Last weekend I accompanied my boyfriend to his 20th high school reunion in Othello, Washington, a small town (population: really, really tiny) located about an hour north of here. His graduating class was very small and most of the them had known each other since Kindergarten, if not earlier. It was kind of neat to see all these people who truly did “grow up together” reconnect after two decades. Although many of them seemed to have stayed in touch, there were others who had moved away over the years, including my boyfriend (he resided in Miami Beach for 15 years before we relocated to the TriCities last year). Some of these people had returned to the Columbia Basin with their families in tow, wanting to give their kids the same upbringing they’d had. We actually found out that several of his classmates have moved to the TriCities, just a few minutes away from us, so I hope we’ll have opportunities to socialize with them on occasion.
My boyfriend was really happy that he got to spend time with one of his best friends from childhood, whom he’d seen only a handful of times over the last 20 years (one of those times was his friend’s wedding, so I’d say that’s a pretty good friend). They used to live on the same street. They walked to school together. They rode bikes together. They got in trouble together. And here they were, this many years later, hanging out just like old times. It was really kind of sweet to watch them together.
I admit, I was a bit envious of these people. Watching them float around to each other, engaging in conversations, reminiscing about adolescent memories, rediscovering old friendships, and knowing that they all care about each other, whether they express it or not. I guess that’s the bond that comes from growing up in a small town, where all the kids attend the same school; knowing the same people all your life, attending the same classes, and the comfort that comes from seeing familiar faces on the first day of every school year. It’s a sense of “we’re in this together”-ness that forges those bonds, whether acknowledged or not. I’ve always wished I’d had friends like this. Lifelong friends, people who’d grown up with me, knew my ins and outs. I’ve never known that sense of comfort and togetherness.
Growing up in a city with a population of over 2 million, there are just too many kids in each school to really get to know each other very well. My graduating class was somewhere between 600-700 kids. We had to hold our Graduation ceremony at the Dade County Auditorium (where the Miami City Ballet used to perform back in the day) because there was no other venue big enough to accommodate everyone. With so many kids, and because of residential zoning, there’s a very good chance that the friends you have in elementary school will end up divided throughout two or more middle schools, then split up again for high school.
Even if you do end up at the same school, there’s no guarantee that you will end up in the same classes or even cross paths in the hallways. I can honestly count on two hands the number of people I consistently shared classes with throughout all three years of high school. Yes, I’m including home room. We were divided up alphabetically, so I knew no matter what Jerry Galindo would always be right next to me. (He was a sweet kid. We joked about our mild mutual annoyance at always being asked if we were siblings. That was probably only funny to me and Jerry since I look like a white girl and he is Chinese/Peruvian.) Oh, and I always knew I would have the same kids in my English classes, too. I had A.P. and Honors English all the way from 7th through 12th grade so, for the most part, we pretty much knew it was always going to be the same 25 or so nerds in class together every year. But even then I wasn’t really close to any of them. (Seriously, they were SO competitive, what with the GPAs and the SAT scores. I couldn’t be bothered.)
In addition to all these factors, when you have a dad with a sense of wanderlust, and who can’t stand being stuck in one place for too long, you end up moving around a lot. I attended four – FOUR! – different schools for third grade alone (two in Miami, two in Texas). These are things that make it difficult to forge the everlasting bonds of friendship I witnessed at the reunion. And then add in the fact that I was painfully shy, awkward, and insecure, and you’ve got the disastrous formula for total lack of popularity. I have exactly two friends that I keep in touch with from school, both of whom I met in later years (11th and 12th grades, to be exact). And when I say “keep in touch,” I mean we text each other on our birthdays and occasionally “like” something on each other’s Facebook pages.
Now don’t get me wrong; the friends I have are awesome. But all of my friends are people I’ve met as an adult, either through work, or via a shared interest or hobby. They are lovely, wonderful people. (My best friend and I met at our former place of employment 22 years ago and have been BFFs ever since. He is totally someone I consider “my brother from another mother.”) Right up until we moved cross-country, they were the people with whom I socialized, confided in, shared dinners, and exchanged dating horror stories. We attended happy hours and weddings together. We commiserated over our shared job hatred, nursed each others’ broken hearts, and celebrated each others’ personal victories. On occasion, we even vacationed together (I vaguely remember something about Cozumel and a tequileria). Simply put, I love my friends.
But, yes, I admit that there are times when I am jealous of people with lifelong friendships. Like my older sister who’s had the same best friend since they were 13 years old. Her best friend has known my sister longer than I’ve been alive. I wonder what it’s like to have a friend like that; one that has been with you through braces and bowl cuts, awkward phases and adolescent drama, first crushes and first dates. I think there has to be a special bond between friends like that. A mutual acceptance and understanding of each other that’s just innate. I feel like as adults we are choosier about who we befriend, more guarded. We gravitate towards people that we admire and we feel a commonality towards, but we may not always share all of our true selves with them. But as kids it seems more easygoing and free from judgment. It’s more about “we live on the same street, we both like ice cream and Barbie dolls; that’s it, besties for life!” Those are the kind of friendships that seem to last; even if you grow up to be complete opposites, you still love each other unconditionally (unless one of you becomes a mass murderer or something. Then it’s just awkward.)
I admit it’s kind of ridiculous. Like I said, I love my friends. But even so, I do hold a bit of myself back for fear of discernment, of disappointing someone because I’m not what they expect. (Being an introvert also makes me over think things, worrying that my actions or words may be misinterpreted or taken offensively, so much that I tend to not go out of my way to socialize with new people, even if I really, genuinely like them and think they are fantastic.)
I don’t know… Maybe I’m wrong but sometimes I just think we could all use a few more ice cream and Barbie doll friendships in our lives.
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