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  • Writer's pictureMarielle Velander


Updated: Oct 5, 2022

A star-crossed friendship, lasting for over a decade and beyond, is inspiring me to pursue my greatest travel dream of all: a one-way ticket to backpacking around the world.

She sits on the plane, and runs through what she packed in her head one more time. Did she bring those high heels she loves? Or did she forgo them to fit that dress she bought last week, that she imagined wearing out to a chic bar in Paris, or maybe Barcelona? She doesn’t really know what to imagine, or expect. She looks out the window as the plane lifts off the tarmac with that imperceptible soar, tucking its wheels below. The strip malls and highways grow smaller underneath her, and she wonders how long she’ll be gone.

I wrote this to imagine all the quotidian things that might have run through the beautiful head of my best friend as she sat on her one-way flight bound for Paris on August 23. I have to imagine it, because on August 8 her soul left our world.

Our story

I met Stephanie in Economics class, at the start of my second semester of freshman year at university in Washington DC, over 11 years ago. We were in the same discussion group and there was a snowstorm coming. We both rallied a group of us to go take part in a massive snowball fight at Dupont Circle. It was clear that the only person in class who matched my enthusiasm for this plan was her, and soon we were practically inseparable.

She’s my Bolivian sister, who would invite me to crazy Colombian parties and tell me about the Carnaval de Oruro. She’s my karaoke buddy, who would own the stage at any dingy local bar with her skillful rendition of “Before he cheats”. She coached me through every breakup, and encouraged me every time I would open up my heart again, no matter the risks. She responded to rejection with laughter, and had the courage to learn to love herself before accepting love from anyone else.

She’s my advisor on everything, from happy hours to critical life decisions. She was the one who always said “I could totally see you as a travel influencer,” when I would deny it in my imposter syndrome . She always had a new project or business plan in the making. She was about to buy her second property at 29, while finishing a Masters while working full time while exploring two business ideas and consulting in two different fields on the side. At the same time, she was always there to help with her aging grandmother, to care for and love her parents and little sister. She’s a superwoman (a super angel) by every account.

We had talked about her visiting me in Paris since I moved there in November 2019, but the pandemic had held the plans at bay. She finally made it happen, booking a one-way ticket to Paris for the day I arrived back there from Sweden, two weeks before I was due to move to Berlin for a new job. When I warned her I might be a bit stressed out with the impending move, she said “I’ll be a good, calm presence to have.” She always was.

Is this real?

Friday, August 6, she texted me that she used my link to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserved credit card. We thanked each other, said how much we love each other. And that was the last thing we said to each other. All that Saturday, on a long hike in the Swedish countryside with my parents and sister, I talked on and on about how dear Stephanie was to me and all the things I planned for her visit to Paris. The next day I woke up to a text from her mother, “call me when you wake up”. I hoped it was about her mother’s birthday, which happens to be August 8. Last time Stephanie’s mother reached out to me was to have me join a surprise video call for Stephanie on her 28th birthday. But something didn’t feel right. I finished the (eerily fitting) book Midnight Library with chills running down my back.

My family went out to buy groceries and I stayed back to work on a consulting gig I had found. Then I got the phone call. “Is this real?” I had the nerve to ask her mother as I slumped on the floor in that now accursed house. After I got off the phone, I started pacing around the house, feeling a pressure to breathe, not knowing what to do with my hands. I turned my speaker on and started playing the playlist I made for her wedding at top volume, which has all the emo songs and party tracks of our college days. When my family came home, they hugged me, but that made it feel more real. Nothing has ever been the same since.

In October 2020 we did our first (and last in-person) road trip together through Tennessee and North Carolina across the Smoky Mountains, to celebrate my 28th birthday. When I got home to Paris from that trip, on the eve of a second strict lockdown, I decided I can no longer defer the great dream of my life: to backpack around the world. Stephanie, as always, was an inspiration, a guiding force. She said how I inspired her to travel more. After our adventure together, she started doing several road trips herself, for as long as she could. I had shown her how easy it was. So why shouldn’t it be easy to pursue my greatest travel dream of all?

I started saving, and finally in December 2022, I will be taking a one-way flight in honor of her. This time it will be to South America, to spend the majority of the next year making my way to her homeland of Bolivia and beyond. Traveling and living for both of us.

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Aug 20, 2022

This essay about your lovely angel sister Stephanie and your beautiful friendship moved me and inspired me. You are living the life she dreamt for you, and there is no greater gift to her memory or to yourself. I can't wait to see where the two of you travel!

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