Long distance friendship

Maintaining friendship while 5,054 miles apart

It was the first day of second grade when my teacher Mrs. Tea introduced me to a talkative, brown-haired girl named Alaina.

Mrs. Tea explained that Alaina was new to our school and assigned me to be her “classroom buddy” to show her around.

I probably wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that this girl, who I was assigned to show around in second grade, would give me the best surprise I’ve ever had.

I still don’t know why my teacher chose me to give Alaina a tour. My classroom job was line leader, so the job really should have gone to my classmate who had the role of “classroom buddy.” I was also very shy around new people and didn’t exactly have an outgoing tour guide personality. I like to believe that Mrs. Tea had a feeling that Alaina and I had the potential to be great friends.

But I don’t think she could have predicted exactly how much potential we had.

My reservations faded at lunch when I noticed my favorite food in Alaina’s lunch kit: Make-Your-Own Pizza Lunchables. She offered to exchange one of her deliciously processed pizzas for one of my sugar cookies. And even made the pizza with extra cheese, a gesture that completely won the Lunchable-deprived second grader in me over. As we walked back inside after recess, tucking our sweaty hair behind our ears, I decided to be bold. I can still picture it perfectly: we were walking side by side in the second grade hallway when suddenly I heard the sound of my own voice awkwardly asking her if she wanted to be friends. Her confirmation sent a wave of relief over me.

My excitement was apparent when my mom asked me how my first day of school went, and I blurted out “I made a new friend!”, unable to contain my smile on the walk home from school.

Later that night, we were driving home from a first-day-of-school celebratory dinner when we passed a familiar-looking girl and her dad taking their dog on a walk. Even though I begged her not to, I was secretly glad that my mom rolled down the car window and introduced herself. The familiar-looking girl turned out to be Alaina, who I learned lived two minutes away from my house.

From then on, we were inseparable. Countless sleepovers, American Girl Dolls and Dr. Peppers bonded us instantly. Every day after school I would beg to have a playdate with Alaina. If I was bored, I would ask to spend the night at Alaina’s house. We would stay up past our bedtimes texting each other random strings of emojis on our parents’ old, half-broken phones that they let us use. I knew I could make it through school the next day if I could look forward to trading food with Alaina at lunch.

Alaina and I practicing taking selfies at our first sleepover. Alaina uncovered this picture when going through her old pink iPod touch years later. (from left: Ella, Alaina) (Ella Evans)

Though we had occasional disputes over freeze tag at recess, everything was mostly calm until we were days away from our first day of fifth grade. I knew that Alaina had bad news before the words actually came out of her mouth. She was moving.

Her dad’s job, the same one that had brought her to Houston, was now sending her family to Denmark for an indeterminate amount of time. Trying to look on the bright side, Alaina told me that at least it snows there, which I thought was pretty cool. But not cool enough to make up for the seven-hour time difference between Houston and Copenhagen.

Before I knew it, I was spending my last few days in the same city as my best friend. We were both teary-eyed as we hugged each other goodbye, clinging to the “calling schedules” we made, a slightly neurotic spreadsheet of the dates and times that we would video chat. Our parents tried to console us, suggesting that we could visit each other on holidays. I didn’t want holidays though. I wanted every day. As soon as the front door shut, I couldn’t hold my tears in anymore.

It wasn’t easy. Without Alaina, school felt pointless. I hated driving past her old house and knowing that someone else was living there. We were limited by the time difference, but we talked as much as we could within our limited hours. When we weren’t playing games on Roblox together, we were constantly updating each other on our lives on WhatsApp, an app with free international texting. I still missed her, but the long distance became manageable.

My reaction when Alaina surprised me after a year. I was completely shocked, and my brothers were amused (though they had no idea what was going on). (IMG_3258 2.mov from Ella Evans on Vimeo.)

Until Alaina stopped answering my calls. On text, she became vague and distant, always making excuses for why she couldn’t talk. She would awkwardly chuckle or avoid the question when I asked if her family had any plans to move back. A couple weeks of limited communication quickly turned into complete radio silence for 48 hours. I began to doubt whether or not our friendship would make it.

In sixth grade, I was sick and home from school when I heard a knock at the door. My mom told me to answer it and was smiling like she knew something I didn’t. She pulled out her phone and started recording. I concluded that someone must be sending me cookies or a “get well soon” present, and my mom wanted to get my reaction on video. I opened the door, and heard a familiar voice say “boo!”

It was not cookies.

A (dramatic) entry from the diary I kept through all of elementary school. I wrote this on Oct. 19, 2020, the day that Alaina moved back to North Dakota. (Ella Evans)

Suddenly all the pieces fell into place. Alaina couldn’t facetime because she didn’t want me to see all of the furniture in her apartment packed into boxes. She ghosted me because she was on a 12-hour flight to America and didn’t have cell service. She dodged my interrogations about when she was moving back because she wanted to surprise me at my front door after a year.

She was moving back to Houston.

Alaina being back felt surreal. She moved into her old house and was at school with me again. It felt like when a friend finally returns to school after they’ve been on vacation but a million times better. We went back to having sleepovers and leaving notes in each other’s lockers, and I promised myself to never take the fact that she lived so close to me for granted again.

In 2020, COVID-19 hit Texas and quarantine restrictions limited our in-person interactions. When Alaina’s family decided to move back to Fargo, North Dakota to be closer to family,

A screenshot of Alaina and I’s locations. Alaina added an arrow from Texas to North Dakota along with an airplane to jokingly show how I could come visit her. (Ella Evans)

I felt a sickening sense of deja vu. An old diary entry I made on Oct. 19, 2020 reads: “I MISS ALAINA!!! A lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot. I feel empty when she isn’t at school with me. It sucks. I don’t think I’ll meet someone else who will be like that and honestly I don’t know if I even want to.”

However, I knew this move would be easier than the last. We were older and had already had experience with long distance. Plus, she was in the same country and timezone as me, which made visiting actually possible. I cried as I left her house for the last time, but I felt more prepared than I did the last time she moved.

Alaina and I gradually became used to virtual friendship again. One of our favorite activities during quarantine was “FaceTime sleepovers,” where we could watch movies together through Disney+’s GroupWatch feature and would usually end up falling asleep while still on the phone. We still talk daily, bond over our shared obsession with Taylor Swift and have even been able to visit each other a couple times.

Alaina and I visiting each other last October to celebrate her 16th birthday. Our selfie-taking skills have improved slightly over the years. (Ella Evans)

Even though I rarely get to see her in person, I’m grateful that Alaina and I have gotten to a place where long distance feels easy and natural, and when we see each other in person, we can pick up right where we left off.