The first time I saw it was around a year and a half ago. I find myself replaying it in my head sometimes, reframing it like a cinematic moment, the camera panning alongside our stroll. My best friend, her boyfriend, one of my hometown friends and one of her hometown friends — and of course, me — were walking into town on a gray fall morning. Well, they were walking. I was mostly hobbling, trying to carefully distribute the weight in between my crutches and my healing leg, which I’d only recently been allowed to start weight-bearing on again. Maybe that’s what made the moment better — all of them slowing down and keeping pace for me while I gazed out in the town my best friend grew up in.
My view panned from the end of the suburbs, then traveled out past the concrete parking lots behind downtown’s quaint local businesses, catching the autumn-colored treeline up to a solid blue water tower with the town’s name painted on it in bold, yellow letters. I was fixated immediately. I lagged behind to take it all in as the rest of my friends ambled forward — to the confusion of those who had seen that exact view countless times over. I’m unable to explain why, but I mentally replay those few frames of my life over and over. Maybe I was a little sleep-deprived from partying the night before. Maybe my best friend putting on “Twilight” that night while three of us fell asleep in her apartment’s living room put some romanticized small-town vibes in my head. Maybe we can ascertain why through this writing, dear reader.
My best friend’s hometown is unfortunately not my hometown — or my college town –– for that matter. Introduced by a mutual friend through a summer camp, the vast majority of our interactions have always been through messages on a screen. I think it was that screen that made it easy for us to be so close. We bonded over our interests in middle and high school — Percy Jackson, Fall Out Boy, the struggles of AP classes — and eventually found ourselves being able to be vulnerable in ways we couldn’t be around anyone else in our lives. That’s how best friends are born, right?
It was one of those very text interactions that furthered this self-investigation.
yo i think i’m like oddly fixated on ur water tower
idk man. it’s just like, really aesthetically pleasing? idk
I mean it’s a pretty solid water tower. Fun climb
Yeah my dad took me to the top one time. I think I was in elementary school
ur so much braver than me for that
Yeah but we already knew that
Maybe it was because that was the first time I’d finally made it to her hometown. Growing up, we could only take the moments that either of us were close to each other’s cities to hang out. I held onto these moments tightly, just like every bear hug we’d give each other every time we got to see each other again. She’d tell me about the absurd amount of festivals they put on for how small her town was, with us making notes of which ones I should one day attend and which to avoid. When I began exploring my city more from pandemic boredom, I mentally mapped out which spots I wished I could show her.
Maybe it was those wishes that continue to tie me to that water tower. My best friend and I grew up too many miles apart, wishing all the while to see each other as often as best friends are “supposed to.” Our friendship is traced through an endless archive of messages, sappy sentimental birthday cards and saved shared memes. We’ve leaned on each other through almost everything — evolving from those AP class struggles to every college major change and every breakup, shoulders to cry on even when they’re so far apart. Maybe I’m envious of that water tower. It got to be there to see her every day, every day that we grew up together but too far apart.
But we still did get to grow up together. We’ve grown up quite a bit — though maybe we’re still growing — and with that comes moving to college towns, getting our own cars and licenses. We’ve known each other for almost a decade now, and we’ve seen each other more in the past couple years than the rest of that almost-decade combined. If I was asked to, I could speak her praises endlessly. However, I’m confined by other deadlines and your theoretical attention span, dear reader. Besides, I didn’t mean to write this about my best friend — but rather, her water tower.
My best friend and the fiancé formerly known as her boyfriend visited me in my hometown just last month. I drove them around my city and the neighboring towns, trying to show them every little thing I’d been mentally mapping for her over the past several years, all while scaring the hell out of them with my objectively, perfectly, totally fine, excellent driving skills. Still, for all the driving we did, there wasn’t a water tower that compared to the one in her own hometown. I lamented this fact out loud to them several times. However, she came prepared with a gift (while, I, like an asshole, didn’t). In her tradition of gift-giving with the insistence of “there was a sale/good deal/I just had to,” I plucked tissue paper out of a Christmas gift bag to see a gray sweatshirt. I began to laugh at the sight of it — a grayscale print of that beautiful, damn, lovely water tower. So, dear reader, if you see me someday wearing a gray sweatshirt printed with a water tower emblazoned by a Midwestern town’s name, you might (reasonably) ask me if I’m from there.
“No,” I’ll say. “But I just really love their water tower.” And I love my best friend more. I’m going to get revenge with an even better birthday present.
MiC Columnist Saarthak Johri can be reached at email@example.com.