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.

Version 2

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.

Kitty

IMG_0460I spent my first five-dollar bill on a stuffed kitten. We had just moved to The States and were rummaging through the toy aisle at Target when Papa slipped me some cash. “Pick something special to bring home.” On my quest, I spotted a striped orange cat with almond eyes and clear plastic whiskers poking its little head out among a sea of Beanie Babies. Someone had haphazardly thrown him into the wrong section. I pulled him out of Beanie Baby hell, like I was his god or something.  He was only about the size of my five-year-old arm and his face seemed to carry a million expressions. “That’s really what you want?” Papa asked skeptically.

“Yes.”

For the first few years of Kitty’s life, he was a she. He went by the name of Ashley, which had to do with my short-lived girl crush on the Olsen twins. I remember taking a bedazzled pink bow from one of my dolls and wrapping it around his scruffy left ear. He looked at me blankly, as though trying to communicate contempt. Then he was an “it” for a while until the gender change. I started calling him Kitty after running out of more creative options.

During my elementary school years, Kitty sat by a large Spongebob pillow in the middle of my bed waiting for me to come home every day. After school I’d run into my room, drop my backpack on the floor, and smother him. Much like my journals, he tolerated my ranting silently. I’d yap endlessly about the day, my ideas, my dreams. He was never one to judge, and his patience was boundless. In fact, the poor thing sat on my desk when I listened to Avril Lavigne’s album “Let Go” nonstop for a month straight. I still know every word.

Over the years, my bond with Kitty only intensified. I’d snuggle my cheek against his baby pink nose before drifting off to sleep, feeling protected. If ever I misplaced him and couldn’t find him in time for bed, I thought the nightmares would come for me. He was a dream-catcher. He’d wait for me by my sleeping bag during our summer camping trips in North Conway and smell like fire and lake water during the drive back home.

My grandparents, Rosita and Carlos, who are two of my favorite people in the world, would visit us from the Azores every year. Rosita has never been one to sit still and would deep clean every room in the house when my parents were at work. She’d reorganize everything and redecorate until the place looked like an Ikea advertisement. She was also the only one to ever give Kitty baths. After throwing him into “the underwater Ferris wheel”, Rosita and I would cook lunch together. When it was time, Kitty would come out of the drier brand new, his stripes and belly the color of snow again. I’d take whiffs of lavender and wrap my arms around him. We’d nestle together next to Rosita under a blanket, watching telenovelas until it was time for bed.

Snot and tears found a home in Kitty’s fur from countless nights spent feeling utterly alone, let down, and heartbroken. I never believed in God, so I saved my bigger questions and wishes for Kitty in times of desperation. I’d often ask him “Why?” and “What next?” like he was hiding the answers. I’d get frustrated when he didn’t respond. At the same time, I’d lock my eyes with his and feel safe. Our bond was beyond words.

When I was eleven, my neighbors threw Kitty back and forth in the yard. I was the monkey in the middle. His left eye came off and rolled past me on the cement path in slow motion. Playing it cool, I pretended not to care in front of the cute boy-next-door. At night I shut myself in my room and cried into Kitty’s ears. Rosita sewed the eye back on the next day, but the guilt of letting my friend down remained.

As time went on, Kitty moved from my to bed to shelves where I could see him, but no one else could. This was during the phase of giving away all my stuffed animals, tearing up the Twilight poster above my bed, and my teenage identity crisis. Kitty was on top of my bookshelf facing my bedroom window that led to a lower roof when he watched me smoke a bowl with my friend Anna, our legs dangling together into the night. He fixed his blank gaze on me when Mama caught us in the act. “You know you could’ve cracked your head open and died, right?”

Kitty hid beside my Jane Austen collection when I stuffed my bedroom into cardboard boxes, preparing for the move to a freshman dorm room in downtown Boston. Papa grabbed one of my bags and stood beside him for a moment. “You’re not gonna take Kitty with you?”

“Not this time,” I responded, scratching my fingers through the fur on his head.

I flunked out of my first semester of college, diving into every possible distraction instead of focusing on school. I gained twenty pounds, bounced around parties in a haze with my “friends” from Thursday to Sunday, and let myself go until there was nothing left. Kitty was waiting for me in the same spot on my bookshelf when I moved back home in defeat. There was judgment in his eyes for the first time, so I threw him in the closet and shut the door.

As time went on, I picked myself back up again. After taking community college courses to catch up on credits and to raise my GPA, I found my way to Salem State University. Kitty was still in the closet when I moved into my first apartment, gathering dust next to my flute and a middle school yearbook. The years spent at Salem State were some of the best of my life, filled with milestones that Kitty never witnessed: falling in love, moving into an apartment with my best friends, landing a real “adult” job, and the list goes on…I could have cried into his fur after my first gut-wrenching break-up, but my best friend ‘s shoulder and a cliche pint of cookie dough filled the void instead. He wasn’t there for any of the memories that solidified my transition into adulthood. I guess he’s only really known me as a child, which makes him all the more special to me.

Last week, my two-year-old brother, Gabriel, and Mama were snuggled together on the couch watching Sesame Street. I had just come back home from school for the weekend and finished attacking Gabriel with kisses when his little almond eyes reminded me of something. I walked into my room and opened the closet door, standing face-to-face with an old friend. Picking him up by the paw like the day I first brought him home, I introduced Kitty to my brother. Gabriel sneezed into his fur and handed him back to me like a used tissue. Mama and I laughed until Gabriel instinctively joined us. Kitty sat watching at the center of it all.

Ode to Rose

I pull back my hair with your raisin clip

as you waltz in and out of rooms

Only you can paint with olive oil on Sunday morning

“Can I help with anything?”

 

Fine sesame hair, freckled skin that smells like sunrise

Your broken nail clings to my hair during braiding time

It’s only 7 am, but fresh bread’s on the table

Time for school

 

You waltz in and out of your island

I stick to you like honey when it’s time to go

That royal perfume always stains my dress

So I keep you close

 

I pull back my hair with your raisin clip

My reflection looks like you

It reminds me to stand up and carry on

Because there’s always more to do

Monte Verde

Let’s race like our Spy Kids days

through the wasted masses

Tequila threatens my insides

as the bass collapses

 

Our family’s far behind us

We’re dancing in a cloud

Marlboro smoke and gold confetti

Am I thinking out loud?

 

Weaving past stumbling bodies

My insides are crawling out

Outside the celestial labyrinth

tequila escapes my mouth

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.