I believe true friends are those with whom I can be purely the real me. No games, no pretending.
These are the friends who love me as I am, no matter what. When I am with them I can express my honest opinion and be accepted even if the other person disagrees completely. (And you know that's a big deal, because I'm so darn opinionated.)
These are the people who love me even if they haven't seen me in months. We can pick up exactly where we left off last time. There's no awkward lulls or getting used to one another again.
They love me even with all my faults (a big deal, because they know all my faults).
And best of all? They think like I think.
With two exceptions (Hey, Shauna and Janee!), each and every one of my best friends is a writer.
I spent most of my adolescence aching to fit in. Trying, hoping to, and often, miserably failing.
I was so painfully shy in my early high school years that frankly, it was a miracle that by my junior year, I found a group where I thought I fit in. But by senior year they'd go off and do a bunch of big stuff without me.
So I knew that I sort of fit in with them, but I was really on edge of the group, not the inner circle. They might disagree with that assessment (go ahead and say so in the comments. I dare you; I know some of you are reading this), but from where I stand, it's the truth.
But with my writer friends, it's different.
I finally belong.
I remember vividly doing a Literacy Night event at a Relief Society Enrichment Night back when I felt welcomed by several writers but didn't quite yet feel like I was one of them.
Shortly after I arrived, Julie Wright put her arms around me, gave me one of her trademark hugs, and said, "Annette, I just love you."
And you know what? I knew she meant it. I had to hold back tears.
I hugged her back and said I loved her, too. And boy, did I ever mean it. I absolutely adore Julie. She is a gem, and I value her friendship more than words can express. From that moment, I knew I belonged.
The members of my critique group are also on the list of my dearest friends. They've put up with me for a very long time. They get an earful from me every week (poor Lu Ann has heard me longest, but Michele isn't far behind, and then there's Jeff and Heather and Rob).
They are all there for me and they genuinely care for me as family, whether it's at weekly meetings or via e-mail, whether it's to celebrate a small success or vent a frustration or just share a laugh. I can always count on them.
Then there's Josi. I still laugh at how our friendship got off to a bumpy start nearly six years ago with a totally stupid argument, but now, we're closer than many sisters. I can't imagine writing or publishing or working a conference without her in the picture (or sharing a hotel room so we can chat late into the night).
There are others who have been there for me and are dear, dear friends (the LDStorymakers list is nearing 100 now; I can't list everyone who has impacted me in a positive way!).
But this is a short list of my rocks, my dearest friends, the ones who have been with me the longest and have made the biggest impact on my life.
And I don't mean the ones who have made the biggest impact on my writing life, although if I were to make that kind of list, it would probably include most of the same people.
I mean that these friends have made a huge impact on my life.
Thanks, you guys. To each and every one of you.
You have no idea how much you've given me and how much I owe you. I've needed your friendships. I love you all. Thank you for letting me into your lives and hearts. I believe I'm a better person for it.