It’s weird to have old friends at 23 years old, but that’s how I would describe my former roommate, Christina. It’s not that we’ve known each other our entire lives, or really even that long at all; in fact, we were roommates for only four months in Madrid, Spain, during the fall of 2014. But during that short time we experienced so much life together.

Together, we dealt with heartbreak and being homesick. We traveled to beautiful, fascinating parts of the world and came back with stories and memories that inform so much of who we’ve each become. No matter the distance between us or the time that has passed, the connection we forged an ocean away will always be there.

Last week I found as much to be true when we were reunited in a crowded Spanish tapas bar in the West Village of Manhattan.

“We were roommates when we studied abroad in Madrid and we haven’t seen each other in four years!” Christina told our waiter right away, which was a very Christina-like thing to do. (Abroad she could strike up a conversation and make friends with anyone in close proximity.)

Oddly, it had been nearly four years since we saw each other last — in the airport in Madrid, saying goodbye before we flew back to our respective homes; I was off to St. Louis and she to Pittsburgh.

We ordered a pitcher of sangria and a plate of patatas bravas — and while it wasn’t on the menu, our waiter said he would bring us a plate of jamón iberico (a cured ham that practically melts in your mouth like butter) and pan con tomate — dishes we ate a lot of in Spain.


We spent the night drinking, eating and drifting in our conversation from so many “remember when’s” to where we are now.

She told me about her job and life in New York City and I told her about what life in Maine is like.

And then we reminisced, as old friends do, about our travels, our host mother and the truly serendipitous moment when she and I found ourselves in the same bar in Galway, Ireland, without any coordination and with only the knowledge that we would be on a trip to the same country on the same weekend.

Being together, and in the atmosphere of the city, I remembered what it felt like when we lived in Madrid: like anything was possible, like achieving our dreams wasn’t out of reach but at the tips of our fingers.

And I was also reminded of the person I was before that experience: afraid and insecure about practically every facet of my life, particularly my creative ambitions. I was scared of failing and of being vulnerable.

There was one instance abroad that changed how I viewed writing and the creative experience and how I viewed myself, and I have Christina to thank.


I was going on a trip with some of our friends to Paris over a long weekend and Christina had been there the weekend before. She was giving me recommendations and said that I absolutely had to attend a tea party and poetry reading held every Sunday at a bookstore near Notre Dame.

On that Sunday, I went on my own to Shakespeare & Company, a storied bookstore that had been a safe haven and meeting place for writers such as Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce.

Upstairs a Welsh woman, then probably in her 70s, who went by the name of Panmelys, put on the tea party. She gave the group, which packed the room, biscuits and tea cups and explained how this would work, rambling now and then about whatever came to her mind. That day we would be reading from the work of Dylan Thomas, but she had each of us introduce ourselves first. When it was my turn, I gave my name and where I was from and she interjected, telling me I needed to speak up and stop up because I trailed off at the end of my sentences. I was too charmed to be offended or embarrassed.

She asked us all if we had a poem we’d like to share before she read from Thomas’ books and her own work. “A poem in your pocket and a song in your heart,” she declared, “this is what our tea party is all about.”

A couple in attendance said that it was their 40th wedding anniversary, and the man read us all a poem about their college romance. It was a sweet moment, but I felt uncomfortable, as though we were encroaching on their intimacy that he shared freely with us.

The rest of the afternoon went that way — Panmelys would read and call on guests to read their own work. She called on a boy in the doorway. I remember he looked like he was in his early 20s, had short, golden-brown curly hair, brown eyes and was dressed in a dark sweater. His name was Simon, he was English, an actor, and he said he knew one by heart: “The Table and the Chair,” by Edward Leo.


I was transfixed: He had such a confidence in reciting the poem and something clicked in me as I sat there watching, listening. It wasn’t just attraction, but an envy and awe at someone so freely sharing their art and a part of themselves. It was kind of like falling in love, like seeing someone clearly and yet still wanting more.

That’s still the feeling I get when I connect with an author’s work. It’s the feeling I chased when I enrolled in creative writing classes the following semester and was chosen to read from my own short work of fiction, allowing others to connect with my art. It’s the feeling I get when I write this column and share a part of myself with all of you.

I told Christina how that day at the tea party affected me, and that I had been reluctant and doubtful of my abilities — a thought she rejected outright and said I could achieve whatever I set out to do.

I felt grateful in that moment knowing I have an old friend with whom my relationship is not only emblematic of my metamorphosis, but who cheers me on and encourages me to always dream a little bigger.

Emily Higginbotham, originally from Illinois, is a reporter at the Morning Sentinel. You can follow her on Twitter: @EmilyHigg. Or reach her by email: [email protected]

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