Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Boy Friends

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.

Age Six

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.

Age Ten
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.

Junior High
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.

Age Seventeen
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.

Age Twenty
I met Nick, who is still my best friend.


  1. "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."

    That made me smile like whoa. Those are the most precious memories.

    Of course, the boy you met at age 20 is the best. ;)

  2. Interesting... funny that most of my best friends in life have been boys. I remember Kenny, Robert, Tim, Donny, Troy...

    I really didn't make girl friends much until after I met my friend Richard and then married him. Very cool memory lane stuff. It stirs a lot of old memories.

  3. Oh how I love this post.

    I always seemed to relate better to boys--at least until college.

  4. And the best part is--we can troll these memories for STORY IDEAS! Everyone has his/her friendships of the opposite sex, for good or bad, for shallow or not-so-shallow, and they all shape who we are when we write.

    I've definitely modeled a few of my characters after guys I've known...David from my art class for instance, whom I look upon through a mist of fond memories and also sadness because I moved to Oregon my sophomore year and left him behind in CA. Sigh!

  5. Boys didn't like me friend-wise or romantically until college. No, not even then. Of course, with like five exceptions, neither did girls.

    As a general rule, little kids liked me, people a generation older liked me, not really anyone in the middle.

    Now, I'm depressed. I guess that explains why my husband is so much younger than I am.

  6. I'm moving from junior high to high school this fall, and boys can be such.... how do you say? non-friends!

    Almost every boy I know is a pervert.

    And the few who aren't perverts are really cool nice people. I pick them for friends.

    I've also found that romantic relations never work for kids my age.

    So I stay with the general rule, wait til your older.

    So I know I'll be okay.

  7. I've had a lot of 'boy friends' too. There have been 2 girls who've been right there for most of my life, but they've never been who I run to...

    You're so lucky for that boy you met at 20. :D

  8. Psh, who needs boys? ;) J/K... what fantastic memories!

    I was always more of the "boys" girl when it came to making friends. They didn't talk about dumb things as much as the girls did. I think I'm still a bit that way...

  9. Wait -- boys can be NICE?! Since when? Does "Scientific American" know about this??

    Yay for nice people :D

  10. Aw, your stories tugged at my heart. Kids can be so unintentionally cruel without even realizing what they're doing :(

    I feel pretty lucky... my best guy friend is Mike. We met when we were seven, and I just went to his wedding last year. He's one of my oldest friends, and it doesn't escape me how incredible it is that we've been friends for... twenty years, holy crap.

  11. There are some really sweet parts to your memories. I'm sorry those those jerks David and Michael spoiled things a bit.

    I gave you an award over at my blog. Don't worry about passing it on if awards aren't your thing. Just consider it a shout-out for your blog.

  12. I loved this post! It was so heartwarming and familiar. You've inspired me to write a "Boy friends" post of my own someday. Thank you for sharing.

  13. This is cool. I can see where a lot of the elements in your fiction come from actually.

  14. My best friend in kindergarten was a boy too. His name was Kevin. He was short and I was taller than average at that age (heh, now I'm actually just average height now). We played together ALL the time. I don't really think I had any girl friends then.

    I was even the ONLY girl who got invited to his birthday party. I think the boys thought it was weird and I ended up playing with his little sister much of it. But I do remember I cried when I left because I didn't want to leave.

    I always wonder how long our friendship would've lasted past that year. He ended up moving over the summer.

  15. Sailor Moon was amazing.

    I just wanted to throw that out there.

  16. I liked this post Natalie. I could relate to a lot of it,