Sayantani and I met in elementary school. My teacher asked me if I would help a younger student learn long division. So, she introduced me to this girl I’d seen around school, but didn’t know.
Strangely enough, we soon discovered that we lived only 2 doors away from each other. I could literally walk to the end of my driveway, look to the left and see her front door.
I’d say we became fast friends, but that wouldn’t exactly describe it. It would be more accurate to say (as my mother said) we were “attached at the hip.” Her house became my second home, with its Indian art work and walls full of books, the backyard hammock and a kitchen full of spicy scents.
As Sayantani’s house became my second home, so mine became another home for her. My mother welcomed Sayantani into our lives with open arms … literally. She made sure we had plenty of Hostess Cupcakes and Doritos to keep us going, and made sure we got a hold of books about absolutely any topic we mentioned.
We spent time…well…making up stories! We read about and kept journals on myths – especially the Greek and Roman variety. We played survival games in the back yard, mixing up berries and leaves and water to make “stews” while we hid from our make-believe arch enemies. We read books by the sack-full, watched old movies (Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon were favorites) and dreamed of futures full of adventures, travel and boyfriends. Well…ok…the boyfriend dreams came a little later, but you get the picture.
Sayantani’s father was transferred out of town the summer before our seventh grade year. I, for one, was devastated. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that we were about to embark on a new type of friendship – one that would grow with us as we went through high school, college, med school (for her), jobs, love, and marriage.
We wrote letters. We’d had practice during some childhood summers when Sayantani would go to India for weeks at a time. But the letter writing took on a new role when we were separated permanently by more than 2 driveways and one short, suburban street. The letters were sometimes in Spanish, mostly in English, sometimes newsy, often full of teen-age rants about our lives. Peppered into the mix, were letters that were entirely fiction. Chapters of mysteries in which we took turns adding to the plot and trying to outdo each other with details and crimes. Sayantani would write a chapter and mail it to me…I’d read it and respond with the next piece of the story.
There were months – and even years – that went by without any letters at all. We’d temporarily lose touch and our lives would continue, taking new turns and giving us distinct experiences. But in the end, we always managed to track each other down, at least through letters.
And I saved them all in a series of manila envelopes, labeled “Spot’s Letters” (Spot was a secret nickname for Sayantani. If I remember correctly, mine was Rover, believe it or not.)
Starting near the beginning of our undergrad years, we became less and less frequent pen pals, and stopped talking on the phone entirely. But, years later, when the internet became ubiquitous, I did something I’d made fun of others for doing: I googled my old friend. And got a bunch of hits! (Because she is amazing!)
We got back in touch and, eventually, in January of 2008, I planned to visit another dear friend in New York City. It was the perfect opportunity to actually see Sayantani again. We hadn’t seen each other face to face for over 20 years, but walking into a restaurant in Manhattan and seeing her waiting at the table was like walking into a place in my heart called home. She looked exactly the same to me and the conversation picked up like we’d only been apart for weeks instead of decades.
We were partway through breakfast– laughing about the thick envelopes full of our old letters I had only recently rediscovered in my desk drawer-- when Sayantani looked at me and said, “Hey! You know what we should do? We should write a book!” And I agreed.
So here we are – 2 years later. We jumped into this project with both feet – but together – and produced our first novel. We learned so much from the process – especially as we figured out how to collaborate to write a full length novel. Most of all – we had fun. Lots of work, but lots of laughter, excitement, frustration, long Skype calls, dozens (maybe hundreds) of Word files, and…yes…friendship.
Although the original idea was more based on our experience writing letters back and forth as best friends, separated by many states; the final manuscript grew into something more like a Nancy Drew meets Indiana Jones adventure. With characters that aren’t us…but resemble each of us just a bit.