When I was sixteen years old, I was hit by a car at the crosswalk in front of my high school. The car was going five miles per hour at most, and I walked away without a bruise, but the mental damage was done. Seven years later, I cross each street carefully, glaring at every car like it’s my worst enemy. It’s not uncommon for me to verbalize my distrust for cars. (If you’re a driver who’s been victim to my accusing yells and gesticulations, I’m almost sorry but not quite).
When I studied abroad in England in the beautiful June right before my twenty-third birthday, I discovered that there were no shoulders on the roads here. The cars driving by are right next to the pedestrians on the sidewalk, and it feels like someone is going to be hit at any moment. Jaywalking is legal, to my absolute shock and dismay, so pedestrians hardly ever waited for a crosswalk light to signal them across. It was just a game of dodging cars that everyone was okay with but me.
One particularly anxious day, my friends and I had been walking around the city for hours, crossing street after street. My diagnosed anxiety was already aggravated, and the street we were walking on was just busy enough that I wondered if I’d be able to do it.
I’m a very reactive person as well, so when I’m feeling something, I tend to express it without thinking. “No. No. No, no, no.” Knowing my regular street-crossing routine, it was likely some variations of “y’all are crazy” thrown in as well.
Our group, however, proceeded on. The time was coming to cross, and I was not ready for it.
My friend Mary knew of my distress. I’d told my study companions about my car trauma (it was never far from my mind, given the circumstances). “Hey,” she said. “It’s okay. We’ll do this together. I’ll hold your hand if you want.”
I did want; holding hands is one of my favorite things in the world, not to mention I just needed the support to get through that moment.
I’m sure there was plenty of space between us and approaching cars, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying. We hurried across the street. My panic was tangible. Her hand in mine, her arm against mine, additional support and comfort that she was there: it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.
Our other friend Jamie wondered what we were doing, and, whether he understood it or not, he noticed my fear as the cause of it. Joining Mary who was on my left, he pressed against me on my right, both of their arms against my delicate skin, a protective shield from the cars, all the time surrounding me not just with their kind bodies but their comforting words: it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.
We made it to the other side of the street. Mary and I kept holding hands for a bit after.
I think about it all the time.
I’m not sure I even know how to explain it because I think I only kind of understand it; I’m only halfway there to comprehending it. However, it’s something I’ve heard other people say and have now experienced firsthand, so I know it’s true.
There’s something about traveling with strangers for an extended period of time in a foreign land. That experience can take a person from a stranger to a friend in just a couple of days.
I felt it multiple times that June. I felt it in the dining room of a hostel in Edinburgh when I met them all for the first time. After being stranded in airports for two days, I had arrived in Scotland after my group had basically completed their time there. At breakfast before our train to England, Jamie–the only one I’d had a class with previously–had smiled at me. “Elizabeth,” he said. “You made it.”
I felt it in the lounge of a hostel in Whitby. The room was filled with windows overlooking a breathtaking garden. The weather was gloomy, and the furniture was cozy. We played board games together, some of us teaching others how to play Clue for the first time. We took a selfie to celebrate our last day in the little town.
I felt it as we talked about writing together. Mary shared some of the poems she had written with us. Erin asked for an elevator pitch of my poetry collection. We passed around story ideas and gave feedback. Kymberlin and I sat on the top level of a double-decker bus talking about different writer day jobs.
I felt it as friends agreed to take pictures of me. I felt it as we shared hair products and when everyone left me full-sized soaps since I would be staying in the city longer. I felt it when I nearly cried in an Indian restaurant across the street from our hostel because my friends truly saw me and said it was a good thing to let other people in. I felt it when we held hands during the scary parts of The Woman in Black on the West End. I felt it when we ate ice cream and drank fruity little drinks. I felt it when we did each other’s makeup. I felt it when we went to the notorious-for-parties pub together for five minutes just to say that we did.
I felt it crossing a street in London, covered in a gentle cocoon of friendship.
I can hardly understand it, but I think about it all the time. I hardly know them, but I love them.
Elizabeth Day is a writer raised in Henderson, Nevada. She has loved writing from a young age and writes literature, music, poetry, theatre, and film. She is a student at Southern Utah University studying English education with a creative writing concentration and double minors in theatre and film.
Featured image by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash