Sunday, December 23, 2012

::Decade-old insight::

At the age of fourteen, in a sea of lost, anxious teens trying to establish a place for themselves in the pack, I found Chantal. Friendships come in all shapes and sizes. Some are borne from a violent collision of circumstance. Some through grudging admission. Some through persistent effort. Ours was simply borne when two girls, who were more comfortable in a pair than in a mob found each other at the right time and the right place.

As is usually the case in the present, and with a little teen narcissism thrown into the mix, we took each other completely for granted at the time. But, a dose of decade-old hindsight has lead me to conclude that Chantal, in many ways, saved me from myself back then.

I was a wildly passionate girl, prone to following the paths of my emotion to the most complicated ends, until I was good and snared. But this girl kept me grounded. Her honesty and unapologetic integrity of self was invaluable to me, because I didn't feel at all comfortable with who I was. So, in the face of my repeated misadventures, followed by deep self-pity, she did not say what she thought I wanted to hear. She did not say that I was a victim, ill treated by some heartless jerk. No. What she said was; "Well, that was stupid, what did you expect?" And what was so brilliant about her was that she didn't necessarily say this in words. She had a way of saying nothing at all, but her eyes would twinkle with suppressed rebuke. And the message would be received.

When I wasn't busy making stupid choices, and she wasn't busy watching me do it, we had So. Much. Fun. And I mean good, old-fashioned drug-free, alcohol-free fun. We used to sit up on the highest step of the huge cathedral by my house and watch people walk by. We'd walk for hours, from one end of center town to the next. We would ride on the handlebars of the neighborhood boys bikes and laugh with heads thrown back. We would make our way up to the old train tracks and watch the sun set over the river. Sometimes we'd jump in. . .  Scratch that. Sometimes I'd jump in. She'd stay dry. And safe. Like I said, my stupidity was a spectator sport she observed.

We soon became extensions of each others' families-- as though an unspoken joint-custody arrangement had been imposed. Every weekend was a sleepover. We just alternated houses. I stopped trying to win over Duke, the temperamental dashound, and resigned myself to his less-than-friendly greetings-- barks, snarls and growls. (Usually mellowing into grudging acceptance as the night wore on.) I ate many, many spaghetti meals at the dinner table. And we could have picked our way across the rocks of the Britannia piers with our eyes shut.

As for my noisy, always bustling household, she learned that it was customary to be bear-hugged at the door, and jumped on by hyped-up little boys, and mandatory to speak about one's feelings, no matter how uncomfortable. We knew every crack in the pavement of my neighborhood. We loved to make studies of people. As we'd walk, we'd observe every detail around us and muse aloud about them. I think the practice of really taking a good look at the world around us is gift we've taken with us into adulthood.

And so, you see, those four years, that can be so painful for so many kids, were, for us, years of security, adventure and wonder. We looked at the unembellished world and saw possibility. Every day Chantal and I would choose to shed the high school veil of introspection and self-indulgence, and head out into the world looking outside of ourselves to the people beyond. Looking and hoping for people to interact with, whose lives we could enter into, even if for just one night. And I think it made us the richest teenagers around. We were a pair of story collectors.

Thank you for that, Chanty. Thank you for helping me get through the late 90's without self-destructing. Thank you for helping me love outwards. And for helping me learn to be thrilled by the mere possibility of each new day.