I had several fantastic professors in my final year of college; the two I think about most and intend on thanking in my EGOT speeches were strong-armed, sharp-witted women who, in my last few months of institutional education, taught me more about storytelling, expression, and action than most previous classes, idols, and studied works combined.
They were encyclopedic psychics. Feed me your questions and I will lead you to the answers. They were artistic, but didn’t fuck around: if the work was haphazardly slapped together in the moments before class, they would interrogate, always interested in the proposed reasoning but never excusing. They expected better. They saw potential; don’t you dare waste it. They were tender, hard to impress, and deeply empathetic. I was profoundly grateful for their intense sometimes imposing presences. In that particularly dark period of my life, they were much needed guiding lights towards self-awareness.
I’m surrounded by dude friends now, but when I was younger, my ever-changing clan was a much more mixed bag. I met girls – The Girls – through sports or, more commonly, rounds of recess tag. They’d introduce themselves on our way back to air-conditioning and laugh at the boys for getting so competitive. That was it. We were friends for life.
We The Girls generally preferred bean bags in front of the TV, popcorn en lappe – unless a trampoline was present, then we were camping under that thing all weekend, Hell or high water. We played house and soccer and Drake & Josh (a very creative game wherein one person would play Drake and the other – you’ll never guess – played Josh). Our connections were profound, our conversations insightful and curious: “Things are so good now – I worry that means they’ll be bad in the future.”
We never argued over boys. We’d argue over which cup to drink Gatorade out of, sure, but never boys. Boys weren’t worth the breath, and The Girls knew that.
Eventually I’d move, and we would lose touch after one long-distance phone call. “This just isn’t really working for me and also my mom needs to use the phone so goodbye forever I guess.”
But The Girls – the fun, philosophical, supportive Girls – existed in every town. All I had to do was play another game of tag and we’d find each other. Tiffany became Halah became London; all of them uniquely important and vital to my survival.
As I got older, recess fizzled away and, simultaneously the rules complicated. Conversations became political by nature; consequently friendships more closely mirrored wartime ally-ships than childhood why-not-ness. No more M*A*S*H games on the soccer field. Proxy contracts were drawn up in the far corners of the lunchroom, out of the eyes of the unwanted, and enforced like martial law. The Girls stopped wanting to play and instead concealed themselves in the shadows of the bleachers, adjusting their bodies that were suddenly and embarrassingly failing them. They stopped searching for me, so I, in turn, stopped searching for them.
My friend group homogenized: boys, previously an awkward novelty, were now my body-guards against the larger oligarchy ruled by The Girls with Boobs. It was a ruthless government. Our previous comradery induced no sympathy; spitting passive-aggressive poison was the only form of communication we had left.
I remember lying on the floor of my bedroom, head resting on my golden retriever’s belly, talking on the phone with my oldest Girl friend, Emily. I’ve known her since I was two years old; we grew up playing stuffed animals on the wall that separated our houses and she is, in my mind, the all-knowing and wise Buddha. She was complaining about her boyfriend of two months, how he hadn’t kissed her at the fall dance like they’d planned. So later in the evening, she had kissed her Girl friend’s date instead, resulting in an enormous public blow-out. “I regret it, but also – I don’t?”
I realized then that things would never be the same with The Girls. This was normalcy: these elements of shame and men and wanting were not visitors, but permanent tenants we could never evict. I felt suddenly and terribly lonely. I missed The Girls: the ones who got it; the ones who loved me. I cried when Emily hung up and asked my dog if his doghouse had a spare room.
I studied abroad in London for – mm – five months and some change. In that time, I made my first adult Girl friend.
Yes! At long last!
She was smart, and talented, and critical of the same bullshit that I was which meant I trusted her instantly. We locked eyes on the first day of class and, while I don’t want to put words in her mind, the exchanged energy seemed to declare: “You. There you are.” And we latched: carrying each other through daily rainstorms, administrative failure, and the always ridiculous theater school pelvic exercises. We even traveled to eastern Europe together.
In five months (and some change), I had met The Girl I missed so much, The Girl I thought didn’t exist anymore. She was similar – and different. I could confess my righteous bitterness at the world and she would listen with soft eyes, laugh and offer a piece of her prized lime chocolate. She had ideas, a predilection for ancient Greek theatre, for Shakespeare; she told me how she had always dreamed of living in New York and how excited she was to get back. In five months and some change, I had deeply and genuinely connected with a Girl who got it.
And in five months and some change, I lost her.
It wasn’t for one particular reason. It was many. We had crossed paths similar enough, but were still evolving very separately, different organisms native to different ecosystems. We fell apart.
Maybe for the best. Maybe not.
My final year of college, I’m sitting in a circle of likewise baggy-eyed playwrights waiting for our professor to arrive. Someone passes a note; someone else adjusts their eyelashes.
We can tell the moment she steps off the elevator – her footsteps are quick and clacky. She waves when she enters, black coat and black hair woven together in her shadow on the floor. It looks like she’s wearing a cape.
She drapes it over her chair and begins right-away. We all straighten our spines, put our coffees away; this woman commands a room even of space cadets. She’s lecturing as normal, though she seems especially cheery. Someone points it out. She smiles.
“On my way over here, I got a call from a very old friend I did theatre with back in the 80s. I haven’t talked to her in years for – you know – a slew of reasons: she’s a lawyer now, she's moved away. But I’ve known her since I was ten, so there’s history there. And it was a very nice conversation. The last conversation we had wasn’t so nice. Some boy or job or both got in our way. But that sort of thing doesn’t matter anymore. She has a kid, a job, a life as full and lush as my own. And I realized while we were talking that I don’t have to worry about that anymore - those petty arguments, they can all stay behind me, in my stupid days. I can just connect with her again. And it feels so great.”
To The Girls: I miss you. Please come home.