A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Monday, July 20, 2015

They Come and Go: A Look at the Friendships in My Life

Con mi hermana y unas amigas
Sometimes I wonder if I'm more insecure about my friendships than my romantic relationships. You see, throughout my life I have been able to control the latter more than the former. Whenever I didn't like a guy, lo botaba. If I was super in love with someone who didn't love me back, at least the attachment never existed (except for in my head and broken dreams). But because of my experience living con un pie aquí y otro allá as an immigrant, and the many schools I attended, I became super possessive of my friendships--not in a jealous way (dique) but more in a, "why haven't we talked in so long? omgwhatdididowrong doyouhateme" kinda way.

La primerita amiga that I ever had was una gordita. I can barely make out a complete memory except that I was in my very first grade in school (I think kinder) in el Colegio La Zurza in Santiago. It is easily one of the earliest memories that I have. And I didn't actually like her. She always wanted to play with me but I really just wanted to be left alone- believe it or not I am an introvert at heart. But she insisted. I can see her silhouette, blue uniform, and a memory of me crying and her taking me to the teacher. Then, I was changed to another school porque La Zurza was right next to a giant hole, by a bridge, and mom always feared que eso se iba a derrumbar- that it would fall. I went from there to El Colegio Sagrado Corazón de Jesus and met otra amiguita. I actually liked this one. She was way taller than I was, and seemed older. I still remember her face clearly. She was indiecita with textured hair, and had some missing teeth (I mean, we were like 6). During this time, I was also friends with a bunch of kids on my neighborhood, especially Rosa** who was a year older than me and in a different school. We used to play de todo en el vecindario. Rosa and I were the only girls among the whole group except for Jennifer*** who left the neighborhood a couple of years before I did.

Then there was 2nd grade, the year that I did here, in the US. I came here with my older sister, and unlike in past years where we only stayed for summer vacation, this time we were left with our grandparents for the school year. And it was intense. I went to Number 1 school- La "numbal wan" like grandma used to say. It was a cold building, with a lot of floors. We had to make a line inside before going to the classroom upstairs. Everything seemed to be dull colors, either gray, brick red, or a dirty beige. The weather was dark, so even though there were a lot of windows, the bright white lights always needed to be turned on as if we were in a hospital. The desks here were different too- they were kind of cool. We even had a little space under them to store stuff. Mrs. Zaldaña was a white looking lady with blonde hair but she actually wasn't our only teacher. I used to love art class and I was the best at math- even have a little certificate to prove it. I was in something called ESL because I needed to learn English. This time, I didn't really have any friends in school. Aside from the Lunchables buelita used to get me, the food was cool too-even though I ate alone. One time, we were playing catch and I was It. I was following this boy from my class and he ran into the boys' bathroom and I almost ran in but I didn't, however I did stick my head inside the door before realizing what I had done. All the kids then started making fun of me. Apparently I had peaked into the boys' bathroom. Once we were back in class, me chibatearon! One of the kids told the teacher, who already didn't like me because I was pretty much getting in trouble every day, that I went into the boys' bathroom. She yelled at me, then let it go. I was still mortified.

After that school year ended, we returned, and I jumped schools for several grades before ending up in El Cardenal Beras, then El Colegio Padre Emiliano which was a new school that had many of the same students as the previous one. There I met girls who have stayed in my life for a while. I mean, I've known some of them since 4th grade. The friendships I was forming felt deep, positive, and like sisterhoods. Especially because we were going through 6th and 7th grade together which are messy years. I gave my first kiss during that time.

Then 8th grade happened. Half-way through the year we went to the US for economic reasons. I didn't go back to numbal wan school, instead I went to number 6. Imagine that. In the middle of eight grade ending up in cold-ass West New York, NJ with a bunch of kids going through puberty and giggling through sex-ed class. Thankfully it was the last year before they opened the middle school right next to the high school, so I didn't have to deal with [predatory] older boys.  This time though, I was in regular English-speaking classes.  It was a very difficult experience. I initially was talking to everyone and trying to be friendly. During my first week, two girls from another class started talking about "the new girl." They came over to me, one of them already knowing who I was pointed me out, the other one looked at me up and down then simply walked away while scoffing, like I wasn't worth it. This hurt, a lot. But I was still seemingly making friends. I was hanging out with everyone, both the popular kids who sometimes accepted me and then the seemingly unpopular kids who were actually way better. Then, one time, during my lunch hangouts with popular kids one of the girls asked "Amanda, who do you hang out with?", I didn't understand the question- como asi?- She explained that sometimes I hang out with other kids and other times with them. Her question was obvious, basically I had to choose. And I chose the unpopular kids although I am not sure if that was a choice as much as the way things happened naturally. Two of them particularly were really great to me, Ana and Jessica. Both Latinas (like most of the teens at my school), Ana was Dominican.

I was getting ready for High School, and actually excited. I even attended 8th grade prom where I was told by one of the popular kids that I looked beautiful. But la familia decided it was time to go back to DR. My sister wasn't doing too well in school, and I was heartbroken as hell about having to leave-- almost as much as when I first came. I cried for days, saying goodbye to the Journalism class I had to practically beg my teacher to vouch for since my English wasn't very good looking yet.

When we returned, all my friends were still here. I may or may not have corresponded with my Ana or Jessica. Es que there wasn't any Facebook or MySpace at the time and kids in the US were using AIM while I only knew how to use MSN Messenger. I was a bit obnoxious en esos tiempos, wanting to be the very best student, and reminding everyone that I had spent a year in the States. Still, after the American-yorkness passed, Primero y Segundo de Bachillerato (Freshman and Sophomore year) were filled with adventures, and my friendships were pretty much unscathed by my trip to the US. Or at least I thought they were. When the decision was made to return to the US to pursue a better education for my sister and myself, my best friend Marta looked at me, and told me without showing any sadness or pain, "I'm not surprised".

I guess the wounds from my having left the first time were still there for my friends and myself. My blue passport loomed over my head throughout my childhood like a taunting reminder that I would return to that place with dark weather, and grey walls. Los primeros años of being new in Memorial High School were pretty sad except for my good grades. I actually begged not to go to that school so that I wouldn't have to see los muchachos from 8th grade. To this day, American public schools feel like haunted buildings for me. I did see Jessica, but we never even really said hi to each- she had changed a lot. She had lost a lot of weight, and was dressing like those kids who we now officially call hipsters. Ana la Dominicana moved to Pennsylvania with her fam. In high school, I had some friendships but none that really stuck except for the three years I spent with my high school sweetheart. I used to take long trips back home from Rutgers University for to visit him at home every weekend- in the end it didn't work out.

I have been in the US since I was sixteen, and one of the hardest lessons to learn has been that friendships will still continue to come and go even if I stay in this country. I don't talk to my high school friends anymore, and in college I made many friends and lost some as well. I remember my counselor telling me the best advise I could ever hear at that moment "Friends are for a reason, or a season". Nonetheless, I did end up meeting two of my best friends in college and just like in the DR, I was in a trio. And the trio remains though we've had to work for it to stay active and survive- the fact that one of them is now engaged so we're talking about wedding plans makes it even easier. I've also gotten closer with people from college who I hadn't actually shared much with before. I guess it should be noted all of these women are Dominicanas.

Facebook makes it easy, even though I question the genuineness of Facebook friendships and often find myself talking more to people who I don't really even have actual friendships with. I was actually inspired to tell this story because I was looking for photos of friends who I had made over the last years since moving into the city and becoming really embedded in radical organizing work. These were friends who I built sisterhood with, who were there when I was going through heartache, who helped me grow during the difficult transition from college to real-ass life. And now I find that again my close circle of friends has changed and it freaks me out. Apparently, it's because my life has changed since last year - when you have a regular 9-5 job, you hang out with folks who also have 9-5 jobs. When you are in a monogamous relationship, you gravitate to people who are also in similar situations. My therapist says that in the end, many of these people are no longer in my close circle yet that doesn't mean they aren't in my life.

Right now, my sisters from the magazine that I co-founded are in my closest circle. And my partner is in that circle too. And yet the paranoia comes around when I see people from my past enjoying life without me--just like it hurt to see my fellow high school classmates graduate without me. I actually tried really hard to stay in contact with them during my transition. I would call all the time, send messages and emails, but eventually I couldn't keep up nor relate. As an immigrant, this is an experience that many of us share: the feelings of missing those whose lives continue after we leave them, and the guilt when the question of "cuando vas a visitar?" is brought up.

Aun así, last year my friend Martha was visiting the US and needed a place to stay, so I offered that she stay with me in the tiny studio I was living in in Jersey City. At first, it was hard as hell. Actually, the entire living arrrangement was just difficult. And yet we created great new memories. We both were so different, yet similar to who we were in grammar school. Since she left, we have stayed in pretty close contact. Turns out there was another part to that saying that my college counselor left out: "Friends are there for a reason, a season, or a lifetime".


** Names have been changed.
*** You know what's crazy? I was by the Rutgers Student Center one time when I saw her walking on campus. I walked up to her like "Jennifer? Is that you?" It was one of those [many] moments that showed just how small the world really is. 


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