I basically live half a town over from the place I grew up – I’m a York County lifer, at this point, I think, and I’m pretty happy about it.
So is my best friend from eighth grade, Nina, who is STILL my best friend almost 20 years later (minus a brief hiatus somewhere around senior year).
Nina and I are the kind of friends who know everything about each other. We know each other’s cousins, brothers, neighbors and cousins’ brothers’ neighbors. I’m pretty sure she knows the last time I bought new underwear (she was with me). I’ve called her to pick up my son at midnight because I needed to go to the emergency room. She came to the emergency room – on crutches, with a broken foot – to hug me and bring me a huge Diet Pepsi when I was scared out of my mind that my mom was having a heart attack on a recent weekend. And I guess it goes without saying that there isn’t much, if anything, that we haven’t talked about.
It feels amazing. One of my only deep wishes for my 13-year-old son is that he finds a friend like that some day.
But recently, I’ve been thinking about the other side of the familiarity coin, too. Regarding that “lifer” thing, well, most of my close friends are fellow lifers. We’ve all known each other since we were 10 – if not before. I know all their cousins, their medical histories, their stories. (What can I say – we have a lot of cousins? And apparently a lot of medical emergencies?)
I can’t go out to eat without running into someone who remembers when I sang in the preschool choir at our tiny country church or that time I broke the shelf in the fourth-grade classroom. Two nurses during the aforementioned ER visit know me personally, though blessedly outside of the medical setting.
And sometimes, the familiarity is its own kind of overwhelming.
For the past few months, my life has been a little bit of a mess. Things are going on that aren’t earth-shatteringly bad, but that are seriously stressing me out. I spend way too much time in my own head. I need a break from being me.
See, here’s the problem. My friends – and they’re amazing – they know me. They know my problems, they know my fears, and they are amazing. They call and text and Facebook message to see how I’m doing. Do we need anything? Do I want to hang out? Can they help in any way? It’s a blessing… except then I can’t forget.
I have some new friends in my life. This isn’t something that happens real often, especially to someone like me who is more than a little on the neurotic side. And a crazy thing has happened. When I spend time with them, hugging cats in the York Fair petting zoo or road-tripping to IKEA in Maryland or watching geeky movies, I don’t have to be “on.” I don’t have to be that person who is someone’s daughter or financial expert or problem-solver.
For a relative few minutes, I can just be the pieces of me that go all around those things and fill them out.
I want to be the part of me who has secretly always wanted to ride the mechanical bull and free-fall off a 30-foot tower – but my lifelong friends know my fears so well that they’d never encourage me to do those things, because, come on, that would just be mean. I’m terrified of heights, petrified of falling. Except… maybe not.
I want to be the person who likes french fries and Coach purses and talking about philosophical concepts like personhood.
The person who shoves their dollar-store headphones into a decade-old iPod and dances like a freak around their bedroom at 11 p.m. to songs no one else would think was cool.
The one who laughs too loud over nothing, who gets in the car and just drives in the middle of the night, who reads romance novels and sci-fi and watches viral videos at full blast.
Familiarity is awesome. So is escapism.