The best way for me to even try to convey the magic that is my friend Najla, is to first tell you the story of how she inadvertently saved me from myself…
It was January and I was turning nineteen at the height of a breakdown that had been re-arranging the furniture in my brain for over a year. In the middle of this first year of college, I was ravished with insecurities, still hopelessly in love with a high school ex-boyfriend who had grown weary of that affection (and my existence in general), and trying to hold onto old friendships—all while navigating new ones with a handful of undercover-awful people, and a few wonderful gems who I was trying not to scare away with my onslaught of feelings.
Obviously, it was quite the juggling act, one whose finale could only be messy, destructive, and eventually, transformative. But to achieve the latter effect, I had to make some really boneheaded decisions borne out of instability and dripping in some pretty black n’ blue dramatics. Naturally, this meant having a drunken, blow-out birthday party in the basement of my parent’s home over winter break, inviting said-ex boyfriend, and all the high school pals whose new lives made me entirely unsure of where our friendships stood. Loaded with these anxieties and paired with a disgust regarding my body as re-fashioned by freshman eating habits, the alcohol easily pulled the tears out of me, creating a stinky puddle of self-pity for everyone to see.
It was a mess. But while most people handed me hesitant bouquets of confusion, sympathy, and annoyance, one person swooped in and provided me with a silver lining that I didn’t expect, or even necessarily deserve. It was, of course, Najla, one of my oldest friends, doing something so typical of her: pulling me out of a shitty moment with a comment that was equal parts emotional, hilarious, and kind.
She wanted me to know that she had written an essay about me at school, in response to a prompt inquiring about someone who had significantly changed the student’s life for the better. Somehow Najla deluded herself enough to think that, in certain ways, that person had been me. And as I sat there depressed and self-hating, she served me a platter of my good parts—the parts she respected, that had somehow moved her—which I desperately needed. It didn’t wipe away the fact that the night was disastrous, but it gave me something to work towards, or, perhaps, back to—a picture of my better qualities, the things that this person who I loved so much…loved in me.
That, I’ve learned, is crucial to a truly good friend (unpacked further here): the ability to love you despite yourself, to know you in all your various shades (some awful, some great), and to be there waiting with helpful road signs when you get a little lost. Najla has been this friend for me since the seventh grade, when we met, and I know that she will always be this friend for me. Her friendship is less a facet of my existence, more a fact. She’s always there, even when she’s not—even when one of us has to retreat into the chaos of our own lives, as we are wont to do.
Our senses of humor were surely separated at birth, on such the same wavelength that all it takes is a glance across the room to communicate something we find mutually hilarious. At a recent informal high-school reunion, we could be found laughing in that way that renders a person silent and shaking—like drug addicts going through withdrawal—over something that I can confidently say no one else would find worthy of that reaction. And wrapped up in her ability to laugh herself to tears is the infectious positivity of her presence, so strong that whenever she leaves a room people are likely to note, with a bit of awe, how wonderful a human she is.
To be in her orbit is to be energized—suddenly jazzed about life, regardless of your current realities. “Najla is hilarious. Like, really hilarious,” my little sister pointed out recently after Naj swept through our kitchen and flipped a dull mood on its head. Those comments, paired with the stunned smile plastered across her face, would have you thinking that Louis CK had just stopped by to do impromptu stand-up. I’m realizing, however, that the residue Najla’s humor inevitably leaves in her wake, is easily comparable to whatever Kool-Aid that man incites us to drink. And, whenever I want to ease a potentially awkward situation that pops up too often in our tech-addled, socially retarded landscape, it is Najla who I bring along. I know that it’s impossible for people not to love her, impossible for her personality not to melt away any personal pretense and render you the human equivalent of a chocolate chip cookie swept from the oven just a bit too soon. She may truly love few, but she empathizes and can get along with many—a rarity that you can’t help but admire, envy, and want to hold onto tightly forever, ever (a la Outkast).
As the first friend I loved deeply (yes, LOVE—with all of its scary implications, but none of the messy sexual responsibilities), she is also the only friend I’d gladly be around in any mood. There are no necessary fronts with her—silence is uncommon, but when it happens, it’s easy enough to go unnoticed. The length of our friendship allows that many of our feelings now go unspoken, with our fondness for each other as ingrained as blood type. But in honor of her birthday, one of the few I will never forget (with or without Facebook’s needling), I felt it necessary to spell out what she means to me on the page, as she once did for me.
I’ve deduced, scientifically of course, that to dislike Najla would be to dislike yourself immensely, and to hate the warmer corners of life. She re-colors the world constantly for my mopey little ass–and it is a gift that I shudder to imagine life, and my general character, without. So, Naj, thank you for being there—really there, invisibly tattooed in my skin there—without a doubt, always. Thank you for being an endless source of human-Advil to the many, many (have I said many?) friends who are lucky enough to call you one of their people—we are positively addicted, proud to be your junkies.
I want to listen to all the songs with you, drink all the drinks with you, discuss all the news with you (both the highbrow and the very, very low), and spend my twilight years bitching and laughing on a porch–absolutely fucking anywhere (Alaska, Syria, whatever your heart desires!)–with you.