Dear friend: A personal essay
I tried to figure out how to talk to you…
I saw this thing that reminded me of you…
I miss you…
Growing up, the worst punishment my parents could give me was to keep me indoors. For some, a day spent entirely in bed seems blissful and rejuvenating – the closest thing to heaven on earth. For me, that meant being condemned to a day of absolute boredom. I didn’t have a smartphone until I was out of middle school, and our family didn’t get a television until shortly before. The days confined to the house were always long and silent where I had to spend my time cleaning or inventing games to amuse myself. On the other hand, I loved days filled with summer camp adventures, scout trips, sports, or another of the millions of activities my parents kept me in to satisfy my constant need for To do Something.
Maybe it was on purpose: My mom intentionally didn’t buy a TV until my siblings and I were a bit older because she saw it as a potential avenue for us to be lazy all day. I didn’t have a smartphone until I was older because it was a potential distraction rather than a necessity. Time has proven her right; we spend more time on both devices than I could have ever imagined at the time. But some vestiges of that time still remain with me.
As my mother says, from the second I could walk, I was a ball of energy. Once I walked, I felt like running. Once I ran, I felt like jumping. When our family went to church every Sunday, I would do laps around the pews, sometimes associating this cardio with elated shouting much to my parents’ chagrin. This propensity to To do things bled into most of my friendships later in life. All my best friends were the type to go on spontaneous weekend adventures, exploring every nook and cranny of the city, or keeping busy by getting involved in school. Here, the residue of my time without technology lingered. Even though we made countless memories when To do things, I found it difficult to maintain these friendships without personal contact. I barely texted my friends and rarely FaceTimed them. If we didn’t see each other, we wouldn’t talk.
For much of my life, I never thought that this preference for in-person friendship was something I should re-evaluate. It’s easy to maintain that style of friendship when life is static: when you go to the same high school every day, when everyone lives in the same town for the foreseeable future, when the promise of “see you soon!” rings true. Before college, I realized on some level that I could walk away from my best friends in high school. I was off to Berkeley, and my friends were heading to Tucson, Amsterdam, and Omaha—each of us hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart. To make matters worse, none of us were keen on communicating outside of our joint activities or spontaneous adventures, and there was no guarantee that we would soon be in the same city. I assumed, however, that I would find my new best friends and go on the college adventure with them. I never thought how different middle school would be from high school.
In college, life is not static: it moves forward. I don’t think I really internalized that until this year. Life changes are happening to you at a faster rate than I think anyone really anticipates. You probably don’t see your friends every day, people come and go a lot faster, and everyone now understands that their best friends could end up living halfway around the world in a heartbeat. Last semester, I found my group after in-person classes led to me finally living in Berkeley for the first time. I lucked out with roommates who were always willing to explore somewhere we had never been, which led to an ill-advised and exhausting hike to Lake Anza; trying something we’ve never done, forcing us to sneak into lots of frat parties; and to consider perspectives we had never encountered, highlighting how our upbringing in Mexico, Italy, and the United States shaped our beliefs about capitalism, corruption, and international politics. But middle school is not high school, and the repetition and certainty that seemed self-evident in high school disappeared in middle school. One of my roommates eventually dropped out and two others were only there for a semester on exchange. When I came back from winter break, I felt like I was on a TV show where half the cast inexplicably disappeared and were replaced. Of course, I’m warming up to my new roommates and I see myself becoming very good friends with them too; but, the cycle is destined to repeat itself.
But middle school is not high school, and the repetition and certainty that seemed self-evident in high school disappeared in middle school.
This semester I have three new roommates, all of whom will only stay for the duration of the semester as they are on exchange from other countries. At the end of this semester, my lease is up, and I’m sure that will change how often I see my closest friends, who all live within a five-minute walk. By the end of the next semester, I will be out of college and I will have to decide where to start my career. Soon after, so will all my friends. Inevitably, we will all find our little corner of the globe to make our own. It is possible, even likely, that I will never see these people again after this. I’m sure we’ll try to keep in touch, but I’m sure it will be difficult for things to stay the same. Eventually, all of our memories together will become old times; maintaining friendship can be difficult without the possibility and promise of creating new times. But that doesn’t mean that now doesn’t matter, and that doesn’t mean that now will not matter in the future. Friendships and relationships change, and that’s normal. Not everything is made to last, and that’s normal. Though brief, the memories my friends and I made are the ones we made together, and that’s enough. For something as valuable as this, I can go to the effort of typing that text or making that call that has so often eluded me in the past.
Friendships and relationships change, and that’s normal. Not everything is made to last, and that’s normal.
It’s been several months since I’ve talked to my best friends from high school, and it’s been years since I’ve had real conversations with them. The same thing is already starting to happen with many of my college friends. For now, a text might suffice, but something more personal seems appropriate as our time together slips away. Maybe an old style of communication is better for an old friend. The ancient Greeks had six different words for love. They do not have to like ice cream the same way they love Their mothers. Instead, they distinguished between different types of love. The word for love between close friends was philia. So this Valentine’s Day — a day to ostensibly celebrate love — I decided to start with a Philia letter to the friends from whom I have moved away.
I know it’s been a while since we spoke. You may not be the same person I used to know, and I may not be the person you used to know anymore. Still, the time I spent with you helped shape me, and I am grateful for the times we had. You are with me whenever I think of “Forrest Gump”, an ode to when you were drunk and insisted on watching it. Your accent suddenly turned southern, noticing that life was like a box of chocolates, when we all died laughing at you. You are with me every time I hear the sound of spray paint cans, when we found this hidden place and wrote messages that no one will ever read. You’re with me when that old Italian rock song – “Meraviglioso” – pops up on my playlist, the first time we’ve truly admitted how much we’ve been missing at home. Thanks for the laughs, thanks for the hugs, thanks for the time. I hope you are well and I hope to continue living. But if we don’t, then I’m happy with these memories of you that we call memories.
Contact Lucas Yen at [email protected].