On the morning that we left for Croatia, I woke up when it was still dark. I had been dreaming about tiled airport floors and adventure and when my alarm went off, I realized that I hadn’t really slept at all. Earlier that night, I had dropped my kids off with my parents and Joe was already out-of-town and I came home to an empty house to start packing. I proceeded to stay up until three o’clock in the morning: folding and re-folding tank-tops, putting shampoo into empty film containers, playing music loud, stuffing denim shirts into my suitcase, remembering things I should put into my carry-on, forgetting things that didn’t matter, and deliberating over what sweatshirt to wear on the airplane. That night, while I should have been organizing my house and putting away piles of clean laundry and wiping out the fridge, I was loading playlists onto my ipod shuffle instead. While I was downloading music, I was also eating chocolate and talking on the phone to my number-one parter in crime, my supplier of printed leggings, my bestie, my travel companion with whom I was headed to eastern europe with that very next morning. She was up late too, packing, repacking and most likely making a few mix tapes for luck.

Reen and I met when we were nine, but we didn’t realize that we were twin flames until the summer before our freshman year of high school when we bonded over a summer camp experience gone bad, the Indigo girls and anything sunflower-themed. We wore over-sized Mary Engelbreit t-shirts with Birkenstocks sandals and covered our bedroom walls with batik tapestries and Emerson quotes. We continued on to different high schools, but on the weekends, we would watch movies in her basement, make videos on my parents high-tech early 90’s camcorder, and sit at my kitchen counter, eating noodles with butter and cheese. During the summers we dressed up in long butterfly patterned skirts and took the bus to Bumbershoot; on Valentine’s day, we sent each other flowers to math class. She drove me around in her Chevy Caravelle when she got her license and we made each other mix tapes to play in the car’s cassette deck. We read the Mists of Avalon, shared a pair of jeans decorated with embroidered flowers and we spent saturday nights eating tomato basil soup at Cafe Minnie’s on lower Queen Anne. We continued on to different colleges, but we sent each other packages with picture collages and journals filled with Whitman quotes. During our junior year, we both studied abroad: she flew east to Zimbabwe and I went south to Ecuador. We wrote letters, she sent me telegrams, we bought each other African art and Bolivian jackets. We finished college, she went overseas for a year–I flew to Thailand to visit her and we ate mango sticky rice for a month straight and listened to Ani Difranco on our mini-disc players. Eventually, I moved to Portland and got married; and she moved to New York and took the big apple by storm. I visited her and we listened to the Roots and Mos Def and she taught me how to ride the subway. We had been living apart for years, but when I got pregnant, she finally moved to Portland. Reen was one of the first people to hold Indy in the hospital, and she was at the side of the tub, in the late-night darkness when Sawyer was born in our dining room. Now we live in the same place and get to be a part of each other’s daily existence, and for this I know I am lucky. On Sunday nights we go sing at How Can Be Lounge; we make dinners together; she comes over and tells tiny stories to my children and they call her auntie. And sometimes when we are together, my fourteen-year-old self emerges, and I feel like no time has passed at all. But then I remember that we are no longer teenagers; that now we are busy with life and jobs and families and responsibility, and sometimes it seems impossible that we were ever so lucky to have had so much time together; to have been so completely free. She has seen me though all of my messiness and heartache and celebration and change–she has been one of the most steady beating hearts in my life. She is my tiny dancer, my twin flame, my original mix tape. She colors my life in sky blue, she always makes my world brighter, and even after all these years, our friendship has the same magic it had back in ’92. Throughout our days, we have taken varying paths, but, miraculously, we always manage to end up in the same place, usually in matching earrings.

So on that morning several weeks ago, when I woke at 5 am to the sound of my alarm, I was waiting for her knock on my door. It was her birthday; we were leaving on an airplane–headed to Eastern Europe for an epic two week adventure. We were going in search of new lands and printed leggings and places with open sky. Now we are home and our journey feels like a dream: so many moments and minutes spent; so many alleyways and stairways and highways; so many plane rides and bus rides and new horizons; and finally, her sister’s hungarian countryside wedding at the end of our trip. At this point, it’s kind of hard to believe that any of this happened, but I can look at her and know for sure that it did. Because she holds the memory of most things that have happened in my life, and our history now includes Dubrovnik nights, Bosnian lunches and Adriatic sunsets. And when I ask her if it was all real, she will tell me that the proof of our journey is in the sparkling gold trail that we left through Eastern Europe, and I will tell her that next time we travel, we are going to spread mix tapes like glitter everywhere we go.

*to be continued…