“Signe it was so nice to meet you today! I’m excited to go to school with you. Hopefully we’ll be in some classes together!”
“Same here! I’m so glad we met. I think we have the potential to be good friends haha if that’s not weird to say.”
-Facebook message 07/14/18
And thus begins the story of my best friend, Signe Engstrand.
Once upon a time, I met a tall, mystical Elvin creature named Signe Engstrand. At 6 feet tall with naturally platinum blonde hair and strikingly light green eyes, I thought maybe Signe was a real life model. The day we met in the fall of 2014, she wore high-waisted black shorts and a crop top with text across it that read “THAT’S AWESOME.” I thought that was awesome but I was a little intimidated by her beauty, until she started talking about Harry Potter. Was this model, perhaps, actually just a complete nerd?
We met at freshman orientation for Columbia College Chicago where we were both going to major in music for the next four years. I don’t remember the first words we said to each other but I’m sure she probably confidently introduced herself somewhat like this:
“Hi nice to meet you, I’m Signe, like ‘Sydney’ with a G.” because that’s pretty much the exact thing she says to every person she meets.
After thinking Signe might be a model that was too cool and pretty for me, I then thought she was the friendliest new student at orientation that day. We sat next to each other in auditoriums and lobby floors of campus buildings while admins lectured about first year information. Signe was a talker, and yes, a nerd. One of my absolute favorite things about Signe is that she could easily be a trendy cool girl that’s too hot for everyone just based on her looks but instead she reads niche fantasy novels on the train and passionately talks about the importance of Lord of the Rings. During our freshman orientation lectures, Signe would frequently either comment to herself during these informational spiels or turn to me or her mother and deliver some funny comment. And already, I had the sense that Signe was the kind of person that lights up a room because she was doing exactly this. So when we parted ways for the afternoon that day, I sent her that Facebook message and it has been truly astounding to watch the seed of our friendship grow into a beautiful, blossoming tree–- cue either one of us saying “gay” out loud like a straight, white high school boy ca. 2012™ while also crying at the truth of that statement.
I was much shyer and quieter my freshman year of college than I am now and Signe used to think that I didn’t like her because I wouldn’t talk much. The real truth is that Signe just talks a lot and has nice things to say. Extraverted, informed, and intuitive, Signe will take the lead in a conversation anytime unless the topic surrounds something petty and artificial. Getting involved in a political debate or social justice argument with Signe is a terrible idea if you’re misinformed because she will have you whimpering away with your tail between your legs. Men who make unsolicited comments to Signe while she’s walking down the street will receive an earful from her, even when she’s alone. In the four years that I’ve known her, I’ve witnessed many moments of Signe Wonder Womaning her way through a rough and tough, big city life and I feel so proud to be her friend.
Not only does Signe exude a confident independence and intelligence, she is also empathetic, warm and hilarious. Masters of Dad jokes, delivery, and absurdism, Signe and I have nourished a banter so smooth, our conversations have become real-time sitcom style entertainment for our fellow train commuters. I love watching the sheer laughing joy that spreads across Signe’s face when I show her some ridiculous photograph I snapped of our cat, Nessie or mimic a meme I’ve seen on the Internet. Signe loves the simple joys of life and her visible appreciation reminds me to be more grateful for the curves in tree branches and the pinks in sunsets.
Once, during a rather dark period of my life, I laid in my bed, physically shaking with anxiety. Signe held me like a mother, like a friend, like a sister and I will never forget the image of my glowing string lights twinkling behind her smiling face telling me everything was going to be okay. Signe has seen me through heartbreaks that make me wallow and depressive. Signe has seen me in elated, cry-laughing, joy. Signe has helped me understand how important it is to love myself and trust that I am capable of achieving most anything I set my mind to.
Growing close with Signe has inspired me to be more outwardly expressive and vulnerable in ways I hadn’t even realized I had been suppressing; crucial components of self-love. Signe has seen me through the mistakes I made with my first relationship which included not voicing my truth and keeping things bottled up. This has illuminated a sense of freedom in me I used to only catch in glimpses. Signe has taught me to see myself in the same light others see me and this doesn’t mean ignoring my character flaws, it means accepting them and working with them. It means only allowing the wallow monsters into my chest for a limited amount of time. It means dancing hard and crazy when I want and laughing out loud to myself in public; all lessons learned from Signe Engstrand.
Signe is my best friend because she doesn’t stunt my growth, she fuels it. We often joke that we’re married and have seriously considered the fact we would probably be dating if we weren’t so into dudes. Signe is my best friend because I like to surround myself with people who are anti- “Being Sad is Cool” culture, people who are ripping against the grain, people who are turning on the light in a dark room.
So, Signe, thank you for being the multi-dimensional, multi-talented, loving, funny, beautiful human you are.
Love you big time, buddy.
(P.S. WOT’S THAT?!)