I feigned allergies at school, so I could stay in class by myself instead of being outside with all the other kids during play time. I had no friends. I didn’t want any. They represented group-think, gossip and vanity. And none of these were interesting or relevant to me.
I had many pets (dogs, cats, chicks, rabbits, peacocks, ducks). They were kind, simple and nothing but themselves. They gave me permission to be the same. And I also liked a world without many words (irony here to be writing this post).
On Friends Day, I reviewed my 646 Facebook friends. From 0 at 6, to 646 at 36 is quite remarkable. The deeply introverted, highly skeptical and bored 6 year old me would be shocked! Arguably the 646 number is bloated because Facebook friends are a super-set of friends, acquaintances, coworkers and random people I can no longer place in my non-digital life. But still it’s quite a feat and I owe it to 3 very special gateway friends.
Saqib: 3rd grade. I loved gymnastics. I would practice for hours. A few months in, I began to notice a boy in my peripheral vision. He would move when I would move. He would stop when I would stop. His flow was more exaggerated than mine. His moves clumsy to contrast my fluidity. It was funny. It made me laugh. It made others laugh as well. Soon we were the Saqib and Mona show. We quietly mocked each other’s movement and made people laugh. Very few words. Saqib helped me see that two humans could connect through motion and slapstick humor shared in silence. We never met after I switched schools.
Nadya: 6th grade (yep, long dry spell). I’d watch her playing outside, her long braids trailing behind her. She was all long lean limbs, even after the 7 layers of heavy clothing she always wore (eternally cold, that one). I observed for years. And then we started to notice each other’s art in class. She was precise and detail oriented. I was rushed and angry. I loved watching her long hands move across the paper. Constantly editing, revising, frustrated by her own limitations. We started hanging out as we waited for our ride home. Sleepovers were always about music, drawing (at times with lipstick on her walls), strong emotions neither of us could reign in. She wore a head scarf. I questioned the existence of God. People wondered why we were friends. Some still do. They can’t see that we are more similar than different. She allowed me to experience the sadness and anger of my life without trying to save me, and I did the same for her. And we’re still at it.
Haleema: (6th grade). I gave Haleema a chick as one does to a prospective friend (have I mentioned I had EQ of 0 at age 10). She killed it a few days later (accidentally she tells me). She called to tell me this news. We grieved and then became friends. And that’s the essence of our dynamic. We do silly things together (the tat on my wrist being an ever-present reminder), we giggle, we take big risks, we screw up (sometimes with broken hearts, or broken legs), we grieve, and then our spirits float to the top like bubbles in sparkling water.
In the years since, much has changed. Friendships have been gained, and lost. Beliefs have been revised and replaced, and with them many relationships as well. Judgments have created rifts. Schedules have created impracticality. Being an adult has meant that inertia has been working against friendships.
Yet here I am. The 36 year old me wants to tell the 6 year old me that she chose well. She chose a life that’s enriched by the love of her incredibly supportive, kind friends.
They tell me when I’m being stupid, praise me when I do the pretzel at Yoga, listen when I ramble and pretend that I’m endlessly fascinating, text me to make sure I got home, invite me to Christmas dinner and weekends away, get on planes to go adventuring with me and to see my home. They bring their beautiful laughs and their chatter into my very quiet life and that keeps the boogeyman away.