three thousand five hundred miles away, but what would you change if you could?

I’ve been unpacking boxes for months. One of the worst and best parts about moving is uncovering all of that junk memorabilia that you’ve tucked away over the years. Tonight, I found myself sitting cross-legged on my living room floor going through pictures.

I had to smile when I found this picture of my three best friends at our high school graduation.

My smile grew when I found this picture of the four of us taken this past August in at Mac’s wedding in England.

Seven years separate those two pictures. And seven years later I can close my eyes and perfectly remember the night that top picture was taken. I can remember the cookies that were served, the lemonade we were drinking, the giddiness that we felt, the laughter that surrounded us. The accomplishment, the satisfaction, the relief. The happiness.

The memories flicker through my head like a movie reel. And the years in between the two moments blur together until I find myself back on that patio in Newcastle over looking the River Tyne the night my best friend became a Mrs. I remember the wedding cake that was served, the champagne we were drinking, the giddiness that we felt, the laughter that surrounded us. The accomplishment, the satisfaction, the relief. The happiness.

We are still best friends but we’ve grown up a lot in seven years. And while I wouldn’t take back one single moment of that time, there are a few things I wish I’d known when I was wearing that cap and gown. Things that took seven years … and probably more … to learn.

I wish someone had told me …

… that you don’t always have to be good. When I was younger, I thought goodness was the only thing that could save you. And even when I felt like a Pandora’s box of unruly and startling appetites, I kept my lid on. I never let myself explore the parts of me that were hungry for more – more experience, more adventure, more danger, more wine coolers. It took me a long time to figure out that it was okay to break some of the rules. That it’s okay to rip the seams a little bit and stitch new versions of yourself. Maybe what is inside, isn’t so terrible after all.

… that if you want someone to tell you that you look beautiful, tell them that they look stunning. We’re all the prettiest girl in the room, depending on the day … and the room.

… that when you’re in college, you can trade exceptional grades for good-enough ones and still have time for midnight cafeteria-tray sledding, impassioned rooftop conversations with your best friends, loud music and cheddar tots from Tolly-Ho. Other than getting into a decent grad school and appeasing your parents, getting straight A’s means diddly-squat in the real world, where it’s all about hustle, determination, focus, sucking up and who you know.

… that no person is better than any other person. How many homeless people did I walk by and pretend not to see? How many streets did I cross to avoid them? How many phone calls did I fake? We are all the same, no matter where we call home. Carry cash in your pocket. Not a million bucks, but maybe ten dimes. Give change to every poor person whose hand is out. This means it won’t end up in the ash tray of your car or in between the cushions of your couch. And you might even experience a rare, nearly forgotten emotion: Compassion.

… that every woman should know how to change a tire by herself, change her hair color without a salon, and change a man without a guilty conscience.

… that sometimes, you will need to be reminded that you are loved. Call a friend just to talk – I promise they will always answer, even if they are an ocean away. Never underestimate the power of a good and lasting friendship. No man is useless while he has one. And if you ever want to feel truly loved? Get your dad to take you car shopping. He will ask a thousand questions, embarrass you to no end, give the dealer a horrifically hard time … but you won’t be able to keep the smile off your face knowing how much he cares.

… that you should never try to be friends after the affair is over. It hardly ever works. Don’t feel bad, not even Gatsby could get Daisy to stay.

… that if you suffer from the unattractive habit of constantly saying, “I’m sorry,” take your annoying “I’m sorry” and start adding three words to the end of it: “I”m sorry … I’m so brilliant.” “I’m sorry … I’m so gorgeous.” “I’m sorry … I’m so magnificent.”

… that you should never trust a woman who shags a married man. No explanation required.

… that you should stick to your guns. Whether it’s at work, in the company of your family, or simply your belief that white shoes, white purses, white pants and white belts after Labor Day are a serious no-no … if you believe it, stand behind it. After all, your boss will respect you for it, your family will forgive you for it, and there is simply nothing wrong with respecting the rules of proper etiquette.

And the lessons we’re still working on: 1. Not being good means being curious and brave and throwing that lid away. 2. Some rules shouldn’t be obeyed. Mistakes are often the best way to learn. 3. The unruliness inside us is nothing to fear. 4. Some bonds – the kind that connect close friends, aren’t strings that tie us together. They are steel cables that bind us tight and that are utterly unbreakable. 5. My true self – mess and all – is better than good. It’s real.

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