Wide Awake: Childhood Friends
Understanding the bond with people you once knew

In my grade school, we were divided into groups according to how smart we were, or at least that’s how we kids defined the groups. Overachievers were in Group A. Average and not-so-average kids were in groups B and C, and now that I look back, Group F was probably made up of kids with undiagnosed learning disabilities. It was horrible. Clearly, Group F kids would have much different childhoods today – much better childhoods.

Thanks to Facebook, I’ve seen how strong my connection is with people from my Philadelphia elementary school. When I am “friended” by former classmates – people I haven’t seen in about 35 years, how weird is that! – I instantly feel a tremendous bond. Even if I find out their political views are extreme or I suspect their life isn’t as great as their posts profess, I push those feelings aside. I have a deep love for these people. And I’m not sure why.

Debbie frequently posts. From what I can tell, she is an NICU nurse and married with one daughter in college. I remember one thing about Debbie: she was always reading a book – always. She also wore thick glasses at a very young age, at a time when glasses weren’t fashionable. She posts about eye surgeries she continues to have, so I now know she has had a lifelong problem that probably wasn’t detected when we were kids.

Patrick also posts a lot, and he now lives in South Jersey. He is much more conservative than me, and he seems to have a very unusual relationship with one guy – frequently posting rather off-color, you might say obscene, videos with comments directed at this friend. Patrick was the class clown, so I ignore his jokes now like I did then. But I do smile.

Michael now lives in California, and apparently he went to West Point, which is pretty shocking considering I remember what he was like in grade school. He has a son and daughter, seems to travel a good amount for business, and plays ice hockey. He and Patrick often mock each other on Facebook. Say Michael posts a picture of himself in his hockey uniform, Patrick will comment the photo would be better if he put his face mask on. Silly things, but I guess it’s how you treat the boy you knew when you were 9.

Cheri – who we called Cheryl growing up and I refuse to call her anything else – has lived in Atlanta and Florida, and recently moved to Pennsylvania. She was always the pretty girl with an artistic flare. I remember in eighth grade she drew a full-size picture of a bridge packed with cars, and you could see incredible details on each car. We all knew Cheryl was talented, and now she owns her own design firm.

There’s Stephen, who also lives in South Jersey now. He doesn’t post a lot, but he has emailed to congratulate me about milestones with the magazine.

My most recent friend request was from Paul, who I last saw when we hugged for a really long time at the funeral of one of our classmates. We were in our early twenties, and our childhood friend Tommy had been shot and killed in a case of mistaken identity. I hadn’t seen Tommy in about seven years when it happened, but I felt a deep pain. He was killed on mischief night, and I think about it every year.

I sometimes wonder what caused this lasting bond. Maybe we felt we had to band together against our teachers who had created this hierarchy we knew was cruel. Or maybe we were just together for so many days, we started to like each other and that never went away.

We shared the first 13 years of our lives, which doesn’t seem like a lot; so much more happens after that. But those years must have had an impact, and now it’s good to have this group I feel so close to – even though I never see them.

February 2016
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