Previously I had written about the lunch ladies I was friends with in high school, but within my age group, the person I remember being closest to was Tara Welch.
I had seen her around the school the year before our class was split into two groups. We were a part of the group that went to the new high school midway through the school year. The first time I remember meeting her was in Mrs. Victor’s English class, where we sat next to each other and would pass notes back and forth all period.
We lived a few miles from each other, and since she had a car and would hook me up with a ride home from school sometimes—a welcome relief from taking the bus with all the other teenage hooligans. Some people mistook us for brother and sister.
I hung out with her as much as I could and tried to go to all the parties she invited me to. After we graduated, I would visit her in Denton sometimes, usually during some shindig she was hosting.
She also went with me to my very first karaoke experience and was the first to take me to the Lizard Lounge, where we would dance the night away.
We would often lose track of each other but eventually meet again. I am notoriously bad at keeping in touch with people, so I blame myself entirely. But the thing with me is, once you have made it to my heart, you never really leave.
Without a doubt, Tara is the coolest person I have ever met, and I have always felt a strong bond with her. But still, you know, just a person like you or me.
But at one point, we reconnected; maybe around 2005, she was living in Hawai’i and teaching Photoshop. Now she did live on the nicer side of town when we were growing up, but it wasn’t that much nicer. I mean, in my head, Hawai’i was expensive. But this person that I knew was actually doing it! Living in paradise, far from Texas, at 25 years old!
I have been to Costa Rica many times since my grandparents live there. My typical experience is getting on an airplane, someone from the lodge picks me up from the airport, and I go to my grandparent’s place. I had been going since I was maybe three years old, so any real adventure was lost on me.
It was fun, but it was just… normal.
What Tara was doing and where she was going… while still on the planet was out of this world.
Soon I would follow Tara’s travels on Facebook as she went to China, ate a scorpion on a stick, and took a train across Asia. Later, I saw her posts as she went to Iceland to catch the Northern Lights. European beaches. Waterfalls in Venezuela.
I was mesmerized. This person I grew up with, whom I knew as just a mere mortal, had transcended to Hero status in my mind.
More than anything, I longed for the courage and funds to pull off such a lifestyle.
Eventually, my wife and I figured out how to spend an extended stay in Hawai’i by fixing up and selling our house. Which took years to pull off, but eventually, we did it. On paper, it was probably the dumbest move I could have made, but having experienced the island life, the way it got in my blood, I could never regret it.
Doing it gave me the courage.
The funds were only ever an excuse.
I was incredibly blessed to have known the person who was my idol because if she could do it, certainly I could too.
While in Hawai’i, I realized how much I wanted to reconnect with my old friend. Whether she knew it or not, I was following in her footsteps.
I was headed to O’ahu, where she had stayed when we were in our mid-twenties. I asked her what things should not be missed on that island. She told me to eat Spam and drive from Waikiki to the North Shore, taking the eastern coast. So that’s what I did.
And wouldn’t you know it, when I returned from Hawai’i, I was soon on my way to Iceland, hoping to see the Northern Lights.
When I came back from Europe, I asked to meet up and drove to Austin to hang out with Tara and her son. Of course, one of the burning questions on my mind was what got her started on traveling.
Her dad bought her a ticket to Italy when she was in art school, and it was all over from there. From then on, she would work and save only to fund her next expedition.
She and her husband have been to 6 continents, and soon they will be going with their son to Indonesia for a year, and I can’t imagine what a fantastic adventure that will be. If you, like me, are already a fan of what you have read about her, she will post her experiences on her website: https://threebestfriendsabroad.com.
Really, we only get this one life on Earth, and it was not meant to be half-lived. I’m forever grateful for Tara being the example in my life to show me the way.
And if these two idiots can see the world, what is there to stop you?