Girl Friends

Before I started high school, I had this big tight-knit group of really awesome friends. We grew up together, were homeschooled together, spent weeks and months and years together. It seemed like I’d known them forever, and when you’ve known someone forever, everything starts to seem simple and easy. Even the squabbles and the disagreements and the petty jealousies are just so incredibly easy.

You can lie on your back in the grass with your heads together and look at stars—spend your weekends hiking and camping, paddle around in canoes and catch snakes and toads and crawdads, swim in the river, play hide-and-seek in the train yards, sneak out after curfew, eat popsicles on the curb in front of Safeway, build tree forts and sleep out on the trampoline and pick all the worms out of the gutter when it rains and throw them back on the grass. You can understand each other without ever having to say anything.

So, I had all these really awesome friends. Who I’d grown up with. Who I’d known forever.

And then school started and I realized that I had no idea how to make new ones.

This wasn’t a social emergency or anything. Or, it was, but it didn’t feel like one. On the very first day, I was adopted by a group of very nice girls who let me eat lunch with them and always talked to me before school and between classes. Nice girls who gave me fashion tips involving stores I couldn’t afford, and admired my hair, and who put up with me. Because no matter how nice they were, that’s how it always felt—like they were putting up with me.

I knew early on that I wasn’t a good fit. Too detached and too silent, I had no patience for things like stress or homework or senior boys who didn’t know we existed. Sometimes when I was with them, I started to feel like I had no patience for anything.

The last straw came somewhere around mid-January of my sophomore year. We were all sitting at one of the circular cafeteria tables for lunch, and I don’t even know why it was the last straw, just that it was. We were talking about sports and activities, and how you need a well-rounded transcript to impress colleges, and they asked me what extracurriculars I had.

I said soccer, and one of the girls suggested I rethink that, since it only really counted for colleges if you played for your school, and I nodded and said, “I’ll play for school in the spring.”

The look she gave me was tender as she carefully explained that in high school, a lot of people tried out but they didn’t all make the team, and I should probably have at least one choice that was more dependable, like Spanish Club.

And like that, I was done.

It was strange, because nothing about the conversation offended me. I wasn’t hurt or mad or even very surprised. It was just that in that moment, I understood that none of them knew me at all, not even a little, and more than that, even if they did know me, they probably wouldn’t like me that much.

The next day, I sat alone, with my sandwich and my book, and Catherine came and sat down next to me. She asked why I was by myself, if I’d had a fight with the girls I usually hung out with.

I shook my head and said, “I don’t think I belong there.”

And she just shrugged and got out her lunch. “Well, I can’t help with that. They’ve all hated me since eighth grade.”

Now, in my junior year, I’m finally starting to feel like this is where I belong, eating lunch with Catherine, laughing about art and music and and boys and clothes and society. About everything. I like her. Partly because she’s strange and funny and honest, but maybe also because she picked me, the same way most of the people I’m school-friends with have picked me. Waiting for someone to pick me is kind of turning into my default setting. If put in charge or left to my own devices, I don’t even know who I’d choose.*

It’s not until March that I realize I’m truly getting to know Catherine. And Jane, too. That I might actually have friends—the real kind, who wait for you at your locker and call you on the phone and invite you to movies and parties and have secrets and jokes and meaningful looks, and always want to come talk to you first, before anyone else.

It’s sort of disconcerting.

Before high school, I only ever knew people I’d grown up with, and in some ways that was nice. […] This is different, this idea that you can meet people and become friends quickly, not needing to have had a hundred sleepovers or been there at their eighth birthday party.

The weird part is that Catherine and Jane aren’t the kind of girls anyone would look at and then immediately match up with the Sisters Yovanoff. To start with, both of them are profoundly ill-motivated in school, while I’m academically decent(ish)—just indifferent enough to squeak by on a minimum of actual work, while still appearing pretty competent—and Little Sister Yovanoff is fully intent on riding her 4.0 all the way to graduation.

None of us look remotely alike. Catherine dresses the way a lot of the other girls do, in jeans, hoodies, plain T-shirts and pullovers. Jane has a strange rockabilly style, which suits her. Corduroy slacks and tall plum-purple Doc Martens and a vast selection of weirdly unsettling Hawaiian shirts. She gets them at vintage shops, and they are all the drabbest, most untropical patterns imaginable—bruised purples, dark mustard yellows, gray and brown and olive. She has names for them, Danger Reef and Typhoon Lagoon and Hurricane Over Tahiti.

Sometimes it seems weird to me that we found each other, because we don’t obviously match. But the real, unifying force is that none of us seem to match anyone else, either.

Catherine loves to talk about boys, but it’s in a frank, genuine way that fascinates me. There’s nothing decorous or coy about it—she just unapologetically likes boys.

Jane is cool and brittle, hard to know, and Catherine sometimes gets her feelings hurt or takes this personally, but for me, Jane is like the perfect friend, because I’m hard to know too. We can just coexist peaceably and never have to confess things or talk about how we feel.

Or else, Jane does talk about how she feels, but it always seems kind of like a running joke. A story she’s telling, complete with plot and characters, fantasy and magic.

I don’t talk about my feelings at all.

“I’m in solitary confinement,” said Jane. “Earth is just a holding facility—like a combination prison/mental institution. For my home planet, Farshivu.”

Farshivushian is Jane’s made-up language. It sounds kind of like the Swedish Chef on the Muppets. When someone’s bothering her, Wit or Catherine, she yells at them in Farshivushian, pointing a finger like a tiny witch casting a spell. It seems to have completely replaced real profanity.

Except, when Billy-Boy ran into her in the hall the other day and knocked her books on the floor and said, “Hey, watch where I’m going,” she didn’t respond in Farshivushian.

Instead, she just looked at him and said, “Go home and blow yourself.”

And he got mad and called her a little bitch and said, “What did you say?”

She didn’t answer, just opened her mouth wide and pumped her middle finger in and out, looking up at him like he was supremely boring.

I waited for something terrible to happen, but it didn’t. He walked away. She let her hand drop from her mouth and gave me a morose look. Sometimes she’s so brave I think my heart will stop.

So, I admire Jane, and don’t understand her at all. Catherine, I only understand on a hypothetical, scientific level.

All I can think is maybe friendship isn’t the kind of thing you’re supposed to understand. It’s just this place you get to where you’ll listen to someone on the phone when they’re upset or remember their locker combination is case they forget, and that’s comfortable and decent and fair, because in return, they will always give you the blue SweeTarts and remember your birthday and save all their fortune-cookie fortunes for you.

They know you like that kind of thing.

*****

You know this by now, but I’m endlessly interested in friendships, and what brings people together, what makes them stay.

So tell me: How did you find your friends? Do you resemble them at all, or are you disparate and varied and incongruous? Or is it one of those peculiar situations where differences don’t matter? Where the meaningful similarities are all that really counts.

*Total lie, because in the back of my mind, I know that I’d choose #4, I just don’t want to deal with that.

14 thoughts on “Girl Friends

  1. Oh my goodness–that description in the beginning of the post, that was me. That was absolutely me. Homeschooled all my life with this one tight-knit group of friends. Except then one day in my freshman year–whoops!–they found out I wasn’t Christian and bam, my whole social circle gone. (It was a very one-sided group.)

    It wasn’t until they were gone I started figuring out that while we were compatible on a superficial level, and enjoyed the same kind of things and talked about similar subjects, on a deeper interpersonal level with the stuff that really matters we weren’t compatible at all. And now I have a group of friends–none of whom live in my state, by the way, since I did distance learning in high school–who may be weird and diverse superficially (I’m pretty sure, between the four of us, we span every single genre of music except rap and…and maybe reggae. With no overlap except showtunes) but can get into deep personal conversations about philosophy and religion and what we want versus what we think we can get and why. Or even superficial things, although those usually come out as silly arguments because we have what I think might be one of the most important things in friendship: the ability to disagree. I found out that what really matters is the deep stuff, not how people dress or talk or what music or movies they like or what they do in their spare time. I’m in college now, and we’re still very close despite the distance.

    I’m a lot happier this way. The funny thing is I never realized I wanted anything else until I had it. So that’s what works for me, but I’m sure it’s different for everyone…

    • deep personal conversations about philosophy and religion and what we want versus what we think we can get and why

      Oh, when I finally had this, I suddenly just—well, I started enjoying myself a lot more! I always say that for a long time in school, I didn’t realize I was lonely, but that’s not quite true. What’s more true is that for a long time, I knew I was bored, but I didn’t realize that I was bored all the time, everywhere, even outside of class, and all I wanted was to have a real conversation.

      I’m in college now, and we’re still very close despite the distance.

      This is wonderful! I know it’s not possible or even practical or necessary or right for everyone to stay friends with the same people they were close to in high school, but I love my high school friends so much, and I enjoy them SO MUCH, and I just want that for everyone. It’s like we’ve had this privilege of seeing each other’s best qualities before they were even fully formed, and now we have a different, more comprehensive view of each other than other people do.

      The funny thing is I never realized I wanted anything else until I had it.

      It’s weird, but this actually describes pretty much everything about me in high school. I was always thinking that I was perfectly happy, or at least content—and then something awesome or interesting or fulfilling would come along, and I’d realize I’d been waiting for it all this time and hadn’t even known I was waiting.

  2. So, I wrote four long paragraphs in answer to this. But then I realized that the more I explain my friends, and the strings that tie me to them, and those that tie us all together, the less meaning the explanation has. All of my friends are very different. I think that friendship starts when you meet someone else and they reflect something of you back at yourself. Sometimes the reflection shows your opposite, your balance, and sometimes it’s that moment when you say “No way? Me too!”. I could innumerate each connection between my friends and I, and explane that sometimes they have what I lack (like a quiet friend of mine, who is peaceful in a way I never am, but who needs me for my movement and excitement), or sometimes we are so alike it’s like playing pretend as a child (like dancing alone in your room, but being able to be surprised by your own actions).
    Friends is the same as family for me. My friends are non-negotiable, important, and mine. They are the only thing (this includes both my blood family, and my larger one) that means I’m not alone, and that there are people who I’m allowed to need, and who need me. Really need me, which is important. It’s about having a place you belong, with people who belong with you.
    It’s flowers on your birthday, and song lyrics that mean SO much to you because of that time you belted it out in the car on that road trip you are so grateful you took, and it’s safety and home and humor and everything worth having in the whole damn world. It’s an oven mit covered an cats and inside jokes about free pie night, and it’s having someone who loves your family but still understands why everything is so freaking complicated and of course you’re upset because your mom is impossible.

    • So, I wrote four long paragraphs in answer to this.

      All I can say is, I’m glad I’m not the only one! This post doesn’t even feel emotional or tricky or difficult, but it took me a long time to write, and I know that I still didn’t capture the really important parts. Because my people, my friends, were always mostly defined by their subtleties and inconsistencies and all the little wordless parts you only get to know after spending years together. And if the crucial parts are tiny and wordless, you can never make anyone else see why it was important—just that it was.

      Sometimes the reflection shows your opposite, your balance, and sometimes it’s that moment when you say “No way? Me too!”

      This is my favorite—this way of recognizing parts of another person’s character, because those parts also have to do with you somehow, and knowing that your edges line up, and as long as your edges line up with someone else’s, you always have a place to go.

      song lyrics that mean SO much to you because of that time you belted it out in the car on that road trip you are so grateful you took

      Why is this a THING? This is the truest, most absolute thing, and I don’t even understand how it works, except that it does, and that I have different songs with everyone I’ve ever gone on a road trip with!

  3. The last class of my first day of High School was science. I sat beside Colleen. The science teacher said to choose our lab partners for the term, and I didn’t know anyone in the room, so I turned to Colleen and said “My name is Kate and I like Star Wars.”

    And the rest, as they say, is History. ;)

  4. This is so interesting for me to read, since I was one of your friends before high school, basically not at all during, and then again after and now. And like you (like most of us in that group, I think) there was a period for me where the age differences that hadn’t made any difference before puberty started to make a very big difference after all and I had a period of loneliness between watching all the homeschoolers drift apart and figuring out how to have other kinds of friendships. In my early adulthood I rekindled my friendship with you and also with T & S, and I have remained friends with so many of the people I was close to in high school, as well as developing this whole new set of friendships here on the East Coast. And I love having both — the friends who remember me from my eighth birthday, the friends who remember my horrible high school relationships, and the friends who know me now as a Responsible Adult (TM), all of whom, I think, appreciate me for both who I was and who I am now, as well as who I will be in the future. Having friends from long ago gives a sense of continuity to my life.I also know that my world would be smaller and sadder if it weren’t for the friendships I have made along the way.

    • the friends who remember me from my eighth birthday, the friends who remember my horrible high school relationships, and the friends who know me now as a Responsible Adult (TM)

      This is the thing that fascinates me so much, and I have a hard time even articulating what’s so interesting and important about it. I just like the idea of shared history and intersections, seeing all the ways people change, and also how they stay the same. (Possibly because the driving force of my life is that I want to know All The Everything!)

      I just really like that once in tenth grade, Catherine sat down next to me without asking if she could, and also that I grew up and got married and she was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and you were a bridesmaid in my wedding and the timeline keeps spooling out in front of us, and all the important moments in our lives haven’t even happened yet.

      And I like knowing you now and knowing you when I was ten and twelve and fourteen, and even on days when I lament the gap in between, I understand that it’s an important and necessary gap. Potentially unavoidable.

  5. I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been homeschooled too. It’s kind of funny when you think about it, friendship I mean. You just have to sit back and wonder sometimes, why do these people like me? What makes them want to be around me and what do I have to offer them that makes them stay. I’ve always been a little weird, the hyper skinny kid with a quiet side, the artistic person who made up stories and spent a lot of time buried in a sketchbook and a different world. And sometimes I would put on my face for others and pretend to be someone else. Only after a while, you realize that’s not what you want. And after a little while longer, you decide that, screw the others, you’ll be who you please. And I think that’s when you find your truest friends, because they’re the ones who like who you like being. And you like who they like being. And you wonder why you didn’t decide to go ahead and screw the world a bit sooner.

    Some of my friends are a little like me, and some of them are nothing like me at all. Together we make a sort of color wheel. Some of us might be the same color, but each of us is certainly a different shade of our own. And that’s a good thing, because we complete something. Each other maybe. And who really wants a half finished color wheel anyway?

    • And sometimes I would put on my face for others and pretend to be someone else. Only after a while, you realize that’s not what you want.

      It’s funny to me now, to think about all the times I’ve done this and then gotten so restless or bored or annoyed with myself that I couldn’t even keep it up anymore. All I wanted was to stop going through the motions and to say what I was actually thinking, and each time I finally did, I had so much more fun!

      And I think that’s when you find your truest friends, because they’re the ones who like who you like being. And you like who they like being.

      Amen! It’s a wonderful thing, knowing people who enjoy the most basic, honest you, so much that even just being with them makes you feel more like yourself. I have friends who are a lot like me—who are like talking to a slightly different version of how my brain works—but I also have friends who are nothing like me, and both kinds are invaluable.

  6. I met my close friend, Jenny, when we were in the seventh grade. I noticed her because she was always dressed nicely, and seemed to be the only other student in our German class to always get grades just a point or two better than me. As I was a very anal and competitive student, I started to measure my German skills against Jenny. Then in eighth grade she was in my English class, and in ninth grade we had bio together. Suddenly, tenth and eleventh grade came around, and we were spending inordinate amounts of time together. After high school graduation, we went to Germany together for two weeks. Nearly three years later, we are still close friends despite some key differences – Jenny never left home and went to a local college, while I went away, and am currently finishing a semester abroad (yes, in Germany). Jenny studies the “hard” sciences, and is brilliant at engineering, while I am studying to be an anthropologist. Despite having very different circles of college friends now, I find that Jenny is one of the few friends I retained from high school. I’m not sure exactly how this happened, but I think that we are similar and different in the right kind of ways. Perhaps similar in how we might think about things, but different in how we express ourselves. And maybe that’s what keeps us together – the fact that by talking to each other, we are able to understand ourselves a little better.

    • I like this a lot, first because I think there’s just an inherent bond to be found in healthy competition, and also because some of my strongest friendships are characterized by years of near-misses before they actually developed into (close, important) relationships.

      I’m never in much of a hurry—especially when it comes to knowing people—and your timeline sounds just about right :)

      Perhaps similar in how we might think about things, but different in how we express ourselves. And maybe that’s what keeps us together – the fact that by talking to each other, we are able to understand ourselves a little better.

      Also, some of my favorite friendships are these ones—the kind that consistently help me understand myself and other people. Because I just think people are cool.

  7. Moving from the East Coast when I was 10, I lost all my friends from that age. Choosing poorly through junior high school, through all of high school even, until senior year, puts one a very difficult situation to make friends. It’s hit and miss, but same as many other things I like to get recommendations from friends.

    I wish it was more reliable to get recommendations from friends, as to with whom you might connect. The case between David and Brian Temple is a perfect example of how it can work–both of them being sensible and fun individuals and understanding the depth of their friendship very well–Brian also has become one of my favorite people to talk to.

    But yes truthfully, many people don’t even know why they are friends, might honor its blindly, take it for granted, or have friendships that are functioning on some shallow level. There are many aspects to a good friendship, and the people that understand and appreciate that must all come together, be patient, AND LISTEN.

    To be able to make good friendships, new friendships, one must be confident, outgoing, observant, ready for anything, …etc. And being a little crazy doesn’t hurt. Is what I think.

    • I wish it was more reliable to get recommendations from friends

      Typically, I find this to be a truthitude. However, I have to give credit where credit is due and point out that your personal endorsement prodded 20-year-old Brenna in the direction of her future husband. So. When it works, it works?

      many people don’t even know why they are friends, might honor its blindly, take it for granted, or have friendships that are functioning on some shallow level

      I was never good with this. I mean, I have weird friendships, vague, eclectic sporadic friendships, but I’m bad with shallow. Perhaps for no other reason than my tendency to ask totally inappropriate questions?

      one must be confident, outgoing, observant, ready for anything, …etc. And being a little crazy doesn’t hurt.

      I sense some truth in this. Also, craziness by any other name might just be authenticity.

      (Also, he’s a good man, Brian Temple.)

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