Sparks of friend­ship

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

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