December 27, 2023

Footprints of Friendship - Writing Exercise

 This piece is a non-fiction writing exercise I did in Fall 2023 for my Creative Writing class. I have changed some names for anonymity. 

Footprints of Friendship

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” We often think of those footprints as delicate tracks left in wet cement, easy to leave and long-lasting. I think sometimes those footprints are stomped with force and other times the prints are drag marks, against our will.

Corey was my first best friend. We were both four years old and, at the time, the only children in our families. He was a little bit Dennis the Menace and a little bit Linus from Peanuts: mischievous and curious but also sensitive and intelligent. His dungarees were often filled with treasures he’d found outside, just waiting to be shared with a friend.

We lived in a trailer park that bordered a horse pasture. It was not unusual to see us hopping yards, we knew no boundaries. We’d run sticks along the fence posts creating an uneven rhythm, and maybe even poke those sticks into piles of manure. We weren’t allowed inside the fence line of the pasture, but a stick just the right length could reach. And what was it to step a few feet inside? Curiosity was a strong and impulsive voice to a preschooler.

Corey moved away at the end of summer. I sat on the floor by the front door, the sunlight streaming in and dust motes lighting up like fireflies. “I feel so sorry for Corey,” I lamented to my parents. “Why?” My mom asked. “He’s going to be so lonely (without me).” At four, I didn’t realize the world was so much bigger than our neighborhood and that Corey would be absolutely fine.

Leslie was my best friend in elementary school. She also lived in the same neighborhood but at seven I could tell that her things were nicer than mine. She introduced me to sound systems and Ace of Base. We spent hours every week choreographing lyrics like “All that she wants is another baby” and reading Encarta’s Encyclopedia’s for Children. Most of our time in the encyclopedia was spent in B for birth and the mysteries of the body our parents weren’t yet ready to share with us.

I moved away in the middle of third grade but remained in the same school district. You’d think that would mean we would’ve also remained friends. Instead, I found myself on the outside orbit of a new dynamic: the friend group.

During recess one day I tried my best to secure a best friend, carefully selecting the perfect friendship bracelet from my stash and presenting it to a newer acquaintance, Andrea. She’d just joined our class after a move. She was inclusive and accepting. Chill. Everyone liked her. I thought since she was new, I could welcome her in and sway her to my allegiance. I presented the bracelet to her on the playground. She thanked me for it and slipped it into her pocket. Her pocket. I was oblivious and excited she’d accepted it. A few hours later I saw another girl wearing my bracelet.

That orbit on the outskirts lasted most of my life. In school, I occasionally revolved around the semi-popular group, the nerds, and the artists. Never quite settling in, often over-extending myself in the hopes of finding a friend, but inevitably settling into a quiet and, by choice, invisible existence. It was easier that way.

Kelly and I met in our 20s. It was a bit of a forced setup, there were so many people suggesting we should be friends. “Oh you two would get along so well” or “You remind me so much of Kelly!” By luck of the draw, we both ended up overseas on a mission trip bunking in the same cramped apartment. We would wander the streets of Old Towne Tallinn in Estonia exploring the bakeries and shops and watching the sun threaten to set. It never quite did. An act of nature at that latitude, but it felt like magic. We became close, almost like sisters, and we would often tell people we were twins. Our birthdays were hours apart, so we could quickly regurgitate an elaborate story about our mother and extended labor while flashing our driver’s licenses to further back up the claim. 

Kelly and I both moved away from the church ten years ago but stayed in each other's lives. Sometimes she came in stomping around, forcing me to talk. It’s a depressing thing to leave the thing you lived for most of your life. Fortunately, we have that in common and were able to support one another as we discovered who we were in the real world. 

In my thirties, I met Shauna. Even though she was fifteen years my senior and a recent divorcee, we were fast friends. We talked late into the night and quickly became inseparable. I could be found at her house at all hours of the day and night. What did we have in common? Sarcasm, love of the 80s, and loneliness. Maybe not a great foundation of friendship, but at least my Spotify playlist grew.

Misery enjoys company, so our mutual loneliness meant we were together for everything and anything. I became her plus one to her kid’s high school plays and concerts. I would literally do anything for her, many times baking late at night because she had a craving. All the while, I knew I was trying way too hard and expressed it to her one night at her house. “Well, what are you trying?” She asked with a smirk as she slinked off to the couch.

One time we got a hotel room together to attend an event in the next town over. It was only ten miles from my house, one mile from her, but it would be fun she’d said. The room was sparse, with a desk and two queen-sized beds, little room for privacy. She undressed in front of me, putting on a cami and booty shorts, then sprawled out on her bed lamenting about how it was just too big and she had so much space. I went into the bathroom and changed into a pajama set I’d bought especially for the night, plaid pants, and a t-shirt. She eyed me with something I couldn’t read and said “Nice pants,” then said again “I’m all alone over here.” I curled up in my bed, turned toward the wall, and listened to her breathing slowly before I could shut my eyes.

Shauna left me on read for a few weeks after my birthday. For once, I had needed a plus one. I needed a friend. I had concert tickets to a childhood idol and wanted to experience that with a friend. She wasn’t interested. Something that could’ve easily been expressed, but it wasn’t. Instead, it became some kind of skewed argument and then the cold shoulder.

On her birthday, I’d gone above and beyond. I’d joined her family for dinner, made a fantastic cake, and worked on a special project with her mom. On my birthday I expected at least a “happy birthday.” Instead, I received silence. As luck would have it, I even ran into her on my actual birthday at the Ohio State Fair. She turned up her nose and just kept walking down the boardwalk. Not a single word. After that falling out, Kelly spent a lot of time listening and helping me process what had happened.

Some time passed and soon Shauna was back in my inbox acting like nothing had changed. Moreso she needed a friend, a plus one, and she knew I’d be easy. It was easy. I went along to the concert, feeling off the entire time. It was the closure I needed to see that things had changed and I didn’t need her as much as I’d convinced myself I had. My heart ached for her and the friendship I’d missed, the idealization of her, but I didn’t fall back into old habits like she’d hoped, keeping her at a distance and then finally shutting her out completely. I still think of her sometimes and death scrolls her social media accounts.

In the last year, I’ve had a few experiences, some of them near death, that have molded my way of thinking. My former orbit has shifted. Instead of a planetary-type orbit on the outside, I’ve become more like a comet, sometimes crashing into objects, sometimes just vaguely in view. That is to say, I’ve become more comfortable with myself with what I like, and with what makes me, me. I’ve learned to abandon the things of expectation. The thoughts of “Oh would so-and-so like this?” Instead, I’ve focused on, “Do I like this?” Then if so, embrace it. If not, move on. Find the things that make me happy. Purposely seek them out. Then do the things. Have the experiences. Try what’s new. Experiment. And be okay with failure.

One outward sign of this new ideology is in my personal style. Gone are the standard and basic things like solid color v-neck tees and polo shirts. I modeled a generic style, as it was easy to blend in. Now I experiment with prints and far too many cardigans. I have no less than 5 cat-printed articles of clothing and a few dozen different glasses to match my outfit of the day. And. It. Is. Fun.

I have also learned to become my own best friend and while that might sound lonely, it’s resulted in the attraction of my people: my village. And it’s so much more robust and full than I could have ever done on my own when seeking my ideal friends. My heart is imprinted with many sets of footprints, but fortunately, with time, some of those marks fade and smooth to make way for new ones.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Start a conversation, not a fire. Be kind! I'd love to hear your thoughts.