Not that kind of friend

As kids, we had to move countries thanks to the child-friendly pastime called war. I lost a few friends while the adults who lead the world squabbled like adults who lead the world. Many other friendships were lost in translation, literally; it wasn’t easy to learn 3 new languages to keep up with the other 7 year olds in India.

While teen years are the most confusing to most people, I was at my cockiest best. I was making friends while walking from the water cooler to the library. Back then, conversation came as easily and frequently as awkward silences do these days. I could write a whole post on my school friends! Oh wait, I did.

If the number of ‘Miss Friendly” sashes I had earned by the end of my school years was anything to go by, life was going to be a breeze.

And as promised by my tone, it was not a breeze.

The rules of adulting were chucked at my face in quick, migraine-inducing succession.

Once you cross 18, tomboys are called butch. There’s no such thing as just texting. There’s feminine and there’s masculine, and you need to choose – now. You’re either politely submissive or an ice queen bitch; you need to choose – now. Pick a clique. You will be judged, adored and despised for reasons beyond your control. Just don’t be a bitch about it.

Fark me, these are the rules against which all of us get measured. Lucky for me, I stopped giving a shit.

Needless to say, I haven’t been winning any “Miss Friendly” sashes in the last decade.

Grown-up-ness also marks the switch from multiple best friends to multiple friend circles. Work friends, family friends, husband’s friends, old friends, mama friends and miscellaneous.

Even within these circles, I sometimes find myself trying to find my self. My fellow former refugees and move-ers may correlate. We don’t have much in common with a large group, our interests are as flaky as our thoughts, and we intermittently drift far, far away. When the friends are great, the place isn’t. When the place is good, you miss the friends. It’s not that we’re dissatisfied, we just want everything. Is that too much to ask for? We honestly want to belong, but seem to have misplaced the ability, somewhere in transit.

Fitting in was never easy for me. Perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough – or trying at all. It’s not that I didn’t want to; there were several times in my life where fitting in would’ve made life much easier. Instead I invariably, and inevitably, turn into a bumbling, awkward and confused mess with incomplete sentences dribbling out of my gaping mouth.

Luckily, I always find a fabulous bunch of misfits. Our rough edges, broken corners and missing parts make us a noisy bag of spares.

I don’t meet them regularly, don’t share my deepest darkest secrets and don’t know their families like my own. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy their company like a dehydrated person enjoys an ice-cold Slurpee on a wildly hot day. (Yes, it needed all those adjectives.)

Our complete lack of rules and structures of traditional friendships means that no one feels let down or left out. We discuss to great depths our current joys and trials. We celebrate each other’s lives without reflecting on what it means for the future or past. We laugh, cry and over-share. We drink, dance, and then return to our best friends and soul mates and childhood friends.

Every day I miss these ridiculously kind and funny people I call my friends. The very thought of them makes me feel pure happiness of having known them.

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Then, there are people you can’t call friends, because as heart-warming as the word is, it isn’t big enough to carry your love for them.

No matter how distant I feel in a room full of friends, I know I’ll never be lonely because I have 2 of these people. My soul people. I’m the best version of me, when I’m with these beautiful humans.

I must confess something at this point. While this post is an xoxo to the fantastic friends I’ve made over the years, I do have an ulterior motive. This post is also an ad for new friends, of the face-to-face variety. (I have a head-start with my school friends; but we bonded as 17 year olds, and are too busy reminiscing. Leave us alone.)

So here I stand. 32 years old, and starting all over again. I’m calling all misfits and crazies. Old friends and new. I’m open to coffee, frozen yoghurt or all-you-can-eat buffets. I’ll talk, listen, laugh and cry – not necessarily at the appropriate times, but I’ll work on that. I won’t break any promises if you don’t make any. It’ll be a breeze, I promise!

I want my “Miss Friendly” sash back, goddamnit.

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School’s in!

Like any regular school day, I woke up groggy, mechanically brushed my teeth and washed my face. I put on my freshly ironed clothes, tied my dusty shoelaces and threw my bag over my shoulder.

Unlike most other school days, I walked into school with my son in tow as my husband waved from the car.

I was visiting my alma mater almost 15 years after I graduated from there.

Would the teachers remember me? Would the buildings hold any signs of me skidding down halls and leaning against pillars making secret pacts? Would echoes of my excited squeals still resonate along the corridors?

Walking towards the gate, I can feel the noise and energy in my bones. And if any of the students ask me if I’m a parent, they’ll feel the power in my bones, too.

After all, I’m in school and parents are just not cool.

I’m told to get permission from the Principal to go into the main building, so I walk right past his office and into the building.

After all, I’m in school and if you don’t rebel, you fit in.

At first glance, everything is different. A new paint job, new uniforms, new attitudes. And everything is the same. Same rush, same invincibility, same energy.

It’s recess when I walk in and the teenagers, who’ve replaced my friends and me, gather in cliques like we did before them. Some of them spare me a side-glance, too entrenched in their discourse to pay too much heed to the blue-haired mama with a small boy and big smile.

The few teachers who remain, recognise me right away. I can see their minds racing, as if to sort through thousands of files to match my face to a memory. After good-naturedly chastising me for my absurd hair colour, we begin to chat. As we reconnect, I can see it in their eyes – they’re remembering me, one mischief at a time, one laugh at a time, one grade at a time. That’s my sign to keep moving!

With every step forward, I go back in time.

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One corridor, a million memories.

Running into school to share a secret (of the “don’t tell anyone” variety) with my best friends. Or the moment of hopeless terror when I remember I left my assignment on my bedside table. Or the silent prayer for a dreaded teacher to be absent. Or the exhilaration at the thought of spending the next six hours with some of my most favourite people.

That feeling when I enter my classroom every morning – either “here we go again” or “here we go again”.

The unconscious ritual of scanning the classroom to see if anyone was panicking over homework that I had forgotten about, too. Then weighing time versus interest to see if it was worth attempting to complete it or using the time to come up with a creative excuse.

Slipping into my seat and instantly filling my desk drawer with the essentials – pen, pencil, books and my lunch in case of an emergency snack attack.

Over the next six hours, teachers would walk in and out of the classroom. We were inspired, bored, entertained, and very often, we were the entertainment. But we learnt life lessons. Like how to stifle a laugh without bursting a vein, how to think of the saddest thoughts to douse the laughter and how to drop a pen and spend the next three minutes looking for it so as to laugh freely under the desk. Essentially, we learnt that we are powerless against an infectious giggle fit.

 

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If only these benches could speak. They’d tell tales of notes and chips and cassettes. Of laughter and nerves and tears.

The time we spent laughing for absolutely no reason makes the time we spend looking for a reason to smile these days, seem sadly disproportionate.

School or university years are always remembered as the best days. We hold on to every detail; how the classroom looked on that rainy, sleepy day when you sat at the back of the class daydreaming, the way you felt rushing out of school on the first day and rushing in on the last, the cold water at the water cooler after PT, the smell of chemicals on your hands after lab, the exhilaration of writing on the chalk board (unless you’ve been asked to solve a problem in front of the class, then it’s fear, pure excruciating fear), the crucial chat with your friends about that boy and the day of raucous laughter about that boy.

What if someday we look back upon today as one of the best days of our life? Even if we’re all happy beyond reason in the future (and I hope we will be!), I hope we lovingly remember the room, office, train or classroom we’re sitting in right now, and relive the conversations we’re having and the people we’re having them with.

Almost 15 years after I left school, I can still hear the weightless laughter and feel the blind hope bouncing off the walls. I want to tell 15-years-back me to remember this moment and know that you’re living it – and you’re responsible for the happiness you’re feeling, don’t ever put it in anyone else’s hands. Never lose the sense of wonder for the world out there. The fun, quirky or shy girls around you will become the strong, beautiful women who make your day by just remembering you, so cherish them. Continue believing that you can make a difference and never stop being different. The song lyrics you say is your motto in life right now, you’ll probably laugh at that in a few years, but somehow, you’ll reconnect with it again, so hold on to that (even the really, really cheesy ones. Especially, the really, really cheesy ones).

And I want 15-years-back-me to tell me the same thing. Run into work and home to smile and talk to the people around me. Create rituals that make every space mine. Never stop laughing at silly things. Not to wait for something big and shiny every time. Let everyday things inspire me, even if just for a second. Never stop making friends. Make conversation with the quiet guy at work. Finish your homework quickly so you can go out and play. You’ll keep finding best friends and soul mates, but your school friends will be your parachute and jetpack and magic door. It’s ok to be sad, mad and bad. Your school memories may have been the best, but better days are in front of you, if you keep moving forward.

I think school-me would’ve been happy seeing today-me, this morning. She would’ve looked at me and passed the verdict to her friends: “Yeah, she’s not too bad for an adult.”

Ya heard that? Not too bad! Ha!

(Haha she thinks I’m an adult. Cute!)

 

Back in the day

Remember a time when you had to remember things. Remember that? When you saw a face that you just couldn’t place, you thought about it for a minute or 2 months. It did your head in. You retraced every step, turned every stone, scanned through every photo album (oh photo albums!), re-visited every detail to get to that one face. In the process, you filled your head and heart with long-forgotten memories, conversations and faces. People who made you laugh, moments that made your heart beat outside of its cage and that week when you cried over the rumour of your favourite boy band breaking up. It was a constant flashback playing in the back of your head, even if the goddamn face bugs you to this day.

It was a simpler time, a time before mobile phones and the Internet ruined everything (except for blogging of course, it’s the best part! Yay Internet!).

Snail mail. Oh the excitement when the postman arrived with a letter bearing your name (before bills ruined that). You had a ceremony with each letter, like looking for secret messages on the envelope, reading every single line quickly and then slowly, reading between the lines and finally slipping the letter back into the envelope so you could repeat the process later. And because you waited so long for that one reply, you never took it for granted. In a way, it was like clicking the refresh button on your email every 5 seconds. Except, less desperate.

Getting lost. When you didn’t bring the invite to your friend’s birthday party, featuring a very detailed map done on her parents’ PC (that’s Personal Computer, kids), your dad had to drive around the block in circles till you found a (smarter) friend entering one of the apartments or got to a shop from where you could call someone and ask. Lot of quality conversations were had in those endless circular drives. Mostly about my irresponsibility and complete disregard for other people’s time and being too exhausted after work to drive around in circles just to have to come and pick me up in an hour. Sigh. Such great life lessons!

Getting away with shit. You could’ve had a complete meltdown in the middle of a crowded shopping centre over a fake spider in your bag and taken an embarrassing fall to top it off, but apart from a bruised ego, you didn’t have to worry about going viral within the hour. Or you could sneak out with your friends and get caught the old-fashioned way when you crept back home – and not because you were tagged in a post titled “OMFG I hope my parents don’t see this!! – smiley face – hashtag girlshaveallthefun hashtag BFFs hashtag donttellmyparents – smiley face!”

No selfies.

Watching things with your own eyes. Yep, that was a thing. No giant screen with the best megapixel camera between you and life. You watched concerts and enjoyed parties and watched the sun set. You drank in every second because you wanted to commit it to memory, without cramming it into your phone’s memory.

Spelling mistakes. I was caught for passing a note in class once, and was punished because I spelt ‘because’ wrong. Do kids these days get caught for texting during class? And for abbreviating every-single-word? Or does autocorrect get the blame? I do love me some autocorrect, though.

Fascination levels. You were like a village idiot. Everyone was. If someone had told me then that in 20 years I’d be able to write about all that and share it with people (hey I begged you to just click the button, I signed you up, I even bookmarked it for you, what more do you want me to do for you?!). Sorry I lost my train of thought. Yes, back in the day a story about smart phones would’ve blown my little mind. Now you say Flying Car and no one even looks up from their phones.

Making eye contact while you speak. Because respect.

Patience. You sat through commercial breaks. You read through the encyclopaedia. You sat through excruciatingly long dinners while the adults talked. You waited in queues. You knew where to part the dictionary to get to the letter you were after. You knew your way around an atlas. You waited outside to be picked up by your mum. You made plans and got there 15 minutes early, just in case. You got bored out of your brains. You knew it was either patience or –.

Hugs. Wake up to another glorious day and roll over to the person/pillow/poster next to you, hold them/it and take in the warmth, scents and love. Or you know, force your eyes open to the blaring light of your mobile phone and check who went where with whom while you were sleeping. Who needs hugs and compassion when you can read up on 10 ways to keep cankles at bay.

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I’m pretty grateful for all the things we have in our lives these days. Every now and again, I even find myself wondering how we got by without some of the technology. But we did. We didn’t miss appointments or parties (even if we were a bit late on account of leaving the map at home). We knew everything that was going on in our friends’ lives because they told us and not because we facebook-stalked them. We listened to every song on the album because we broke the fast-forward button (until we could afford CDs).

Back in the day we got told off for more real-world teen problems. Get off the phone, get off the couch, get off the computer. Turn down the volume down, take the headphones off, look at me when I talk to you. You’re lazy, you’ll go blind, you’ll go deaf. What does that even mean, how can you like that, why would you waste your time on it? Stop eating junk, stop talking nonsense, stop listening to trash. Your pants are too low, top too high and skirts too tight. You have too much of everything, too less of respect, too many choices.

Hmm.

Gimme a second with this, I swear I had a point. Maybe I’ll take a magical journey and try to remember.

Re-encounter of the girly kind

At my first job, I was treated like a child. They couldn’t fathom that I had only just passed out of school 4 years prior. Now I’m the one who reels in horror when people say Barney Stinson put Neil Patrick Harris on the map.

Today I met few of my fellow old-timers, and we were young ‘uns once again. They say boys will be boys, but I reckon that’s limited to video games and childish behaviour (not being offensive, but that’s when you hear it being said by the above-mentioned boys). But girls will be girls in many more ways. It should totally be a thing. Some of us at today’s micro-reunion were married, some mums and some working. Conversation oscillated between updates, adventures, you-won’t-believe-it and remember-that-time. From this torrent of information, one thing was clear – among us were stay-at-home mums, doctors, bankers, writers, engineers and travellers – among us were 30 year olds, going on 16.

Life has changed us in different ways: broken hearts and overflowing hearts, well-travelled and well-settled, weight of the world and weight on the hips. But a few minutes of opening up and you see the young girl who shared her packet of chips and a joke with you during class.

Whether it was 5, 10 or 15 years since we all met, it took us roughly 2.6 seconds to burst into loud, unbridled laughter and no-holds-barred conversation. We were freely sharing stories that a new friend would have to pry out of our private hearts. We were reminiscing, repenting and losing our minds at how cool/absurd/silly we used to be, and very quickly realised that we were still cool/absurd/silly.

We went to an all-girls school and loved the bonding and freedom that came from it. It was like having a sister you didn’t have to share your space with. Like a sister who wouldn’t tell on you. Like a sister you didn’t have to see all day long. My real sisters and I share a very powerful bond today, but back then I would’ve gladly traded them in for my friends. There were around 120 of us in our year, and we either knew one another or knew of one another. Maybe we didn’t get the memo that girls were catty and bitchy and back-stabby (Yyyep. Just making words up as I go). Not that it was all giggles and luv-u-4ever’s, but even the darkest of animosities was generally short-lived.

But we did miss having boys around and so crushes were cherished and shared. Some of them came up in conversation today. We died of embarrassment and then we died of laughter.

Spending 4 hours catching up with the girls today reminded me of the 8 years spent getting to know them. Most of my best friends weren’t there today, but that’s the magic of reunions – you see a face that sparks a memory, and just like that, everyone’s there. These lovely ladies helped shape me into the girl I was 15 years ago and the (girl-acting-like-a-) woman I am today. I’ve been loved and I’ve been hated; I’ve loved and I’ve hated; And I’d do it all over again.

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