We're friends, aren't we?

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It was the summer of 1997 and I was 17-years-old. Other than going to Girl Scout camp for a few days, I had never been away from home. I had never done my own laundry. I had never had to take care of myself. And there I was, getting ready to spend eight weeks in California, without my parents. I was ecstatic, yet I wanted to throw up. I was nervous, yet eerily calm. I was an incredibly naive teenager from a small town in Missouri, getting ready to go spend the summer at Stanford University.

In high school I was what you would call a nerd. Okay, a total nerd. I didn't spend my free time hanging out with friends or cruising or going to the mall. I spent my free time on the Internet chatting. When my mom said she didn't know what she would do when I went away to college and she "didn't hear the click of the keyboard at night" as she went to bed, I knew I had to make a change. I decided I needed to get away, get off the Internet, and start doing something besides chatting. I decided I needed to get out of town. No, I needed to get out of state. I needed to go halfway across the country. On a whim, I applied to the Stanford Summer Program for high school students. I never thought I'd be accepted, but a few weeks later I received a big envelope in the mail from Stanford. My mom brought it with her when she picked me up from school. My eyes got huge, my heart started thumping out of my chest. "Is it true what they say?" I asked. "That if it's big they want you, if it's little they don't?"

Yes, it is true. I had been accepted.

That summer was beyond amazing. That summer, I met one of the best friends I ever had. That summer, I got out of the Internet chat rooms and started living.

Joyce was from California and her brother was a student at Stanford, so she knew the area and she knew the culture. Me? I was completely clueless. The spot to hangout was the Coffee House, or CoHo. The first time I went there with Joyce she ordered some complicated sounding drink. I ordered a hot chocolate. That night I left her a note thanking her for taking me to get "expresso." The next day she could not stop laughing. "Heather," she said between laughs, "it's espresso, not expresso. And you got hot chocolate!"

"Yeah, but it was STRONG hot chocolate!" I shot back.

After that, we were inseparable. I never did work my way past a hot chocolate, though.

On the weekends we'd travel around the Bay area. Joyce and a few other girls we befriended were determined that they were going to show me everything there was to see. We spent a day in Berkeley, and Joyce was upset that I didn't get to see any punk rockers.

"Dang it!" she said. "They must all still be asleep!"

I had never been to the theater, so another weekend we went to see "Phantom of the Opera" in San Francisco. We were in the nosebleed section, but I still got to go back to Missouri and say, "Yeah, I totally went to see 'Phantom' in San Fran."

On another trip to San Francisco, Joyce took me to Haight-Ashbury. "This is, like, so different than Missouri, isn't it?" she asked. "Um, yeah!" I said, looking around at all of the eclectic shops.

She had an entire list of places she wanted to take me to see. In the end, we didn't even get to see half of them, but that didn't matter.

Joyce was always there to study with me too. "You have to do well, Heather," she would tell me. "You have to so that you can come back here for undergrad and we can go to school together!"

During our all-night cramming sessions, we often did anything but study. Joyce introduced me to Hawaiian style pizza (Canadian bacon and pineapple). We discussed boys, our crushes, our favorite movies. We realized we both loved the Bette Midler movie "Beaches." We found someone in our dorm who had it and we watched it a few times that summer. We liked to think that our friendship was like that of the characters in "Beaches"--we came from two totally different worlds, but we would keep in touch for the rest of our lives, no matter what.

When the summer was over, I cried for days. Literally, days. I cried the entire drive back to Missouri. When I got home, I vowed that I would go to Stanford so that I could be with my friends. I spent weeks that fall drafting my essays. I had two English teachers read them and check them for errors. I applied early decision, thinking it would better my chances.

When my letter from Stanford came that December, it was in a little envelope. I immediately broke into tears. I didn't have to open it to know that I had been rejected. I knew that if Stanford wanted you, they sent a big envelope.

Joyce got a big envelope that day. A few days later she sent me a package of stuff to remind me of our summer--including a copy of "Beaches." She was planning a trip for us that summer. She wanted to show me the California coast and we'd end in Tijuana. Time never allowed us to make that trip, and then Joyce started undergrad at Stanford that fall. I went to a state university in Missouri, and we tried to keep in touch but it was hard. Eventually, we stopped e-mailing. Then a few years ago I Googled Joyce to see if I could find anything about her. I located an e-mail address for a girl with the same name who was attending Harvard Law. It was Joyce. We e-mailed a few times, but things were just too different. >i>We were too different.

For some reason, though, whenever I think of Joyce, I think of the line from "Beaches."

"Be sure to keep in touch, C.C., okay?"

"Well, sure! We're friends, aren't we?"

I know no matter how many years go by without us talking, Joyce will always be one of my very best friends.

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