On my first day of classes at Moreau Catholic, I arrived with converse sneakers, damp hair and a make-up free face. Over the next four years, none of my male classmates ever came close to casually leaning against my open locker, crossing their arms in a sheepishly confident posture, and making banter with me about my Friday night plans. None of them ever requested my company at a dance. Few, even asked for my AIM screen name. I oscillated between blaming this oversight on my lack of Filipino heritage (unlike the majority of my fellow students) and my preference for sleeping over hair styling, and suggesting to myself that this lack of attention correlated with my four-plus GPA.
Enter Jason Barrera. Initially, we bonded over our passion for a baseball team who had lost the World Series in seven games in 2002, whooping about the results of the previous day’s games when we crossed each other in the stairwell. A season ticket holder at the time, he offered me a ticket to a game in late September of our senior year and we stared at our dumb phones as the bullpen recklessly let the Reds back into the game. We left in the 11th inning when he and his best friend wanted to go to a party. The majority of friends humored my ardor for baseball, but for Jason, this was the webbing of our relationship.
When the high school baseball season commenced the following spring, I accepted his invitation to cheer for him and his fellow Mariners on a Tuesday in March. The following Thursday, I sat in the score-keeping booth with my high school math teacher (and former ballet teacher’s husband!) and grilled him on a brief history of the varsity team. I was promoted to operating the balls and strikes on the outfield screen several weeks later. At visitor ballparks, I clapped and hollered to myself when a rally broke out and muttered under my breath when my classmates botched “routine” plays. During spring break, I drove two hours to gossip and relive inside jokes with a summer camp friend—who coincidentally lived a town over from where the team was playing in a tournament. Internally, I observed that the frustration I felt in the classroom for the intellectually apathetic jocks decreased the more I logged hours studying them in their element on the field. Jason informed me how my presence boosted team morale. I wrote a column for the school newspaper about finding my groove as the(?) high school baseball fan. As someone who at times found herself borderline resentful that my accelerated classes had established a relatively rigid divide between the academically and athletically inclined, at long last, I made peace.
Seven years after that spring, Jason and I only intermittently chat about MLB. Instead, he has prepared mate for me in an Argentine cup on a bridge in Fremont. I have stuffed my face with tacos with him on lawn chairs in his former Los Angeles backyard. We send text messages about the discomfort of being brown people in white spaces. Two weeks ago, we pedaled nearly 20 miles around Chicago’s South Side before traipsing on unreliable rocks on the shore of Lake Michigan. We can munch on chips and guacamole in my patio under twinkling lights and interrogate each other about the inexplicabilities of the opposite gender. We can imitate Jon Miller’s “Travis Ishikawa” NLCS incredulity. We can analyze the Bernie Sanders’ effect. We can grow old and we can grow more together.
One day, you and your childhood best friend will finally fight. It will take more than a decade after she first walked up to you, likely wearing a forest green t-shirt with frogs on it, and you still had a ponytail mercilessly pulled back because your father had strong opinions about his daughters’ hairstyles. It took you more than five years to walk to her house by yourself, to trek the half mile and fierce intersection with K-Mart in the parking lot, because your parents’ raised you out of the city where everything was safe except the traffic. Your friendship has persisted even when you looked down on her for ignoring the quadratic formula as you made B’s in ninth-grade Algebra 2. Retrospectively, you both laugh about the day that you bawled on her shoulder the day on the pavement in the dismal church patio that day after your hamster died. One day, you tell her that as a 7-year-old, you had specifically prayed for a best friend. Somehow, you ended up with a homeschooled hapa born 13 days after you who shared your affinity for American Girl dolls and had a trampoline in her backyard. What a God.
Now, she has a ring in her nose and a ring on her finger and before you both turn 26 next year, two children on her lap. You have a college education; she has a developed a curriculum for teaching Hindi. You can both sing Taylor Swift songs. Your friendship almost entirely exists at the mercy of email servers. You have not stayed overnight in her Delhi apartment and sipped Lassi with her while the din of an Indian marketplace rings in your ears. She has not sat on a cast iron chair in your back patio underneath the twinkly lights and toasted with Trader Joe’s cava.
Once upon a time you argued and cried and articulated the reality of your emerging differences, truth-telling that propelled your relationship into your 20’s. Nobody really wanted to play make believe into the next decade.
You have both run away from your little Bay Area suburb. Even Katy Perry can be a California girl, but you were both destined to take on the world.
As the credits played at the conclusion of Inside Out, I reached across my armrest, took Ashley’s hand, and burst into tears. I had been warned from none other than The New York Times of the high probability of adult crying and that the provocation for this emotion would likely be a reconciliation between Joy and Sadness. But unlike those who screened the film as parents, I had spent the last two hours alongside a person whose value and delight in my life was inversely related to the amount of romantic misfortune we had both encountered. I squeezed her hand and let a couple tears drop before we started giggling.
My friendship with Ashley offers me a diary which talks back. It exists as a laboratory in which to develop theories and identify patterns of young female adulthood and use our own flirty text message exchanges, online dates, and DTR (Define the Relationship) conversations as data. Much of the analysis exists in weekday GChat windows and the sweat of antiquated t-shirts earned through double digit mile runs. Occasionally, it can be found in the sticky syrup still fixed to the wrappers of fruity Mexican ice cream popsicles we stick into trash compactors.
Running the gridlines of Chicago and the Minneapolis half-marathon may be the easiest obstacle we collectively have encountered all year. The predictability of running juxtaposed against the tumultuous relational life in which we have both found ourselves mired suggests that our easy exercise success has emboldened us elsewhere. So we move on to master the game of male attention—power-infusing, ego-debilitating, relentlessly intoxicating—relieved and (beyond) thrilled for a close friend in which to revel in it all.
On the second Saturday of May, I fell asleep within several hours of noon in a suburban neighborhood in Eastern Queens. I don’t remember if the nap preceded or followed chomping down a hard-boiled egg salad, streaming a press conference confirming the winner of Guyana’s presidential elections, or cajoling Dawnique into walking around her neighborhood with me. I just know that at some point our busy bodies crashed.
Neither Dawnique nor I have a strong affinity for languishing. Since college, she’s been photographed in the White House, advised Michelle Obama, shook hands with dignitaries at the UN General Assembly multiple times, and delivered a speech in a second language in front of a former British prime minister. When she goes, she dons colorful and stylish professional dresses, wears her handbag with confidence and strolls in heels with gusto. If only.
Outside of those I share with Dawnique, few phone conversations elicit the breadth of emotion and volume. We squabble and tease. We provoke and roar.* We predictably attempt to get under the skin of each other—but in the name of honesty**—and we more comfortably than most rattle off our accomplishments.
All of that was true, that second Saturday in May. But secure in our superior status to that of the other person, we slept fast and soundly.
* After I told Dawnique that I would be dedicating my first blog post to her, I asked for a photo. True to form, she emailed me my absolute least favorite photo of us (pictured above, along with our friend Josephine), and then before I even had a chance to upload it, inquired about where she could find my eulogy to her.
**Dawnique, I’m about 100 words over my word count for this series so feel SPECIAL.
Over the weekend, my friend Jason flew out from Oakland and spent the weekend biking, drinking, analyzing, and devouring Chicago alongside me. I’ve been friends with Jason since we were sixteen, in polos and khakis and confused upperclassmen at Moreau Catholic. Both longtime Giants fans, our camaraderie deepened after we watched the 2010 World Series at odd hours of the morning while in Argentina and Spain respectively. After San Francisco won, it ultimately sparked me to write several essays reflecting on our friendship. After he journeyed back to the Bay on Sunday, I once again felt moved to write about us.
I’m not on Instagram, even though the past couple months I’ve been badly lusting over some of the lives depicted there. Part of this stems from a wish to celebrate the individuals who inject exceeding amounts of joy, mischief, and conversation into my Chicago existence. Part of this is rooted in a hunger to be desired. I fiercely love my life, but oh that propensity that my weekdays to be validated!
I’m not going to join Instagram, probably due to a reason also linked to pride in that I’d have to take more iPad pictures. I may be my father’s daughter in many ways, but cannot hold up an electronic the size of a novel without shame in most public spaces. Also, I’m not a photographer. Right now, I don’t have an eye which quickly identifies how the rule of thirds plays out in a shot and I’m not strong with composition. And someone teach me about filters.
But I write.
All of this is a roundabout way to announce—and consequently hold myself accountable to—a new project: The Joy of Being Your Friend. In posts of no more than 200 words, I’m excited to share the mini-stories of the rich interactions I’ve had with people. I’ll be writing three a week—a goal, which when I last set for myself—ultimately helped win me a reporting job.
Two last things. First, please read my recent piece on my love of American Girl. Second, I still have to determine my publishing schedule of this series when I head to South America. Be swell.