It is a common word which is thrown around with many connotations and meanings. When I was a child I used to think my friend was the schoolyard playmate who would slide down the icy hill, or share their fruit snacks, or invite me to their birthday party.
When I entered high school a friend was someone who would lie to my parents when they called so I could go to the movies with a boy, or who would give me a gift card to my favourite store on my birthday, or who comforted me when that boy I went to the movies with started dating another girl instead.
A friend would know your phone number by heart, and call you often, picking you up in their new car or inviting you to their cottage with their family. Friends would come to your parties, be nice to you, and were someone to sit and eat with at the school cafeteria during lunch.
The concept of friend has been very volatile in my life. I’ve had many – lots – and some I still have, from most of the different eras of my life. I distinctly remember before I went to high school I wrote in my journal that although most times my friends were great – I hated some of them.
Maybe I was disturbed, or jaded, or unappreciative. That’s how I looked at it my whole life. My whole life I thought something was wrong with me because half of the time I absolutely hated a lot of my friends. I thought every friendship was supposed to have lies, secrets, backstabbing, cattiness, and general misery.
Maybe I was a masochist. Maybe I thought this was normal.
Granted I'm not a perfect child myself. I was spoiled just the same; I did whatever I could to come out first. I put myself ahead of everyone and I never thought anything of it because a lot of the company I kept did not warrant any effort on my behalf. I was rude, ungrateful, and I was terrible to some people. When doing these things, I convinced myself they would have done the same to me, and some of them did. Others didn’t, but for whatever reason I was unaffected by the hurt I caused others or the hurt done to me.
This made me stronger than I have ever been in my entire life. It made me a shark. I was impenetrable, unreadable; I put everyone else’s feelings and any consideration on the backburner if it gave me what I wanted. I was a brick wall, a robot… focused on being first and the best.
It got me ahead. I took risks, and I was bold. People jeered at my attitude but they were jealous. I let friendships slip and fade, and took people, relationships, and others for granted. I literally pushed everyone in my life away from me because I was so concerned with myself.
It wasn’t until my 20’s – maybe even later – that I realized I was broken inside, and that everything I knew about friends, everything I ever knew about how relationships with others worked was all a lie.
As I grew, graduated high school and went off to university and future careers, I had forged several relationships. Most of which were pleasant but shallow because I didn’t open myself up a lot of the time. As time went on, the person I knew started to change. I began to notice friendships had value, and the people I befriended genuinely cared about me. When things took turns for the worse (and it happened several times), I learned of an amazing thing that I never knew existed.
People, friends of all lengths and depth suddenly emerged out of the woodwork like animals emerging from the forest. Friends of all kinds were unexpectedly present when I needed them. Friends I hadn’t appreciated in the past, friends who I let our friendship fade, and people who were willing to be there for me and let me know that although I may have thought it, I was not alone.
New friends and old stood around me and helped me stand, listened, offered advice and kindness. This amazing new thing I learned was that this, these people, is what friendship is. These people are friends, and that real friends wouldn’t do these things I was so used to them doing. I began to realize that I was becoming a better person not having toxic people in my life, and I was able to form real, lasting friendships with people because I had no reason to mistrust them.
I can’t begin to tell you what an enormous weight was lifted from my shoulders knowing I wasn’t broken. Or what an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, love, and compassion I have for the people around me now. When acts of kindness are no longer met with the cringe of deceit to come, but instead are met with kindness returned.
I used to think I was broken; and maybe I was. These people have allowed me to be a better person, and have allowed me to see what I had been missing most of my life. The error of my ways and others is no longer there. And while my forceful and fighting attitude has definitely subsided (I mourn it some days), I can look at myself and see that I am on the road to being the person I want to be, and I am extremely lucky to have the people in my life who let me know that they value me, and whoever I end up becoming.