Thursday, January 23, 2014

Story of a Friendship

Monday of a three-day weekend, something had been eating away at me.
I gently closed the front door of my mother's house behind me and quietly went to get my things in the hopes of not waking her.
"It's 11:45 in the evening and you still have to drive home. You're crazier than a mashed potato." My mom, who has a knack for inventing such euphemisms, was sitting beside a dim light in her bedroom, reading.
"I know, I'm sorry."
"Come over here. What's the matter?" My mom, who had left her chair and was standing near me, turned on a light to look at my face.
"I don't know," but suddenly the thing that was consuming me announced itself and surprised me. "I guess I'm sad that Darlene is moving."
Now my mom wrapped her arms around me. I rested my head on her shoulder, "I don't want her to go."
"I know, you two have been friends for a long time. That's what happens, baby. You grow up and people move away. It doesn't mean you'll stop being friends, it just means things will be different."
"I guess I took for granted that we'd always both be in Texas..."
It was the summer before the sixth grade and I was 12. I had a subscription to a magazine for teen girls. That summer, one article in the magazine titled, "Become the girl you've always wanted to be," opened my eyes to a reality that I'd never before considered; I (and everyone else) could think of the kind of person I wanted to be and then become that person. So I asked myself--who do I want to be?
Pretty and Cool topped my list, but there was another--one that nags me to this day--Funny. I wanted to be funny. And so I began the sixth grade with only this mantra; funny, cool, pretty. 
I soon realized that pretty and cool weren't really up to me. I was a swarthy, mixed-race girl with a Jewish mom at a white, baptist middle school in Central Texas. But funny, I decided, I could manage. It was here that I met Darlene.
At my middle school, sixth graders were required to take a drug prevention and mental health awareness program. It was an after school special but in real life and in school. Darlene and I had this course together. Immediately, the girl I wanted to become singled Darlene out for being quiet and well-behaved. She became my measuring stick; I would know I was funny when I finally succeeded in making her laugh. Weeks went by where I would sit a couple of rows behind Darlene and make joke after joke in class (much to my teacher's chagrin), all the time watching for Darlene's reaction. All that time she had no idea that I was, basically, obsessed with her. When the day came that I made her laugh, there was no way I could go back to watching her from a distance. I HAD to be her friend and the girl I wanted to become knew this.
Making Darlene laugh was the first time I'd ever really felt self-empowerment. The girl I wanted to become revelled in this victory and was intoxicated with a can-do attitude. Armed with my new-found self esteem, I found a way to strike conversation with Darlene and was fortunate enough to not scare her away, but found that she was a most agreeable friend.
& when I think about it now, I can sum it up pretty clearly. The middle school years were like this:
roller-skating rinks where we would giggle every time we heard a bad word in the dj's hip-hop set list;
late nights singing into my mother's presentation microphone and speaker, pretending we were stars;
sharing various ethnic foods at our respective ethnic homes;
boy talk.
The high school years were all about helping each other pick outfits to get pictures taken at the mall;
walking around together in the sweltering Texas heat in the summers;
borrowing mom's car without permission to make innocent trips to taco bell or the mall;
boy talk;
wedges that laced up around your ankles;
weekends at another friend's home, swimming in an above-ground pool and smelling pomegranate blossoms;
the war on terrorism and how it changed our military hometown;
our first (and last) fights;
scraping together enough money between the two of us to walk to our favorite diner and split a brownie and a couple of sodas.
We went away to different colleges and were nearly swallowed up in all the boy talk but in-between, somewhere, somehow, we found time to visit each other.
After all that, an additional three years, a nursing degree, and a law degree later, we are still best friends. And after all the memories we've made together, the thing I remember most is this:
in my pursuit to become the girl I wanted to become, through all the times I reinvented myself, despite all my bad decisions and terrible boyfriends that I never did learn to stop agonizing over, she stuck by me. No matter the phase I was going through, Darlene never failed to see the person I was inside and always loved me enough to be honest with me, even when I couldn't be honest with myself.

I mentioned earlier that I was* an odd duck (*am). When my family first moved to Texas, I couldn't understand why I was teased so much or why the other kids didn't like me. My dad told me something that seemed really grim at the time but is now, something I hold to be very true. He told me that we are lucky, in our lives, to meet special people and have real relationships. "If you have one real friend when you die, you did good. That's all you need is ONE. Some people don't even have that." Most of my friendships, I have questioned at one point or another (&, to any of my friends who may read this and feel insulted--I love you, don't worry. Please don't stop loving me). My friendship with Darlene is not only the longest friendship I've had, but also the only one I've always believed was true. My dad was right, I am supremely lucky to have this friendship and to know I'll always have it.

& so today, Darlene, her dog, her fiance, and all of her stuff, began their journey to the distant and exotic land of Idaho. It's weird to think about how much will change in the two years she is scheduled to live there (weird being a gross understatement, it actually makes me really sad to think of) but I know that no matter what, every time I see her and every time we talk, it'll be like nothing has changed.

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