Reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend last month had me thinking about female friendships. How are they formed, and what do they look like?
My first friend, Tracy, and I met in the fourth grade. She was so weird. Weird because she wasn’t adhering to the status quo. In another town or life, she would have been a skater kid or goth, but in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, circa 1990, “weird” kids just didn’t wear what all the other “popular” kids were wearing. The brands, Gap and Old Navy, as well as Guess, were coveted brand names. We lived in a neighborhood of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent with a splash of African-American and a whole Hasidic Jewish neighborhood no one ventured to explore.
What brought us together was our love of reading. We bonded over R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike novels and many a John Saul and Stephen King novels in middle school. While I tried to fit in by spending time with other girls, I never felt comfortable in my skin with them, like I did with Tracy. With her, she had embraced how different she was from everyone else in her thinking and interests and never paid much mind to others.
What kept us together from elementary school until college was our shared history, our loyalty to each other, and our intense friendship. We couldn’t get enough of each other during those years. Tracy didn’t have a good relationship with her mom, and I barely had one with mine, so we were each other’s support system for a long time. Tracy also had her grandmother as her surrogate mother, who provided her with comfort as well. But when her grandmother passed away when she was in college, that was the beginning of the end of our bond.
She met a guy, and he was able to provide support for her in ways I couldn’t do so. At the same time, the demise of our friendship could not have arrived at the worst moment in my life, when I needed her the most. My mom had moved back to her native country of the Dominican Republic, I was living with a newly divorced and depressed brother, and struggling to keep up with the demands of college schoolwork. I had felt like I had no one.
By the end of my undergraduate career, we were no longer on speaking terms, and I had made some new friends. I even befriended her younger cousin, who is now truly, my bestie for life.
What I learned was that people come into your life for different reasons. Tracy gave me the gift of friendship. I saw what a supportive friendship resembled from youth to adulthood. Our friendship became the template for future friendships with men, and women will go into my thirties. Other than our connection and kinship, she truly taught me that I could be all aspects of me – the weird, funny, and blunt – and still, be seen and loved for who I am. I’d find my tribe, my people, my community just by being myself.
Female friendships look different for everyone. I had the privilege of having a friend who saw me with no judgment and loved me for who I was and wasn’t and vice versa. I hope everyone has a friend or two like that in the world.