The Kindness of Old Friends
In high school, you sometimes drift in and out of friendships. For 10th and most of 11th grade, I hung out in the art room at lunch, with a group of like-minded weirdoes. We talked about movies (Tim Burton was having a renaissance in the early 2000s, and while I'm not his biggest fan, his films were ripe for discussion) and comics and whatever else you might imagine the art room weirdoes discussing. We were basically stoners but we never got high.
But one of the members of the group was a bit difficult to hang out with. She was argumentative, and overly physically aggressive. It wasn't out of the question for her to punch you in the arm, much harder than you might expect. She was difficult to debate with, because she was hot-headed.
I'll also admit, I may have egged her on. She had strong (negative) feelings about religion, and I wanted to debate them. And when her temper got the better of her, I somehow justified that as a win for me. After all, if she couldn't coherently articulate her points, then that must mean that she was losing. Right?
But the arguments became tough to deal with, and after a while, I stopped hanging out in the art room. (I found a different group of friends that hung out in the band practice rooms instead.)
About a decade later, I ran into that same woman outside of Comic Con in San Diego, and it was awkward. I didn't know what we still had in common, if anything, and I braced myself for someone who was still on a short fuse. But of course, it had been ten years. It was a brief interaction, but it was a positive one.
A few years later, we became friends on Pokémon Go. She's very good at sending gifts every day.
A few months ago, I lost my job, due to my company taking a hard hit during the COVID-19 crisis. I posted about it on Facebook, and several people reached out to send messages of support and compassion. But only one person went above and beyond...
The woman from the art room asked me for my Venmo, and said they were going to send a little something over. I agreed, and then my Venmo pinged:
"Treats for you and your lovely bride. Stay safe & healthy!"
I could never have imagined the girl I knew in high school taking on this role, but of course, she wasn't that girl anymore. And I wasn't the same boy (at least, that's what I hope).
When we get older, everyone we knew gets frozen in amber. And your memories of them never evolve, never go through new life experiences, never mature. For those people who truly meant a lot, you may sometimes go back and reevaluate them with new eyes, but that seems to be the exception, not the rule. When I think back to my freshman year of college, I certainly remember my dorm-mates a certain way, and I shudder to imagine how they must remember me. (It wasn't a good fit, and I was very much still someone who "egged on" people they didn't like in order to try to... embarrass them, I suppose?)
But the people we knew do grow up. Not all of them, I suppose, but more than we might guess. And if we're lucky, we do the same.
So once again, I want to thank my old friend, who I phased out of my life because neither of us were ready to be adults yet. She turned out to be a pretty good one.