I’ve been fortunate enough in life to be able to keep a majority of my goodbyes confined to airports and bus terminals, not funeral homes and cemeteries.
Sure, I’ve lost grandparents, and it hurt my parents to no end, but my own life has been filled with the kind of voluntary self-departure that breaks up friendships and family ties, but only for the pursuit of a personal journey or career path.
And not to sound bitchy, but they still hurt. I left Chicago in August 2002 to come to CSUN, and I said goodbye to all of my high school friends in one fell swoop at my best friend Jason’s house the day before I was scheduled to get on a plane. I cried like a baby when I gave Jason a big bear hug in his living room, and I tried to keep it together when my girlfriend walked me to my door. For all intents and purposes, I knew the dozen or so people who had shaped me through high school were about to fade away from my life.
And they did. I talked to the best friend once in the last six months and the girlfriend and I broke up in 2003. That’s life. I wanted to come to California to pursue a career in film and television. I wanted to be close to Hollywood and Studio City and Chatsworth (the latter because of its adult film industry, in case the other two didn’t work out).
I go home for winter and summer breaks, but things aren’t the same. The family, family friends, and friends I once had are still there, in bodily form, but the relationships have changed. I’m that guy who doesn’t live there anymore, and so are my other old friends who have moved on to college life. I used to think going to school so far away was some cool thing, but it’s really just lonely. Often times, I would go up to my bedroom in Chicago over break and call my best friend from Northridge, Marcus, just because I needed a friend to relate to and make inside jokes to for a few moments.
Now I’m going to do it all over again. I’m heading across the country to Chicago for the holidays and then to Washington, D.C. for an internship, and there’s no turning back. Graduation is here, and I’m ready to jump off this friggin’ Titanic.
But the friends.
It’s August 2002 all over again, and we’re all moving on. My two best friends are graduating, and the rest will not be far behind. It’s like we’ve all spent the last four years driving to a movie theatre, each one of us set to see a different film. Some of us might come out of his or her respective theatre at the same time as others – the ones who will stay in California – and some won’t. Regardless, we’ve all seen different movies, so we’ve changed.
I’ve put distance between me and some of my friends, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my experience in leaving Chicago, or maybe it’s something more complex. The point is that at the end of the day, even though we’re all moving toward our future, it’s every man and woman for him or herself. That’d be a whole lot easier to swallow if my friends weren’t so much fun to drink with, to go to Vegas with, to make a daily newspaper with, to sleep with.
Still, I am thankful that I will not lose these friends permanently, like what happened to my group of friends before I was around, when one of them died unexpectedly. That’s a hurt I cannot even imagine. But those of us who are around, who will be embarking on our own paths to the future, be it teaching political science, advising a politician or running a medical laboratory, we have to keep trucking, and we have to keep our eyes on the prize.
The question I’ll be asking myself until I pass away is, what is the prize? Is the prize a career, or is the prize the friends you make on your path to the career?
Ryan Denham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.