Battle Born

May 7, 2017 — I’m sitting in an apartment that is not mine as I type on a computer that is not mine. I turned in my apartment key twenty minutes ago, and my laptop is buried in the back of Lauren’s Jeep Liberty. I wasn’t sure when I’d post this, but something about this moment feels right. I graduated college last night. The weight of that sentence is a quantity I have not yet fully felt. Although it is the beginning of my adult life, my heart is heavy over the closing of my college years. I’m in an odd place, really. Every person I love here has more time. One more year to love one another.

I’ll keep this quick because Lauren is on her way back from the gas station and I have yet to say goodbye to Allison. The words below are nothing Allison and Lauren have not heard before. I consistently tell them how badly I love them. I tell them all the time. But I am a writer, so I would be remiss if I did not put on public record how those two women have changed my life.

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April 22, 2017 — We go off to college and we change. I don’t recognize the Faith Vander Voort of three years ago. I just don’t. I see pictures of her, and it feels like I’m looking at an old friend with whom I’ve long lost contact with. My family has seen this transformation in snippets, fragments over Christmas breaks and FaceTime calls. Only two people laid beside me in the trenches the whole way. In a time when everything was always changing at a staggering rate, they were my only constant.

I truly believe the English language has failed us with the word friend. I call the boy at the campus coffee shop who knows my order by heart my friend, but I also use the same term to describe my three brothers. The variance in importance to me between the Coffee Boy and the Vander Voort Boys is colossal, so why on earth are we only given one word to fit pretty much all relationships we view as positive?

Allison Chenoweth and Lauren Sweet are not my friends. To call them my friends would be an insult to our relationship, a slap in the face to everything we have gone through, and throwing the word “best” before it is no consolation, either.

The three of us left Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana to see who we might become. Any semblance of familiarity or family would require a plane ride, so we fought to create our own familiarity — our own family.

We each walked through extended periods of tremendously dark days at different times along the way. I will not pretend like these have been an easy three years. While I do believe our Snapchat stories and Instagram profiles accurately reflect our overwhelmingly positive experience at Azusa Pacific University, we certainly did not show you the parts of our lives that we ourselves did not wish to see.

Mine happened sophomore year. I was hiding under the covers in my bed at Georgetown University on the phone with Allison and Lauren. An entire continent lay between us, but they were my first call. They are always my first call.

Allison’s happened in the spring of freshman year. I sat beside Lauren on her dorm room bed looking down at a quiet, broken blonde with sad eyes. I wanted so badly to take her pain and make it my own. It was torture to see someone I loved so dearly go through something I could not fix.

Lauren’s happened earlier this year. Lauren, out of all of us, hides her heart in a place that is tough to find. But we fought for that girl. We fought hard to meet her where she was in order to carry her out of it. I distinctly remember looking at Allison one morning before Lauren was awake and saying, “It never once crossed my mind not to fight for her. Giving up on Lauren never even occurred to me.” Walking away was not an option.

But the dark days are not what define the three of us — the in-between moments do. You know, those precious times at the end of the day when you’re weary, stripped of every ounce of facade you have carried, and you are just… you. Those are the moments I cherish most, the moments I will gravely miss.

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To the Reader: I apologize. I have just expressed my sincerest admiration for two people whom I have not introduced you to. Let me take a moment to tell you who they are.

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Allison Joy Chenoweth. I met Allison on the first day of freshman orientation. She was wearing a blue headband, and I remember thinking she had a funny voice. Everyone warned me that the first friends I make in college will not be the ones I stick with, but boy were they wrong.

Allison is the definition of a good friend. She loves people well and serves without ever expecting anything in return. In fact, she is out feeding the homeless as I type this (Literally, that’s not a joke. She does it every Saturday). She is authentic in the way she loves others, never afraid to say the hard things that Lauren and I desperately need to hear.

Allison is a compass. That is the very best word to describe her. She knows who she is, she knows where she stands, and she knows what is right. Furthermore, you can always count on Allison to take the high road, the straight and narrow — to head North. Allison is good to the core.

She is a simple woman in the very best way. She stops to take pictures of pink flowers and sings the words to The 1975 in public, knowing full well she can’t carry a tune. For her birthday, all she asked for was a beach chair. She has her ears pierced, but she never wears earrings. She craves the sunlight and orders her coffee black. She reads books about Jesus and she marks up the pages. She aches for a Midwest autumn, and she calls Lauren and me, “Home.” When she is truly content, absolutely satisfied, she sighs and says, “I could ask for nothing more.” She wears Vans when the other girls are wearing heels.

She is golden.

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Lauren Gretchen Sweet. I met Lauren the first weekend of school. Allison and I were sitting on the roof of our dorm building when she told me she met someone from Minnesota on her hall. “She’s quiet, but seems cool.” The next day, the three of us went to church in Downtown Los Angeles, and that was it. That’s all it took. It was then that we decided we didn’t need anything more than what we had.

No one makes me laugh the way Lauren makes me laugh. Last night, she went to Goodwill by herself and purchased an XXXL t-shirt that says, “Better to have loved and lost than to be stuck with a jerk,” and she wouldn’t stop raving about the price she got it for. Going on and on about how much of a “steal” it was, like she would have purchased it regardless of the price.

If you met Lauren today, you wouldn’t see any of this. In fact, she, the funniest person in the world to me, may not even make you laugh. She only gives the best parts of herself to those who earn it, and I think that’s what makes our friendship so special. Over the past three years, I have seen the real Lauren Sweet unfold before me, piece by piece, and I am the better for it.

Lauren is a series of beautifully crafted layers carefully tucked away. She is the perfect counterpart to Allison — riddled with intricacies and complexities. Lauren is the life of the party, every party. And man, can that girl dance. Lauren is the person who makes a house a home. She fills her walls with pages of The New Yorker and makes bouquets out of paper flowers. She covers her arms with temporary tattoos she found at the dollar store. She laughs at silly jokes and does her makeup in a broken mirror. She collects beautiful cards with zero intention to write anything inside of them.

There is no one in this world like Lauren Sweet.

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Tomorrow is Allison’s 21st birthday, and while she is out saving the world and feeding the homeless, Lauren is at Party City buying leis and streamers for the Hawaiian-themed birthday party we are about to throw her in their new apartment. Remember that beach chair she asked for for her birthday? We literally designed an entire party around that dumb chair, and it’s going to be so great.

I was going to use this time in the house alone to write my senior thesis, but I got distracted and started going through old pictures on Facebook, of course. Then I came across this particular photo:

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It was taken on that first day, after church. I’m not certain what prompted me to take a photo with these two perfect strangers, but I’m glad I did. The distance between our bodies in this picture cracks me up. Their hair was longer and my eyebrows were bigger… just a few babies. When I saw it, I clicked “share” and began to type a brief sentimental comment. But no matter how much I typed, there was always more to say, so here we are. Two thousand words later.

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I mentioned my gripe with the English language for only giving us one word to describe those we love, and the only alternative descriptor of our relationship that I can come up with is battle born. Nevada is known as the Battle Born State because it was admitted to the Union during the Civil War, and I find that to be extremely fitting because we, too, endured our own individual civil wars when we left home. A battle between the young girls we once were and the women we were trying to become. And it was in that state of distress that our relationships were formed. We are battle born.

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Lauren and Allison are both home now, so I’ll wrap this up and tuck it away tightly in my drafts until our final hours. Today is about celebrating Allison’s 21st birthday, so I need to stop crying.

To Greg and Tammy Chenoweth and Greg and Janet Sweet, thank you for your daughters. People joke that the more time you spend with someone, the more you become like them, but I don’t think it’s a joke. I will carry pieces of Lauren Sweet and Allison Chenoweth with me in the way I love, the way I cope and the way I heal for the rest of my life.

To Lauren and Allison, thank you. I love you so, so, so bad. It is with immense sadness that I close this chapter. I pray your last year treats you well — may it be filled with precious memories and solid new friends. I wish so badly to see it firsthand, but this is where I leave you.

 

Sincerely Yours,

Faith C. Vander Voort

 

 

P.S. I could ask for nothing more.

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