The Gift of Friendship
I’ll start with a warning. The next paragraph is not for the weak of heart or stomach. I’m going to include, pretty much verbatim, a series of texts I sent to a few of my best friends almost exactly a year ago.
“Oh man guys. Since I moved to the Philippines, I have learned the art of occasionally needing to use a bathroom… immediately. Today, I was at the mall when I was hit with this need with the urgency of a tidal wave. After a longer than I would like search, I find a bathroom. Of course, this bathroom has no paper anywhere at all. No toilet paper, no paper towels, just empty holders errywhere. Feeling that successfully obtaining toilet paper, and therefore saving my dress/dignity, in this moment was more important than deference to society, I barge into the storage closet, grabbing the first massive roll of tp that I find. I startle a cockroach, but there is no time to worry about roach to paper to me contact, so I don’t worry about which roll he came off of. I run back to the bathroom like a victorious hunter, carrying my catch, and proceed to rip off a large chunk of the industrial sized roll. In doing so, I scare a roach OFF THE ROLL AND UP MY ARM. STILL NO TIME FOR FEAR, ONLY TIME FOR BATHROOM. So I shake him off and run to a stall, where ANOTHER ONE falls off my dress!!! (Same one? IDK DOESN’T MATTER). This is where you find me. A team of screaming high school volleyball players delighting in their youth and vigor fill the bathroom, while I, traumatized, sit stewing in a stall. If you never hear from me again, tell everyone that I died nobly and bravely.”
Time for some context, if you’re still with me. A few months after I graduated from my university in Texas, I moved to the Philippines to intern for an anti-human trafficking organization.
I began to lose touch with so many of my friends. I’m sure you’ve heard something similar to the “you find out who your real friends are when you move away” banality before. Sure, sure. Of course it’s true. Relationships take multiple levels more effort when you can’t just show up at a friend’s house with a bottle of wine and an itemized list of issues for which they already have context. You have to virtually introduce your friends at home to your new life over and over again, and you have to be introduced to theirs, if you can even manage to schedule a time to talk. Relationships also tend to become more individual, losing the group dynamic that helps them integrate into your larger world.
One of the only consistent groups did I manage to keep in touch with was made up of my four best friends from high school. We would check in with each other almost every day over Facebook message, even when we were doing so from five cities in four different countries on three continents. (I fell in with some adventurous women, to be sure.) I’m not sure exactly how much of a friendship is built on necessity, but wow did we need each other. We’d all stayed in touch throughout university, but then we all moved away from those comfortable communities at the same time. And we turned to a crew that knew us better than almost anyone else.
Here’s a little more context from that marathon text message. I sent those texts as they were happening, from a bathroom stall in a mall, because I needed a laugh. I needed a laugh, because I was in between sessions of a funeral for a colleague.
I needed to not be in that space, even for just a minute. But I didn’t want to disrupt anyone else’s grieving process, so I couldn’t turn to the people immediately around me. It was such a gift to be able to have friends so far away that I could share my feelings with, in this case being on the verge of hysterical laughter, without being afraid of ignoring theirs.
Simply having our long running Facebook message to turn to also helped me deepen my relationships with the people I was geographically close to. I was a healthier person because of the way these girls loved on me. They helped me feel less needy and isolated, which made me a better person to start a friendship with.
Some of the girls in my high school crew were isolated in our new settings, and some of us just needed the perspectives of people with some distance. For me, it was a little bit of both. I was working and living with the same-ish eight people, and we spent most of our social time with the other same few people. Having a whole support group scattered across the world was impossibly valuable. We each play our parts, weaving our won individual lives into this song, composed over the internet. To me, the most beautiful movements of this harmony are when one of us has a triumph. Immediately, it is answered by a chorus of genuine love and praise.
These long distance friends could act as cheerleaders at times, invariably on my team and willing to let me be irrational. Other times, they were more like a team of therapists, objective enough to let me vent, but then able to honestly help me see how to own my part of the messes that inevitably come out of moving into such a tight community. And then sometimes the distance was helpful in that it simply gave me space not to talk about things. These girls were, are, critical to my survival.
They were also the ones I turned to when That First Year accepted my pitch. “I sent them so many ideas,” I messaged. “But what do I actually write?”
Their votes were unanimous and ridiculous: the roach story.
I flat out refused. There was no way I was writing about that story for this website.
And yet, here I am. Because this story isn’t actually about the weird things our insides do in different countries, and it’s not about guerrilla roaches. This story is about the women who supported me from almost exactly the other side of the world. They celebrate and cry with me, and they continue to let me into their lives on a daily basis, even though I insist on moving every few months. They even let me laugh in the middle of a funeral but virtually show up to talk about it when I need to cry later.
I hope it doesn't sound like I'm celebrating the fact that we had to fight for a relationship over so much distance. I'm celebrating the fact that we could. I am so grateful for the technology and persistence that made it possible. Our relationship adapted to the distance, to the changes and uncertainty we each faced, and we are certainly stronger for it.
I gathered myself after sharing this bathroom adventure with my long distance friends, and I returned to the friends I’d grown close to in Manila. Because that’s the thing about moving away again, I just got to start this same process all over again with a whole new support crew.
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