“Of all possessions, a friend is the most precious.” – Herodotus
I was a weird kid.
That’s probably an understatement.
I can remember being maybe eight years old, picking up the phone while my mother stood over me with her arms crossed.
“Call a friend. Any friend. Tell her you want to play.” She said. It had probably been a month since I last had another kid over. My mom, being the good mom that she is, wanted me to retain some social skills, particularly after my Girl Scout leaders had pulled her aside to ask her if I had special needs (I eventually forced her to let me quit that). Apparently, it’s weird to sit in a corner by yourself with acorns because you want to understand how oak trees grow out of them (My mom almost wrecked the car a decade later when I admitted to her that’s what I was doing.)
Unfortunately for my mom, I was happy being a weird kid, so, aside from a few amazing individuals, who I am still friends with to this day, organizing play dates continued to be like pulling teeth.
I was a weird teenager, too. That one is definitely an understatement. My oddities as a teenager stemmed from social anxiety more so than being an introverted nerd. Acorns no longer interfered with my social interactions, at least, but my parents’ concerns had become a reality.
I had been home-schooled for five years at that point. They sent me back to public school in the 9th grade.
Yes, poor me. What a transition.
I was coming out of my silent phase, where I literally hadn’t spoken for a year. I had no social skills left, despite my parents’ best efforts. I didn’t think it would be possible for me to make friends. We had moved over a year earlier, and I had been completely ostracized by anyone my age. Some kids actually admitted being scared of me, which is hilarious because I pretty much just curled up into a ball and stayed silent anytime someone my age got near me. I had already given up on being accepted by the time I got to public school. I was such a weird little thirteen-year-old. Despite that, two equally weird teenagers (though in dramatically different ways) decided to hold me hostage within the bonds of their friendship. “Hanging out” was more like them dragging my awkward little hide to the movies, mall, etc. and almost literally having to explain “This is fun. You like fun. We promise, you’re having fun.”
And that’s the way it was for three years.
And then college. Oh, boy. College.
The first three years of college were a train wreck. Crippling social anxiety among other issues almost destroyed me. I tried so hard, but I didn’t think I’d fit in anywhere. I jumped schools three times and spent the entire horrible endeavor feeling like a pariah.
I started at Kennesaw State University in 2014, and it was the best decision of my life. The first year was much the same as it had been. I was largely alone. My high school saviors were still away at their other schools. I had mostly resigned myself to my fate by the time the first day of Microbiology rolled around. Of course, that was when fate brought me the most bubbly, hyper, blonde eighteen-year-old in the world and virtually dropped her in my lap.
She was late. The seat next to mine was the only one open. I nearly cowered when she sat down next to me and said “HELLO!” in the most boisterous manner inhumanly possible.
And then I got kidnapped into friendship. Again.
The blonde chick had other hostages, too, and it was her mission that we all would become friends. So, a miracle happened, and I had friends, and my crippling social problems started to vanish for the first time in my life.
Then, another miracle happened. I felt confident enough to start doing research as an undergrad. I joined TWO labs and worked with people. My mentors were proud of me. I was good at it, and as my confidence from that grew more, perhaps the final miracle happened: I felt confident enough to go make friends by myself for the first time in my entire life. Finally, at twenty-one years old, I started to figure out how to be a human being.
And thank goodness for that, because what came next was graduate school, and you do NOT survive graduate school without a support group.
I was gifted a cohort of seven amazing, brilliant individuals by Emory’s GMB program. They started my program with me. A girl from Kennesaw came to Emory the next year, and I finally got to kidnap someone into friendship with me for the first time. Another girl and I bonded over books, and she’s now my biggest cheerleader when it comes to my writing career. I grew to be a really great mentor and colleague. I managed to do a lot of things that I’m very proud of.
I’m telling this story because today I said goodbye to my friends. My partner has a job offer in San Diego, and there is a very good chance that, after my trip, Atlanta will no longer be my home, and I will not be close to them anymore. My friends have been by me through a lot: high school, college, graduate school, when I came out, when I bought and sold my house, when I published my first book, when my dad had to go to Afghanistan for the millionth time, when I lost my horse … I would not have met my partner without one of them, and all of them are responsible for that fact that I have gotten this far. Life absolutely would not be the same without them, and to be honest, they are a miracle.
Today, I said goodbye to THIRTEEN friends, and those were just the ones who managed to get out of their lab obligations. Nearly twenty years ago, I would have been skeptical that I would have that many friends. Ten years ago, I would have said it was impossible.
Thank you for the memories, guys. Each of you was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I can’t wait until our paths cross again.