When I was seventeen, I had a trusty group of six girls whom I relied on. Most of us were friends from early high school at thirteen and as the years passed, slowly we came together and by the time we were fifteen, this cozy friendship circle was born. It took its height at sixteen and I can still recall my giddy happiness at being able to have a group of girlfriends – clique, as I’d believed – I could finally call my own. Having been peppered with plenty of friendship break ups, I relished in doing stuff I’d only read about in books with these girls – we’d go swimming together, hangout at malls, organize movie dates and nights, read the same young adult novels, watch the same TV shows (One Tree Hill and the OC were particular favorites) to spaz about the guys and lots more.
It was a defining and beautiful period, one of my best memories about high school.
Then seventeen happened. I can talk about it now without any remorse, hard feelings or regret because maturity does that to you – the old(er) does grow wiser, eventually. Looking back now, I can hardly remember the details but remembered that six months to graduating, I had a major fallout with one of the girls – I’m hesitant to call it a misunderstanding, but it definitely blew up to be one the longer it dragged on. What broke my heart and scarred me so badly then was this: when it came to choosing sides, all five stood by her. I stood alone – the way I’ve always been, always am and one wonders, if I always will be.
It’s been a good five years since then and many things have taken place in our lives, including that four of us crossed continents in the pursuit of education. All of us matured at our own respective paces, changed by experiences and surroundings and naturally, developed new friendships with friends who are now dear to our respective hearts. I admit that it took me a longer time to completely move on – in some ways, how could I? Springtime of last year was when I was finally able to close this chapter with an open, accepting heart. Four years, that’s how long it took me.
In the period of the past five years, I have kept a respectful and conscious distance away from the six girls while they stayed each other’s rocks and confidantes. This fact used to break my heart over and over, but now I recognize it as something beautiful and I’m genuinely happy for them that they’ve been able to keep each other in their lives. Now that I’m a different person than the girl I was, I’ve rekindled the friendships with some. I’m still friends with all of them but I’d categorize the ones I’m closer to as good friends and the rest as old friends – we have a shared history together and knew each other before we became anyone, but it’s neither in my place nor theirs to say that we know the persons each other are now. They’re wonderful girls but life has simply filled the voids and spaces of what we left behind.
But it’s this shared history that has always gravitated me in some ways or another to whatever degree, back to them. In my mind and heart, I have left the fold – they are no longer my girls – but the remnants of a genuine, wonderful friendship persistently lingered, as if refusing to ever fade.
At eighteen, the girl I was closest to and whom I had that messy fallout with… Her mother passed away. I do remember her mother – she was always very fond of me, hugging me close whenever we met. I admit at that time when I learned of the news, I didn’t know how to react. I’ve always been terrible at confrontations and it didn’t help that I’ve never dealt with death so personal like this plus, we haven’t spoken to each other in nearly a year. Selfishly, all I could think of then was how I was supposed to handle this piece of news. In the end, common sense won and I sent a text message expressing my condolences and tried to attend the funeral (but couldn’t).
Last July, I heard news that the dad of one of the other girls in the group had passed away due to a heart attack. We used to be deskmates at fourteen and were fast friends. Again, I heard the news through a mutual friend of ours. I remembered the dad – I can’t remember if I’ve ever spoken to him but he was always such a doting dad, they were obviously close. I reached out through text message once more, offering my condolences. The entire situation was awkward – I was and my text message must’ve shown that too, but what mattered, as I’ve learned by now, is that I let them know my heart goes out to them for their loss. This isn’t about me.
Yesterday, I woke up to a Facebook message from the same friend. She thought I needed to know – “because we are her closest friends,” she wrote, though I shook my head reflexively that that’s not the case between me and them now – that our friend’s dad had passed away too. She didn’t specify the cause and I saw no reason to know; I thanked her for letting me know and Facebook messaged an old friend to once more, for the third time, offer my condolences for the loss of a parent. I started my morning in a slight daze, my heart aching slightly and my mind full of thoughts. I last met her during my first summer break, way back in 2010. The meet was painful and so I have since kept a manageable distance away from her, despite the fact that we were such great friends in high school.
The thing is, death is always so personal and heartbreaking – this much I understand. I suspect it’s all the more so when it involves the loss of a parent but the truth is I don’t know – I’m nervous at the thought that one day it will be my turn because that’s just life, but it doesn’t make the revelation any easier. It’s at life-defining moments such as this in our lives that I remember the friendship we had and what it means to have been a part of that. When you’re friends as young girls, you open yourself up ten times more than you’d ever do as adults. You share family secrets, childhood memories and introduced each other to parents and siblings. It’s like a divorce – do you, could you, ever really extricate completely once the relationship is no longer there? Most importantly, at trying times like this – could you be there for each other completely out of goodwill, letting the years of silence go unnoticed?
Whenever I watch movies and dramas, it always seems so easy for one to be there for another. They’d play out the scenes almost intuitively where the one consoling will naturally hug or hold steady while the grieving wring the tears. In Real Life – I’ve no idea where or how to even begin. My mind and heart understand that it’s not about me – this moment and the loss, it’s all theirs – but I can’t not acknowledge the years that’s taken place since we left high school. I don’t know how to just let them slide and be there in the name of being an old friend who knew them once upon a lifetime ago.
So I offer my condolences, but remain at a distance. I think of them quite often whenever I reminisce about my girlhood years and now that I’m in touch with a few, the memories can’t help but return because there’s such an easy familiarity with them. I neither hold anger nor bitterness towards them – everything’s in the past, we were simply so young and silly back then – but it’s this realization that the bridge has been crossed that has kept me where I am: stagnant and unmoving, firmly in the present. The young women we are now hold very few traces of the girls we were and rightly so. I’ve crossed that bridge and have no inclination, intention and desire to return.
But today I… Grieved for them. For their losses and ultimately, for the fact that while they were repeatedly there for me at different points in time way back when, I never did return the kindness. This what-was of the friendship circle isn’t a crutch, nor is it a scar. It’s just… life, I suppose. In that you win some and lose some; you love some and leave some; you live on while others rest in peace.
From the bottom of my heart, sincerely – I’m so sorry for your losses.