Our first friends are often chosen for us because our parents like each other. We have few real interests, and “getting along” means we don’t hit each other over the head with the Fisher Price Corn Popper Walker Toy and we share our favorite stuffed animals.
All mine, bitch. (I was just shy of 2 years old here)
Thankfully, my first friend foisted upon me because both of our mothers worked together at our church nursery was pretty cool. Her name was Ruth and she was a couple of years older than me. We were both quiet and liked reading and writing and crafts. She was into sports and I was not, but that was okay.
Together, we penned outlines for a sprawling saga of a novel about the Oregon Trail, inspired, of course, by the computer game of the same name. Each chapter, the heroines would experience a new trial or tragedy: Rattlesnake bite! Broken wagon axle! Dysentery! Gunshot wound! Our plans never really came together, but we spent hours hashing out these bare bones of a story. We also wrote a play in which the beautiful Princess Claudia (played by me, of course, name inspired by our favorite character in The Babysitter’s Club books) was kidnapped by the evil Prince Como (played by her brother.) The handsome Prince Charlemagne (played by Ruth) plotted to rescue me out of servitude/slavery. “I’m working so hard I could vomit in my awful sleep,” was a lyric to a song I sang. Pure gold, there, ladies and gentlemen.
Halloween 1994, with my sister on the front left, myself in the unfortunate culturally-appropriated attempt at a Sioux costume (I’m sorry) and Ruth and her brother behind us.
We also decided that we were going to start a Babysitter’s Club of our own. Except I was too young to babysit, at that time. But that didn’t matter. We also made plans for a store in which we would sell our precious handicrafts, like friendship bracelets and little boxes made of paper and the like. Yes, we were ridiculous. But we had fun.
We were both homeschooled and both attended the same church. But then, around the time I reached middle school, her family decided that they were moving to Arizona. I was heartbroken. My constant friend with whom I did not remember my life without was going away. And this was before cell phones, before emailing, before AIM. She was going to be gone from my life.
Except Ruth came back to Michigan for college so I saw her again, here around 2004
When I was eight or nine years old, my sister and I joined a group that provided specialized once-a-week classes for homeschoolers. Over the next couple years, I became friends with the art teacher’s daughter Rachel, a year younger than me. And then we added another girl to our posse, also named Rachael, exactly my age and shy and bookish like myself.
Me and the Rachies in 2004 (left) and 2011 (right)
As time marched on, the three of us spent a lot of time together. We would go on vacations with each others’ families to Northern Michigan, we would have slumber parties at each others’ houses. We would play silly games like MASH and spend countless hours writing “Fold-Over Stories.” These games would spawn dozens of inside jokes we would reference years later. In fact, I still have a folder with all of the stories we penned during those times, now nearly twenty years ago. And they’re still hilarious.
“Oooh, aren’t you a nice young man. Here’s $10, go take my granddaughter someplace nice like Big Boy,” one of us wrote.
We were all homeschooled, were all within one year in age of each other, all from conservative families. We had so many things in common, and yet, as we grew older, we molded into three incredibly distinct women. One of us is now a wife and mother. One of us had married a woman (hint: that’s me.) And one of us was kicked out of the house when she was sixteen and has experienced many struggles since then. And yet, we all still keep in touch. We still try to get together whenever I’m back in my home town. We still have an incredibly rich shared history, now twenty years long. And this past unites us, even though, in many ways, we are the biggest contrasts between each other that we could possibly be.
And, until college, that was it.
I had a pretty lonely existence. Those three friends were the only truly close relationships I held. I wasn’t good at meeting people, and I was treated as a leper at church because I was homeschooled. (Or maybe that was just my introversion talking to me.)
My first two years of college were wasted on The Guy Who Was Legally Banned From My Dorm and I wasn’t able to form any friendships at that point.
The summer after my sophomore year, I got a job working at a summer theatre with a classmate. He became my first gay friend. (More about this can be read in my first post.) We talked about art and fashion and boys, he did my makeup.
He begged me to let him do my makeup for Halloween 2006. I was going as “Little Ho On the Prairie” (#college) but he decided to go with this instead. Before he did it, he made me promise I would leave it on no matter what. The blue pigment stayed for days.
We also went to our friends’ birthday party in which we met her grad school for the first time dressed like wildcats, and he told anyone who asked that we were going to a Furries convention. He suggested they google it. January 2009.
We watched costume dramas together as we spooned, and, one night, he drunkenly shared his worries about coming out to his family. They were missionaries in Africa, and he was terrified to tell them. I held him as he cried, my heart breaking for what I now knew was something that was innate within him, something he couldn’t change about himself. My relationship with him kickstarted my deep dive into researching queer theory and becoming an outspoken “Gay Ally.” (This was before I acknowledged my own queerness.)
My 20th birthday, May 2006. This was the night we had our first in depth conversation. And I slapped a boy. (That’s another story.)
He was also my first male friend. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post most of my friends growing up only had sisters, and, since I was homeschooled, my interaction with boys was limited. And I think it worked for me because he was gay. Because there was no possibility of anything romantic (which, to be honest, was extremely confusing for me at first,) I was able to learn what it was like to interact with a man in a completely platonic way.
I’ll be honest and say that I still find it difficult to form friendships with men. Namely straight men. Yes, I have many gay male friends, but I can’t say that I have ever had any deep completely platonic relationships with a guy throughout my entire life. They’re still a bit of an enigma to me, and there are still messy feelings that are nearly inevitable from one side or the other. I think I could have gotten closer to it while being married to a woman, but now that things have changed, I’m starting at square one again. This is something I know that I need to work on. I know that I am missing a very important perspective in my life. (Now taking applications for straight platonic male friends! Call now! If you call within the next 30 minutes, you will receive the undying love of a bonus BFF Dumpstercat!)
Through my gay college BFF, I met my female college BFF. We were some of the only theatre design focused students at my school, and we had lots of fun times together. After the opening of a show, the three of us skinny dipped in a lake, peeling off our formal dresses and dress clothes, then putting them back on wet, squishing into a fancy guest house where a cast party was being held, and all jumped in a bathtub together. It was completely platonic, an object lesson in the ultimate vulnerability in friendship. All three of us would snuggle together on a twin-sized dorm bed and take naps together, complaining that the boy drooled or smelled.
There was this time he tried to “adorn my cheek” with a scalding hot pepperoni when he was drunk, and here he is, trying to ice my burnt face, May 2008. He felt so bad.
My female college BFF and I spoke candidly with one another, we made out with boys at parties and then recommended them to each other to “try out next time.” We had silly late-night trips to the grocery store and tried on hats and bought cookie dough and ate it all on the way home. We would stay up working on our design projects until ridiculous hours, watching various films, ranging from cerebral art-house to stupid comedies.
We lived together our senior year and we made this “Wall of Emotions” so we knew exactly what we were dealing with at any given time
We both went to different grad schools directly after college, and keeping in touch was difficult, but we still managed to check in when we could. But due to a series of miscommunications and stubbornness, after I began dating my now-ex-wife five years ago, we stopped speaking to each other completely. Just last week, she has resurfaced in my life, and I am still struggling with the next steps.
I met Kim in grad school. She was one of three other women who joined my program at the same time. The first time we hung out, we were all drunkenly discussing our ages. She was four years older than the rest of us. “You’re like…our mom…but you’re hot! I’m gonna call you Hot Mama,” I announced. And I did, all through grad school. We became close, both linked by our anxiety and slightly alternative/badass fashion and perspective. We thought the same type of guys were hot (dark hair with tattoos and piercings, obvi.) We could be painfully honest with one another. “Stop being such a cunt!” We would tell each other. “If you stop being a dick first!” the other would retort. We were like potty-mouthed elementary schoolers, but we knew that, deep down, we cared deeply for each other. We would share poop stories or awkward family interactions. We were twelve-year-old-boys at heart.
Hot Mama and I worked hard and played hard #gradschool
She stuck to my tiny “ball of friends,” and is still someone I can text out of the blue with ridiculous stories or observations. Last night, I sent her: “I just uttered the phrase, ‘Fuck! I just spilled my kombucha all over the patio!’ Who am I?!” She texted me when she witnessed her dad explaining what some obscure sexual slang term was to her mother. Yep, we’re each others’ people.
As I drifted in and out of romantic partnerships, I began to realize that I have this problem in which, when I’m in a relationship, I put less and less energy into maintaining existing friendships. I hated it, but it was a truth that I wrestled with often. After a breakup, I would realize that I didn’t have anyone to call. And that was heartbreaking.
And then there was my wife. She was truly my best friend.
We understood each other on a level unlike either of us had ever experienced. We knew when we made an off-color joke about something that it wasn’t meant to be malicious. I knew that when she got grey shadows highlighting her cheekbones that she was about to start her period. She knew that when I became over-obsessed with looking at my phone, that meant I craved some time alone and needed to decompress from humanity. She wrapped me up into a “burrito” when I was depressed, and made sure I had food and water if I needed it.
Part of our engagement photos were taken in a cemetery because she just got me (photo by Krysta Ann Williams)
We both loved 90s europop and independently owned the albums “Aquarium” by Aqua and “Europop” by Eiffel65. We cried at the same parts of movies, and she appreciated even my elitist foreign art house films.
It takes a special kind of person to purchase an entire album like this
She was my “forever penguin,” my partner until the end. Until she wasn’t.
A few weeks after our wedding, fall 2014
My wife didn’t believe in best friends. She had one once, and they became estranged because of his drug habit and he died of an overdose. And that wasn’t the first time something tragic had happened to someone she viewed as a “best friend.” Having best friends was dangerous, a signal that it was all going to end in a cataclysmic way.
Isn’t that ironic?
But, she did have an “If I Believed in Best Friends, It Would Be You” friend named Joshanna.
Joshanna was amazing. She was an adorable bundle of enthusiasm and emotions, so sensitive to everyone’s needs and feelings. She was married to a great guy who worked in theatre, so together, both she and my wife Carmen commiserated in what it meant to be “tech week widows.” Sometimes, when I was working weekends, they would have brunch at our favorite greasy spoon diner and stay there talking for five hours. I was grateful that Carmen had someone so warm, so caring, so full of love and generosity, to keep her occupied when I couldn’t. And I was always delighted when I got to spend time with her as well.
We were both obsessed with cats, both vehemently opposed having children, were both ardent intersectional feminists, and both struggled with significant anxiety and depression. In so many ways, I had much more in common with her than Joshanna did.
Cat memes are the way we show each other we are thinking about one another (via)
But where I went, Carmen went. Except for work, we always did everything together. I told Carmen that she could go out with friends while I stayed home and recharged my drained-introvert-batteries, but she insisted it was fine, she’d stay home too.
When we got engaged, Carmen and I discussed who we wanted to perform our ceremony. I didn’t feel comfortable with having a religious ceremony because I felt ostracized by the church as a queer person. But we could get a friend to do it. It was so easy nowadays to get ordained online to marry people. And it was obvious that it was going to be Joshanna. We both adored her, and she was one of the most important people in our life. She had witnessed our relationship from its beginning, and I now counted her as much my friend as Carmen’s.
Carmen even humored me and let us take a couple engagement photos while I was wearing my owl onesie. That’s love. (Photo by Krysta Ann Williams)
Joshanna isn’t comfortable being the center of attention or public speaking, but she agreed to do it for us. She wrote a beautiful speech that made us both cry. I felt so embraced and celebrated and uplifted as a couple. And she did a great job.
Look at that sheepish face. Joshanna did great.
Nine months later, I was away at my summer job in Central New York, and Carmen had inexplicably stopped talking with me. I messaged all of our mutual friends, trying to figure out what was going on. Was she okay? Was she having some sort of mental break? A few people wrote back with vague responses. But Joshanna looked into things, which was easier because she wasn’t 750 miles away like I was. She could look her in the eye and see what was going on. She tried talking with Carmen, but as her inquiries became more concerned, suggestions that maybe she talk with a professional because she was acting so completely different from what she normally did, Carmen cut her out of her life. She ignored her texts, her phone calls, her concerns.
Both Joshanna and I were now on the outside. And Joshanna was seeing what I was seeing, she was validating my concerns, observations and experiences. It was not just me. I wasn’t what was wrong with this situation.
I hated the whole “picking sides” thing. I acknowledged it was completely unfair, and I resented that Joshanna was thrust into that position. I didn’t want to put any sort of pressure on her, any obligations. But it was such a comfort that she “picked” mine.
Carmen has not spoken with Joshanna in months. The last time they saw each other was the night before I left Chicago when Joshanna helped me with last minute packing. And there is still a lot of bitterness and anger in how I was treated, how things “went down.”
In the divorce, Carmen lost her “If I Believed In Best Friends You’d Be Mine,” but I gained her.
Unfortunately, this newfound friendship of autonomy, not of two couples hanging out with one another, not me and Carmen having brunch with Joshanna, but simply “me and Joshanna” came exactly at the point in which I moved across the country from her.
But technology is an amazing thing, and text messaging is great for two introverts. We share our lives in bite-sized chunks, sending off a text about our frustration about this sexist/racist/homophobic thing someone said today, or cat photos, or cat memes, or cat illustrations, or cat gifs, or discussions about how we were both planning to get IUDs. (We both decided on the copper ones instead of the hormonal for all the same reasons…there will probably be a post about this at some point in the future…) I gave her the gory play-by-play of how my installation went, and she told me she wished we could have gotten it done the same day. After all, “Friends that Paragard together stay together,” she quipped on Twitter.
It is becoming more and more clear that I have finally found someone with which I so thoroughly identify, after searching for nearly thirty years. Someone who challenges me and shares my passions and neuroses and cat obsession. My first adult friend, who is in my life not because we were forced to because of school, or our parents, but because I made the conscious choice.
I know it sucks to say that I “won” my closest friend in a divorce.
But I guess I kind of did.