophomore year ended, there would be no more car jams. No more after school Culver’s runs. No more seeing my best friend every day.
Flashback to eighth grade when Jemima and I both happened to sit at the same lunch table the first day of school. I found out she had just moved from London and would be spending her next three years in Kansas for her dad’s job. Awkward, brace-faced, 13-year-old me had no idea how those next three years with Jemima Swindells would affect my life.
Because neither of us had anyone else to sit with, Jemima and I sat together at lunch every day after that. She invited me to a Royals game and then a concert at the Midland. She joined my lacrosse team, and I started listening to her music.
Our friendship progressed freshman year when we had classes together and really started spending time with each other outside of school and sports. It sounds like any basic friendship, but it kept growing. We spent every day together; her house became a second home for me. I stopped caring what other people thought of me — Jemima thought I was a good person and gave me the confidence I needed to be my own person. I realized I had never experienced a friendship like it. I had friends who were nice, but never anyone who supported me like she did.
The summer after freshman year, Jemima took me back to London with her, where I got to see her home and meet her friends she had left two years before. Her friends were ecstatic to see her again, and that was when I realized the same thing would happen to me the next year when she would move back to London permanently. I would be in the same position her London friends were in – only seeing Jemima once or twice a year and relying solely on Snapchat or texting to stay in touch.
I tried to push that thought out of my head. I told myself that I just needed to appreciate the time I could spend with her and not think about the future. I treated our friendship as if she weren’t leaving me after sophomore year. I didn’t realize that putting off reality would make saying goodbye even harder in the end.
Sophomore year Jemima and I were inseparable. Three of the same classes and after school gossip sessions made it almost impossible not to spend time together. If I wasn’t home by 3:10 after school, I received a text from my mom asking “Where are you? Culvers with Jemima?” with laughing face emojis. I didn’t have a car, so Jemima drove me everywhere, including home from school even though she lived 12 minutes in the other direction from me. We jammed to Ed Sheeran and 2009 Avril Lavigne as if we were on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke show. She listened to my daily obsessions over the cute boy in my French class, or the new Hen House bag-boy who held eye-contact for that extra second.
Since she left, I stopped doing the things that we did together. I don’t play lacrosse anymore. I don’t like to obsess over a new crush when she’s not the one listening. I don’t even listen to the music I used to love. It’s not the same without Jemima, so why would I do the things that make me miss her more?
But the one thing I won’t stop is talking to Jemima, even if it means we have to deal with the six hour time difference. We try to FaceTime a few times a month and Snapchat every day. But those seven second selfies or quick 30 minute catch-ups aren’t the same as the privilege of spending every day together, knowing you still have time left.
Even though it feels like part of me is missing not having Jemima around every day, I wouldn’t trade our time together for all the Culver’s in the world. She’s the reason I joined the Harbinger – the reason I’m writing this story in the first place. She convinced me to explore school clubs like Coalition and Feminist Club. She kept me up-to-date on world news and politics and made it interesting. She made sure I knew it was OK to struggle sometimes and that I could always talk to her. Jemima is the reason I am who I am today.
It’s been almost one year since Jemima and I have been together in person. Almost one year since her black cat Goodison has tried to murder me with his claws. Almost one year since Jemima and I have sat in our favorite booth in the back corner of Culver’s eating our kids meals. Almost one year since I’ve had a family meal with my second parents, Victoria and Matthew Swindells.
But I won’t let it hit one year.
Now, I’m just counting down the days to May 26. I’m waiting for the plane to touch down at London’s Heathrow Airport, where I’ll only be a taxi and a Tube ride away from Jemima. I’m ready to see my best friend again for a week. I know I’ll be heartbroken to leave her like she left me, but I know I won’t go a full year without seeing her again. I won’t let that happen.
If Jemima hadn’t sat at my lunch table the first day of eighth grade, I don’t know where I’d be today. I believe everyone has someone they were always supposed to know. Someone that makes their eyes shine a little brighter and their smile grow a little bigger. Someone that makes them laugh on the floor for hours, just so happy to be alive. And I believe that someone for me is Jemima Swindells.