In the mid-90s, a passionate, comedic intellectual named Leigh -- the adventurous driver of a rustic, blue Volvo -- gradually became my rock.
Our friendship began in 1995 while we were attending the University of Oregon in the extraordinarily green college town of Eugene.
Long drives from school to the wild and windblown Oregon coast served as more than a simple change of scenery from college life to coastline bliss. They gave us a sense of freedom as we left all our troubles behind -- windows rolled down, arms surfing the wind, evergreens in every direction among buttes and rolling fields. We belted out songs by the Indigo Girls, Oasis and The Smiths in between conversations about tainted love, complex friendships and home.
What seemed like life-saving road trips at the time ultimately gave me the courage to turn to Leigh one night and tell her a story -- my first story -- about a guy that I "liked" rather than the standard story about guys who I thought were "cool." She accepted me every step of the way as I stuttered through explanations coupled by back-peddling and feigned attempts at rationalizing. In that moment she was the compassionate listener I had always hoped to find, but feared I never would.
Whether she realizes it or not, Leigh guided me toward living an authentic life during our college years (and well after) by teaching me self-acceptance and, beyond that, self-love. By being a true friend she also saved me from myself -- the person who previously disliked me more than anyone.
Our last ride in Leigh's steadfast, blue Volvo took place more than 14 years ago. The memories we created together in that car still make my eyes fill with water. For all these reasons, and many more, I will love her forever.
Today, smartphones and social networks have replaced our road trips. They'll have to do for now. That is, until we find the time to step away from our busy lives, sit in a car side-by-side and drive.