Like leaves on trees

I spent the first fifteen years of my life surrounded by the same people. We grew up together and went through the same arcs of character drama, growing around each other, intertwining like vine along the sides of decades-old building walls.

Growing like that — enclosed within the confines of a protective shell — is a strange thing unless you’ve never known anything else.

Not only are your victories experienced only within the shell, so are your fights. Not with outsiders, but each other, which means you get over things and you build unique relationships. These relationships are not perfect. They’re an assortment of differently shaped and sized nuts and bolts that don’t fit together, often clank against one another and can easily get lost — but they’re family.

It took me a while to see that. It took me a while to realize that these people were not there because they had to be, but that they wanted to be. It took me a while to understand that families don’t form due to complacency, just because you happen to exist in the same place at the same time as some other people, but rather because you choose to be there.

I’ve struggled to define what the word ‘family’ means to me over the years, and it seems as though my definition for it changes with the comings and goings of people in my life.

I was re-watching a Friends episode one day when Rachel referred to her friends as “magic beans,” which made me realize what it was about the show that made it so appealing. It wasn’t the quirky New York City setting or the problematic jokes that we all laughed at when we first watched it or even Matthew Perry’s indelible charm. It was the appeal of having that family of friends who were part of the everyday, who were with each other through all the good and bad alike and who felt like safety nets and pillows and warmth.

All those weeks ago I had felt lonely and sad and had expressed my desire for my own “magic beans.” All those weeks ago I don’t think I even knew what it was that I had wanted but at the very least, I wanted people around me who made me feel safe.

I went into first year with an unfamiliar zeal to meet new people and make new connections, and so I did.

I knew a variety of names and faces, but I also knew people whom I never thought I’d forget, whom I had decided were my new ‘family.’ Whether it was impulse or adrenaline or both, by the time I went into summer and started second year, I began feeling some of these ‘unforgettable’ people and friendships slipping away from me.

That was when I started questioning why I had been so vocal about my affection from the start and why I had jumped to make these big declarations of how much people meant to me.

Self-doubt had surfaced, forming a translucent, grimy layer over my intentions and understanding of myself. I felt the return of a familiar kind of dread, of loneliness that I had really thought I left behind, which opened up other doors to dread.

So, there I was, booking flight tickets back home to see my childhood friends, suddenly feeling lost and like I didn’t belong in a place I had so readily claimed as my home.

I was scared and I was craving my “magic beans” and for things to be the way they were, living in first-year residence and seeing my friends in the dining hall every evening. I wanted to get off of the rotating hamster wheel that I was on, that wasn’t only fueled by loneliness but also the overwhelming weight of things that just have to be done, but I didn’t know what I wanted or how to get to it..

It was difficult, but I still went to French class. I made an effort to catch up with my old friends, even if it was very occasional. I called my friends back home and I met new people.

One day I was at a house party, on the porch with two people I didn’t know very well and another person whom I had just met that night. We untied a party balloon from one of the light posts and tossed it around, bumping our noses against it, chatting about things I don’t remember anymore while Intro by The XX played and I found myself feeling comfortable. More comfortable than I had felt in weeks — happy and feeling like it was okay for me to exist. Suddenly I wasn’t thinking about my presence anymore and questioning whether I should be where I was or whether the people I was with did not want to be around me.

It was easy. I hadn’t felt easy in a while.

A good friend mentioned to me that you live thinking a specific way of life is the norm, then you meet people who show you that there is more and that you are deserving of more.

You meet people who strive to look out for you and ask you to text them when you’ve reached home. You meet people who help you through difficult, anxiety-inducing classes and who wait for you every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the same spot, meeting for one hour ritualistically. You meet people who trust you enough to call when they need help and who listen attentively to the rant you have prepared for them. You meet people who make the effort to show that they’re there for you because they care. You meet people who help you realize that it’s okay to be you.

It’s okay to be who you really are because there is a world of people who will treasure you, and to whom you don’t have to prove anything. Whoever you are, whatever flaws you have, however you choose to grow — you will always be good enough for them.

Families change and transform constantly like blobs of ink being disturbed. People come and go like leaves on trees. There are people everywhere though, and as a result that should make loneliness an absolute rarity.

Maybe it’s because over the last few months I’ve had the privilege of meeting and befriending people so different from myself, but that’s helped me discover something — no matter who you are or where you’ve come from, there are always ways to create a bond.

Humans are really, really good at that.

So, here’s what I think. Family changes — it shifts, grows and recedes. My flatmates will move out, I will meet new classmates and I will lose friendships that I thought were here to stay. Family changes, yes, but it never disappears.

‘Family’ is the people you find around you who, for some reason, have decided that they want to be yours and decided to laugh with you over silly things. They’ve decided to bring you pieces of their lives, to love you for no other reason than to just love you.