Where’d All My Friends Go?

I’ve been thinking about friendship lately, the inconsistency of it, and the paths we take to certain people. They say you need to take time to work on yourself before you’re marinated and ready for the right romantic partner, but what about when it comes to making lasting friends?

When I was an introspective, moody, an ego-driven teenager, I attracted a group of misfits that matched my disfunction. Together we smoked weed in basements, lurked in city parks at night, navigated romance or the lack thereof without tact, and wore through the hot topics that occupied our world like the intellectuals we thought we were. If you had asked me then, I would’ve said I was certain these were my people. Now I understand why my dad rolled his eyes.

Meeting during the peak growing years meant that some of us grew apart. As our personalities came to the surface, college and distance punctured any of the consistency left. I was the first to leave, even before college. I wasn’t missed much, and didn’t think twice about the fact that I was always traveling to them and rarely ever visited myself. One friend from that era in my life stuck around and, to be honest, she’s the only one that was ever meant to, even as our paths tangled and diverged. She made the equal effort.

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Nearly eight years later, and I still “keep track” of them through the lens of Instagram, which everyone can agree is a healthy and truthful peek into peoples’ lives. Who doesn’t love a charming scroll though someone’s filtered and seemingly perfect Instagram life? When you’re already feeling left out, these false fragments of your old crowd’s otherwise unbothered lives really taste like shit. But the lasting damage this media pattern has done to me is a topic for another time.

The lack of connection and intimacy that came from the inevitable falling out with my high school friends had me sprinting into college foaming at the mouth in desperation for something more. Desperation dug its claws into me and lured leeches into my world. I was too eager to please. I forgot to respect my own standards, which made it easy for me to fit into everyone else’s world without the satisfaction of anyone fitting into mine.

At that time, my priorities were getting around to validate my self-worth, getting fucked up because the feeling was still fresh and I thought I liked myself better that way, and searching for the right people. Blinded by the need to live what I envisioned was an adventurous and thrilling life, I neglected to nurture myself at all. As you can imagine, lasting, real, and healthy connections were nowhere to be found. I hadn’t even developed one with myself yet. It was a cripplingly shallow time in my life, the lack of depth contrasting humorously with how intense my experiences with the “friends” I had attracted actually were.

Though I would never willingly revisit freshman year of college, I occasionally look back through those journal entries and feel heat radiating from the pages. Those people and I, we were flames, untouchable and primitive like we had all dreamt we’d be some day. As short-lived and short of depth as it all was, I think I needed to get it out of my system. It was the scream I had been holding back inside me all through high school – guttural, dirty, and unapologetically loud for everyone to hear. It was a massive ‘fuck you’ to the time I had wasted living in a shell.

I eventually withdrew from that first college (ahem, flunked out) and from relationships that came with it. There weren’t many. I found my way out of the city and to the safety and isolation of my parents’ house in suburbia for a much-needed semester off. This location-shift brought my better high school traits back to the surface. Introspection greeted me like and old friend, and I learned to spend my days appreciatively alone. I  watched movies, filled journals with poetry and art, played with my dog, talked to myself (a lot), read, listened to records for hours, and slipped away from time without any repercussions. While I was getting to know myself again, the fire inside lit up at the thought of a new adventure. This time I would do it right.

Through a lot of hard work, self-discipline, and time spent alone, I earned the credits I had lost freshman year after trading away my academics and intelligence for a good party. I emerged from the ashes like a phoenix and tore into community college like it was my job. While earning straight As and shooting my GPA up to a 3.9, I also helped publish, write poetry for, and contribute artwork to a literary journal myself and other writers built from scratch. After school, I would head to a full-time paid internship at an advertising agency nearby. I didn’t make many friends during the semester I was juggling all of this, but I remember being too busy growing up to care. It was a detox, and when it was all over I applied to another four-year college and got in. I left the safety of home and found myself in another world.

There I was, a junior transferring to a new school again, only I knew this time was special. I could feel it. You know when you find yourself somewhere, and you get that roller coaster feeling in your stomach, like something’s wrong down there, but it feels good at the same time? It hit me hard. The nerves, the expectations, the fear, the drive to make this experience count. To this day I still believe that feeling in my stomach set off a siren only certain experiences and people could hear, because everything that followed seemed to fit. Every passing friendship, acquaintance, relationship, hook-up, classmate, coworker, etc., left an imprint. There were long-lasting connections brewing and short bursts of passing intimacies, but they each held weight in my soul and made me feel so in-tune with the world. What had changed? Why was I feeling fulfilled?

It was the balance. The balance was everything. The ability to harmoniously feed your intellect, nurture your creativity, work hard, take a step back, take risks, or stay in. I was discovering my rhythm and certain people around me started to step in time to it with me. Their balance matched mine.

And the beautiful thing, which is also equally sad, is that the equation of your balance changes the more you grow and it starts to fall out of time with the friends you’ve picked up along the way. So, even those deep connections that you hold dear, start to unravel as you go in different directions. And while you may only see each other through a screen now, there was a season in your life when they were the exact fit you needed.

Friendship is inconsistent, messy, part of the continuous and ever-changing nature of the universe. But one thing is for certain, you can only guarantee yourself more love, more happiness, and more fulfillment in your life by taking the time to nurture those things in yourself above all else. That is and will always be the most important friendship in your life, and it’ll set off the siren when its time to call others onto you.

Blood Ties

I spent twenty years of my life half-heartedly craving a sibling and miraculously, as though the universe heard my plea, Gabriel fell into my arms on the kind of November day that blankets the world in color. Leaves drifted around our car as I rolled the window down during my first pleasant trip to a hospital waiting room – the first journey of two I made that morning. The second was overcoming a battle with neglect and blood ties that threatened my world.

My mother became pregnant at the age of twenty by a man I still refer to as a stranger. He ran off to pursue his art career when my mother needed his support most. She was an artist herself, an immensely talented modern dancer, who put her career on hold for the little girl she had dreamt about bringing into the world. My “dad” did not give me the same importance. He would disappear, only returning to see me when it was convenient for him to do so. I recall wanting more than anything to stay with my mom as he waited, towering over me at the door.

Our relationship stayed this way, distant and unimportant. Though it pained me to accept that a stranger was my biological father, I was lucky enough to discard the rejection and confusion within the loving embrace of a true father figure who came into my life when I was only four. My mother married the man I have called my “Papa” in 1998, and the three of us traveled from the Azores to America on a mission to build a beautiful life together as a family. Papa, who is technically my step-father, always felt like my blood father. The three of us built a foundation that kept me protected by their love. I was given a father who wanted me, cared for me, and labored to keep me alive. I was the luckiest girl in the world.

Growing up, I had a difficult time accepting that Papa and I were not blood related. His family, my cousins, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, my everything, were not biologically mine. That haunted me. I wanted more than anything to look into my father’s eyes and see myself within them. Craving this connection as much I did, I developed a jealousy for a sibling that did not exist. I would picture my parents having the child I wished I could be. How was it fair that the two people I loved most could bring someone into the world and that it would never be me? Why did I still remain the product of a man who didn’t even exist to me?

My mindset stayed this way until the moment I held my baby brother in my hands on November 13th, 2014. Not too long before my grandfather passed away, he gifted me a reason to want a sibling even as I stubbornly attempted to avoid the subject. I will never forget what he said to me.

“You know, a sibling would be the blood link between you and your Papa. A part of you, a part of him, and a part of your Mama would live inside him”.

Until then, I had never thought about it this way. I held onto his words and kept them stored away, hoping that maybe one day I would experience first-hand what he meant. Nothing could have prepared me emotionally for the day my parents sat me down to deliver the news that Gabriel was on his way. Though to be fair, Papa barely had to utter the words before I interrupted him gasping at Mama and repeating over and over again “You’re pregnant!” I remember us all breaking down laughing at how I had guessed the news and then letting the tears fill our eyes, knowing that life would never be the same. We hugged each other in silence, awaiting the homecoming of our newest member.

My grandfather’s death in 2011 killed something in all of us, my grandmother and my father especially. Papa lost the light in his eyes and would wake up in the middle of the night often sobbing and lost, wanting the comfort from someone who had been taken from him. My grandmother lost the love of her life and her spirit along with him. Her passion for life was deteriorating with each passing day without my grandfather by her side. Flash forward three years later, and tiny Gabriel, the smiling, pudgy, potato of a baby that I can’t help but kiss all over, brought back the life in my grandmother’s smile and the motivation my father needed to carry on. I watched as his warmth set off a light in them all, even before he could comprehend his own existence.

The day I held him in the hospital I thought of my grandfather’s words and was overwhelmed to find that when I looked into his almond eyes, I could see myself in them just as he said I would. Surprisingly, holding the real blood tie in my hands for the first time, I didn’t feel as if I valued him being related to me more than I valued the love I had for him simply because he was one of us. Had he been blood-related to me or not I still would have felt he was mine. I looked up at my father and realized that he was mine too. Surely I had known that all along. Gabriel wrapped his entire walnut sized hand around my index finger and held on, staring up at me unblinking, as I repeated the words softly, “I’m your sister”.

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Daughter

I took a much needed long walk around my local pond not too long ago. I had begun that day sulking about not knowing what my particular path in life was (typical 20-year-old bullshit). My plan for the day at that point had been to eat and sit on my ass. Seeing me like this, my mom urged me to go for a walk around the pond, to clear my head. I agreed that a change of surroundings would be beneficial. Thus I began my walk on a secluded path entirely surrounded by trees and looked up at the branches above me. I listened to the sound of the nature living around me, singing and breathing. It was beautiful. I felt my tension vanish.

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While strolling along my favorite bridge, admiring the scenery, a petite older woman about to walk past exclaimed “I’m having the most beautiful day. What a beautiful day!”I assumed she was speaking to me so I responded “Yes. It’s lovely isn’t?”. Just like that, the two of us began to chat like old friends.

She explained that walking helped her feel more active and that it cleared her head. I told her I was walking for some piece of mind as well. She looked up at me for a long moment and with dewey eyes told me that I resembled her daughter. This woman missed her daughter terribly but, because of an old argument, had no way of reaching her. She had also lost her husband years ago. Simply put, she was alone.

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I felt her pain and wanted to aid her in some way. My advice to her was to travel. We talked of places she had never seen and adventures awaiting.  I explained that traveling could be like starting a new chapter in her life and her face lit up. This woman was seventy-two by the way. Her soul seemed much younger. There was a moment we shared in which, discussing her daughters, she began to cry. “You’re so beautiful,” she said to me over and over. “Just like my daughter. So true and kind” she said. We exchanged hugs and parted ways but not before the woman thanked me for being her “daughter”.

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I’m not accustom to speaking so freely with strangers but this moment was different. I trusted my instincts. This woman even invited me to dinner, which was strange but also not at all. We, as people, are so quick to assume that others have negative intentions. Why can’t we see the the good in people as easily as we see the bad? It might be cliche of me to admit this but I feel like this interaction was a sign. I honestly believe that we can attract particular events or people into our lives based on what we think.

When this woman came into my life, even for that just that brief moment, I was pondering my place in the world and my loneliness. Upon thinking this I ended up having a long conversation with a woman about her own experience with aloneness. It was a wake up call. I was forced to step out of myself in order to feel what she was feeling. I understood her and cared for her because we were one in the same; two momentarily lonely people, needing to connect with someone. That’s what we’re all searching for though, isn’t it? – Human connection. Funny how a “stranger” fulfilled that feeling of unity for me so easily that day.

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I Love You?

The words “I love you” have been on my mind today. Mainly, I’ve been thinking about how they’re used and whether or not people think twice about their meaning when using them. The word “love” expresses an emotion that, to me, not even a word can accurately convey. Typically, we use it as an attempt to describe a feeling within us toward someone in our lives that we cannot be without, or whom the thought of losing is unbearable.

The only reason I’m explaining all of this is because I hear the phrase “I love you” directed at me countless times a day, from the most unsuspecting people. For the most part, I hear it from female acquaintances or “friends” and usually feel obligated to return the favor as part of a social code or something. I just find it hard to understand why girls typically feel the need to say “I love you” to each other so early in a relationship. It feels insincere and also usually leaves me feeling like some of the relationships in my life are dishonest. I was raised with the notion that the word “love” was meant to be saved for a select group of people in life, in addition to family, who deserve my utmost affection. I use the phrase “I love you” so often that I’ve forgotten to consider its worth. When I direct it towards the people that matter most, it feels worn out and unsatisfying. This makes me wonder if the people I truly love know how much I mean it, with every fiber of my being. I almost wish I could give those select people a quick peek into my head, show them all the ways I see them so that they know I set them apart.

As far as I can remember, I’ve had a hard time speaking that seemingly simple phrase to people. It makes me feel exposed. Like, here I am loving you, hope you feel the same way! I don’t know. I think it has to do with the fact that I grew up in a house with people who actually loved each other in a very real way. I recognize that love can be divided into separate categories, for very different people in our lives. I just don’t think it’s necessary to say things like “You’re the greatest person in the world” or “I love you so much. You have no idea” during situations that don’t merit those intense reactions. This happened to be all the time in the beginning of college during those first few months when everyone’s racing to form as many friendships as possible. Half of the girls I was friends with then aren’t even in my life anymore. Looking back now, thinking about all the times they said they loved me, it’s hard not to laugh.

Growing up in a house with parents that truly loved one another, in an environment that felt honest and genuine, I developed a real distaste for people being fake. I think I have an eye for spotting when people are being manipulative or insincere, which is definitely both a blessing and a curse. Overtime, it’s made be very selective of the people I choose to surround myself with, which can be a little isolating. I think everyone does this more and more as they get older though. We begin to see that quality is vastly more important than quantity.

All in all, I hope to continue saving my love for the people who really deserve it because people who surround themselves with meaningful relationships are the most fortunate of all by far. I intend to be so lucky throughout my life, but also to continue valuing genuineness as one of my favorite human qualities. I wish there was more of it.