Assigned seats seem silly now. I recently graduated from college and the idea of anybody telling me exactly who to sit next to, ever, sounds borderline otherworldly, but there was a point in most everyone’s lives where it was just another expected part of the order of things. And, as odd as it might be, assigned seating probably changed my life.
In the beginning of third grade I had accrued a total of one best friend. She and I met in kindergarten and found a mutual interest in forcing our beanie babies to battle one another — accompanied with soap opera-esque storylines — and we’d been inseparable for years. At the end of any school day, one of us would usually end up at the other one’s house for at least a little while, and I spent many weekends illegally rolling around in the stockpile of rock salt the town kept near her home. It seemed unreasonable to me that I would ever find another friendship like that one, even when I was sat a a four-person table at the beginning of third grade with this person and two others whom I had never met before.
And yet, by the end of the third grade, I had amassed a total of three best friends.
The four of us were tied up in nothing but each other’s business for years. It was rare that we’d talk to or hang out with anybody else, and those who tried to navigate their way into our camaraderie were often met with unintended resistance. We had too many inside jokes for any average schmo to want to wade through, and had experienced too many honest moments with one another for our connection to be anything other than “intense.” We were *that* group.
Eventually, my first best friend slipped away, finding interest in people and pastimes that resulted with her being associated with our elders rather than her peers. The drift was slow and without ill-intention, but also far from unusual– this is what happens when you’re 13. It was disappointing in the moment, but the remaining three of us accepted her waning presence together, just like we did everything else.
And then, sometime around ninth grade, one of my two remaining best friends revealed that his family was thinking about moving to Florida. It was shocking, and I know for the majority of the time leading up to the move I just pretended he wasn’t going anywhere. I was never going to be the same age as my favorite cartoon characters, and he was never going to move. We were going to be 14 forever, playing altered, violent versions of Dance Dance Revolution in his living room and trading snacks at lunch.
Throughout this time, and especially around the time of his announcement, I had been a particularly somber individual. I was always annoyed about something, I thought people were out to get me, and I was in myriad of fiercely unspoken competitions with my peers. Above all, I was quietly convinced that I had an especially profound connection innermost workings of the world. Nobody understood things like I did– the earliest stages of cynicism. It was a strange time, and while I’ve blocked out a lot of my rendezvouses with teenage irrationality, I do distinctly remember one moment.
I don’t recall what exactly we’d been doing, but I vaguely remember the blaring whiteness of the surrounding walls and the dark painted flecks of my school’s tile floor, so I’m assuming we were on our way to the lunch room. We were walking, probably chattering about some completely nonsensical hypothetical situation, when I had what I assumed to be a moment of clarity. I thought to myself, “You know, in five years we’ll probably be strangers.”
Then, due to my weird penchant for morbidity, I shared the thought with my friends. Naturally, they were immediately taken aback and appalled, but I have no doubt in my mind that I’d only watered a seed that had already been potted in the backs of their heads. That was around seven years ago.
I just saw them last week.
It was the first time the three of us had hung out together since 2008, and it was perfect. It was stupid and easy just like any other friendship that’s been existing for over a decade, and despite our previous physical separation and intermittent text messages there was nothing even mildly awkward about it.
Our bodies were no longer the playthings of teenage hormones, our heights aligned differently, our hairstyles changed drastically, our voices were near unrecognizable, our faces seemed more final somehow, and yet the feeling was exactly the same. We fumbled around the same local cemetery we had nervously giggled about when we were 11, our senses hazed by more than just adrenaline, and watched the clear night sky from its cold pavement. We laughed at each other’s stories and brought up the same ridiculous hypothetical situations we had spent hours debating when we were younger. We talked well past midnight, despite having to wake up early the next morning, until the weights of our eyelids won while we were splayed out on couches. Our lives are as different as our changed voices and appearances, but the familiar warmth of our childhood friendship was there the moment we beckoned it.
Everything worth noting was changed. Old classmates had passed on, some had vanished from our minds completely, and others were on paths we never would have expected when we were 14, but the rhythm of our interactions was as distinctive and refreshing as cooking something you haven’t in a while. We’re still best friends. We’ll *always* be best friends.
My alleged moment of clarity when I was in ninth grade wasn’t a moment of clarity at all. It wasn’t deep or emotionally significant, it was just a depressing forecast from a depressing 14-year-old.
I’m 21 now, and while I can imagine never being assigned a seat again in my lifetime, I cannot imagine my life without these two people, regardless of how present we are in one another’s daily activities. I’m positive it’s the same way for a lot of people, and that this easing conclusion might not have yet landed on their shoulders.