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Authentic Eagles: Christine Zhao On Friendship

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Christine Zhao, A&S ’14

As graduation edges closer, there seems to be an increasing focus on “being present.” And how many times do we need to be told that life is short before we start to act like it? Everyone keeps telling me to enjoy the time I have, as much as I can. This advice tends to fill me with panic—what if I don’t enjoy it enough? I find “being present” harder to do now more than ever, especially with so many big decisions coming up in the near future. Once again, uncertainty looms over our heads. What will the upcoming phases of our lives hold? What scary changes are going to come at us next? At the forefront of these concerns for me is what will happen with my friendships. As someone who isn’t great at letting go, I am anxious at the idea of moving forwards.

From middle school until now, I’ve transitioned through a number of friend groups. From all of those groups, there are less than a dozen people I still talk to regularly. But they’ve all left their marks on my life, and as they came and went, I kept a part of those relationships with me. I get stuck on the concept of forever. Once in fifth grade, and another time in eighth grade, I was asked to write a letter to my future self. What would I want her to know? What would I want her to remember, all those years from now? In each of those letters, I started off with something along the lines of: “Hi! I hope you are still best friends with ______, ________, and ________!” The names changed, but the sentiment stayed the same. I wanted “best friends forever” to mean something more than an AIM profile mention, or a half of a necklace. Of course, the nature of my friendships, and what a “best friend” really meant, changed as my understanding of the world deepened.

Over the years, I grew close with people as I drifted away from others. Often, I let go without realizing. I made one of my closest friends my freshman year at Boston College. We met across the hall in Medeiros B and became instant best friends. We got along so well that people thought we’d known each other since high school. She transferred our sophomore year, and I vowed to keep in touch with her. We talked on the phone at least once a week, and made sure to text one another regularly. We saw each other during the breaks. But then, the time between our phone calls slowly grew from days into months. The next time we talked, too much had happened in her life, and my own, to catch up. And yet, when I do talk to her, I feel as if no time has passed at all. But it bothered me that it didn’t really bother me when we hadn’t talked in a while. When I pick up the phone to call her, it’s like talking to my high school friends who I’d known forever. We try to gauge each other’s reactions. Is it the same? Is it harder to talk to one another? When we tell each other stories, how excited am I to hear her’s? Sometimes, I can’t help but feel as if nothing can ever be the same again. Heraclitus comes to mind—you can’t step in the same river twice.  I suppose the ability to use my cursory knowledge of philosophy to reason is an indication of growing up, and letting go, as well.

At the November 2010 48 Hours, I felt lucky that I had found a close group of friends so quickly in college. While others spoke about how difficult it had been to find genuine friendships, I thought about the people who had, in the span of 8 weeks, become as close to me as any of my high school best friends. We didn’t share a history, and couldn’t replicate the years of shared experience, but our interactions were so easy, so carefree and happy. I suppose I felt blessed, too. But it’s still impossible to make things last forever. People change. Things happen, and feelings are hurt. Twenty-one years isn’t many, but it’s enough time to understand that apologies aren’t always enough. I’ve created rifts in my life, and have been unable to cross them. In some ways, this part of my piece is an open letter to all the people I’ve hurt, and those who have hurt me.

Recently, I stopped hanging out with two people who I once considered to be my best friends in college. We had had one too many fights. We didn’t trust one another anymore. The other day, I asked one of them how his weekend was. There was nothing extraordinary about the conversation itself, except that the person I was asking used to be someone I saw everyday. A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have had to ask how his weekend was. I would have spent it with him. We were in a Carney hallway, of all places, waiting for our finished theses to be printed.

I nodded towards his coffee cup. “Black?”

He nodded. I didn’t really need to ask. I knew it was what he always drank. I struggled to find the right words to say next. Finally, I said, “Maybe we can catch up over dinner sometime this week.”

I remember at this point in the conversation, I laughed. Not because it was funny, but because there was something profoundly ridiculous about having to ask someone who I’d been through so much with if they might want to catch up soon. I wanted to say that I missed him, and his roommate. I wanted to apologize for how things had turned out, and I wanted to ask if there might be some way we could fix things. I felt that I’d gone through a friend divorce—we got joint custody of some of our mutual friends and activities, and sole custody of others. I realized that I hated admitting how transitory everything is, as melodramatic as that may sound. I am afraid of the people I love becoming memories, a name in a funny story, told decades from now to a couple kids and the dog.

I realize that these changes have happened before, and will probably happen again. This cycle runs its course, and some friends will stay on for the start of the next go-around. Others leave, moving into someone else’s circle. I think about all of the friends I once knew better than myself. There were men and women—then just boys and girls—I spent hours on the phone with in the middle of the night, hiding in my closet so my parents wouldn’t hear me through the walls. There were people I made pacts with to stay friends forever, whose presences have been reduced to  the occasional ‘Like’ on Facebook. That being said, I still love them. To all the people I have met and lost track of, I thank you for sharing time with me, however long or short.

So, dear friends: I’m sorry if I won’t be a part of the weekends to come.  I hope someday we can try again. Perhaps when we are just a part of one another’s old stories, one of us will be inspired to reach out. And when that moment arises, I won’t mind having to make the first move.

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