It’s interesting going to college in my hometown. I say interesting because that’s the word we use when things are neither good nor bad. And I suppose Denton, TX is my hometown, although I don’t know if I’ve acknowledged it as such until recently. I don’t have any family here or anywhere close to here besides my parents and sister. And as a whole, looking to generalizations about Texas and Texans, I don’t see where I fit in. But in this quirky little town that, in reality, is not all that little anymore, I certainly found a place. And I love it most when I feel I’ve made a home here as a young adult, separate from the one I grew up in.
I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about home lately. Summer and winter breaks from classes prompt this, with old friends and acquaintances returning from school or their newly-established homes to visit family. College towns have seasons like beach towns and ski resorts do, instead marked by the beginning and end of the semester, not the weather. The local coffee shops close early, streets around the university are empty, and the bars become filled with Dentonites, those of us who stuck around and those who come back.
You find yourself in restaurants and grungy bars with people you once shared bleachers and classrooms with. Everyone looks a little worn around the edges, even you. Especially you, it seems. In any case, you don’t know how you’re supposed to feel about them. Obligation? Regret for not keeping in touch? Complete apathy? To complicate matters even more, your college friends will mix with your high school friends. The girl you studied abroad with works at a Victoria’s Secret with a girl from high school who you recently deleted from Facebook, so that’s awkward. While they seem to be two worlds completely, space and time has continued as it always does completely outside of your life.
I vividly remember the summer before I began college, before many of my friends moved to various parts of the country for college. I was scared of change and probably still am, but I wasn’t worried about losing my friends. I thought the ones that mattered wouldn’t disappear, nor would our friendships. And the people I lost touch with wouldn’t be a huge loss or we (presumably) would have worked harder to stay friends.
But growing up is never that easy, and growing apart is certainly not painless.
As I’m about to begin my last semester as an undergraduate, with plans to move away in a few short months, I’m realizing more and more that sometimes we change as individuals too much for our friendships to survive solely because of history, of shared experiences from our pasts, of once being friends. It takes hard work, and sometimes it can’t possibly work. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but I do plan to continue working on a few goals I set for myself in the middle of last year, one of which was to not keep friends out of obligation. You may disagree with me on this one, but I decided that friendship was too important to me to reduce to facebook stalking and a text message on their birthday. While it’s not ideal, I think it’s okay that we get caught up in the lives directly in front of us, and that work and school keep us so busy that we don’t acknowledge each other for months at a time. I am certainly not immune and I have many friends where this is the case. But what is there behind all of that is a mutual level of care, an understanding that we’re invested in the other, we think about each other, and there is love motivating a friendship, not obligation to something that once was.
I remember how our worlds once connected, how they intertwined so tightly I never imagined they would ever do otherwise. But I want to both recognize how they once did and no longer do, to be kind to one another, but not regret the directions we’ve moved. We forget the capabilities of time to change us, neither for better or worse, just significantly. In this town, everyone seems to know everyone. But in reality, no one really knows anyone at all. We may not know each other at all.
But if we want, we could re-meet, without presuming we know everything about each other because we shared hallways and glances across tables of coffee shops four years ago. As lame and aphoristic as it sounds, I think friendships begin with discovery, and that’s a pretty spectacular thing worth shooting for.