Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: About how fate and coincidence are the main drivers of almost all my friendships.
The first time I go to summer camp I’m five years old. I’m very excited even though I’m afraid of the wilderness. We live just a few minutes from New York City so the camp isn’t exactly sweeping, empty wilderness but having lived only in a jungle made of concrete, even the 40 acres or so of trees and lakes this camp sprawls over is daunting.
I have very interesting memories of camp. Of long, arduous walks in the hot sun that felt like Odysseus-level epics. Memories of a half dozen different swimming pools dotted across a concrete floor, each one for a different level of swimmer. Councilors who seem as tall as trees and whose voices bark orders like drill sergeants. In my mind’s eye, through the thick underbrush, there’s a a wide open soccer field that appears out of nowhere.
This is the only time I technically attend camp alongside my sister. My sister is 6 years older than I am so we were never together but also she is expelled from this camp after about half the summer there. I remember a heated discussion between my parents of whether or not it was worth it for me to keep going to camp if my sister couldn’t go anymore. I remember the relief when it was decided I needed to make friends. The relief when I knew I wouldn’t be trapped in the house for the rest of the summer with my sister.
But at that camp, where we cooked sweet potatoes over a fire we made ourselves, and where I learned how to make a hammock out of rope, that’s where I met Rebecca. Rebecca was a curious little thing. A year older than me and from the other side of Queens, she looked nothing like me. Boney knees, arcing inches taller than me, and with a deep olive complexion she had a thin pointed oval face with a mess of thick, curled up, black hair piled on top. Most of all, she had a nose which was somehow flat and rounded at its point – like it had been pushed into the shape of a button.
A biking accident. Last summer. She fell off her bike, broke her nose, and it squished just so. At least that’s how she explains it the first time. She explains while flailing her arms at each deep, violent detail and I like that about her. She tells me about blood and guts flying out of her body when she crashes her bike. She makes the sounds of the crunch of her bones and the metal pulling apart. She makes it feel deadly and dire. We are immediately best friends because she is, like me, morbid and hilarious. We flip off people when we think they’re not looking. We tell jokes that kids think are dirty. We make fun of the councilors. One time we pull a prank where we pretend to be drowning in the pool that ends with the two of us sitting in the medical hut getting a lecture about humility and morality.
It’s very tearful at the end of the summer when I realize we will go to different schools. We won’t be able to see each other for a full year but we promise to come back to camp. I’m lying. I don’t know it yet, but I’m never coming back to this camp. I won’t even be going to school I was attending last year. Everything is about to change without my permission and so the last time I see Rebecca, she is flipping me off with her tongue out, leaning out the back window of her parents car and I don’t think anything of it.
When I’m 11, gangly limbed and strange, I’m sent to yet another school. This is my first middle school. Everyone else knows people elementary school there except me but I’m already used to being new and unknown. I go to class, I get good grades, I try to make friends. I don’t mind being lonely because I’m coming off of one of the best summers of my life, the second time I’ve ever gone to camp (a different camp) and it was a magical experience where I met people who actually liked me. I don’t pretend I will ever see them because I’m learning that you can’t hold on to anything. Everything changes so quickly. Everything up and disappears the second you try to grab hold.
I decide that I want to take french horn lessons alongside my violin lessons. I forget why. This is what fate is though. Fate is being slowly pushed around by forces you can’t see but you feel them swirl deep inside your gut. Fate is waking up one morning and deciding that even though you’re the smallest kid in your grade, you can and should play the french horn – an instrument you have trouble lifting.
I get to take lessons with just one other student which seems lucky to me and even luckier, they let me keep the french horn I can’t carry at school. It means that I spend a lot of time in the band room which is where I see her. A tall, stark girl with her thick, black hair that has been painstakingly and painfully straightened. Her olive skin glowing at the edges of her t-shirt, her bony, nearly knock knees poking out the bottom of her pink jean shorts, and her glistening braces placed right underneath her oddly rounded, flattened button of a nose. She is unmistakably Rebecca. I feel frozen because I don’t understand how she exists. We’re both miles and years from the camp.
She stares at me across the room and says “oh, do I know you?” so casually that I’m not really sure if I made her up or not.
“Are you Rebecca?” my voice catches a little in my throat. Her entire face lights up and she immediately flips me off while sticking out her tongue. She is, and always will be, Rebecca.
We don’t share any classes together. She only remembers me in clips and phrases. I remember her about the same. We both remember the story about her nose but she doesn’t tell me if it’s real or a lie. I don’t want to know anymore anyway. We become immediately inseparable and I spend more time at her house than my own. It helps that she lives in a mansion but if we hung out in the rundown apartment I live in, I think it’d be okay too.
The next year at school we manage to scheme enough that we share a class together. We start to add more friends to our social group, we make up new stories about why Rebecca’s nose is flat. One time she was caught in a Godzilla attack. Or it’s aliens who experimented on her. Magic spells. Sometimes we pretend it’s even something so crazy but so mundane as genetics.
Halfway through that year, my mom tells me we have to move. It’s a tearful goodbye between the two of us on a cold day in January but it’s not a special day at school – just Friday. I board the school bus and immediately run to the back row to catch one last glimpse of her. As the bus drives away from her she flips me off and sticks out her tongue. I echo her. I tell myself it’s a promise. She had promised to write (she never does) and I promised to call (I never do) but this gesture is more than that. We’re promising we’re open to fate bringing us together again instead.
I only spend another year at the next school too and at the end of that year I kind of hope we’ll drift back to that old place and I’ll return to her but we don’t, we just keep moving forward. I still think that I’ll find my way back to Rebecca again someday but even if it never happens, I feel lucky to have spent just a little more time feeling like fate was on my side. Bringing something back that I thought I’d lost.