“Ellisa doesn’t date,” my cousin clarified.
J is staring at me, astounded, his eyes practically bugging out of his head. He couldn’t believe I had never dated anyone.
I had received a similar reaction five years prior from my cheerleader friend, D. In both instances I couldn’t figure out why they were surprised. D had told me I was pretty, but I had brushed her compliment away. I wasn’t pretty.
We sat in a Freddy‘s in a neighboring town. It was late, the outside blanketed with darkness. J had ashes on his forehead, embarrassed that he was the only one.
I was offended by my cousin’s comment. It had implied that I never date and never will, as if I intended to be single and alone my entire life. I was single and alone because nobody ever seemed interested in me and they certainly never asked me out. J still couldn’t believe it. Perhaps I should’ve been flattered by his reaction.
J was the kind of person who couldn’t stand being alone. He strove to always feel a sense of community wherever he went. When J joined our volunteer group in the winter of our second year of college (2015), he brought his fear of loneliness with him. He was perfect for our group, really. His fear, hidden underneath his natural charisma, brought us all together. He brought new people into our group and the six or seven of us became friends.
It was cool for me – having friends. Even if I wasn’t particularly close to any of them, I was able to experience spontaneous, college shenanigans with them. I hadn’t made any friends in the year and a half I had attended that university. But there was J in December, in January, in February, in March… and there was our group of friends. When most people scattered in May for summer vacation and didn’t return to our group that August, I was devastated. Our numbers dwindled, then were semi-replaced, then dwindled again, until J left that winter (2016).
People leave – that’s a fact. They leave for bigger and better things. They leave to pursue opportunities, to live with the idea that if they don’t take advantage of those opportunities, they’ll be left with regret. They leave when they feel they have nothing left to offer or they want to avoid more disappointment. They leave when they feel useless, like they’re not making a difference. I guess looking back I can understand that. But like how J needed to not be alone, I needed to be needed. So I never left.
Flash back two and a half years (2014). I’m standing in a tiny dorm room one and a half hours away as my best friend tried to hold back her tears. We had been friends for four years – all through high school – and had seen each other at both our best and our worst. The past year had been full of uncertainty. Our friend group would be splitting up in four different directions and M, especially, was terrified. She couldn’t shake the feeling that our separation would tear our friendship apart.
I wasn’t (and still am not) great at comforting others. I attempted to dispel her fears, to wave them away as if they were wisps in the air. She didn’t want her parents or I to leave, because as soon as we drove off the campus, her new life without us would begin.
We stayed in touch for a little while. We talked about college boys, dorm drama, and dropping out. We enthused about the CW television series, Supernatural (at the time, it was in its ninth season), as well as our love for the band, twenty øne piløts. We spoke on the phone for hours one Tuesday night in November, following a short string of suicides from our alma mater that had made national headlines. On weekends when she was home we’d walk around Target or one of our hometown’s man-made lakes. At one point she had dyed the tips of her curly brown hair a bright pink and I allowed her to dye a small portion of my hair blue.
During our second year of college, our communications began to dwindle. They were less friendly and more hostile. We argued about everything, our opinions growing apart. On a Thursday in early May 2016, I drove down to her university to hang out with her and her roommate. My mutism made our conversations dull and I left town feeling as if the effort were wasted.
A few weeks later, we were no longer friends.
I had never really lost a friend like that before. It ended in a heated argument over text and Facebook Messenger when she hadn’t made an effort to attend our friend’s community college graduation. She was tired of giving and never receiving. I was tired of trying to hold the both of us up when I could barely hold myself up. We were both tired, having exhausted ourselves of each other. It had gotten to the point in which we were no longer helpful for each other… we were toxic. It was time for us to let go.
We didn’t run into each other again for three years. I was tired of shopping, my feet dragging on the tile, my eyes barely staying open. I turned down the cat food aisle at Target, my cart full of cleaning supplies. There she was, heading the opposite direction with a friend I didn’t recognize. We both stopped, stared at each other for a second, and exchanged greetings.
Then we moved on.
In life we will make friends. We will also lose friends. But that doesn’t mean we should spend those friendships anxiously counting down to their expiration date. Cherish those friends. Live like your friendship will never cease to exist. Enjoy the little moments, the happy ones. Be thankful for the memories. Never take your friends for granted. Because one day, they may be gone, but they’ll continue to stay within our hearts.