It's Thanksgiving Eve. Cold and rainy, and the streets of Downtown Crossing are already decorated for the holidays. The Salvation Army is out in full force and every store is blaring a different version of Jingle Bells.
Liz and I are eating quesadillas at Fajitas and Rita's. We're carefully avoiding talk of "the future," because that's just not polite dinner conversation for two seniors in college. But it's on both of our minds, and it's bound to come up eventually. The challenge is picking the right context in which to bring it up and presenting the topic in just the right way.
"So what day is your graduation?"
"Awwww seriously? UMass and Suffolk's graduations are both the 23rd. I was hoping you were gonna say that Assumption's was that day too. How cool would that be if all three were the same?"
Good start. This leads into more serious discussion about such things as career choices, grad school options, and "Suddenly I decided this year that I don't really like one of my majors" dilemmas.
Luckily, we manage to realize what it is we're talking about and we both shut up before this horrifying conversation can go any further. We continue the rest of our quesadilla dinner in silence, apart from the occasional comment about the strange artwork around us and the fact that we never did get that side order of olives we asked for. Eventually Kayti gets out of work and texts us, and we venture out into the rain towards Fanueil Hall to find her and figure out where to go next.
Liz, Kayti, and I have spent every Thanksgiving Eve together since 8th grade. In high school, there would be more people involved besides us three; usually Fatima and Ashley, sometimes Kelly and Danielle, a few more here & there. We'd get out of school after pep rally at 10:45, hop on the Green line, go out to eat, pick names for Secret Santa, maybe see a movie, maybe get some early Christmas shopping done. The people and activities varied from year to year, and as the time since our high school graduation continues to grow longer and longer, it gets harder and harder for everyone's paths to cross again. But by some miracle, on the last Wednesday of November, we three still manage to find our way back to each other.
The three of us have grown immensely since Thanksgiving Eve of 2005. Since then, we've become adults. We've earned diplomas. We've branched out and started lives separate from each other. One of us went to UMass Amherst to study
Each of us has become someone new.
Each of us has grown up.
There was a time where I couldn't imagine life apart from these two. We had been best friends since 7th grade, and when graduation came around six years later and we were heading off to start our new lives in three completely separate areas of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it almost seemed like a bad dream. I was quiet. I was socially awkward. People knew me by association with my younger brother. How was I supposed to survive somewhere completely new without them by my side?
Well, we're entering the home stretch. Fall '09 finals are right around the corner, and after that comes the last semester of my undergraduate college career. I am proud, ecstatic, and, in all honesty, even a little surprised to say I did it. I survived. I made a new group of friends, some of the best I've ever had. I became involved in a wide varitey of clubs and activities at school, from Class Assembly and CAB to Chapel Choir and START Retreats. I became an a cappella performer and a student leader. I've held officer positions in two organizations for the past two years. I've learned so much about myself since June 2006, and I'm still learning more every day.
Maybe I had a bit of a rocky start at the beginning, but I've somehow managed to hold my own for the past four years. I've made it this far with no major issues except for a health/fire safety violation (and subsequent probation) for possession of birthday candles and a couple of weekend nights gone terribly wrong at the hands of Captain Morgan. Even after that quick field trip to the emergency room during gen chem lab in October of freshman year, when I thought for sure I was doomed to be known as "the fainter" until May 2010, I got over it and now look back on it with a good laugh, like I do with all the other bumps in the road I've hit on my way here.
Compared to the me of my high school days, I am as much a different person now as I am the same person. There are pieces of me that only my college friends know, not neccessarily because those pieces weren't there in high school, but because I didn't know how to express them. I didn't know what they were yet, didn't know what to do with them. However, I wouldn't know where to even start looking for those pieces if not for the guidance of my high school friends. They were the ones who knew me before I knew myself. They were the ones who saw potential in me where I saw shortcomings. They were the ones who prepared me for the day I would have to leave Boston Latin School and move on to bigger (sort of?) and better things, the ones who brought me to the end of one chapter so that I could start the beginning of a new one. They know where I've been, and I know I'll still be able to find them once I get to wherever it is I'm going.
We're an indecisive group; we always have been. After relying on a series of coin tosses to determine our course of action for the night, we find ourselves sitting at the bar in Kinsale. We catch up on each other's lives. Each of us has been well, each of us is enjoying school for the most part. One of us has a boyfriend but doesn't want him touching her unless he finds a way to turn into Rob Pattinson. One of us has recently found interest in a guy who does not appear to have a boyfriend of his own (although she still finds the ones who are boyfriends with each other quite attractive). One has a huge crush on a guy but is putting forth every effort to make sure he doesn't know about it unless, y'know, it happens to come up in casual conversation. We dance around the dreaded topic of "the future," but it finds its way into our reminiscing anyway. And wouldn't you know it, we're all freaking out. This is it, we're about to be shoved further into this place called the Real World that everyone keeps talking about, and none of us seems all too thrilled to have to leave the comfort of this apparent Fake World we've all been living in up until this point.
It's scary. It's like June 2006, part II--but this time around, the stakes are higher; the unknown maze up ahead is looking a lot more confusing than the one we faced just four years ago.
Just when it looks like the same depressing silence from dinner's failed "future" talk is about to overtake our lovely get-together, Kayti makes an observation:
"How great is it to be able to sit at a bar and just talk instead of wandering around Boston for hours with nothing to do and nowhere to go?"
She's right. It is great. It's Thanksgiving Eve 2009, and we've finally all reached the age where we can park ourselves at a bar for a few hours, relax, and enjoy a few brews, instead of having "movie" or "shopping" as our only two options. While the Thanksgiving Eves of the past have all been great, this is a first. This is huge, because it's actual proof that we have grown up. We're 21, 22, and 21, so different than the 18-, 18-, and 17-year-olds we were when we left high school but still so the same. We've gone different places, done different things, met new friends, been shaped and transformed into new people, but we can still bring it back to where it all started. We've kept the tradition of Thanksgiving Eve alive from 8th grade to the end of college, even though we've become different people. We'll continue to keep it alive in 2010, 2011, and--dare I say--even 2019. We'll have to adapt to our various new situations and new adventures, but that's what they made things like telephones, Skype, and babysitters for. Somehow, we'll find a way to bring it all back while still allowing ourselves to fly free and do whatever it is each of us has been put on this earth to do.
That's not only great. That's beautiful.
This year, I'm thankful for my friends, old and new. I'm thankful both for the ones who have watched me grow up over the past four years, and for the ones who got me to the point where I could allow myself to grow up. And, as freaked out as I get when forced to acknowledge "the future," I'm thankful for the new roads that we'll all find in front of us at the end of this year. Each new road is a new opportunity for us to grow up a little more and become new people; another reason for you to call up those friends, both old and new, grab a few beers and celebrate a made-up holiday so you can get to know the new people each of you has become. Because when it comes to growing up, half the fun of arriving at wherever it is you're going is being able to take a trip back to the place you came from.