Who are your friends and why? Who is the friend you have known the longest? How about the one who recently entered your life? How many friends do you have on Facebook? If you were to sort your friends in some sort of friend filing system, would it look something like this: childhood, high school, college, work, neighborhood, family, church, etc. Do they all have equal “friend status” in your life? Probably not, but you call them a friend because they are not strangers and we don’t have an eloquent way to communicate their importance such as giving them a rank that conveys status similar to “a platinum level friend vs. green card friend.” Unless they hold the exclusive “best friend” designation. So, we do a mental sort and know exactly the status of the people we call “friend.” It is an expansive word. Some people come in to our lives as friends at a point we truly need them but don’t stay in it, yet in the history of our lives they will be forever known as a friend. In recounting who our friends are or have been, we go through a personal archeology that tells the history of our lives.
My novel Atomic Summer follows a group of high school friends through the events of a summer that changed their lives. They are able to see the full affect of that summer on their lives at a reunion 20 years later. As I wrote this book and edited it years later, I thought often of the influence and impact my friends from school had on me. Fiction writing is just that, fiction, but as I writer, I draw from experiences and emotions that are very real to me. Those things, my friends, I draw from you.
The wiser I become (that is my euphemism for getting older), the more I appreciate the connections to my past and the people who knew me “back then,” my school classmates. They are preserved in my memory. Some memories are sharper than others and some I can replay and see in my mind as if I’m viewing a highlight reel. They are captured on faded photographs tucked in boxes in my closet and immortalized in my youth between the musty pages of my high school yearbook. These people knew me when I was going to wrestling matches to cheer my brother and his teammates on as they competed for glory. They are the young girls who ran perpetual wind sprints with me as we toured around the county playing field hockey and entertained ourselves with silly and sometimes inappropriate songs we made up on the bus ride home. And they are the crowd I caught up with on our love lives (or lack thereof) and praised or complained about teachers and classes as we ate lunch in the cafeteria. Back then, the world was our oyster. We were on the precipice of writing our personal histories when graduation scattered us like a wind so we could do just that.
Some immediately entered the workforce, many went off to college, and some stayed home and did a combination of both. My path was college in upstate New York, five hours from home. At college, I befriended a completely new population of classmates. I joined a sorority and not only had friends but “sisters.” We came from upstate and downstate and because of that we brought our geographic differences that resulted in us debating the correct moniker for a soft drink and argued our positions vehemently as to whether it was soda or pop. At the time, Buffalo Wings hadn’t become an everyday item on national menus (hard to believe and I’m certainly dating myself), and the downstaters didn’t know what all the fuss was about with a chicken bone wrapped with some meat and dipped in fire; that was until we’d had our share at 10-cent wing nights and grew addicted. Just as with our high school classmates, we shared our lives in our closely-knit community, auditioning for life beyond the safety net of school. Road trips, rush, final bids, pledging, hell night, all nighters, subs, pizza, wings, bars, beer, too much freedom and not enough restraint, arctic blasts of winter air biting our skin as we crossed campus, final exams, mimeograph papers, a community phone and long distance phone bills, MTV, spring break in Lauderdale, and the list goes on. Another graduation and another journey away from friends.
Does this sound familiar? Change some of the words and this might be your life too. In the years since, reunions drew us back in and Facebook gave us an avenue reconnect and bridge the years and miles between us. I appreciate you all, not only for who you were but for who you are now, even without knowing you as intimately as I did back then because I’m confident I could classify you all as “survivors”. Life threw you curve balls, didn’t it? But here you are, persevering. Life challenges us and the journey isn’t always easy. It’s downright hard at times. We find our strength during those times and it is only in the backward glance through time that we realize how strong we are because of what we overcame to be here today. And probably, there is more to come, but we’ll endure and hopefully thrive.
I’m sure our differences could divide us now, but we allow the shared history of our youth to unite us as friends, sisters, and classmates. Some of us even had differences back then that don’t seem to matter much anymore. To those I annoyed, hurt, aggravated, or ignored, I’m sorry. I was growing up and wasn’t as graceful with the process as I would have liked to believe at the time. I’m the same person, but different, if that makes any sense. I would like to think I have become a better person with the lessons friends along the way taught me, some of which we learned together.
To all of the people throughout my life I have had the pleasure to call friend, thank you! Each and every one of you are the threads woven together making up the tapestry of my wonderfully rich life. I hope I added a bit of magic to your life as well.
In honor of my friends, I am giving away my debut novel Wednesday, September 26 and Thursday, September 27. Take a journey back to the days of your youth through the eyes of the teenagers in Atomic Summer, and remember all the friends that have shaped who you are today. To get a free copy, click below.
To learn more about me and my charitable giving visit www.elainedwalsh.com