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.