Mack once said that of her best friends, she knew Ali “the weirdest.” Although they were never elementary-school classmates, the girls first met all the way back in kindergarten at Dubois Elementary. After a few years, Ali moved to a new house and a new school and disappeared for a spell. A year or so later, Ali was assigned to Mack’s summer softball team. Those girls were reunited as giggling teammates on the Izzles and as friends over the course of several summers, although Mack teasingly disapproved of Ali’s affinity for the Cubs. But when summer faded, so did their friendship, as they lived in different neighborhoods and attended different schools. Yet during their preteen years, these two social butterflies had so many friends in common that they frequently ended up at the same birthday parties and sleepovers. Summer softball always reunited them. And an easiness between them ever fostered a quick resumption of their friendship after time spent mostly apart.
In August 2008, Mack and Ali were reunited for good at Springfield High School, and their friendship flourished. They were still leading somewhat separate lives due to involvement in different extracurricular activities and sports; Mack was so very annoyed that Ali chose soccer over softball! But for the first time, they were classmates. For the first time, they were reading and learning together. For the first time, they had a steady connection to each other. For Mack, Ali was one of those easy friends that luckily kept bouncing in and out of her life; and each time they bounced into each other, Mack became more attached. By the end of sophomore year, Mack bounced Ali into a Big-Mack, forever hug and “collected” Ali for keeps.
The British television show Skins, intellectual late-night discussions about television and books in Ali’s basement, and heart-to-heart talks about friend drama, travel abroad, and the future elevated the Mack and Ali friendship from high school buddies to best friends. Ali called them a frouple—two inseparable friends who completed each other’s sentences, accepted and adopted each other’s quirks, and married each other’s families. High school friends are the friends that help shape the adult underneath your awkward and uncertain teenaged skin. Ali and Mack bounced into each other for good at the perfect time; and they were so very perfect for each other. They accepted and loved each other unconditionally, but they opened their hearts and minds to learning from each other, as well. They served as each other’s best role models. Ali was a studious and goal-oriented model for Mack’s far too leisurely and haphazard approach to school work and to life in general. Mack was carefree and an unapologetic goofball model for Ali’s serious nature and more circumspect interactions with the world. By the end of junior year, I noticed a bond between Mack and Ali that had the character of a lifelong friendship. And I am certain that by then, Mack already understood that she and Ali would be silly old ladies together.
Since losing our Mack, I have mourned for my sweet girl, for myself, and for my family, but I have also mourned for Mack’s best friends. Life has dealt them a cruel and painful blow, and I feel such sorrow for them all. But where the best friends are concerned, I have shed the most tears for Mack’s dear Ali, and I have long searched for some understanding for the depth of my emotion in this regard. Over these past months, reflecting on my grief and grappling with the meaning of Mack’s death for all of us, a story of Ali’s personal loss continually pangs my heart. When Ali boldly applied for an adventurous study-abroad program in Budapest, Hungary, Mack was the only person she told; and when Ali learned of her acceptance into the program, Mack was gone. This story haunts me. It is a bitter reminder that life as we know it can change in an instant, and it illustrates the high stakes of our human connections. But it also reveals to me the significance of Mack’s life in the lives of the people who loved her.
Just weeks after losing her best friend, Ali bravely accepted the challenge of that daring study abroad. She knew it would be hard to leave family and friends during such an emotionally difficult time for her, but she went to Budapest for herself, and she went to Budapest for Mack. She embraced the experience with courage, with humor, and with Mack in her heart. I have no doubt that Mack’s spirit provided Ali with important emotional support during those months abroad, and I am absolutely certain that Mack was a constant, giggling whisper in Ali’s ear, reminding her to laugh too loud, drink too much, and have way too much fun.
So once again we see that Mack collected the best and the bravest of best friends. We can see how Mack enriched the lives of her best friends, too. And, perhaps equally important, we can see and pay homage to the magical power of friendships in life and for an eternity. Just ask Ali, she’ll be bouncing to the beat of the Ali-Mack Frouple many, many moons from now when she’s a silly old lady remembering a cherished best friend.