Artwork by Emma Darvick.
Her blonde hair literally cascades down her back.
It’s thick and silky and when she wears it in a ponytail it looks like a fountain of sunshine is flowing straight out of the back of her head. It’s probably the most enviable head of hair I’ve ever met in real life. She’ll often curl a few pieces before running out of the house in the morning without using any products or sprays and she’ll have perfect beach-y waves all day long.
This is usually the first thing people notice about her when they meet her.
It was a crisp fall morning in 2008 and I had just rolled my sorry ass out of bed with barely enough time to get to my dreaded “Natural Disasters” class in the building next door. I was required by the university to get at least one science credit and I decided Natural Disasters sounded the most palatable- I had a weather app, how hard could it be? The fact that it was at 8:30am three days a week was a major oversight by my eighteen-year-old self.
I was two weeks into my first year at Dalhousie University and I was not adjusting gracefully. I hadn’t connected with anyone and I had already given up trying to force friendships. I was spending most of my time posted up in my dorm watching the box sets of ‘Friends” I had lugged with me from home. It has always taken me a long time to warm up to strangers so being forced to create a whole new social circle was somewhat of a complete living nightmare.
My eyes were still sleepy as I trudged the half a block to my lecture on fault lines when I was startled as a tiny blonde ball of energy zoomed past me dressed head to toe in purple athletic wear.
She stopped in her tracks, turned around and walked over to me- her perfect smile beaming.
This girl was the physical embodiment of everything I could never be but always dreamt of being:
“Hey! You’re in my Theatre 1000 class!” she said.
“Um. I guess so…” I replied- not completely sure if she was addressing me or not.
“No, you are. I see you there every day….Do you live in Risley Hall too?”
She gestured over her shoulder toward the building we lived in. Her ponytail swished. It was impressive someone so small could carry that thing with her everywhere.
“I do. Sixth floor.”
“Oh my god! I’m on second! That’s great. My name is Hannah, by the way.”
“Hey. I’m Robin.” I looked down at my feet and smiled.
I didn’t know people who looked like her could be so friendly.
“Do you want to eat dinner with me tonight? We could also study for the quiz next week.”
“There’s a quiz next week?”
“Yeah- It’s on the syllabus!”
“Oh.. okay. Yeah, dinner would be good!”
“Great! I’ll see you down there at 5:30”
She smiled and waved as she and her ponytail ran off.
I was left in awe of her.
She oozed assertiveness and confidence- two things I’ve always struggled with.
She has it in spades.
This was the first time I had looked forward to going down to the dining hall. Only two weeks in and I was already tired of the food but mostly I hated that I was constantly at risk of being subjected to small talk.
I didn’t have to worry about that with Hannah. There was chemistry right away. I felt my shoulders loosen as we suffered through our awful meal hall dinners.
We had the exact same interests.
The exact same dreams.
The exact same intolerance for small talk.
It was no secret we came from two very different worlds- our friendship was built on a foundation of curiosity about the other’s life.
She grew up just outside of Toronto. She went to private schools, had been on family vacations that required a plane to get there - she even owned a Coach wristlet.
I grew up in New Brunswick. I had never met someone who went to a private school, I considered driving four days in the back of my parents car on the way to a folk festival a vacation. I had no friggin’ clue what a Coach wristlet was.
Hebb from Humble Beginnings.
I was fascinated. I wanted to pick her brain about what her life was like. I wanted to learn all about wristlets and where I could buy one.
I knew a lot about theatre and music and she would always get me talking about it. She loved to get me all fired up- passionately rambling about the artists I admired. She seemed to like knowing why I thought something was good.
We shared in common a blazing inner fire and desire to defy people’s perception of what we were capable of.
We aspired to be the women who set the bar, not merely aim to meet it.
We were eighteen when we met and became instant soul-friends.
We would order Swiss Chalet to our dorm rooms and watch dance movies from the early 2000’s. We would cry for the characters when they would lose and cheer at the end when they would inevitably win. We lived for an underdog story… or anything with singing… or Rachel McAdams.
More often than not our hang outs would evolve into strategy sessions. We had no idea what life had in store for us but we spent many nights preparing for the oncoming storm of adulthood. We’d talk for hours while we attempted to sort out all of our jumbled up hopes and dreams.
Who do we want to be? What do we want? How the heck do we get there.
Hannah quickly knew what she wanted. It was simple.
To me this seemed crazy. Hollywood wasn’t a real place where people lived and worked. It was merely something that existed on T.V.
Where I came from I was considered a big dreamer- I wasn’t at all willing to accept the life that I was expected to have. A job, a house, a husband, a pension.
“You’re not strong in math or science… what about becoming an english teacher?”
“FUCK THAT” I’d scream silently in my mind all throughout high school when teachers would try to tell me what path I should be going down.
A guidance counsellor at my high school once said to me:
“Go to theatre school and just get it out of your system while you’re young.”
That is still the most offensive thing I’ve ever been told.
It was glaringly obvious from a young age that I would not be easily satisfied. ‘Typical’ was never an option for me though there was a part of me that never really believed I would end up being super successful.
That’s not for people like me.
Then I met Hannah.
She comes from a world where you are expected to become the biggest and the best in your chosen field- though those fields are typically business, law, athletics and medicine- not storytelling.
There are two important things to note about Hannah.
The first is how she doesn’t give a flying fuck about what people think about her or her choices in life. She could have chosen a very straight and narrow path to success in the business world, or an incredible attorney or something. There’s no end to her capabilities- anyone who meets her knows that, and she herself certainly knows that- but that’s not the point. She chose the path less travelled; the longer route to a different kind of success. People doubt her on a daily basis but never once has her confidence wavered.
The second is her inability to accept anything that isn’t exactly what she wants. Her eye is never not on the prize and when she sets her mind to something- well, good luck to you if get in her way. Not only does she dream big, but she knows how to execute a perfectly flawless plan that seems to get her to where she knows she needs to be 100% of the time.
It’s an incredible thing to witness.
She is a true marvel.
A true bad bitch.
Hannah believes she is just as worthy of having her wildest dreams come true as much as anyone else.
Hannah believes I am just as worthy of having my wildest dreams come true as anyone else.
This is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me.
I’ve always been the more sensitive and emotional one of the two of us. She knows when I need an added push. When I’m experiencing one of my many moments of self doubt she forces me to get out of my own way by telling me not to be an idiot and to get the hell out of my own way.
We made promises to each other when we were nineteen that we wouldn’t stop until we got to where we needed to go. We were eating a chocolate cake on the floor of my bedroom when we made this pact.
After graduation things began to change.
Somewhere along the way I stopped honouring these promises we had made. I found myself back in my tiny corner of the world with the exact life I had scoffed at as a teenager. I was merely surviving. I was serving others. I was safe and protected by a nice man.
Meanwhile, Hannah was back home in Toronto, unapologetically working to get what she wanted.
During this time our friendship became distant and for that I take full responsibility. We would go weeks and sometimes months without talking. She would always be the one to initiate contact and sometimes I’d blatantly ignore her calls when I’d see them come in.
I was ashamed.
I had become cowardly over time- paralyzed by the fear of failure.
I was worried I had disappointed the person who’s opinion mattered the most and I struggled to face her.
When I would eventually pick up her phone calls I was met with a rush of admiration, inspiration, motivation and a sense of loneliness. A huge part of me was missing now that she was gone. An even larger part of me was missing now that I wasn’t striving for greatness alongside her.
And then the impossible happened.
She made it happen. She forged her own opportunity and got her ass to the place she always knew she was meant to be.
I was flabbergasted.
My best friend lives in Hollywood.
It wasn’t just some imaginary thing meant only for imaginary people on T.V. anymore.
It was a real place where real people worked.
It was a real place where real people told stories.
It was a real place where real people had their wildest dreams become a reality.
That’s when it changed for me too.
If Hannah could have Hollywood I could have what I wanted to.
So much time had passed since I had last thought about what I wanted that I wasn’t sure what that was anymore.
My wheels slowly started turning.
What Would Hannah Do?
Before long dreams were becoming lucid thoughts- thoughts were becoming plans- plans started to become action.
I had started making choices for myself.
Choices to benefit myself.
I would call her up and proudly tell her what I was getting up to. We would chat on the phone for hours and brainstorm ideas for things we wanted to accomplish and where we imagined ourselves being in five years, just like when we were nineteen and eating cake on the floor.
Any time you start making bold choices there’s always consequences. When they say “you can’t be successful without making sacrifices” they ain’t lying. As Hannah came back into my life, a lot of other things started slipping out of my grip.
I sacrificed everything I had and I started chasing the unknown.
On mornings when I would wake up feeling strong and unstoppable I would call Hannah and we would celebrate. A lot of mornings I would wake up feeling foggy and broken and I wouldn’t call for days. She would always notice my absence and call me until I answered.
As I stood amongst the rubble of my shattered heart she not only helped me pick up the pieces, but she helped me figure out how to re-arrange and re-build myself into something stronger than before.
At my lowest point there were days I wasn’t sure if would be able to get out of bed and face the world. I would lay there and think of Hannah. I thought of her facing the world on her own without me and I’d haul my ass up and keeping going.
I couldn’t leave her out there alone.
We have been long distance friends for twice as long as we were ever nearby friends. We haven’t lived in the same time zone for six years- but she is still the person I feel the most connected to.
Hannah is a super human. She handles every situation she enters with grace and has more gumption than anyone I’ve ever known. She’s a saucy little spitfire who is often underestimated because of how angelic she looks, but don’t be fooled- she has a zero tolerance policy for bullshit. She also cries every day during the Olympics and she friggin’ loves ice cream. She is a pure, kind, generous soul who deserves all of the good and none of the bad.
The hard truth of the matter is that the world is a cold and inhospitable place for motivated young women like my Hannah. When you’re out there on your own being as fearless and vulnerable as she is everyday it’s inevitable you’re going to be knocked down. It’s inevitable it’s going to hurt. It’s not often Hannah shows a softer side because it’s not often the world gets the better of her.
She face-timed me recently in the middle of the day. I knew immediately something wasn’t right- I answered after the first ring.
Her phone was in the dashboard mount in her car. Hannah wasn’t looking at the camera- her gorgeous yellow hair was covering most of her face.
She didn’t greet me with her usual bright smile and big energy.
“Hey. What’s going on?” I said quietly.
“My heart hurts.” She turned and looked at me through the camera.
My eyes instantly welled.
It is a powerful sensation to feel someone else's pain.
As I looked into the camera at her I felt a primal instinct to protect her. When one of us is injured, we both are. I take on the burden of her heartache and frustrations as she does with mine.
With Hannah it is much more than a friendship, it is a true partnership.
I felt helpless. I knew she would be okay over time but in the moment I didn’t know what to say to make it okay.
“When your heart hurts, my heart hurts.” I told her.
I meant it. My heart hurt to see her struggling, to see her flailing, and feeling helpless.
I have never had to worry about loneliness because I know that somewhere out there I have my person. When it comes to Hannah Leigh I know I always have someone who has my best interest at heart, someone who will protect me, and who I protect.
We dream of one day co-running our own writers room and buying a shared mansion in Silver Lake with our future (very lucky) husbands* and chubby little babies that the two hubs are eager to stay home and raise while we continue to be out there conquering the world side by side.
While we are out there setting the bar.
Hannah Leigh is one of the great loves of my life and I thank the universe regularly for bringing those two, scared and lonely girls and unlikely friends together on that crisp fall morning in 2008 in the way that it did. A lot had to happen for us to have ever crossed paths. I often find myself marvelling at how different our two worlds are and how that makes us so perfectly suited.
I also often find myself still marvelling at her gorgeous ponytail and effortlessly beach-y waves.
*A note to our future spouses,
If you’re reading this, I’m sorry… but you must have known what you were getting into when you married us.
Don’t forget to pick up more oat milk at Whole Foods today.