If you’re new here, know that a hill I will die on is the underrated and life-affirming power of friendship and its unfair relegation to second place behind (equally formative) romantic relationships.
This is a series of anonymous love letters to a different friend each time, who may choose to be named or remain nameless should they recognise themself.
My first memory of our friendship is in the Sunday rank line.
For background, in my high school we’d walk to church in a queue of pairs (we also had a specific uniform for this called “stepping out” which was FABULOUS in Winter) and this long line of paired humans was overseen by prefects. I was in North House and you weren’t we became unlikely friends while shepherding our troops to church every Sunday. Obviously, being Catholic (and being in the same year) we’d known each other for years but in the Venn diagram of friendships, our spheres rarely overlapped. Now as prefects, in our final yeat of high school, we were accidentally bonding. I say all of this to drive home the point that I think we were brought together Divine Intervention and supernaturally aided by the church. You were dripping attitude and had a lofty contempt for the rules, the establishment and anyone trying to tell you what to do. You were loyal and monogamous in your friendships and outwardly aloof (you’re still like this BTW). High school was beneath you/holding you back and you were exploring the world hitherto unheard-of by the bookish likes of me. You spent your Saturdays doing things that made me fear for your safety and I spent mine in bookstores, at the movies and probably at drummies (Drum Majorettes) practice. We couldn’t have been more different but you were exactly what I needed precisely when I needed it.
Matric was a difficult year for me. My High school experience up until that point had been lovely, lively and diverse; I had friends in many different circles (see: The Nerds Shall Inherit the Earth: Part I). If I have 10 bad memories, 80% are from the transition from grade 11 to matric. Everything was changing, I was apparently supposed to be a leader despite feeling that everything I’d learned up to that point meant that my quiet brand of leadership wasn’t going to cut it. As such, I’d had no aspirations to rise in the ranks, I just wanted to continue being excellent and busy and happy. I held no desire to discipline or dominate other people’s children and my ambitions were more of the large-scale Get Into Medschool and/or Cure AIDs variety. I couldn’t raise my voice even when I tried and I accidentally ascribed a level of maturity to my peers that they didn’t deserve. My friendships were also in free fall: my only high school best friend was being forced to reckon with the fact that our friendship was based on her assumed superiority to me (hurtful) and as a result she felt both robbed of leadership roles I was given (particularly in the sport that she’d introduced me to) and incensed because she had borne front row witness to my non-grasping ways. If there was anyone on the planet who knew how little I wanted it all, it was her. My other “friends” were making it clear (particularly behind my back) that they didn’t mind taking orders as long as it wasn’t from me. I’ve always been goofy and irreverent but underpinning this has always been a backbone of steel and disciplined determination. Its easy to overlook but it wasn’t a secret. I’ve also always been trusting to the point of delusion. These revelations came as a monumental and near-debilitating shock to me; I couldn’t belive anyone who knew me could feel that way about me. I couldn’t belive that people who’d walked beside me for years could suddenly turn jn the wake of my sudden quiet rise. But they did. And I wasn’t coping. My home and safe places had become hostile and suddenly I was spilling my guts in the Sunday rank line to the only Catholic prefect I didn’t mistrust. You.
Our friendship was based on an unspoken mutual respect and a strict code of non-judgement. You told me about your escapades and boy troubles, conflicts and fears and I did the same. You taught me that people didn’t deserve to be called friends based on Nostalgia alone. I never knew what you got out of it but I like to think that I taught you to demand good things for yourself. We both taught each other that we deserved more. I found myself looking forward to Sunday because despite the fact that, blossoming friendship or not: our circles did not overlap during the week. Or anywhere else really. We took a long time to acknowledge what we were building. It was also in one of these Sunday rank chats that we came up with idea to go see the cathedrals in Rome. You were about to learn that I don’t make idle plans.
By some miracle we’re still very close come university. Despite being on opposite ends of the country. Our dynamic was unchanged and you yelped with surprise when, towards the end of our freshman year, I asked why why you didn’t have a job yet because we were still going to Rome. Right? To your credit, you took it in stride and 2 years later we were off. It was one of the best trips of my life and I can’t think of anyone else I would’ve wanted represent both the continent and melanin with (seriously, we were the only black people and the only Africans in our group). I also couldn’t pick a better person to get lost in Vatican city with (in this scenario our token-ness saved our black asses because no tour group is going to abandon the only black girls who are conspicuous in absence). We still use our Italian christened names and we ate, danced and laughed our way through some gletao, pizza and bird attacks. We also literally turned heads (again: melanin) including those of babies in strollers. I can’t wait to go back to Florence with you; that place really crept up on us and much like our friendship, it wasn’t part of the plan.
Now, you’re still a terrible WhatsApp responder. We got way too used to being in the same city but have fallen back into our two-monthly chats. You maintain that I shouldn’t wander too far rural because I might never come back. We have so much fun together that we rarely remeber to snap a picture. You make fun of my nerdiness while being the only person I know who can pull together a Janet Jackson circa Rhythm nation ensemble to go see Thanos defeat the Avengers. You let me make you watch all of phase 3 in preparation and indulge me when I tell you that you’ll LOVE LalaLand (which you did, despite asking me repeatedly in the beginning why I’d taken you to see a musical) and I can go on record saying I would’ve easily (read: definitely) missed the Beychella performance if you hadn’t been fiddling with my YouTube algorithm.
I look forward to contentedly eating wings and drinking gin/water on one of our mother’s borrowed couches together while being relatively broke because we’re trying to be debt-free, psychologically-free travelling bitches (therapy and holidays don’t pay for themselves!). I feel seen, nourished and affirmed by you in all of my flawed forms and maintain that you’re one of my soul mates. You’re accomplished (please never forget that you hold more degrees than me), determined and suffer no fools. I love you friend. Smell your flowers.
Featured image: Carla Llanos illustrations