Are 20-year-olds allowed to call people old friends yet? If so, Tommy is an old friend.
It was 2014, my freshman year of high school. Pink braces, plaid flats, side bangs and an unreasonable amount of confidence were the most notable things about me during this time. Skinny jeans, too much cologne, black vans and weed were the things most notable about Tommy during the same time.
Tommy texted me a few weeks back when quarantine meant only hang out with the people you actually like.
“I just got home from work. You still
Twenty minutes later, he did his signature knock and wave outside my sliding glass door.
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Mutual friends were the only thing that ever got us in the same room at the start. Six years later, we’re sitting in my dining room, smoking weed, listening to music and forming a picture of a mythical land puzzle – piece by piece.
The novel coronavirus has yanked all of us out of the lives we’ve been building for ourselves. Miami has a tendency to feel like a mythical land that I’m building myself into — piece by piece.
All of us are being thrown back into old habitats. For me, that meant hanging out with one of the few friends from home I still give a shit about. We all have just enough to count on one hand, because expanding your list of hometown homies beyond five is exhausting. We all know it. There are those you call or text to check in on, and then there are the ones you’ve texted once in the last year, and it’s safe to assume it was to say “Happy birthday!”
The best of the five are the ones you don’t need to talk to all the time, the ones who have a habit of picking up where you left off, with no hour-long phone calls needed. Birthday texts are still expected.
Tommy and I don’t need to talk all the time. Yes, we always tend to pick up where we left off, but there’s another reason we space out our communication. I moved across the country almost two years ago. Tommy stayed home.
Our lives have been drastically different since May of 2018. We both do cool things, meet cool people and make cool mistakes. There’s just not a lot of crossover in what those look like anymore.
But we love to reminisce.
“I still can’t believe we got away with that,” Tommy said.
Both of us say that a lot.
Before Tommy and I began getting into trouble all by ourselves, we used to take mistakes on as a team. He was the star on offense while I held up the defense. That’s just a nice way of saying he came up with the ideas while I watched our backs.
I was really good at not getting caught. Tommy didn’t have that talent, and we weren’t always together. After more than a few failed solo missions, Tommy “transferred” from our private Catholic school to the public school halfway through junior year.
“I still regret not trying to stay. I feel like I’d be in a different place if I had,” Tommy said, snapping two more puzzle pieces together.
“I wish you did, too. It wasn’t as fun after you left,” I said, searching for more castle pieces.
We’ve had this conversation before, because it really is true. It was way less fun without Tommy there. He missed us, too. Our other friends and I were his biggest cheerleaders, and he quit the team.
Our friendship has faced the loss of close proximity before. Yes, it was on a much smaller scale, but we weren’t seeing each other everyday anymore. I wasn’t taking as many risks, so my life felt terribly boring, and Tommy was continuing to get caught. It was sad back then, but they all make for such great stories now.
And so we tell them back and forth. Over and over.
I don’t know where it was along the line, but we started getting to a point where we had told every story we had to tell and laughed enough times at the outcomes that it’s turned into nothing more than a scoff, and in the most dire cases, it’s only a sharp exhale.
We stopped running in the same circles, so our stories went around in one until we got sick of the shape.
So he’s turned into one of those friends you have to be doing something with when you hang out. You grab lunch, see a movie or have them sort all the hot air balloon pieces while you search for the edges.
So here we are, sitting at my dining room table, piecing together some fantasy land with a pink castle and a hot air balloon with a pirate in it.
Smoke and words are being blown out every few minutes.
“When you guys aren’t here, I don’t really do that much,” Tommy said.
He has tons of other friends and has fun with them all the time. But I know what he means.
“Yeah, I feel you,” I said. He knew what I meant.
Since high school, we’ve all branched out. There just seems to be something about the shit we got into back then that rooted us all in the same patch of dirt. It makes us romanticize the memories we made and the fact that we made them with each other.
He stayed and worked on the puzzle for two hours. He finished the sky while I did the hot air balloon. We snapped the two sections together just a minute before he reached for his car keys. I had to tackle the pink castle by myself the following day. It took me twice as long to fill in all the missing pieces as it had the night before, and I was dead sober this time.
Old friends are the only way to survive being thrown back into old ways. They help you build up nostalgic times as a sort of fantasy land where you were just a care-free pirate of the world, floating away in a hot inflated sense of self. You need your five finger friends to make your old world feel like it’s yours again, even if you have to build it back up. Piece by piece.
And for those who rest at six and beyond, you can count on that happy birthday.