We have been raised to believe that the past should stay in the past. Once we have grown and, hopefully, mature we learn to leave our young life behind us and possibly achieve successful adulating. As a result, we often end up leaving being old friends and a version of ourselves that would never fit into the new world we are venturing into.
Our human nature compels us to accept the fact that with time we will lose people we know, that they will drift out of our lives; either because we no longer have the same interest or paths in life or maybe we simply realize that some personalities just aren’t for us.
I’ve been thinking about the people we leave behind, not people we fall in love with and have or have a sexual relationship with but the people we fall in love with because they speak to us intellectually, emotionally maybe even spiritually. We tend to view lovers as the only true love affairs we have but this is far from the truth. Close friendships are also love affairs, of the soul, the mind and the spirit. Over the years old friends that had drifted out of my life because of circumstance have somehow managed to drift back into it in varying degrees of intimacy. Not all good friend return to the positions that they once occupied in our lives some are relegated to acquaintances.
We look back on moments with fondness and nostalgia but that’s all it is in the end. High school friends who shared out secrets, dreams, and ambitions with and who we got into trouble with or because of quite often turn into strangers. Sometimes we try and stay in touch but when distance is involved it becomes much harder with time distance does not necessarily have to do with location but can also be time, priorities. I think it is part of our human nature that we accept that not all people have a permanent place in our lives. Yet I also think that to some extent we are built to stop making an effort with people as time goes by, therefore allowing us to cultivate new meaningful relationships.
We need to outgrow some relationships, as life experience changes who we are, we become more aware of who we want to become, the type of life we want to have. Most import of all is that we begin to understand ourselves as we no longer have a desire to be accepted or to have an identity that conforms to what others find either acceptable or definable.
The friends we make, especially during our teenage years are part of our identity, they form a buffer, a protection from the cruelty that is adolescence, it is this buffer, I believe, that first step we unconsciously take into becoming who we ultimately are.
High school for me was my coming out party, I spend all of my older primary school like keeping to myself and the two or three people I considered my best friends. These friends were very much like myself even though we came from different backgrounds. We spent most of our time reading, discussing the book and our favourite movies and mooning over boys we never intended to date, while everyone else around us progressed to boy-girl parties, dating and spending unsupervised time out we remained in our bubbles. I took high school as the opportunity to reinvent myself. Yes I spent a LOT of time watching eighties movies and I took the opportunity to live my eighties fantasy, I cut my hair, changed the way I dressed and began to change my personality, the once very quiet reserved me turned into an outspoken opinionated… annoyance. It sounds like a recipe for disaster and in hindsight, I am lucky it didn’t turn into that. I did as much as I could to change the quiet unsociable young girl I used to be. The friends that I found and that found me didn’t all come into my life all at once and they were very different from the friends I once had. Two of my girlfriends loved to read as I did and they loved movies, another two wouldn’t touch a book unless it was assigned reading of my four male friends only one read. Yet these people that surrounded had vastly different personalities. Being really good friends with males, and only friends, at that age taught me interesting things about male/female friendships. Boys are fiercely loyal when it comes to their female friends, more so than other girls and your male friends judge less harshly than your female friends.
As a girl your female friendships, especially at that age are the most important thing to you, because this is where you find your acceptance, your safe harbour, unfortunately, that harbour can often be just as perilous as attempting to navigate outside of it. My four girlfriends were very important to me and I jealously guarded my friendships, more so than I did any kind of relationship with a boy. At that age I was even paranoid about my friends; was I being excluded from moments with them, were they bonding over did they actually like me? So there I was, worrying about what I looked like, if people liked me, if my friends liked me…yes I was very insecure. Yet my friend choices were very different from my inner turmoil or even the person I was trying not to be. I don’t mean just occasionally insecure, but by nature I am not a people person, I preferred (and still prefer) books and old movies to people and I enjoyed being by myself and trying to be less of that was at times taxing so surround myself with people that had some of what I liked but were at the same time not anything like me at all, was a way in which to do this.
Cleopatra: In history, she was described as a diplomat able to sway people to her side. We might never know if she was soft-spoken or even what she looked like, as it has been found that the Egyptians were notoriously vain and the representations and descriptions we have of them today are nowhere near what they actually looked like. But regardless of that, this is who my one girlfriend put me in mind of. Where ever she went she made friends, people liked her instantly. She wasn’t well spoken nor did she carry herself in any particular manner, she simply had this inclusive presents. Her smile was always genuine, inviting and warm, her laugh came easily, she was just one of those people who fit in with everyone. We all offer up an image to the world that is never what we are or entirely what we are. She grew up in a strict, deeply religious family. I don’t mean extreme by its definition but to a teenager it was. My friend Cleo, well she had a rebellious streak a few miles wide just as her historical counterpart. There was no blatant rebellion, not all children rebellion in such a manner as to drive their parents to complete and utter desperation. But rebellion does not have to be immediately apparent or glaringly obvious. Yet it is still rebellion.
To understand how and why she was rebellious one needs to understand how her religious roots affected her. If I understand correctly she was raised in a Pentecostal religious background with some reborn Christian rhythm thrown in (that church were people are encouraged to let the spirit take control and dancing in the aisles usually happens). This meant that she was not allowed to cut her hair, except for the occasional trim to the ends, no high heels higher than a court shoe, no pants, and dresses and skirt should not be higher than the knee, neither was the wearing of make up or jewelry other than ones wedding ring encouraged.
The truth is most of us, my girlfriends, weren’t allowed to wear make-up until we were at least 16 and then only the minimum was allowed. And now I was not born in the 50’s we were 80’s babies but it didn’t matter our mothers still felt that there were appropriate clothing and make-up quota. Now while the rest of us were experimenting with, colour lip gloss and a dash of eye shadow and eye pencil on occasion on the weekend and for special events at school only Cleo and, let’s call her Chrissie (these two were cousins and both my friends) weren’t allowed these normal teenage pastimes. So she began to rebel in small ways. Make-up time with friends, jewelry that she refused to remove even when home, jeans when no one she knew was around. Getting her hair cut was the biggest step she made.
Some people will laugh and brush these moments of private rebellion off as silly and meaningless but it was not. Most people saw her as this sweet, bubbly person who was always in the greatest of moods. Brothers who adored her and were a bit overprotective but which older brother isn’t, but it was more than that. After high school, we managed to stay in touch longer than my other friends and I watched the beginning of the woman she was going to become emerge.
Those small moments of rebellion were how she began to learn who she was. She wasn’t just a bubbly happy person that everyone was happy to spend time with, she was also frustrated with her life and what was expected of her. She wasn’t ready to be religiously pious. The women had a list of restrictions that men did not have. Now years later, although she is still a bubbly and quick to laugh, she is more outspoken, surer of herself and what she wants.
She is not only easy going and happy, nor is she only outspoken and possibly snippy but she is both.
Lulu: Now for Cleo’s cousin Lulu. What can I say about her except that she was the friend you like but are kind of too scared to hang out with and not for any strange reason really. Lulu was the kind of friend who was the opposite of Cloe. Where one felt constructed by the way she had been raised, the other had by then found her the place where she belonged.
Lulu was one of my more unique friends, I think even at the age of sixteen she was the one of us who already knew who she was. She was centered in her religious belief and comfortable with the person she knew she was going to be. Which is an unusual place to be for a teenager. So yes, she was unique among my friends. She also had no qualms telling us how often we were probably going to go to hell. She had declared herself our moral compass whether we wanted her to be or not.
Not that we did bad or dangerous things really; skipping school, flirting with boys, dates our parents knew nothing about (since none of us were allowed to date) was all it amounted to. Lulu’s ideas about what we should and shouldn’t do were ridged even then but she was always willing to tag along on our escapades, agree or. This quality alone made her a good friend because even though she almost never agreed with us and we often pushed her to do things she didn’t want to do (yes we weren’t always the best of friends, which isn’t surprising for teenage girls) she was always there.
Her mother once pulled me aside to thank me for being friends with her, that she really appreciated it because Lulu needs good loyal friends. This shocked me because I had never been thanked by a friend’s mother before or since. It never occurred to me that a friend (or her parents) should or would be grateful for friendship. I later learned that this happened with our other friends too, and I never thought that I was that good a friend to begin with. I was always complaining about the fact that she was always on me about the church, cutting my hair and boys, that she constantly criticized all the things that I did. In my mind I never thought that I ever really supported the things she wanted to do because it always revolved around church, I didn’t criticize her for this but neither did I encourage her but she never wavered in who she was, annoying as it was at the time. Like I said she was unique among my friends.
Boudicca: Tall, strong and with a commanding presence, from the minute we met, her personality filled any room she was in. Yes she was also a little bit scary, yet looking back at her she was the embodiment of the warrior queen herself. She had this strong will that was present in everything she did. She never allowed people to get in her way, neither did she allow others to put her down or make her feel less of the giant she was. Looking at her you had this incredible sense of solid confidence. Creative ideas flowed from her constantly, a writer and natural storyteller was all part of a personality that not everyone got to see. She wrote amazing stories, she always claimed that they were based on us her friends and we were crazy about reading whatever new installment she had but I didn’t always believe that was what she did. At that age, we were all way to be that interesting. Yet there she was giving us something to look forward to in an otherwise mundane day.
I never saw her as anything other than an amazing girl who would turn into an amazing future, I remember her wanting to be a doctor…I don’t think she ever gave any reasons for why this was her chosen profession but there was no doubt in my mind that she would be everything she wanted to be.
As it turned out she didn’t become a doctor, and people seem surprised that it didn’t happen but I don’t see why. What we think we want when we are young doesn’t always manifest itself. Sometimes its circumstance and sometimes I think it’s because we begin to realize who we really are. And we aren’t always everything people think we are, we become a little bit of the things people see and more of what we hide from the world until we’re comfortable enough in our own skins to show who we are.
Artemis: Last but definitely not least Arty, the wild child, the adventurer, the manifesto. I don’t even know where to begin with her. There was nothing she didn’t think she couldn’t do, and that included changing her report card. Everything the rest of us were too afraid to do she did, without batting an eyelash. No matter what problems she might have had at home, no one would ever have guess because although she seemed like a mess she was an organized mess. When she set her mind to doing something, she did it. But to some extent, she still managed to set us all at some distance. Although she shared a lot with us, her wit and superhuman ability to turn things into a fun moment, which masked a lot of what was really happening in her life. School and her friends, I think became moments to escape and for some reason, we never really pushed her for more, we just accepted what she was willing to give.
I’m still not really sure if that was a good thing or not but when you’re a teenager you, we, I just went for the moment. She’s one of my friends that didn’t complete the high school experience. Her family, her mother, and sister picked up one day and moved and I remember swearing not to tell her father or anyone else in her family were too.
We lost touch in a short time period and I think she became an amazing mom. We haven’t talked in years but somehow I just know.
These girls that I spend almost all my time with, talking, wishing, dreaming helped me become who I am. Their friendship sparked new things in me. Cleo taught me to laugh, that there was always something to lighten a dark moment. Lulu taught me to stick to my guns, even when no one else understands. Boudiccia taught me to dream, to write my imagination and Artemis taught me to seek the adventure; never to miss out on life.
When I sit down to write a story, these women are those women I write. There is a piece of them in every character I write. They have become a part of me, and they will always be, I take them everywhere I go. Our past is never just that. How can it be, why should it? The people we sometimes leave behind, whether for good or just temporarily help us become, if not everything we are, at least they bring us part way to who we will eventually become.
This might not be true for everyone but for it was, is. I am better for knowing them, for having them in my life when I didn’t know I needed them or what I would take away from it years later.
Never be ashamed of who you once were, or even think less of yourself for whatever weaknesses you think you might have because not everyone sees anything negative that you might.