The One About Friend Grief (part 1)
This is the fun part, before the fallout.
(Consider this the first installment in a longer series of me reminiscing on a cluster of relationships I’m trying to unpack.)
The first time I fell in love in earnest, it was with five people at once. They were all guys, all two or three years my senior. All but one grew up in the same town and went to the same high school before attending the same college together up in Erie, Pennsylvania, where it was often so snowy and depressing there was nothing to do but sit in your apartment drinking and smoking and spinning records.
At the heart of our incestuous friendship/love/lust mythology was an apartment we simply referred to as “632,” a short walk away from our college campus. I have probably written about this before — it’s holy ground. Entire versions of me lived and died within those walls. And, like I already said, this was the setting where I first fell in love. With five guys at once, because I’m a masochist.
The first time I visited 632 was in the fall of 2013. Temperatures were dropping, but the oppressive Erie winter hadn’t yet set in. B poured me a solo cup of Vlad and Mountain Dew, and the rest of the guys scolded him for starting me off with such a stiff drink. I winced and pretended to like it.
For the first half of the night, there were only four of us in the apartment: B, N, M, and I. N was my boyfriend at the time, and M was his roommate. They lived in the dorm across the hall from me and had been dying to introduce me to the larger group. It was a lot of pressure: I knew N had already been talking about me, first as the Chick He Was Hooking Up With and then as The Girlfriend, and there was a sense of needing to live up to the impression he’d given his friends of me, and to gel with the impression he’d given me of them. I knew that B and his roommates liked to party and hook up with girls, and I knew those girls were conventionally attractive and athletic and out of my league. I felt childish, unfeminine, the opposite of a “catch,” wearing jeans my mom bought me and a purple zip-up. In fact, I remember standing outside the front door shivering, hands in my pockets, thinking I was about to embarrass myself, that I’d made a terrible mistake in tagging along.
But by the time B’s other roommates returned to the apartment, I had gotten my bearings. You could say I was feeling socially lubricated. I met L, who was on the college swim team and reminded me of Gordo from Lizzie McGuire, and J, the designated Guy Who Is Really Into Weed and the only one who went to a different high school. We spun Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (sound of the summer!) and drank some more. I got whiny and started begging L for pretzels he was eating out of one of those plastic bargain containers, and he obliged with an annoyance I understood as playful, maybe flirtatious. I started making out with N and climbed into his lap and he promptly scolded me for being messy-drunk in front of his friends. I didn’t care, though. Any self-consciousness I felt was eclipsed by the prospect of being seen and heard and paid attention to, charming and being charmed all at once, pitied and doted on and lightly chided. I didn't care about the specifics. I was burning hot. All of it was a relief.
A few hours later, we called it a night. N and M herded me out the front door of 632, down the stairs, away from the apartment complex. Drunk on a combination of vodka, Mountain Dew, and male attention, I was spinning around on a patch of grass next to the parking lot, wiping my nose with the back of my purple sleeve. I’m sure N and M were embarrassed by me, but I wasn’t capable of realizing this. I was at a 10. The cold air was invigorating. I felt so fucking alive.
I think of this moment as the instant the “Core 5” came into focus for me as a friend group. Suffice it to say, I hadn’t been extremely popular in high school. I always had good friends, always had a boyfriend but had developed this sense of being an acquired taste, kind of scrappy. The girl you really liked but were embarrassed to admit it. The friend who was fun one-on-one but who couldn’t hang. One of my best friends was a guy I crushed on hopelessly but who would ditch me for who he casually referred to as his “mainstream friends.” Over the years, I developed the kind of idealistic desires that are deeply uncool to speak aloud: to be popular, to be admired without hesitation, to be “chosen first” by the objects of your desire. It felt like a great injustice that I wasn’t the girl everyone wanted to get to know, the main character of the movie. I wasn’t in high school anymore, but I was still holding out hope that I could obtain that kind of attention and adoration and be made whole by it. And now, just a few months into my college career, here it was: a lifetime of love and attention cascading in front of me like a holy prophecy.
It was so nice to finally be real.
I couldn’t wait to drink with them again.
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