I’m nervous. Last time I saw her was at a high school reunion somewhere in Germany. She was the first girl I kissed. No other person taught me more about sex than she had. A year older, she was 16 and I was 15, seemed like a huge deal at the time. I looked up to her.

Now, I’m standing at the arrival area at JFK. The flight has already come in and she’s texting me. She’s nervous, too. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly 20 years. She was my first crush before I even knew what that meant. Then we drifted apart. She moved away from Berlin, got married, kids. I bumbled from one job to another before settling in.

A lot in my life happened as a result of her. Sexually. I was more confident, I knew my body better. And confidence carried over from girls to boys, from sex to work. She never used birth control. She followed the cycle of her body temperature. Both of her pregnancies were planned. She never got it wrong.

It’s been so long since I last saw her, I watch every person coming out thinking it could be her. Finally, she texts me a selfie. She has changed. Short hair, a bit of gray coming through. Maybe it’s just a bad selfie. She looked tired, worn out. Not just from the flight, more like life had used up her energy.

A few hours later, after she drops her bags at my place, we go out for a bite. It’s late. An awkward ‘so, how are you?’ turns more intimate as time passes. Gone is the drained face from the selfie. I tell her about my life in New York, how I left Germany.

She had gone to the US in high school the year after we were nearly inseparable. It wasn’t the same afterward. She had become, well, Americanized, while I flourished in the Berlin nightlife. And still, she always imagined a life away from home. I never really understood why.

We talk about our parents, her kids, her husband. Now I know why we lost touch. Her husband started drinking excessively after her second child was born. He became abusive. To the outside, he was Mr. Perfect. On the inside, it was hell for her.

Not in a million years had I thought she’d be in an abusive relationship. She was always the more mature one, the smarter one, the one who was going to become someone. Another two hours go by and she tells me about her childhood.

She was only four years old at the time. A family friend babysat her regularly. He was a good friend of her parents. And he molested her every time. She tried to tell her parents, but they wouldn’t believe her. So she endured years of molestation and then sexual abuse before she even had her period.

At some point, she became num to it. When the abuse by her husband began, she didn’t dare tell anyone. Now she’s telling me, even though we hadn’t seen each other in years. She always liked America.

It was a refuge for her; maybe it could have been any place but home. A place where bad things had not happened, where she was considered wild. In Germany, in her marriage, she retreated into her shell. Of all the people she knows, I’m not sure why she is telling me all this. I feel foolish when I realize she never told anyone without being dismissed. Not a single person who didn’t judge her first; by her looks, her many flings as a teenager, or the child who couldn’t tell fact from fiction.

During the early morning hours, we make it home. She climbs into bed with me. We talk about our pregnancies, she rubs my belly, then places her head on my tummy. Not long before there is a slight snore. She’s asleep, peaceful, happy.

Just a few hours had passed since I saw her selfie on my phone. Now she was the girlfriend I had when we were teenagers. Older, wiser, better, despite what life had thrown at us. Some friendships don’t change. They just mature, even when left alone.

That was a few weeks ago. We’ve already made plans to see each other again. We don’t know how and when, but details don’t matter. There is no other person in my life who I trust the way I trust her. It’s like time stands still when we see each other. We’ll always be teenagers, just better versions of ourselves.

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