This morning I revisited the stack of cassette tapes (generously donated by my teacher) and spent half an hour cycling through distorted Beethoven and Brahms. Upon noticing that one of the tapes still held its glossy gleam, I popped it out of its casing only to be perplexed: it read, “To M, from your friend.”
Click, the tape sliding smoothly into its allotted position, static silence. Then the sounds of some faraway laughter, followed by a Taylor Swift song (which I later recognized as “long live“), then ten minutes of Christmas music. Then the muffled halt of rotating discs.
I was both bemused and heartbroken. This was the tape that I had meant to give to a close friend before the end of middle school (why I did not, I cannot fathom), a farewell present that held the weight of promises and inside jokes. “Keep in touch. Remember me, okay? I won’t forget.”
Earlier this year I had the chance to spend a night with several old friends from middle school. What frustrated me was that I didn’t know how to approach them— as old acquaintances?— because four years is a long time, enough time to complete an undergraduate education, the average lifespan of a guinea pig, the length of World War I. We hadn’t left on bitter ground, and when we reunited, there were smiles and laughs and hugs, but only briefly. It should not have been startling, given the years of unspoken growth and separation, but it was startling nonetheless. That night I parted with a buzzing, euphoric feeling mingled with anxiety and guilt. Friendships only break apart because we allow them to.
“We were friends, once.” How I dread that phrase and its implications.
True friendship, I think, demands reciprocity, whether it is with a “thank you” or a warm embrace or an email that asks how one is doing. It is the acceptance of each other as a whole human being, sniffles, acne, mistakes and all. It is a responsibility—when you reach the next step, you must make sure that you help the other person as well. It is delicate (having broken it in many ways myself), and yet it is worth the constant care, for there is nothing quite like the feeling of mutual affection, admiration, and appreciation.
“Maybe the greatest gift you give me is allowing me to stop struggling to find my place. We’re friends; that is the place.”
(Ze Frank puts it more eloquently than I ever could; watch here).