My clothes smelled like a department store and my hair was still damp from my early-morning shower. As I walked across the concrete lining of the drop-off line at the front of my new high school, the hairs on my neck began to stand on end. I opened the doors and smelled the unmistakable, institutional scent of a school, and stepped toward the common area where everyone was congregating before the morning bell.
I remember seeing some other freshmen in a group. A boy who looked like a too-cool alternative rocker, a girl with frizzy, flat-ironed hair laughing at his jokes. There were some older kids off to the side, one of them doing a hand-stand in his letterman’s jacket for a bet. Eventually, I would learn their names: James, Reed, and Jabo.
But, none of these people in Monroe, Georgia were my friends–not yet. I was new in town, and everyone else had gone to all of their primary schoolings together.
Luckily, my guidance counselor, Dave Sica, gave me the advice to chose an elective with a built-in extra-curricular. As the frequent “boy number 2” at my old community theater in Snellville, I decided to pick drama.
That, combined with my placement in honors physical science and English, which had a small overlap with the drama club crowd, gave me a bit of a default friend group. Those same students I had noticed on my first day happened to be in that grouping.
I was drawn to these people like James McIntyre and Reed Oakley who would entertain my dumb musings about philosophy and indie rock between classes and rehearsals. They were joined by others like Twiggy, Corey, Belinda, Kyle, Britney, and David who all formed a seemingly tight-knit group.
Of course, that all came crashing down in a pattern I would see repeatedly throughout my life. This time it was when I had a clash with the drama teacher Brandy January. The details have faded, but it involved something about our yearly trip to the thespian conference (nothing good ever happens there). All at once, I was removed from the theatre department and most of my friendships. I felt crushed.
Eventually, I got over it though, the end of my time in high school saw me grow closer to people like my good friend Carla Glaze and even rise from the ashes to lead a much worse version of the drama department.
Shockingly, this wasn’t the last time I would reach the end of a friendship epoch that saw most of the people I felt closest to fall away. It would happen again after high school (like it does for most), then again during my sophomore year of college, then again after I had to go back to school to finish my degree with a victory lap, then again when the company I worked for shut down, then again when I was the controversy-of-choice for the fellow alumni of my collegiate literary society, and then finally again when I moved to take care of my dying mother.
We all go through change, but I found myself quite ill-equipped for it.
I was listening to the audiobook of Michelle Visage’s auto-biography when everything sort-of clicked for me. She brought up how friends come into your life, and they may even have a great effect on you, but then they will leave your life and you just have to keep on going without them.
It’s a simple bit of advice that I found incredibly powerful. You shouldn’t mourn the loss of a friend. You can be hurt by a friend deciding that they don’t want to be a part of your life anymore, but you must take what they gave you while they were a part of your life and move on.
It’s almost a bit of a corollary to the advice about not living in regret. If you’re spending too much time with your eyes on the past, you could be missing the big things coming up ahead.
Do I miss my lost friends? Of course, I do. And, I would gladly chat with them if they got in touch, but, I should go back to that place where I had the new school outfit on walking into Monroe Area Comprehensive High School and keep looking out for the future.
After all, chatting with my friends from Snellville Middle School on AOL Instant Messenger in the evenings after my first few days of school were less comforting than when I stopped all that and decided to make new friends and memories where I was.