I debated for a bit whether I wanted to post this on a public blog rather than just on Facebook, but decided that it was a sufficiently detailed and nuanced portrait of friendship that I would like to have it out there. Also I missed yet another ThrowbackThursday post so here’s this instead.
Open Letter to A[nother] Friend (or, “A Series of Deeply Awkward Events”)
[The last time I wrote an open letter, it was to a friend who was getting married. This one isn’t a letter to mark that particular occasion, but one of my best friends’ lives is about to undergo a huge upheaval that is in some ways just as drastic as marriage, and I wanted to commemorate that somehow. This is about you, but it’s also largely about me, so I hope you’ll forgive it for being this public.]
Dear Friend Who Shall Remain Unnamed To Protect Against Prying NSA Eyes and Permanent Internet Embarrassment (the latter of which shall heretofore be known as P.I.E. because who doesn’t love pie),
The story of us starts earlier than you probably know. You probably think I’m going to start with that time you didn’t accept my Facebook friend request because you didn’t remember who the heck I was. As you might say, “#AWK.”
But the story starts earlier, as it has to, because why else would I have sent you that friend request in the first place?
See, we were in elementary school together, but you were a grade ahead of me, a big scary sixth grader, when I first became aware of your existence. You were a charter member of my dad’s sixth grade Harry Potter Writing Club, which is totally a thing that happened once upon a time — it was featured in the New York Times, yo. I don’t know if you know this, but my dad used to read his favorite excerpts of the club’s writing aloud to me and the rest of my family at home. And he read yours frequently. (See what I mean? SO MUCH P.I.E. Permanent Internet Embarrassment forever!)
In my eyes, you and your friends whose writing he read to us were just the coolest. (Clearly, my definition of “cool” has never been the cool kind of cool. Oops.) So I did what a tactless fifth grader does when she’d like to be friends with a group of sixth graders who don’t know her from a hole in the wall — I crashed your lunch table.
Your friends were none too keen on this. They alternately looked at me funny or ignored me completely and blatantly, and I didn’t understand why until I was a sixth grader myself and had some younger friends who attempted to crash my lunch table. My sixth grader friends treated them approximately the way your friends treated me.
But I tried to behave like you had, because you didn’t seem to care that I had invaded your table and violated the social order of fifth graders sitting with fifth graders and sixth graders sitting with sixth. I don’t recall you making active attempts to include me in the conversation or anything, but in no way did you make me feel unwelcome.
I didn’t know then that that was because you are one of the warmest people that I am ever going to meet, but I knew that I liked you best at that table, which I was tactful enough not to crash again.
Fast forward many, many, many months. I haven’t seen you in literally six or seven years, but your name pops up somewhere on Facebook and I figure, “Hey, why not?” So I send you a friend request, and you don’t respond. And you don’t respond. And you don’t respond.
And I figured that was it, that I’d just never really get a chance to be your friend. Because why would you want me, anyway? You were like the coolest nerdgirl ever, surrounded by other awesome nerdy friends, and I was just that awkward fifth grader of times gone by — what could you possibly want with me?
Fast forward some more, to an opening weekend showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (funny how it all comes back to HP, don’tcha know). I went to see it with, who else, my dad and various siblings, and when the lights came back on at the end, I discovered that you had been at the same showing, with an old elementary school friend of mine who it turned out was now your roommate. It was a fairly excitable reunion (because omg the Tale of the Three Brothers was SO WELL DONE in that movie) and I dragged you over to my father because I knew he’d be happy to see you even though you weren’t so sure. (He was. I was right. I am always right.)
It also turned out that you were attending Queens College and living mere blocks away from my house, and you issued me a standing invitation: “Come visit ANYTIME!”
I’d love to be able to say here that the magic of Harry Potter brought us together forever and thereafter everything was kittens and rainbows and yadda yadda yadda. But it took a bit more than that.
Even with that standing invitation, I didn’t want to presume you wanted me around much. I mean, it’s not just that you were nerdy-cool. You’re also brilliant and articulate and knowledgeable about any number of subjects, and if you happened to not be thoroughly familiar with a topic, you were always able to succinctly and wittily encapsulate what you did know about it and where you felt the gaps in your knowledge base lay. It’s always so much more impressive to me when people are able to admit what they don’t know, instead of blustering on and pretending they have a clue. And on top of all that, you are, of course, side-splittingly hilarious. I told you recently that at first, you were probably the closest thing I ever had to a girl crush.
It wasn’t that I was intimidated, per se. It was more that I just didn’t really feel like I had anything to offer you that you didn’t already have. But maybe that’s what intimidation is? (I wasn’t as savvy then as I am now about how much people appreciate decent companionship even if I don’t have anything measurable to offer along with it.) So I only took you up on your invitation a few times here and there.
But we did at last become facebook friends, after you apologetically explained that not accepting my friend request wasn’t anything personal — you just couldn’t figure out who I was. Because you are so bad at names. And faces. (Like so bad that you still sometimes can’t tell the difference between Hank and John Green. And probably between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. SO. BAD.) And we got along spectacularly well in comment threads.
I gradually started coming over more often, meeting your Queens College and neighborhood friends, feeling like I was becoming part of the group. I never really had a neighborhood group of friends my age before, you know. Throughout my life, I went to school in the Bronx, in Long Island, and in Brooklyn, and yet I lived in Queens, so my school friends were scattered all over, rarely local. I figure that’s why I can float between so many different groups of people of various ages and backgrounds and whatnot; I never really had any other choice until recently. Hanging out with people my age and/or at a similar place in life still feels like a luxury that I never used to have.
Then there was that time I found out that I could introduce you to someone — there was a grown-up neighborhood friend of mine that you vaguely knew and were dying to properly meet. I offered to introduce you to her and you PANICKED in that adorably neurotic way you always do. Actual process of getting you to agree to come with me to her house on shabbos afternoon:
You: “Are you sure she won’t mind if you bring me along?”
Me: “Yes. Very sure. She’ll love you.”
(on the way out the door:)
You: “But are you sure?”
(a block away from her:)
You: “But are you sure?”
Me: “Yes. Jeez.”
(upon reaching her front door:)
You: “But are you SURE???”
Me: “No, you’re right; let’s go back.”
You: “Haha, fiiiiine.”
(You met her and she loved you and now you’re great friends. I was right. I am always right.)
But a turning point in our reconnection was probably that summer I got an internship at the same marketing agency where you were already working. You seemed thrilled to have me there, always made sure to come over to my desk and chitchat, and we had marvelous lunch break adventures, including but not limited to:
· You showing me the ropes of the mean streets of DUMBO, Brooklyn (so many hipsters. So much street art. So mean.)
· Me falling in the East River and coming back to the office soaking wet. NBD.
· Us hunting down and visiting the used sci-fi/fantasy bookstore I’d heard about from the internet, being interviewed about it for some local news channel, meeting the staff members, and ultimately getting the ball rolling on having it be a venue for a book signing by Lois McMaster Bujold.
· That time when you had to mail a letter but didn’t have a stamp, so we went to the DUMBO post office. It had no humans and only a stamp machine, which was broken. There was a phone on the wall, no number keypad, just a corded hotline phone, and you picked it up, and listened. And listened again.
Me: “What? What did it say?”
You: “It said… ‘For help, press 3.’ ”
It was that day that you uttered the fateful words: “MY LIFE IS A KAFKA NOVEL!”
· And of course, our genius backup plan for when we give up on ever marrying dudes and just move to Scotland and get gay married to each other and adopt Scottish babies and see if they develop Scottish accents despite being around us. (Those poor hypothetical children.)
You would talk to me about anything and everything, personal or worldly or anything in between, and at first I thought that was just part and parcel of your friendly, extroverted nature. But then one time, in the presence of you and another friend, I mentioned something you had told me, and you quietly asked me afterward if I would keep that particular tidbit to myself. It wasn’t for everyone to know after all. It was something you trusted me with and I didn’t realize. (This is a frequent problem for me, fyi — for whatever reason, people so easily and comfortably spill their secrets to me that I don’t always realize that they are secrets, or at least privileged information. I’ve become somewhat neurotic about protecting other people’s privacy, in my old age. This note notwithstanding.) But my point is, that was when I started to realize that I was becoming a closer friend to you than I’d realized.
I still didn’t quite let myself believe it, though, even when there were other indicators, like how you told me you often ask yourself “What would SM do?” and then do it, and like how you would occasionally quit facebook and drop off the face of the planet to most people, but still made time to IM chat with me, and always returned my emails or texts. No matter how stressed you were, and sometimes specifically when you were stressed:
You: “the phones won’t stop ringing ahhhhhhhhhhh”
me: “ANSWER ALL THE PHONES”
You: “I AM TRYING”
me: “ALL OF THEM”
You: “THERE ARE TOO MANYYYYY
*sprouts extra heads*
*and toenails for GOOD MEASURE*”
(Note: This is a fictionalized conversation sample that never actually happened, because I am too lazy to scroll through hours and hours of chat transcripts. But it totally could have happened.)
And yet I still didn’t let myself feel totally secure in the idea of being your friend because (a) I have attachment issues, and (b) as absurd as it sounds, you were still that big scary sixth grader to a part of me, and I still didn’t really feel like I had much to offer you that you couldn’t get from yourself or from your other friends.
I leapt at opportunities to be a better friend, to prove to you, but more importantly to myself, that I had what to give you. And bit by bit, I proved it. When you needed meals, I invited you. When you needed a listening ear, I offered one. When you needed help moving, I was so there. When you needed a safe space to vent or freak out, I provided that. When you needed a buddy to come along to Philadelphia for the weekend so that you could attend a prospective students day at UPenn Law School, I jumped on that bus. When you needed another eye to look over your application essays, I edited them all. When you were maxing out on stress, I started a facebook page just to make you laugh. When you desperately wanted friends to come to Dragon*Con with you as a last hurrah before law school, I volunteered.
And at Dragon*Con, when you wanted a buddy for that concert of that obscure band that you were dying to see, and they were slotted at 1 o’clock in the morning, I stuck with you. And I vividly remember, when we got back to our hotel room bathroom and I was helping you scrub eyeliner off your lids with hotel-provided moist towelettes, I thought to myself, “This is what friendships are made of.”
Because they are. Mountains of memories built on shared experiences and a whole lot of giving on both sides. You made my giving easy, because whatever I gave, you gave right back, with profuse thanks and hugs and love and support and advice and — always — laughter.
It’s only in the past year or so that I became aware that the intimidation went both ways. That I intimidated you. Somehow. When you told me that, I had to ask why, and your answer, as usual, made me laugh:
“I don’t know how to say this politely, but you are STAGGERINGLY GORGEOUS. And brilliant, too. It’s a heady combination.”
What you don’t understand is that you make me that way. Well, not the gorgeousness; that’s genetics and a lot of smoke and mirrors. But you make me smarter. You make me funnier. You make me more empathetic. You open my eyes and make me more curious about the world around me by making it seem more accessible, more interesting, and more zany than it appears at first glance. Even when you’re upset and we’re talking about serious or depressing things like rape culture or world poverty or the sorry state of mental health care in this country or airport security or the lack of a Wonder Woman movie (GRRRR), you are buoyant and earnest and passionate, and life feels lighter when you are there to look at it with me.
For a long time in our friendship, part of me still felt like that fifth grader trying to sit at the sixth grade table, with that underlying fear that one day you’d just drop the ball on me, because after all, I was kind of a charity case and wasn’t really that important to you. And now that you’ve made it abundantly clear that that’s not the case, that you need me and rely on me and want me around, I have a new fear: that I will drop the ball on you. That I will fail you. That I will become complacent in our wonderful friendship and let you down. It’s a lot of pressure, you understand, to be needed and wanted and trusted by someone as awe-inspiring as you.
I’m going to do my best.
I trust you to do the same. And always remember: Nobody but you gives a damn if you were once that awkward fifth grader, or that awkward high schooler, or that awkward college freshman. Go forth and be the you that you are now, because that you is incredible. Trust me. I’m right. I am always right.
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