“This is my friend Maya, and she goes to smart school.” For years, this is the slightly obnoxious way I introduced my hardworking, kind, perceptive best friend, and it always guaranteed a blush from Maya. To begin this story any other way would be a missed opportunity. She’s probably blushing as she reads this.
I met my best friend at summer camp, and indeed, summer camp is the reason our friendship is still alive today. The story goes like this: she was on the top bunk, and I was on the bed beneath hers. Maya forgot to bring a pillow and even though another girl in our cabin had brought two pillows and offered her extra one to anyone who wanted it, Maya was too shy to say anything. Our moms tell us we were 8 and 10 that first year at Camp Cedar Glen.
Camp Cedar Glen is located in Julian, California, and is a United Methodist Camp. Maya and I both attended churches in Southern California that sent campers to a week of camp there. The weeks of camp were — and still are — run by a very dedicated team of local volunteers who plan the majority of the week’s content with assistance from the site director, and, most recently, yours truly. I lost my job at a classical music venue because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Cedar Glen was looking for someone to help plan their summer programs. In a most surprising turn of events, the place where I had realized my life would always be connected to summer camp became my new employer.
The majority of Maya’s and my shared memories are of Camp Cedar Glen. Working on elaborate friendship bracelets, carefully choosing when to consume the Caramel Apple Pops Maya’s family provided by way of care packages, sharing observations of counselors, dancing together, and singing loudly. I have great memories of our cabin group taking a moment to turn off our flashlights and check out the stars on our walks back to the cabin after campfire every night. Maya and I weren’t necessarily the camp friends who were inseparable for all activities or meals, but we could read each other like a book and trust the other with our thoughts.
Camp was the one time we could count on seeing each other, and each summer we returned to Camp Cedar Glen eager to be reunited and make new memories that would carry us through the school year until the camp season began again. To this day, Maya and I marvel at how our friendship remained intact, especially during those years that were too early for us to clearly remember. How did we become best friends over the course of those five years spent together at camp? By the time smartphones and other connectional technology had a place in our lives, we were already so firmly cemented as each other’s best friends that it wouldn’t have made a difference. And when I say Maya and I are “best friends” I don’t mean that we were just close the way everyone at camp is a best friend. Maya is my number one and I’m hers.
My family moved frequently as I grew up because of my father’s job. For my final year of school before leaving for college, Maya and I were thrilled to learn we would be a mere 20 minutes from each other, both living in San Diego. For all but that one year a six-hour drive typically stood between us, and without the help of our parents, that distance was insurmountable.
To be truthful with you, although Maya and I saw each other more frequently that year than we would have otherwise, we still didn’t spend all our time together. Just like at camp, we were two peas in a pod when we were together, yet if we went some time without speaking, it didn’t make either of us any less confident in our friendship.
Maya and I can attest to the fact that there are definite challenges associated with a long-distance best friendship. We have no teachers in common or haunts in our childhood towns. We’ve had few opportunities to be integrated into one another’s friend groups from school or extracurriculars. Personally, I feel a great deal of frustration with myself when I can’t remember the names of important people in Maya’s life that I would otherwise have known had we grown up together. The majority of our shared memories are of camp. But right now, I’m so grateful that we’ve had practice being apart but still present for one another.
Over the years, Maya and I have been apart for big life events (birthdays, graduations, proms, etc.). We’ve had to be present for each other in other creative ways. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to video call as we got ready for a school dance. More recently we’ve been keeping up a regular postcard correspondence. Depending on how exciting our lives are at any given moment, we may send and receive multiple postcards a month. A lot of the communication skills we’ve picked up have turned out to be important, because we will be on different coasts for the foreseeable future.
I would imagine that Maya and I are not the only long-distance friendship that camp has kept alive. We are mystified at how we (now in college) have kept a friendship alive since elementary school, without cell phones or driver’s licenses in the beginning, or during those years when we devastatingly were not placed in the same cabin at camp. And now my heart aches for those campers who did not get to see their best friend this past summer because of the pandemic.
Sure, Maya and I did some major bonding over the monster hill we had to walk up every morning, and while listening to the wolves yip in the evenings. But as all dedicated camp professionals know, camp is more than just a location. And because camp is not just a mere place, the friendships made at camp are not bound to it. It is my hope, regardless of how different this summer may or may not have looked for campers, is that they still find a way to be in connection with one another. As a summer camp professional, I feel it is my responsibility to help campers make those connections. As a nod to Maya, all of our campers will be receiving Camp Cedar Glen postcards that they can use to catch up with one another.
I also write this as inspiration to the folks who missed seeing their campers, their counselors, their best friends — their people. The differences in this season were not enough to change the bond we have experienced and will experience at camp, and as soon as we are able to be together (and within six feet of each other) again, we will have so many reasons to celebrate. So, here’s to making the distances feel smaller. All the camp alums who have met their best friends, their partners, their calling at camp are cheering for you.
Simple Tips for Maintaining a Long-Distance Friendship
- Schedule time to talk to one another. While unavoidable interruptions do occasionally happen, don’t cancel your check-in time unless you absolutely have to. You want to send your friend the message that they matter, not the opposite.
- Stay connected through little things. Watch the same movie at the same time. Wear the same goofy T-shirt on the same day.
- Write your friend an actual letter or a postcard. In an age when technology has taken over much of our everyday lives, take the time to handwrite something for your best friend that they can add to their collection of BFF keepsakes. “Plus,” says Gabriela Kruschewsky, Huffington Post fellow, “nothing says ‘I care about you’ like a hand-made anything.”
- Start a book club. Reading a book together will stimulate your imagination and give you even more to talk about during your many phone calls and video chats.
- Reminisce about the good times — the experiences that brought you together in the first place — like camp!
Kruschewsky, G. (2017, December 6). 19 simple ways to maintain a long-distance relationship with your best friend. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from huffpost.com/entry/best-friend-long-distance_n_5052185
Abi Fuesler currently lives in western North Carolina, where she recently graduated from Brevard College with a degree in Wilderness Leadership & Experiential Education. In her spare time, you’ll probably find Abi mountain biking, reading, or waxing poetic about her best friend.