When We Were Young

Reading a book now called White Ivy.

In some ways, I see myself in the protagonist, Ivy, but also not. Growing up, I was bathed in affection, overwhelmed in it, while love was withheld from her. She was born in China, then brought to America, while I was born and raised here, a banana. Her character’s character is questionable. She steals (I stopped); she lies (white ones nowadays); and, in the few pages where I am the most moved to memory, she befriends a bad boy in the neighborhood named Roux.

Roux is a Romanian boy whom she meets while he’s breaking into the neighbor’s house. She offers to keep watch for him. His character reminds me of the bad boy best friends I had when I was younger. They weren’t actually bad, they were very good people, but they were the types that adults narrowed their eyes at, perpetually suspicious, hands hovering over detention slips. Maybe it was because of their shaggy hair or their untucked shirts or their constant slouch. Maybe it was because of how we talked over teachers, laughing in the back of the line, the handful of us always drifting. Maybe it was because of the music we listened to, the angsty screamo kind, which we generously imitated in between (and during) classes.

Our friendships were entanglements of excellent jokes, stupid hypotheticals. We talked about girls. We talked about boys. We walked through school grounds, swinging our hall passes, which the dean always insisted on examining. We watched the others fall in and out of love, acting as proper wingmen (or winggirl, in my case) should the need arise. (Remember when I was in love with Will with the hairlocks luscious like a unicorn’s? And my friend and him were on a soccer team that year. I nearly fainted.) We were there for the other when things inevitably imploded.

These friendships were simultaneously superficial and exceptionally deep, the only way that friendships could be when you’re twelve or thirteen, in the rocky throes of adolescence, malleable and emotional as hell.

I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention the ways we would accidentally fall for the other, unexpected potholes in the road. It was seldom mutual, and if it was, I most likely would not be writing about our Friendship all these years later. Not unlike Ivy, there’d be moments where I’d notice someone’s dimple, which I’d never noticed before, or I’d find a friend’s laugh, previously raucous, now like a chime. I guess it’s good we had musicians like Taylor Swift to sing about how She Wears Short Shorts, I Wear T Shirts, She’s Cheer Captain And I’m On The Bleachers. The confessions we occasionally said were always strained, uncomfortable. But just as cars pass over potholes eventually, we got past the things we had felt. And thus our friendship resumed.

As we grew up, we grew apart. I watched them indulge in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. I was too scared to do any of those things. They moved schools, no longer interested in the straightedge boredom that our school offered, with its hyperfocus on uniformity, uniforms and good grades. Free to be, they knocked up, got knocked up, started bands, went to jail, shared photos of their babies on Facebook feeds I’d no longer see because we were only friends on MySpace. Sometimes I looked them up out of curiosity, but I never reached out.

Years later, though, one of them did ask me to photograph his band. As my first gig, I was overjoyed. I saw him again, downtown, in his skinny jeans and red flannel shirt, surrounded by his posse of tattooed musicians, one of whom, I think, I texted afterwards. They flocked to him, their clan leader, not unlike how we had once flocked to him as children. He radiated his familiar charisma, coolness. Behind the lens, I felt a sort of removed admiration for the childhood friend I’d watched grow up, grown up with, and was photographing now, all grown up. What a strange, surreal evening that was. Afterwards, we hugged and parted ways, and never saw each other again.

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