The Sisterhood of the Traveling Necklace

Looking back now I feel like our lives changed because they had to, and that the real magic of the [necklace] was in bearing witness to all of this and in somehow holding us together when it felt like nothing would ever be the same again. 

I still remember the day like it was yesterday -- the horrible moment my 10-year-old-world came crashing down. Calmly, my parents explained I would be going to the public middle school near our house the following year. I was shaking, eyes filled with tears. Their reasoning made sense but I didn't care. All I could think about were the friendships I was forced to leave behind at St. Martins Lutheran, the private school I had attended since Pre-K.

At St. Martin's there was only one class per grade, which meant I spent all of my elementary years with the same 24 kids. This comfortable classroom environment led to the formation of many close-knit friendships. But, there were four girls I considered my best friends.

I had never experienced the first day of school without my best friend, C L A I R E, by my side. For seven years, we did everything together. Religiously, we sat next to each other during lunch, planned matching outfits despite the school dress-code, gossiped about cute boys in our class and obsessed over Hilary Duff CDs on the weekends. She was the Claire-Bear to my Mare-Bear; we were a package deal.

But, J E N N I E and A S H L E Y quickly became an integral part of our friendship equation. From illustrating anecdotal cartoons to filming music videos in my basement, inventing games at recess and starting odd collections, our childhood was far from boring. Maybe even a little (very) weird. Together, our imagination was free to run wild -- carefree and creative.

In 2nd grade, our teacher, Mrs. Smedley, introduced two new students: H A N N A H and her twin brother. We were all pretty excited to have new faces among our usual bunch and eagerly embraced her into our group. I befriended Hannah by complimenting her Little Mermaid lunchbox. As it turned out, we had much more in common than our mutual-favorite Disney princess. Together, we took art classes downtown and weekly tennis lessons. Beyond these shared interests, we were tied together by the secrets, hopes and fears we confessed to one another.

Looking back, it's hard to pinpoint a single memory that doesn't include Claire, Jennie, Ashley or Hannah in some way. Countless field trips, sleepovers, birthday parties and inside jokes bound us tight over the years.

We didn't just go to school together, we grew up together.

So, as if entering middle school didn't seem scary enough! For the first time, the five of us would be dispersed among three different schools -- Claire and Jennie stayed at St. Martin's, Hannah and I went to Central Middle and Ashley transferred to Annapolis Area Christian. I was a nervous 5th grader with a lot of unanswered questions regarding what the future would hold:

How could I possibly navigate my new school without them? Would I even survive the first day? How would I transition from a small class full of friends to one of over 200 strangers? What if I had nothing in common with the girls at my new school? Who would I confide in?

But, there was one question I was haunted by most:

Would I lose my best friends? 

I was determined not to. Easily inspired by the then-current movie, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, I bought a friendship necklace and a journal. A circular pendant to symbolize our un-ending friendship and the notebook to record moments from our lives we would soon no longer share firsthand. I prayed this effort would keep us connected and bring us the courage we needed to navigate our new beginnings, just as the pants had for Tibby, Carmen, Lena and Bridget.

Soon enough, our intimidating transition began. As we passed around the necklace, the pages of the journal became filled with pointless rants and important confessions, quick doodles and assorted stickers. We shared our average day-to-day, but also big life changes. It became a written record of European travels and cross country road trips, braces and body casts, sporting events and summer camp, first kisses, High School Musical references, struggling to open lockers and a lot of spelling errors. Plus, that one time Hannah's dog, Toto, climbed into the dishwasher. (In the words of Hannah, "What a night!") Most importantly, it documented our continued friendship.

Twelve years later, Claire, Jennie, Ashley and Hannah are still some of my most cherished friends. Perhaps, we have the necklace to thank for that -- for holding us together during a rocky time in our young lives. With the support of each other, we were all okay in our new endeavors.

Our friendship not only survived, it evolved and grew stronger. Our bond is unbreakable despite constant change: different middle schools have since become distant colleges up and down the East Coast, and will soon mean new jobs in unfamiliar cities. As a result, we don't see each other nearly as often as we'd like to. But when we do reunite, it's as if time hasn't changed a thing. It's no longer about being as inseparable as we were in grade school; it's being separated yet nothing changes within the foundation of our friendship - the irreplaceable kind only years of companionship, support and trust can build.

We know now that no matter how far we traveled on our own separate paths... Somehow we would always find our way back to each other. And with that, we could get through anything.

To us. Who we were, and who we are. And who we'll be.

To the [necklace].

And the sisterhood. And this moment, and the rest of our lives.

Together and apart.