“It felt like I had no one, and in a city as big as New York, you’d think it was impossible to feel so utterly, desperately, and completely alone, yet here I was.”
The Midwest has this strange charm about it. The hometown accents, the pronunciation of long a’s in the words “bag” and “tag,” and the smell of hops coming from one of the many breweries in gentrified industrial neighborhoods that make you feel at home even when you’ve only been visiting for an hour, a day, or a week. People go out of their way to make you feel welcome. They say hello, they wave, and they smile while allowing you to merge lanes in rush hour traffic despite the fact you were in the left lane and your exit is coming up in less than 20 feet.
While it doesn’t seem like it when I think back, my first day of college was in the autumn of 2005. That’s almost 13 years ago. Fuck, I’m old. It was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a strangely segregated city in what could have easily been Collegetown, USA. It was a simpler time when there were cell phone minute overages, no cell phone apps, and definitely no iPhones. Communication was mostly in person and you got to actually know your friends in real life instead of meeting once in a bar and only ever speaking again over social media.
The friends I made in college are still some of my best friends now, even though I have moved to different states, countries, and continents. They’ve still been my best friends through us losing ourselves in relationships when we didn’t speak as often, through awful jobs we’ve gotten fired from, and even battles with depression we didn’t think we would make it out of. I can’t be sure if that’s Midwestern values, or if that’s just because we actually care about each other for who we are, and not some strange thing the media told us we had to be.
To borrow from the amazing 90s film Meet Joe Black featuring Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani, love is when they know the worst thing about you, and it’s still okay. And I think knowing your friends’ secrets; who they slept with, their battles with eating disorders, and even helping them break the taillights out of Josh’s car when he cheated on Ashley, you know, keeping those secrets close to your heart, and not spilling the tea when you get into an argument is paramount in solidifying a healthy, lasting, and strong friendship.
When I moved to New York, I kind of lost myself. I was immersed in a new lifestyle in a crowd of new friends who I thought were fancier than my old Midwestern friends. They were tall, thin, and well dressed. They knew more about wine, art, and culture, and we could get into any party we wanted because we looked the part. We stayed out at clubs until 4 a.m. and then had after parties until 6 a.m. We partook in all kinds of “party favors” and we name dropped when we needed to in order to get what we wanted. We were as young, beautiful and free as the show Friends made it seem with all the glamor of Sex and the City. But all of that was a façade. A lifestyle like that was sustainable for a few summers, and it was fun, but it wasn’t the real me.
My depression started to show up more and more. I wasn’t sleeping, and when I had outbursts, crying out for help, those fancy New York friends didn’t know how to help me, or just didn’t care to. So It felt like I had no one, and in a city as big as New York, you’d think it was impossible to feel so utterly, desperately, and completely alone, yet here I was. I had no other choice than to reach out to my friends from Wisconsin. After all, they knew the real me, and that, it was okay right? It was enough. I was enough. I’d hoped.
I cast a small, but efficient net to a few friends and within minutes, they’d all responded. It took everything in me to reach out for fear of rejection, shame, and the feeling of impending doom that I had tried so long to hide. I was strong, I was capable, I could hand this! I just needed to be a man! But what I didn’t know was, sometimes we get so hell-bent on staying strong, we don’t realize that we’re knotting ourselves into a ball and that one loose thread could unravel everything. And that’s essentially what happened.
Even from afar, my friends, the ones from college, the ones who knew the real me from the beginning, helped me build myself back up again, and get back to the real me, whoever that was. When you spend a few years behind a façade, you start to forget what’s on the other side of that wall. But your friends, your real friends, those are the ones who will help you demolish that wall, and build a shelter from the storm. Never let them go.