because none of us is fucking up like we think we are, is what i'm trying to say

The Story of Vanilla Toes


I call her Vanilla Toes because at the end of every day, in our little shared hotel room, she’d take off her Toms to reveal thick, smeared tan lines across her feet. The Italian sun had coloured her all the way to the middle of her feet, so that her toes stayed Ben & Jerry’s cream, the polish she’d had done by an Asian lady for fifteen bucks back in Brooklyn chipped at the edges.

“Fifteen goddamn dollars I paid for this!” she’d drawl, whipping out her iPhone to text home. She’s always on her phone. “What?” she’d shrug, as I rolled my eyes. “Can’t I have friends?”

I never did university like everyone else. I didn’t land as a wide-eyed 18 year-old Fresher in a city far away from home. I didn’t spend three or four years drunk and bonding and working hard and playing harder. I took it all too seriously. I take everything too seriously. My university was, instead, four summers teaching out on the Riviera, in my mid-twenties. My “college BFF” is Vanilla Toes.

I didn’t meet Vanilla Toes until Junior year of my college, on a bus up to the Italian mountains for a teacher training session. We knew the same people, and as this frazzled-haired New Yorker threw her luggage up into the aisle I stood to help her and she held up a hand and said, “I got it. I said I got it!”

I can’t imagine another universe where we meet. She’s a softball-playing, kindergarten teaching, Sicilian Brooklynite with a heart of gold, a Holy Cross around her neck, and a sense of humour drier than the two bottles of Sauvignon Blanc in her purse. She met a slutty middle-class Brit with a chip on her shoulder and a gob on her as big as the ocean we worked beside, but she liked me. She became my friend. We were drunk.

We had our ridiculous college experience together, working hard and sweating bollocks by day, staying up all night on the beach, doing it all again but better the next day. By senior year, our final year, there was a gang of us, a group who had grown so close over the summers that knowing nobody would be back a fifth time made it the most bittersweet and bonkers summer of my life.

My best friends in the world were made at my makeshift university. Vanilla Toes was my homegirl, my roomie, my drink provider, my confidante.

When, three days in, I swore it was a mistake to return, that I was going to quit because FUCK THIS SHIT, THIS ISN’T WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR, she was the one who talked me down off the ledge.

When I drank one spritz too many before dinner and lay down on the bed, just for a minute, she was the one who slid off my smoking, stinky trainers from a hard days’ teaching and turned down the blinds, knowing I was exhausted and so she’d cover me for the next shift. No problem.

Vanilla Toes stopped me from making a very big mistake with that barman, paid for more shots than was reasonably fair, moved my life in suitcases across a city, and didn’t bat an eyelid when I was left with only my sexy nightie to wear for bed several nights.

We scrapped like sisters, colleagues- friends- pulling me aside one day to say, “Hey- are you two… you know. Are you okay?”

“Are we okay?” I said. “Sure we are! She’s my girl!”

Seconds later we were both trying to get ready for a shared dinner in front of the mirror.

“Will you move out of my goddamn way?”
“What the fuck are you even doing, and is that your hair in the sink?”
“You’re pissing me off.”
“I’M pissing you off?! YOU’RE pissing me off!”

I threw up when we said goodbye. I didn’t know when I’d see her again, and she meant so much to me, and shaped me, and become the rare kind of friend who alters the most important beliefs you have and tramples muddy footprints all over your heart- but in a good way. It wasn't fair we were to live thousands of miles apart. 

I saw her sooner than I expected. When I flew out to New York to (somewhat ill-advisedly) tell a boy I loved him apropos nothing, Vanilla Toes sat with me on a couch on a Greenwich Village side street listing reasons why he was a douchebag, not worthy of a broad like me, when he didn’t make it to dinner one night. She let me cry on her. 

I write emails about work problems to Vanilla Toes. 

I tell her THAT’S IT! I’M MOVING TO NEW YORK! almost every day. 

She sends me pictures of the kids in her classroom, quotes our old jokes via text, is friends with my mother on Facebook.

As I type this, she’s on a plane on her way to London.

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