Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Best Friends are the Ones You Met in the Seventh Grade

"To Grabber, My best friend and 100 proof nut! You always like the stupidest people! (Bob Marsh) Dag!  Well, never lose your sense of humor (?) I don't think I could get along without the crummy jokes!  Willie '71-'72"

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Dianne "Willie" Williams Whiteside who I met in seventh grade and who passed away yesterday, July 23, 2016.

    Think about yourself when you were 12 or 13 years old, in the seventh grade.  This was a time in life when everything about you was changing - bodies, voices, hair, skin.  Nothing was familiar - everything was in a state of flux.  You looked in a mirror and wondered who was looking back at you.
      In my town at this point in our education we left our isolated little cocoon-like neighborhood elementary schools, where we'd associated with the same kids since the age of 5, and were thrown together with hundreds of kids from other neighborhoods in a junior high school.  Add to that the confusion of puberty - the sudden urge to be liked by the opposite sex, while at the same time knowing they hated you.  You were unsure of yourself, trying to find a way to fit into this new social structure, to stand out and distinguish yourself from others, before you were lost in the hodgepodge of adolescence around you. 
    But then one day you suddenly found an island of safety - a friend. You caught someone's eye as they were laughing at a dumb joke you told.  Or you caught them scribbling the lyrics to your favorite song on their notebook.  You noticed they wore the jeans you had admired in the catalogue that your mom wouldn't buy you.  You felt a strange kinship....and so you spoke, hesitantly at first, but then the more you talked the more you realized that you were cut from the same cloth, experiencing the same feelings, annoyed at the same teachers, in love with the same rock stars, infatuated with the same group of boys.  Everything came rushing out until there was a river running between the two of you that flowed with all your thoughts and dreams and emotions.
    From that point on you spent more and more time together, shared more secrets.  You slept over at each others' houses on the weekends.  You ate lunch together, walked to classes together.  When you weren't physically together, you were talking on the phone.  And when you couldn't do that, you read over and over the notes that had been passed to each other during the day at school and composed new ones to pass tomorrow.
   If you were lucky you found 2 or 3 of these close allies, or even had a whole gang of them.  It was like a life raft to cling to in the teen years, a safe haven from the rest of the world around you.  Psychologists will tell us that in an effort to break away from our parents and become independent mature adults, during the teen years we form extra strong bonds with those of our own age group.  We form our own little "secret society" of peers to give ourselves an identity, and to try out different roles, test our likes and dislikes, explore interests, and learn who we are as people. (Horse puckey!  You were the coolest people on earth. That's why you had the best friendships!)
     But back to our story:  as you grew older and entered high school, you may have formed new strong bonds with others but you still kept the old bonds intact.  These were the people you did daring things with. You smoked cigarettes or pot, you stole bottles of alcohol from the corner store and drank them in each other's bedrooms unbeknownst to the parents puttering around down below.  You went skinny dipping, stayed out all night and told your parents you were at each others' houses.  You snuck out of the house at 3 a.m. and ran around the neighborhood.  You had parties and hung out with the whole extended gang of friends you had made.  You tested your wings and dared each other to go  further.  It was not all sweetness and light though.  There were fights, arguments, jealousies, and competitiveness.  There were break ups, hurt feelings and running away, but you always had your island of friendships to come back to.
    Suddenly and all too soon it came to an end.   You moved on to college, jobs, families, work and life.  If you were persistent you may have been able to keep in touch and see each other occasionally for a few years, but more often than not life took you in different directions and you eventually stopped talking at all.  You sometimes thought of your old friends  in fleeting moments and wondered how they were doing, or bumped into each other at class reunions, but it was never the same.  You could never recapture the intimate, innocent camaraderie of your youth.   You could never  go back to that world of your teens, when you and your friends were alone on that island, as the world teemed around you but you were safe as long as you were within each others' line of sight; when you were isolated from all the good and bad that would happen in your futures; when you spoke a language that only you yourselves could understand, and you had each others' backs, and nothing in the world would ever tear you away from each other.

       In memory of Dianne "Willie" Williams Whiteside 1958-2016


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