Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Cool Kids

"We're through being cool. We're through being cool." Devo

I've been thinking a lot about friends and what they mean. I didn't grow up in Australia, so none of my childhood friends are here. The upside about that is you can reinvent yourself without anyone challenging you, or exposing you! The downside is that you can end up feeling like the ancient mariner, constantly telling people the story of your life. And, sadly, there is no shared history, no shared understanding.

Recently, I went to a 40th birthday party for a friend here. I had a good time, but I struggled to make conversation with people that I know only as acquaintances. Small talk is hard work. When I looked around at the groups of people laughing and talking, I felt a little jealous. My friend had invited people from all the various stages of her life: family, uni friends, parents, work colleagues. There was genuine love and affection in the room. I have avoided such parties for myself, because they would only highlight the people who aren't present in my life. I still keep in touch with many of those people, but it's not the same thing as having them here, in the flesh.

The other day, I had a lovely conversation with a high school friend of mine on Skype, minus the camera! We had a great connection in high school and then lost touch. So many years later, and so much water under the proverbial bridge, it felt as though the lost years never existed. I felt a rush of joy and exhilaration. When the conversation ended, I realised I was so completely understood. Here was a friend, halfway around the world, who I haven't seen for years, and yet the connection was as strong as ever.

This reunion brought to mind another friendship. Throughout our lives, we make decisions that define who we are and who we want to be.

 I made one of those decisions in Year Seven, and it has impacted on me ever since. That year, I went to a new school. It was traumatic and challenging on every level. My daughter is facing that challenge today, as I write this. I so wish I could help her to adjust, but there are things in life no-one can help you with, you just have to ride them out.

I developed two good friendships at my new school. The first friend was very unique. She wore skirts and low heels to school (something nobody did then!). Surprisingly, this never held her back from excelling on the monkey bars. This friend also had very strong opinions, which she was always happy to express. The other friend was the complete opposite. She was cool without even trying. She had long shiny chestnut hair and hazel eyes. Her mother had had her when she was quite young, and looked more like a sister than a mother. They used to share blue jeans. Tragically, her younger brother (one of twins) had died on a school excursion. I can understand the magnitude of the tragedy now, but then I only really understood that it gave my friend a certain attractive vulnerability.

These two friends did not get along with each other. They were always disagreeing and fighting. I was constantly in the middle, trying to act as peacemaker. I had enough conflict with my warring parents at home, and didn't want to face it at school, too. Things went from bad to worse and it soon became obvious that I couldn't be friends with both girls. Something else that became obvious was that the cool kids had recognised my cool friend as one of their own, and were trying to reclaim her! I'm not really sure why, in retrospect, she ever humoured me in the first place. However, the benefit of my association became obvious when I was invited to a party that one of the cool kids was throwing. My cool friend was invited, and so was I, but not the other friend.

I saw this as my big chance to gravitate to the cool kids' corner of the playground. My other friend maintained she didn't want to go to the party anyway, but it was up to me if I wanted to go. I did want to go. I really wanted to see what it was like to be in the inner circle for a change.

My friend and I went to the party, and instantly I could see she was at home. It was a cool party, and the first party I'd been to that wasn't a celebration of something, but was just a party. I was pretty damn excited. I stood with my friend, waiting for something amazing to happen. The music was cool, the people looked hot, I felt great. I was being accepted. I couldn't quite believe how easy it all was. People around me were laughing and having a great time. After an hour or so of hanging out, I began to feel uneasy. Something was missing. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then, all of a sudden, I had an epiphany. I was bored. I wanted to go home! I didn't find their jokes funny. I didn't find their conversation interesting. It was something I hadn't prepared myself for. I was so worried that they would reject me, it hadn't occurred to me that I might reject them! I realised I missed my other friend.

I called my mum and asked her to pick me up.

After that night, my cool friend started hanging with the cool kids. Nothing was really said. I guess nothing needed to be said. I hung out with the fringe kids. We did our own thing and never quite belonged, but we had a lot of fun. The thing I realised about being on the fringe is that there are fewer rules to live by.

My not-so-cool-friend became like a sister to me! She has stuck by me through thick and thin. My mum became friends with her mum, and when my mum became sick, they were a huge comfort to me. I have never regretted my decision that night.

Today, I have an eclectic group of friends scattered across the world. I'm not sure what would happen if they ever came together, and I'm not likely to find out, but it is a comfort to know that they're out there!
They're funny, they're smart, they're honest, they're real, and they never make me feel insecure. How cool is that?!

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