This post is not about the bear species (even though panda bears are precious and beautiful creatures).  This post is also not about the rap song by Desiigner (which is not about panda bears, sadly, but apparently about cars).  This post is about a friend who holds a special place in my life.

Today, my friend Amanda turns 30.  Amanda and I have a long history going all the way back to our early teens when, we first met.  Now, I cannot remember the way that we actually met (then again, I don’t remember the first meetings I had with other close friends over the years), but I believe we were about 13 years old and likely met in the cafeteria of our middle school.  It wasn’t until high school, though, that our friendship became stronger.  It took a while, but we eventually bonded over a shared interest in American Idol and a mutual admiration for Clay Aiken.  (Well, she had more of a celebrity crush on him…I just liked his singing.  We both had bad gaydar.).  We were sort of yin and yang: she was the calm, yet stubborn and steadfast Taurus to my impulsive and occasionally off-the-cuff Aries, she was the voice of reason when I had no clue what I was saying or doing, and she was the one to bring me down to earth if I got way too full of myself.  There were times when we had our differences, but we always somehow found our way back to each other.

When her family threw her a very formal Sweet Sixteen party (basically a quinceañera and a Sweet Sixteen all rolled into one), she invited me and my mother, and for her having me there provided an element of fun in a super-formal environment.  I remember her wearing a pink ball gown (and knowing her as well as I do, pink was not really at the top of her list of favorite colors…she was more into purple at that time), and my mom and I had to wear evening gowns; Mom wore a sequined dark blue dress, and mine was a black, flamenco-style number with prints of pink roses on it.  (I actually still have that dress.  I do not currently fit into it, but I keep it in the hopes that I will someday lose enough weight to fit into it.  It was a beautiful dress.).

We talked about the latest music stars together.  I very vividly remember her having a celebrity crush on Adam Levine.  We made our attempts at writing fan fiction together.  Most importantly, we learned about the value of true friendship together.  Around our junior year, the girl who would later become The Lady Bryan entered our circle.  (I could do a whole post about my history with her, too.  But today’s post is all about Panda.  I’ll say that I’ve known Z since long before she got the “Bryan”.).  With her in the mix, our bonds grew even stronger.  We all brought things out of each other’s personalities that really helped to shape who we all are today.  We also had another friend in our group, a younger boy nicknamed “Meatloaf” who I originally met on a bus during a field trip to Disney World after I had a kind of upsetting day.  The four of us ended up thick as thieves.  Then Amanda, Z, and I graduated.  Life happened, and we’ve all drifted apart physically.  Z moved back up to Georgia and eventually married and had a child, although we still try to keep in contact when possible.  I’ve stayed in this same part of Central Florida, being a homemaker and helping to keep things running smoothly around here.  And Amanda and her family moved to a different part of Central Florida that is a considerable distance away from me.  She has her own job, her own friends, and her own life there.  From what I’ve gathered from her social media, she is happy and confident and enjoying life.  I haven’t been able to reach her directly, but overall I’m glad that she’s thriving.  I miss her a lot, but I’ve never forgotten about her.

She and I had no sisters growing up, only brothers.  We were basically each other’s surrogate sister, a source of female companionship in our own age group, someone who each of us could relate to.  I don’t know if she’ll see this post, but the fact that I’m leaving it out here and paying tribute to her and the effect she’s had on me I think should say that she is appreciated.  I do hope she eventually reads this.

Finally, the explanation behind the nickname “Panda”.  Amanda has never cared much for the nickname “Mandy”.  She always preferred the nickname “Manda”.  “Manda”, naturally, turned into the rhyme “Manda-Panda”, which she eventually shortened to “Panda”.

Manda-Panda, wherever you are, I hope your 30th birthday is a great one, and may the year ahead be an incredible one.

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