It was two a.m., and I was sitting in my car outside Ben’s house, the headlights providing just enough light for us to see the silhouettes of each other’s faces. The ten minute car ride between our homes always seemed to provide enough time to delve into a deep conversation and we had spent countless summer nights stalling in front of his house and talking. We talked about college and our goals and the people we wanted to become. We talked about our messy families and our confusing friendships and our need to move somewhere new. We talked until the summer dusk turned to a dark night, fighting over who had better taste in music and who should control the radio, laughing over our endless inside jokes, praying that the moments we shared together wouldn’t end.
This had become a summer ritual, sitting in the car at some ungodly hour, Ben silencing calls from his mother so that we could talk for just a few more minutes. We shared things that we had never told anyone else, we talked about things we didn’t dare discuss with our other friends. It became a sanctuary, the car, the stillness of night, the knowledge that our lives were deeply, deeply similar and that whatever was said would somehow make our friendship more dynamic, more fluid. We weren’t afraid to share what was going on because the other person always understood, always accepted even when they could not empathize.
But then college rolled around, and Ben headed up to Boston while I flew to Texas. Our night time talks became relegated to Skype calls and long texts, but the endless demand of exams and papers threatened even that precious time. Ben ran from meeting to meeting every day and was caught in a cappella rehearsal while I slaved over chemistry problems and calculus. Our schedules turned our friendship into brief texts and intermittent phone calls. Thanksgiving break was a much needed relief from the strain of a long distance friendship. We quickly fell into our usual patterns; hanging out all day and testing the limits of how late we could talk before one of our parents would demand we return home.
We turned to talking about school, about the semester, how much we had accomplished, how much we still wanted to accomplish. Lofty words dripped from our lips, the names of prestigious fellowships and graduate programs floated around the in the darkness of car. Law school and medical school danced around us and PhDs seemed to wrap themselves around our laughter, the promise of growth and development both terrifying and invigorating.
And so we sat in the car, talking about grand futures, yet I felt discouraged, so far from the things that I wanted. I was dragging through a chemistry class that was a far cry from organic chemistry research. Ben, filled with hopes to pursue entirely different goals, couldn’t understand why I would so badly want to spend my life in a laboratory, but he encouraged me as if chemistry were his own passion. He told me to boldly pursue what I wanted; he told me doors weren’t opening simply because I wasn’t trying to find out if they were locked before I walked away. I wasn’t doing research, he reminded me because I had never asked anyone to let me work in their lab. He talked for almost an hour, reminding me how far I had come from my days of being at Tech, and how far I could still go, if only I started to take hold of the things in front of me.
The ringing of his phone and his mother’s pleas for him to come inside interrupted our talk and he slipped into his house; I turned on the car engine and pulled away from the curb, the sudden silence giving me room to digest everything he had said. The red glow of a streetlight flooded my car as I idled at an intersection, my thoughts suddenly filled with hope about how much I could accomplish in the short time left in my first semester, how I could set up my second semester of college to be what I really wanted. Inspired and encouraged, filled with the confidence that has always come from this friendship, my fears about the future seemed to fall out of my car, left scattered across the road under the blinking streetlight.