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That Friend Who Keeps You Young: Who Is It for You?

When every sunrise seems to bring with it an end-of-days quality, you begin to start thinking more about dying than living. Jeannie Ralston knew just the person to fix that feeling.

As it was, I felt my lips flapping in the wind. I almost couldn’t take a proper breath as we tore white foam across the silky lake water. 

“Hey, crank it up!” my friend, who was seated behind me on the wave runner, shouted in my ear.

“I’m already going 65,” I shouted back. Who knew if she even heard me. My words were surely flying off above our heads. But I could hear her.

“Crank it up to 85!” she said again. “This thing can do 85. I want you to feel that.”

She regularly touches the spot in my soul that is still 17—which was my age when I first met her my freshman year in college.

A wave runner is like a motorcycle on the water, and special dangers come with small, fast vehicles whether they’re running across pavement or liquid. I once suffered a concussion in a water skiing fall; I didn’t want to think about what might happen if I lost control going 85 miles per hour.

But this wasn’t anyone talking in my ear, not some little devil pushing me to recklessness. This was someone who had ridden a wooden roller coaster over and over with me till we were sick, who’d hitchhiked with me across Ireland, who’d danced with me to Adam Ant on the streets of Kensington in London during our junior year abroad, who’d jumped off cliffs with me in the Caribbean island of Dominica. Someone who regularly touches the spot in my soul that is still 17—which is the age I was when I first met her our freshman year in college.

Feeling a rush of adolescent invincibility, I twisted the accelerator on the wave runner’s right handle, and watched the numbers climb on the speedometer, all the way to the machine’s max. We both started screaming; we were a streak of joy hurtling like a skipping stone across the glassy surface of Lake Greenwood in South Carolina.

Read More: How to Make and Keep Good Friends and Let the Bad Ones Go

The Need to Celebrate

The author, right, arriving at her friend Ellesor’s house on August 22nd.

I was in South Carolina in late August of the worst summer ever because I had an intense need for that special blast of youthful energy my friend Ellesor taps into. Five months of quarantining in Texas had nearly made me forget what fun felt like.

Sure my husband and I have had laughs (often black humor, I must admit), and nothing makes my heart sing like my two grown sons, whom I get to see regularly. But when every sunrise brings with it an end-of-days quality, you begin to start thinking more about dying than living.

Then a date on the calendar demanded my attention. August 22nd. That was Ellesor’s 60th birthday. Was I really not going to be there to mark it with her? We’d celebrated many milestone birthdays together, starting with my 18th when we watched the sun come up over the beach at Pawley’s Island, back when we talked off, rather than slept off, our drunkenness.

Birthdays 21, 40, and 50 were spent together, I don’t know where we were for 30, but my 27th involved Ellesor, our friend Kim, my boyfriend at the time, a raucous limo ride in Manhattan, where I lived, and stops at a number of bars to celebrate with different groups of my friends.

I will be turning 60 in December, but who knows where our lives, our country will be at that point. Suddenly, I knew I had to be with Ellesor on August 22nd. And there was only one way to get there—drive. Because her husband is especially at risk for COVID, she couldn’t see me if I were to expose myself to germs in an airplane.

The Journey



It’s 1,000 miles from Austin, Texas, to Greenwood, South Carolina; two days of driving each way. But I felt compelled, like a woman on a mission.

I arrived on the evening of the 22nd, pulling up to her house in a car decorated with balloons and flowers just after she’d returned home from jumping out of an airplane. That’s how she celebrated her 60th—crossing “sky diving” off her bucket list.

We spent a couple of days playing on the lake and drinking wine in the evenings on the deck of her house, with a view of the glistening water below. The wave runner excursion happened the day before I was supposed to leave, but the weather gods had something else in mind.

Hurricane Marco and then Hurricane Laura careened through the area I needed to drive across to get back to Texas. So I stayed put. The evening I decided to delay my departure, Ellesor suggested we hang out in the hot tub after her husband and daughter went to bed.

We stripped down and cooed with relief as the streams of water hit sore backs and quads and the soles of our feet.

Lifelong Friends Take The Dip

“I know,” Ellesor exclaimed, as we started to overheat in the tub. “Let’s go skinny dipping in the lake.” We wrapped towels around ourselves and dashed down to her dock. In the moonlight we dropped the towels and held hands, before taking a running start. In that space between dock and water, we were truly ageless, our hearts soaring and our vocal chords twanging in delight in the exact same way they had done so many times before.

“I know,” she exclaimed. “Let’s go skinny dipping in the lake.”

We floated in the dark water, with only our faces and wiggling toes above the surface. Unlike other times we’d lollygagged like this, we were no longer looking for our life’s path; we had already gotten somewhere. But in those moments of peace, with lights twinkling on docks across the lake, all still seemed possible.

“Let’s dive down and get to the cold spots,” Ellesor said after we floated long enough. She flipped over to her stomach and disappeared under the water. I followed her, relishing the cold layer of water when I reached it, and then broke back on the surface before her. I felt a jolt of panic, imagining my terror if she didn’t come up again. How dull life would be without her.

But then, there she was, her normally curly hair slicked straight and her mouth open in mid-cackle, as if she’d been laughing underwater. Which she probably was. And because her energy and abandon have always been infectious, I let out an enormous “whoooooop” that rung across the lake— and the years.

Read More: Having Good Girlfriends at Midlife Is Good Medicine—Literally

By Jeannie Ralston


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