Those Three Words

Those Three Words


I remember the first time I said “I love you.” My best friend Scarlet and I were driving home from the beach. When going to the beach in Los Angeles, you have to time your departure correctly or else the drive home can easily turn into a two-and-a-half hour, traffic-laden ordeal. Scarlet loves the beach, so she usually pushes me toward a later departure time. I don’t mind. It means the drive home is framed by the setting sun. And the ethereal golden hour of light, along with the pleasant feeling of salty hair and muscles tired from diving under breaking waves, always seems to be when the best moments happen.   

I had an idea of how I would fall in love. I think I had watched too many Disney Channel movies where the perfect guy just walks right into the girl’s life, or more accurately walks right into her, leading to the quintessential high school meet-cute, books scattering across the floor. I soon learned that in real life, girls wear backpacks. I didn’t realize the greatest love of my high school years would be my best friend.

My friendship with Scarlet has taught me much more about love than all the bumbling dates I’ve been on. I hesitate in trying to define love. But I feel that love, both romantic and platonic, is really quite simple. It is wanting to be in someone’s presence. It is keeping someone in your mind as you move through your day. It is gratitude for someone’s existence. Platonic love is arguably the gentler variety, less complicated by overwhelming emotions and confusing gestures. But that doesn’t mean it is any less meaningful.

Telling Scarlet I loved her on that summer night felt incredibly significant. Of course, I had said those three words countless times to my mom and dad, my aunts and uncles. But this time was different because Scarlet wasn’t part of my family. Family, you love no matter what. Scarlet was the first person I chose to love. And in that moment, sitting in the passenger seat of her Prius, my legs curled up because of the pile of empty water bottles at my feet, I couldn’t not tell her.  

Our love for each other was a pretty established fact. We were inseparable. Having four classes together our junior year definitely helped. Chemistry was our greatest adventure. We got stuck in the last row on the first day of class, and there we remained. Both of us managed to have mental breakdowns in chemistry at least once a week. Mine were mostly due to the boy sitting in the front row who was unknowingly breaking my heart, hers because a lot of AP Chemistry must be simply accepted and memorized rather than understood.

We loved sitting in the back, though. We could whisper about how bored we were, give each other funny looks in response to our teacher’s corny jokes, and play tic-tac-toe on the desk with our pencil erasers. Sitting in the back also came in handy for the Wednesdays when we needed to dart back to the corner lab station so Scarlet could hide her flip-flops from safety-conscious eyes. Labs were always interesting. Her carefree, anything-goes nature balanced out my stressed, perfectionist attitude, and we somehow managed to always churn out a lab report, even if we had to make up a few data points in the process.

We talked recently about the words “I love you.” One of our favorite songs is “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. Early in the song are the lyrics, “Those three words/Are said too much/They’re not enough.” It only struck me recently how apt these lyrics are for our relationship. “I love you” is a meaningful phrase, but there are moments when it doesn’t need to be said. Like the night we spent, again in her Prius, parked by her house with our seats leaning all the way back looking at the stars, both a bit speechless by all the emotions of being 17 that we were experiencing by each other’s side. Sometimes the silence of the moment already says those three words.  

Since going to college, I’ve noticed that I tell Scarlet I love her a lot more than I used to. I’m not in her presence every day anymore. And in her absence, I only have words. Whether it’s in a text, at the end of a phone call, or during one of the goofy voicemails that I’ve started leaving her because she’s a chemical engineering major and often in lab when I call, these words have taken on more importance than before.

I’ve learned almost everything I know about love from Scarlet. And she continues to teach me. I spent time with her when I was home for Christmas, but it felt different because Scarlet wasn’t feeling well. Scarlet and I have always complemented each other. She, full of seemingly boundless energy, for whom deadlines and rules were always just a suggestion, has a way of getting me out of my own head. And I, who enjoy structure and comfort, and have always been on the mellower side, reminded Scarlet when she really did have to do the English reading. But this break, suddenly, the roles we have inhabited for the duration of our friendship were switched. I was the one with lots of energy, looking to go on adventures. And she was the one being the more careful voice of reason between us. It was jarring for me at first to see Scarlet so unlike her usual self. I had to adapt. We spent a lot more time sitting than I think either one of us was used to when we’re together. There was no going on a run and then Scarlet cajoling me to do an ab workout with her. Going to the beach (I know, only in LA) was too exhausting a prospect. But that’s okay. These past few weeks, Scarlet taught me that love is meeting someone where they are. And I’ll meet Scarlet anywhere.

Image Credit: Delaney Corcoran

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Julia Pinney

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