Sparks of friendship
When my sister met her husband, I gained a crew of friends. It wasn’t immediate, of course. I mean, I had to get to know Eric — my tall, goofy, kindhearted future brother-in-law — before being introduced to his buddies: 10 or so classmates who have remained close through their teens and twenties.
When Katie and Eric met a decade ago, I heard Eric had a “good group of friends” — the sort of crew that has eluded me since childhood. Though I’ve connected with others, we tend to ebb and flow through each other’s lives. I haven’t been part of “a crew” since middle school, and my best friend is my sister. With Katie as my partner in crime, I guess I never felt a need to make another.
But this group — eh, let’s call them The Group — has always been different. These friends are always happy to see you, never snarking about how long it’s been. They’re a funny, loud, boisterous crew that fiercely protects one another . . . but no one minds dishing out playful grief.
These are the friends who show up in 90-degree heat to help you move, accepting pizza as payment. They’re in each other’s bridal parties, offering toasts and tearing up the dance floor during the “Chicken Dance.” But they’re also the ones by your side at funerals, speaking openly about your loved one because they loved her, too.
At my sister’s wedding and my own, The Group’s members were the first ones there and the last to leave. They don’t mind getting dirty, washing plates and stacking cups. They have seen you with and without makeup — and destroy the photographic evidence. They’re the call-at-2 a.m.-ers, you know?
For the first few years Eric and Kate dated, I heard many stories about these buddies — but remained on the fringes. Caught up in my own drama, I was muddling down another path while my sister created hers. In the beginning, I resented them . . . because I was jealous. For the first time, my sister had an entire social ecosystem that had nothing to do with me.
But Katie wouldn’t let me flounder. After another relationship implosion, I knew I had to “put myself out there” — but where was there, exactly? Well, it was with The Group. The Group has never excluded me or made me feel “other.” Though so many of their inside jokes took place before I was ever on the scene, they’re laughed about so often I forget I was not actually in that classroom or meeting. As they accepted my sister, they accepted me — and, later, my husband.
Over the last 10 years, the rowdy New Year’s parties have simmered into calm occasions where we all bring a dish and jockey for the filtered water. And The Group still takes turns hosting bonfires: once at parents’ homes, now at their own. So many memories have been staged around a fire.
We talk about life goals and budgets, parenting and recipes, grocery shopping and wills. “If you need a good lawyer, I have one,” a friend will say, and we laugh. I mean: adulting.
Of course, it isn’t always easy to gather in person anymore. Get-togethers can be arranged months in advance, cross-checked with business trips and family obligations — and then plans abruptly change when a child gets sick or work comes up.
But sometimes, everything just comes together.
The events we meticulously plan may not have the best turnout, but impromptu gatherings are often well-attended. R., a friend with three young daughters, texted Saturday to see if we wanted to swing by for dinner with The Group.
My gut inclination was to decline, thinking of all the chores we needed to catch up on at home. I mean, as I read her message, a lone balloon from Oliver’s birthday party — three weeks ago — drifted overhead. I’m not spontaneous, and a Saturday night get-together 30 minutes away wasn’t on the calendar.
But that color-coded calendar gets boring, man.
Sometimes it’s best to fold the plan along its well-worn creases, tuck it in your bag and move along. We can still glance at it occasionally, but the plan is not a guide book. Not a map, and not a key.
So we packed up Oliver and went, hearing Facebook stories in person with added oomph and laughter. Many of us hadn’t been together in months . . . but it doesn’t seem to matter. That tumbling dynamic — everyone speaking over each other, asking about family, talking about everything and nothing — is the same.
Our get-togethers are different now. Many of us have married, and four children (and all their stuff) swim at our feet. They were playfully battling Saturday, my 1-year-old taking it all in with wide eyes. In the years to come, I’m sure more kids and spouses will enter — and the dynamic will change again.
But I feel that, with enough space to grow and breathe, the fibers of The Group will only bind tighter.
I’m just grateful we were woven in.