A hundred years ago I was in fifth grade, at another new elementary school, my fourth. My parents had divorced and my mother returned to teaching. She moved us to the neighborhood near her school, which also happened to be the area a single mom could afford. The neighborhood was vastly different than the cushy middle-class suburbs we'd grown up in.
It was a rough school in a tough neighborhood of what at best could be called working class and at worst could be called future gang territory.
There were a few other wide-eyed new kids, other suburban exiles, and a couple of other more seasoned suburban exiles. We must have sensed a sort of recognition of one another, because we gravitated and bonded rather quickly.
I made friends with Shannon and Kellie, and formed a competitive and slightly antagonistic friendship with Neeley, who had never been challenged for Top Academic Dog before. My heart was broken by Ruby, who rejected my poetically offered friendship request with, "I don't play with white girls."
My friends and I, as girls will at that age, formed a tight club. We all answered to White Girl as if we were one, but we had names: Julie, Kellie, Shannon and Lori. Until Lori moved away and Becky and Kristine moved in...two other girls who moved down from the suburbs after a divorce. We played tennis after school and joined Girl Scouts.
Among other things we learned in Girl Scouts, we learned a song that stuck with me the rest of my life:
Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver
And the other is gold.
I believed in this song, but I don't think it believed in me. I kept moving, and when you're young, it's hard to keep in touch. I managed to keep in touch with a few friends for a few years, and Shannon through college, but eventually, when maps grow too distant and no longer overlap? You forget the gold. Or the silver. Whichever means old friends. I always thought old friends were gold, because it's a soft, comfortable, subtle, malleable metal, not as shiny and sparkly as silver, and I knew how easy it was to get sucked in by shiny and new.
We moved again in seventh grade. Where I made a great best friend in Emily, and discovered the two sides of myself, the contradictory sides. Other people weren't as keen on these various edges to my personality; they seemed more fixed that I was. You were either a good girl (Emily) or a bad girl (Carrie). I felt like both, and I liked both, equally. But people preferred you to stick in your assigned stereotype, as we learned during cheerleader tryouts.
I remember in the Spring Kristie was the only one from our group in the Pep Squad who tried for cheerleader (in my case, what was the point---we were moving again and I sucked at gymnastics). Watching her audition was painful. She looked awkward, out of sync, so much younger and smaller than the others---typical of seventh grade, where we all ran on such a wide range.
But I remember our friend Roxanne saying, "You gotta love her for trying, bless her."
And that opened up a window in my mind. It made me realize something about friendship, about sticking by friends, and about worthwhile friends. Roxanne was a wise and kind girl, and I wish I'd gotten the chance to know her better and longer. It might have made a difference in my growing and evolving friendship skills.
Instead, we moved again and I changed schools again in eighth grade.
I lost touch with all of them, even Emily eventually because she moved too, to another state even, and airfare...well, flying wasn't something you did a lot back then.
And we both got caught up in our new lives, and in high school.
I've recently found and reconnected with some old friends from the past, some good friends.
I'm trying to figure out what to do with these friendships from the past. Is it enough simply to know they are Okay in the Now, but the friendship belongs in the past? Or should I take the song literally---as is my wont---and make them friends now?
I am Retriever level loyal, and my heart never lets go of those it loves.
My actions, sadly, are not so consistent. I get caught up in the present and lack the talent of making and keeping new friends and old ones, too. I attribute this to so much moving around, which often seemed to necessitate letting go of the past, and paying careful attention to the present and future.
Still, I yearn towards these friends from the past. I have learned how important the past can be to the present, and how valuable some people are.
I think I finally comprehend the song's message.
However, a lot of time elapsed, and my mind and body are constrained by the here and now; I have friends now, good friends, nice friends. Friends who are both Carries and Emilys and friends who are one or the other. I can barely pay them the attention they deserve. Two friends this week are sick, or dealing with catastrophic health issues. Two friends are dealing with major life alterations (divorces). One friend confided a surprise pregnancy. And so on.
I am lucky today in the people I know, as I have been lucky in the past. What a quality round-up of good friends, in so many ways.
But how do you combine the past and the present? I've never stayed anywhere long enough to have the two overlap. Suddenly, though, now, they seem to be.
Are the past and present like oil and water?
Or like silver and gold, complimentary, even though a little against traditional rules?
How do you make new friends, and keep the old?
The Girl Scouts still sing that song, by the way. My daughter's troop sang it at the induction ceremony. I felt a pang in the region of my heart, wondering about Shannon, and Kellie, and all the rest.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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