two cities and a golden thread:
the beauty of women’s friendships

by esther s

Artwork by Louisa Taylor

When you’re 21 and perpetually lost, shipwrecks would abound if not for the lighthouses. A peculiar type of light house. Rather than beckoning you inwards to safety and solid land, they are more like twinkling champions in the distance. A constant reassurance of home and guidance. As you venture further out to sea with some incredibly questionable navigation skills, as the coldness of the dark water sprays your body in the depth of the night, you know that at any moment, you can gaze across the shimmering mass and know you are not alone. My lighthouses are the women in my life.

It wasn’t always like this.

In Year 6, I was popular. My friendship group fought every single day, at lunch, between 12 and 2 p.m. It didn’t particularly matter what was being fought about, or who was fighting with whom, but there had to be a fight. We’d return to class, flushed and angry. The powerful girls who were winning the fight adopted a new, haughty posture in Maths class. The next day, by English class, new alliances had been made and old ones broken. Words were whispered behind backs, rumours started. At the time, these arguments seemed so important that I remember being shocked when our school teachers didn’t allow us to leave class to settle the lunch-time disputes. Of course the topic of who was going to be performing the Hoe Down Throw Down in front of assembly was less important than our primary school education. The turbulence of those friendships often left me sobbing on the monkey bars after school.

Thankfully, as time moved, so did I. To another continent; India. Here, I fell into my first glorious girl group where the glue was love and respect rather than drama. There were eight of us, from all over the world, with an eccentric mix of personalities. Anusha was creative and loud, an avid graphic designer and tumblr lover. Darcy and Deebii were the jokesters, bold and witty. Natasha was always putting us in stitches whilst plotting for world domination (she would later turn down a Harvard acceptance). Trisha and Anna were the listeners, calming and kind. Katie was an enchanting mix of bubbliness and warmth. Once I found these girls, I never wanted anything more. Every lunch we would crowd around a table to eat, flapping our arms as we told stories, and howling with laughter with our heads thrown back. We slept at each other’s houses, talking until dawn when our parents didn’t let us go to the parties that most of our grade were at. We’d fall asleep, sprawled over the floor, bodies entangled, bellies full of whatever combination of brownies and ice cream we’d consumed the night before. A lot changed throughout High School – our bodies, sexualities, senses of self, and music tastes. But these girls insulated me from much of the drama, self-hatred and toxicity that many experienced in those years. I felt like they protected me from this darkness, and in their huddle I could let my hair down and dance to whichever songs my High School heart thought to be brilliant, until I moved away.

"A lot changed throughout High School– our bodies, sexualities, senses of self, and music tastes. But these girls insulated me from much of the drama, self-hatred and toxicity that many experienced in those years."

When I returned to my hometown in Australia at 16, I felt like I was experiencing vertigo. Everything I knew had been yanked from under me, leaving me reeling. Without the group of women I loved around me, as well as all the other features of my life in New Delhi, I felt perpetually shaky and deeply anxious. After some very long months spent pacing the perimeter of the school at lunch so as not to be seen as sitting by myself – a dubious tactic that I do not recommend –  I found Queenie. Queenie was an immaculately dressed, fiery woman who could make you feel like the Universe revolved around you every time she shifted her beautiful dark eyes over your face. Queenie spent lunches on the stairwell with me. She held me through the heavy longing I felt for my old life, my boyfriend at the time, my group of friends. She gave me the strength to want to rebuild myself in this new city. And I did. And as time passed, another group of women fell together.

There were six of us. Queenie, Clara, Rachel, Eleanor, Phillipa and I. We all took the same subjects. Boys in our history class were known to call us ‘brown-noses’ at parties or roll their eyes as we raised our hands again and again. We could not have cared less. We were hungry for knowledge, using the classroom to cram as much into our heads before leaping into the bigger world. There were so many precious moments passed with this group of women; so many firsts experienced together. We went to watch Dracula and afterwards ate Churros together in a freezing park-square at midnight. We championed each-others dreams. When I broke up with my boyfriend, they lay on my bed for hours, stroking my hair. Queenie, Clara and I have a ritual that is so well-worn it is emblazoned into my DNA. We drive to each other’s houses at any ungodly hour, consume dozens of cups of black tea whilst debating everything from feminism to noodles, then drive home.

"We were hungry for
knowledge, using the classroom to cram as much of the world into our heads before leaping into the bigger world."

As I grow older and continue to move around, I keep the friendships with many of these women, but some fade away. That is okay, because each of these bonds has led me to who I am. Where media and movies pit women against each other, obsessively fixating on their feuds or depicting flimsy, transactional friendships on screen, I gawk. Who is writing these scripts and how are they so spectacularly missing the point? 

Women’s friendships are a powerful thing. They can be the thread that holds you together when everything seems to be falling apart. They are stitches all up your side and a stomach that hurts from laughing too much. They are the warm feeling of knowing that no matter what decision you make or how badly you embarrass yourself, you will always be able to crawl home and cradle the phone as your best friend’s voice calms you down. This friendship is a car full of women screaming to Florence and the Machine as they tear down an open road to the ocean. It is the lighthouse on the horizon, steady as the night.