I've been thinking a lot about the boy friends in my life—those boys who were just my friends, despite the fact that I had cooties or whatever. I thought today I'd write about a few of them.
My best friend was Ezra, your average boy right down to the bowl cut. He lived across the street, and my brother and I would go over there to play all the time. I can't even remember what we'd play, but it was fun. When I started kindergarten that year, Ezra was in my class! I was so happy because he was the only person I knew.
We played on the playground, sat next to each other for "rug time," ate lunch together—until Ezra met Michael. Michael wasn't a bad kid; in fact I thought he was pretty cool. I figured he'd be just another friend to our little group. But one day he pulled Ezra aside and the whispering began.
I ran over, thinking maybe they were planning a game. "What are we doing next?"
Michael glared at me. "We don't play with girls anymore."
"What?" I looked to Ezra, knowing he'd stand up for me. What did it matter that I was a girl? It wasn't like I made them play dolls. I liked tag and capture the flag, hide and seek.
But Ezra just stared at his feet, and I knew.
I spent the rest of recess alone. I spent a lot of recesses alone.
Ezra was nice to me when we played at his house, but it was never the same after that. I was a girl. And for some reason that meant we weren't supposed to be friends. I still don't understand why, but I haven't forgotten what it felt like when Michael passed out birthday invitations to all the boys in our class. I still remember how upset I was that he took my friend for no reason.
My brother and I practically lived at the Phan's house. Lam (12) and Phung (11) were technically my friends, since they were the girls in the family. And Guong (9) and Quoc (8) were my brother's friends because they were the boys. But really, we all hung out together for the most part.
We used to have these fights—I'm talking actual fights—where we'd wrestle each other on the lawn and practice Street Fighter moves in real life. It was always fun until Quoc (we all called him "Gookie," since Quoc in Vietnamese sounds more like "Gwuk") ran off crying to his mom. He had such a temper! He'd tackle you for just about anything, but then he was a softie inside.
And Guong, he was so mild-mannered, kind. I remember laying on the grass under one of our favorite climbing trees. Guong played with their parakeet, Tweety Jr. The conversation is long lost to my memory, but I remember knowing we were friends even if he technically was my brother's friend. We laughed. Took turns holding the bird. And then went inside to make some instant noodles with Sriracha (they loved to help us "build resistance" to their favorite hot sauce).
It reminded me that boys and girls can be friends—just friends. It reminded me that not all boys look down at their feet when they should be standing up for you.
Anthony was probably the most popular boy in my grade. I wouldn't have met him at all if it weren't for 7th grade science. He got assigned as my lab partner, and I was nervous as all get out. Not because I liked him like that, but more because he was really popular and popular people were supposed to be jerks.
I mean, his girlfriend was in 8th grade and a cheerleader! He played football. He hung out with all the cool 8th graders because of his older brother. Half the girls had crushes on him. Me? I was in band. I had a raging love for Sailor Moon. AND I had, for reasons unknown, gotten really into calligraphy at the time. Talk about different circles.
But what surprised me most about Anthony was just how sincerely kind he was. We didn't just do lab assignments—we really talked to each other. He talked about how awesome his girlfriend was, and I didn't even care. I told him how the boys in band made fun of me. He asked about my calligraphy, said it was good, asked me to write his girlfriend's name and his. When our teacher told us we could switch lab partners—pick anyone we wanted—Anthony asked if I wanted to stay partners. Looking back, it was kind of this small, wonderful miracle in the torture that was the rest of my junior high experience.
The first day of eighth grade, I busted up laughing when I saw Anthony. Over the summer, he'd buzzed his lovely, wavy brown hair. And bleached it white. He looked embarrassed, but somehow we managed to stay friends. He was in my science class again and also algebra. He stayed popular (got more popular, really), and I turned into more of a dork. But we still talked.
I could tell he liked Allison, who sat in front of him in math (I sat behind him). I didn't really care because he was still my friend and that's all I really wanted.
Then it happened again. It was in algebra, and I was across the room handing in my worksheet. When I turned around, David whispered something to Anthony, who glanced at me, went bright red, and shook his head.
I don't know exactly what was said, but he didn't talk to me much after that. He took Allison to the 8th Grade Night Dance, and I spent the evening dodging a tuba player who'd asked me to dance.
This one didn't hurt like it did with Ezra. I think I already knew I was pushing my luck. We were never supposed to be friends in the first place, but I was grateful it happened and I'll always smile when I think of Anthony.
Drew was a real artist—the artist I knew I'd never be. We didn't have many classes together, but the ones we did we ended up sitting in close proximity. This happens when your last names are alphabetically nearby.
He was also a sponsored skater, deeply spiritual, and surprisingly funny. He'd be all serious one second, and the next he'd crack a joke out of nowhere, making it that much funnier. He took art classes at the community college because he'd practically out-paced our teachers. Everyone thought he was cool, and yet he wasn't one for cliques. He was himself, and it was awesome.
I can't even remember how we became friends. I think it just happened slowly over time, small conversations building into friendship. It was one of those rare teen connections. I felt like he got me, and at the same time I knew nothing "romantic" would ever come of it. We talked about what we wanted to do with our lives, about art, about religion. He'd give me rides home sometimes, since I didn't have a car and walked.
We went our different ways after high school. I haven't talked to him in forever, but somehow I know he'd be just as kind to me now as he was then. He's just that kind of person.
I met Nick, who is still my best friend.