I think the happiest i was between elementary school and college was in 9th grade, when for the first time, i had a close-knit group of friends. Before then, i had gone from best friend to best friend, once valued friendships dissolving for no particular reason, but in 9th grade, three of my friends and i had the time of our lives in Bio and Phys Ed together. Actually, i don’t know if they enjoyed it as much as i did, but those two consecutive class periods were some of the best times i ever had. We each had our own friends too, and we were never a foursome—the kind of group where if one member was missing, an outsider would wonder why. Instead, we were simply four girls enjoying school, without any obligations toward each other, but still valuing our time together. I wish i still had that, but there’s nothing i can do about the different paths that all the people who enter my life take.
I guess i’m writing about friendship because it’s an area of my life in which i fail so miserably. I don’t know what happened as i grew up, but with each year, it gets increasingly difficult for me to make friends and keep them. Does this happen to everyone? I wouldn’t know, cos i don’t have any friends to talk to about this. Okay, so that might not do justice to the few friends i still do keep in close contact with, but there’s something to be said for those rare but palpable quandaries when i find myself needing to talk to someone other than my parents, and i can’t help but ask myself, ‘Who is the most appropriate friend to talk to about this? Who is actually available? And who wouldn’t mind taking an hour out of their busy night to talk to me?’
Don’t get me wrong; i have great friends who care about me and whom i care about in return. And some of them would probably be offended if they knew such trains of thought run through my head when i need them. But there’s still a lot that i miss about my childhood friendships.
I had a best friend in Seoul when i was still living and growing up there. We lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same kindergarten. We’d have playdates all the time; our moms liked each other. One day, we were splitting a bag of sour gummy worms at her house. This particular brand came with one king gummy worm per bag. We were eating the worms without any thought, but when she found the king, we fell silent. Her mom noticed something was wrong and came to investigate. She told her daughter to give me the king, since i’m the guest, but my friend continued to hold it between her thumb and forefinger, without a word. “Why don’t we split it?” I suggested. She clearly didn’t want to cut a perfectly scrumptious king worm in half. What’s the fun in eating a king worm when it’s no longer king? Although i remember the tension in the middle of that kitchen floor, i no longer recall what fate befell the king.
I had a best friend in Virginia when i first moved to the States. She was Korean, and we were both in ESL. She’d frequently pass notes to me in class, asking what certain English words meant, and i’d pass my guesses to her. It got fun, so i made a “mailbox”: a little manila folder cutout shaped into an envelope and discreetly taped to my desk. One day, she wrote me a note on a full sheet of notebook paper, and when she couldn’t fit it into my mailbox, she crumpled it up out of impatience and placed it atop my mailbox. Our teacher walked over, snatched the note, and opened it to find a bunch of Korean scribbles. She didn’t yell at us for passing notes, but for writing them in Korean. “You’re here to learn English!”
I had a best friend in 5th grade when i first moved to New Jersey. She’d transferred into the school in October the day before i did. “Another one?” students whispered when the homeroom teacher introduced me to the class. It only made sense for us to become best friends. We’d always finish our lunch outside, because we were both slow eaters and could never finish eating before we were let out for recess. After finishing our food, we’d spend the rest of recess scavenging the sandy playground for random bits of “treasure”—broken CD’s, discarded spinning tops, anything we found “special”—and just before heading back inside, we’d deposit the day’s work into our found ziplock bag and bury the growing collection by our tree. I’d bury under her cover, because it was so important to keep our treasure a secret. It must’ve worked, because that bag never disappeared.
I met my current best friend on the school bus on the first day of class in 8th grade. She holds the special title of “my longest best friend.” We used to be quite immature; sometimes i’m shocked at how much we’ve changed. She used to call me Naold, and i used to hit her with my lunchbag, but the nickname stuck to the point that it actually grew on me. We used to call it the “classic,” because she gave me so many nicknames over the years, and none of them were as enduring as that one. Except i have a different nickname now; it’s several years old, and only she, her sister, and now her boyfriend are allowed to call me by it, because it just doesn’t sound right when anyone else says it.
I miss all of these things. I miss the round of laughs that materializes out of laughing at your friends laughing at nothing. I miss that tickle you feel inside from sharing a moment of unspoken and unexplainable understanding with a good friend. I miss having the world stop turning when you and your best friend discover something remarkable, and the sanctity you assign to it when you agree to keep it a secret. I miss doing the most senseless things in the most ordinary places because just the idea of doing something together makes it worthwhile; it makes a memory. I miss making spur-of-the-moment time capsules to memorialize that something shared.
I miss both the intimacy of one-on-one friendship and the camaraderie of seeing the same faces everyday and finding yourself longing to see them more. We promise each other to revisit the time capsules, but we never do. I wonder why distances form, and if, as we grow older, we can enjoy these things without ever worrying that they will eventually and inevitably fade.