I used to be really jealous of my friends who never had to move. You know, they spent their whole lives living across the street from each other or whatever. I, however, had two big moves in my childhood.
The first time it happened I moved to Rhode Island from Texas. I spent sixth and seventh grades in New England and met people who had known each other their whole lives. They had funny stories about Mrs. Bell from third grade who used to bend her knees funny to reach the bottom of the chalkboard. Everyone knew about that one time when Danny threw up in second grade, which caused a chain reaction of vomiting in Kayla, Kristie, and Josiah.
I didn’t know those stories.
This happened a second time when I moved from North Providence to Houston. There were times when I felt kind of like an infiltrator. These were people who had known each other since elementary many of them had gone to the grammar school just down the street. They had known each other their whole lives. They could say things like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been friends with Katy since third grade” or “Justin and I played little league when were were seven.”
I never really had that. When I left Texas the first time, there wasn’t social media. At least, not the way we have it now. I didn’t even have an e-mail address. So, I didn’t really keep in touch with my old friends.
You see it in books and movies all the time: the friends joined at the hip, the ones you invite to all your birthday parties, the ones you invite to your wedding, and so on. These are people who lived in the same neighborhoods, who go to the same schools, who do the same things all their lives.
I never had that. Although, that may have turned out to be a good thing.
When I was a kid, I was a crybaby. I cried when I didn’t get what I wanted. I cried when I was mad. I cried when other kids told jokes I didn’t get. I cried and cried and cried. I was a brat. Now, enough time has passed for me to see that and not be quite as embarrassed about it as I used to be. I’m still kind of a brat, but now that I’m adult I can call myself a bitch, snap my fingers, and continue strutting down the sidewalk.
So, when I moved the first time, I became aware of something: I could start over. The kids that I met wouldn’t know I was a crybaby, and I could lie about being one and they would believe me. While I cried (predictably) about the move all the way until we were in our new apartment, this silver lining opened my eyes.
I also underestimated the naïveté of other twelve-year-olds. In my first week, someone asked me if I used to ride horses to school. In that moment, I realized I could tell these kids anything and they would probably believe me. I tried to keep my lies to a minimum though. Yes, my grandmother does own a ranch; yes, I do speak Spanish, but only when I’m mad; no, I’ve never seen “Spice World” and I definitely don’t know all the words to “Wannabe.”
Starting over isn’t always this easy. Coming back to Texas was one of the best times of my life, but the problem I’d had in Rhode Island was even worse. These kids had known each other even longer (since that’s how time works). The other problem was that Rhode Island isn’t really a cool place to be from. To my New England friends, I had a certain Texas mystique, an exoticism that caused them to pay attention to certain Texas “mannerisms:” the way I said, “Yes, ma’am” or “No, ma’am” (which is just being polite); how I preferred to call my friends’ parents by their last name and never their first name; how I slipped “y’all” into conversations sometimes.
I only lived in North Providence for a couple of years, but figuring out how to start over is one of the most important things I’ve ever learned. With every new group of people, you have the opportunity to re-invent yourself. You can make up a nickname, if you want. It’s not like any of your new friends will be able to confirm with the old ones (well, maybe now in the age of social media). You can tell people you used to play sports as a kid (so many sports, all the sports!) or that you like Kurt Vonnegut or that the only reason you watched “Titanic” was for that one scene with the nipple.
Being around the same people makes it difficult to change. Their expectations can tie a person down. Meeting new people can be terrifying, but there’s something liberating about it. Each new move, each new person, becomes an opportunity to make yourself different if you want, and to take control of your identity. That’s the key to starting over. It’s not just about making new friends (which is nice), it’s also about making a new you or becoming a better you than you were before. It’s a rare opportunity and one that only gets rarer as we get older. So, yes, it’s nice to be able to say you’ve been friends with so-and-so for your whole lives, but I’ve learned that it’s also nice to be able to say you have friends who’ve known you at different points in your life. The people I’ve met have become my way of tracking the past and tracking the changes in myself. And I think that’s just fine.
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