The one with the new friends

Two posts in one weekend?!? Hey, we’re living in crazy times here. But the show must go on. (I could not find any other cliche that would sound less so.)

Last week, I told you about my old friends who helped to shape who I am today. I found out that, if you are a really lucky person, you make new friends throughout your life. I am one very lucky person.

These three women entered during this most recent chapter of my life. I met each one once I started my career in education full time. To say that I would never have guessed we would become friends is the oddest way of putting it, considering we all have a huge age gap, met in the most unconventional ways, and have spent a lot of time far apart.

The One Who Gave Me Family

There are a lot of things you remember when it’s your first day of school. This is even more true when it’s your first day teaching. Now I wish I could say that I remember the moment when I met each and every one of my students, but I’ve been teaching for 14 years. That classroom is now overfilled. However, there are a few students that stick out in my memory from that very first day. Paige is one of them.

You see, I have a habit of asking students to tell me the following three things about them during their first class:

  1. What’s your favorite food?
  2. What’s a fun fact about you?
  3. What’s your favorite football team?

These are important questions because you can tell so much about a person by their answers. That first day, word got around I was a Bills fan, so naturally some “funny” kids thought they’d pledge their allegiance. They never really were.

Except for Paige, who was brought up a Bills fan by her Buffalonian father. She would prove it in my classes over the next three years by putting the Bills in projects, wearing their gear on Fridays, and in the first cool thing to happen to me as a teacher: bring me back Buffalo Bills sticky notes, wallet, and magnet.

She would end up being one of the only students I would teach in four different classes and one of the first students to travel with me to another country on a school trip. We spent 18 glorious days in Australia with 11 other 2009 graduates (one of whom was her boyfriend). I figured I would never see these 12 kids again, but Paige stuck around in the most unusual way.

@paige.e.mello and @justbmoreblog getting our cruise on!

In the beginning, Paige would visit my classroom after school when home from college, shoot me an email, hunt me down on social media. Many graduates do this at first. She did a few other surprising and amazing things.

She invited me to her graduation parties for high school and college. When her family from Buffalo came down for a Ravens v. Bills game, I had a ticket and tailgating chair waiting. Remember that boyfriend of hers who also traveled to Australia? Well, he was still around, and they would accidentally drive to Canada with me for a Bills-Redskins game. (It’s a story for another time.) Suddenly, we were making plans to go to Buffalo and stay with her aunt, uncle and cousins once a year. We would fly or drive to the Falls and spend a wonderful weekend watching the Bills, eating wings and getting Dee Dee’s ice cream. It’s become a yearly tradition.

The biggest shock and highest honor would come when she asked me to be in her wedding (yep, to that same boyfriend – Hi, Nick!) as a bridesmaid. It would be one of the most fun weddings I would ever attend. And I wasn’t some rando, I was part of the family.

I didn’t even realize it until well after it happened.

Over the course of the 10 years since she graduated from my classroom, Paige allowed me to become a meaningful and permanent part of her life. You may think that’s a lot to put on a person or that I’m counting my Super Bowls before they are won. But, um, Paige and Nick are my neighbors now. We can, and do, walk to each other’s houses, have dinners, drinks and Netflix binges. Paige has accompanied me to the Bills bars, watched my dogs, and she is the reason I have Nugget. She’s taken me to see Taylor Swift and Jay Mac and the Backstreet Boys. This year, Paige and I, along with her sister Ashley, drove her father and Nick crazy with our Christmas sing-along on our six-hour drive to Buffalo.

She has given me the extended family I never knew I wanted, and she has been there in ways that others in my life never have. She’s more than a friend at times, she’s like another sister. There’s no other way to describe it: Paige adopted me into her family, and I’m forever grateful that she did.

The One Who Gave Me Strength

The 2009 Australia trip was good to me. Besides it being the first country I ever visited, it was the first international student trip that I ever led. I didn’t know then that I would go on to visit other countries with students and travel the world solo. Years later, I would learn that 2009 trip would get me invited to visit another 2009 grad in Botswana.

While I don’t remember the first time she entered my classroom, I do remember when Kelsey came to visit after school, full of excitement and news. She was off to join the Peace Corp and would be stationed in Botswana. She was the bubbly, smiling student who was thinking about being a teacher herself and had a major love for cats when she sat at my desks. When she graduated, she would stay in touch with me and crazily work at the same high school as my bestie Melinda. But that one year of teaching just reignited the travel bug I had unknowingly given her that 2009 summer. Kelsey insisted I come and visit her in Botswana. My answer was an excited “YES!” but I didn’t truly believe it would happen.

That’s the thing about true friends: they mean what they say. The invite that Kelsey gave me turned out to be the truest and most serious invite I have ever received. After a year in Botswana, Kelsey came home for the Christmas holiday. Sitting on my couch, chatting with me and Melinda, she entertained us with stories of life as a PC volunteer and the different world that was the continent of Africa. She had gone on safaris and traveled to multiple countries, made friends with locals and other PC volunteers alike. When asked to slaughter a chicken with a dull knife, she did her best before giving up. Kelsey was doing something I had dreamed of doing and to this day have yet to try: living abroad. There was a twist to her story, one that tested her resolve and strength and faith.

If you have followed anyone who travels a lot, there will be times where the traveler has their life rocked. When things just don’t go to plan. It happened to me when I ended up in a hospital in Florida. And Costa Rica. And Florida again. This happened to her, and she had a choice of whether to return to Botswana or stay home, drop out of the program. I don’t know what I would have done in her place. I’d like to think I would have returned to the land that changed me and finish out my commitment, but I honestly don’t know. You never do until you’re in it. Kelsey returned and finished out her commitment and insisted that not just I but also Melinda join her for two weeks in her new home.

The admiration I have for Kelsey is unmatched. Given a difficult choice, she chose the hard path and came away with forever friends, an adopted homeland, and a wonderful cat named Peo. She flipped the roles we used to have and she taught me how to find your courage, use pula, and fend off monkeys that are driven to steal your cocktail garnish. If not for her and her strength and generosity, I would never have seen zebras run across the grassland, eat kudu or make meaningful friends with a Patriots fan. Kelsey and I saw our second wonder of the world together, watched The Lion King in Africa, and she even worked it out so we would have to take her to an urgent care center in Botswana. (Damn you, rusty fences.)

Kelsey has joined me back in the teaching trenches, and she’s a huge advocate for women’s rights. We went from teacher/student to student/teacher, and now we’re simply gal pals. At her Galentine’s Day party this year, I saw how she’s collected the most extraordinary group of women around her. I’m so glad to have a seat at the table.

The One Who Gave Me Inspiration

I was more than excited. Here it was April, and I was at the Duke University campus on a weekend training to prepare for a summer job. I would be in charge of curriculum at a marine summer program, and it was going to be amazing, I was sure of it. All the new hires, and some returns, were getting a crash course in the Duke way. We were staying at a local hotel and had been randomly assigned roommates for the weekend. I wasn’t sure what the job would entail, but I just knew it was going to be life changing. And it was! It was the job that crippled me for three years in a fluke, never-to-be-repeated-if-you-tried accident, where I dislocated my ankle, breaking both leg bones. But it was also the job that gave me a comrade in writing.

Nicole was a charming, intelligent and talented college graduate and aspiring writer who was passed out in our shared hotel room that weekend in April. I didn’t dorm for my college life, but I know the likelihood that you hit it off with a roomie is slim. Well, I hit the roomie jackpot. Even though we had NOTHING in common from first glance, we realized we both had a weakness for books and writing. That first conversation was the introduction in the book that has become our friendship.

That first night, we stayed up late chatting about her book ideas and screenwriting dreams. I was blown away that someone so much younger than me could be so sure of their talent. I had never managed to believe in myself for anything and here she was with a blog that was a few years old. I had just started putting together the baby beginnings of this site you find yourself on, and I marveled at her header and posts. So many words and ideas out there, flowing freely on the internet. Her site, Thoughts Stained With Ink, became the first blog I would follow. It would also become the push I needed to take myself seriously.

Nicole is all about honesty and real life. Not in the “hey, look at me and my wonderful life” way, but in that “would you look at the shit we all have to deal with?” way. Her writing is so relatable, you’d think you lived it yourself, and she’s a fantastic cheerleader and supporter. She answered so many of my writing questions that she should have charged by the hour. By following her writing, I was able to start to believe I could do this thing too, and I really went for it. Nicole inspired me to seriously attempt a run at my writing career. Which is not easy when she lives in Kansas and I’m here in Maryland. But then I guess it’s easy to keep in touch when you make a promise the first night you meet that five or six years from that night you will go to New Zealand for a Lord of the Rings conference.

Yeah, that’s a thing. And the year is this year. (Assuming travel is back on the world schedule, come July). But tell me, who does that? Who has one talk about books and LOTR and decides you will both meet up in half a decade on the other side of the planet? I mean, maybe people say it, but who follows through? A kickass friend, that’s who! Because over that time, Nicole showed up for our friendship. Through the broken ankle, the long distance, the bogs, beta readings of books and scheduled phone calls, she made sure to put in the work that so many people I know wouldn’t. She made it easy for me to drive out to Kansas on my summer road trip, showing me the way they do in Lawrence. And over all that stuff and all those years, we’ve had the dream of NZ in the back of our minds. It’s going to be an epic trip, and I’m so excited she included me in her LOTR fantasy adventure.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned we were all friends despite age and distance. These women are 10 years younger than I am, born in a different decade. As they grew up, and I grew old, they went off to college or back to their home states, traveled the world and started their lives. That sort of distance can prevent any type of friendship from starting. But with these three, it didn’t. Their friendship has proven it’s not the differences that keep you from being in a life but the people. Friendship really doesn’t have an age or distance or any other boundary. It is a choice by those people. I will forever be indebted to these three women (and the ones who are coming up in the ranks) because they continue to choose me.

What could just B more reassuring?

The article The One with the New Friends was written by Elizabeth Schap and first appeared on just B more.

Want to help me with my writing career? Like, comment or share this post! I will be forever grateful and owe you a beverage of your choice should we ever hang.

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