During high school, I had a few close friends and we were a "group". Some had been my friend since early childhood, others we met during early highschool years. They felt like family. Over the course of highschool, drama tended to invade the group dynamic, with one friend venting to another about the other friend in the friend group. Although there were fall outs and periods of time during high school, with some friends refusing to speak to another friend and awkward situations forcing one friend to take sides and cut the other off, we came back together as a united group for the most part. Some of my most vivid memories of this time involve an entire summer that we all spent plotting the next friend, enemy or crush's yard we would fill with toilet paper, which we called "rolling yards". This became a sport of sorts, and we would plan our next attack in advance. We would be filled with adrenaline, all dressed in black to add to the intensity, black streaks under our eyes like we were football players. We would show up to the local WalMart around 9 pm when no one was shopping, all packed into the backseat of an older sister's car and blaring our favorite rap song, feeling as alive as ever.
We would eagerly walk to the toilet paper section, giggling suspiciously, and fill our buggy with rolls and rolls to check out, attempting to keep a straight face in the checkout line and in front of the store clerk, who clearly suspected the events that were to follow. We would load the trunk down with the stash of toilet paper we purchased with our mom's allowances and head off into the night, singing loudly in the backseat, nerves bubbling up into the pits of our stomachs as we slowly got closer to the house we had chosen to attack. We all lived on quiet, backroads out of town, very close to each other, and all of our chosen targets did as well. The cool older sister would drop us off about half a mile away from the house in the dead of night. No street lights, no car lights in sight, just the sound of crickets chirping rhythmically in the woods out of sight. We were quiet as mice walking the edge of the road next to the woods towards the typically long driveway that led to the house of a boy we liked, a teacher we teased, a friend in an opposing friend group that stirred up drama in the past. All in good fun, but all intentional and relentless. The butterflies in my stomach would be up to my chest, the crickets and "shhh" sounds from my friends in front of and behind me buzzing in my ears. And suddenly, the house was in front of us, porch lights on, but silent and dark inside. This was our moment.
One by one behind the trees surrounding the front lawn, we would work our way around the sides of the house, standing beneath tall oak trees and throwing up a roll of toilet paper with force until it caught hold of a branch and trickled down like a stream of energy, forming white lines that hung down in all of their glory. No one whispered a sound - this was purely a mission, and we were all in it together. Many times, we finished completely unsuspected and sprinted back to the pick up location half a mile away in full fear, like criminals in the night on the side of the road escaping their doom. But, many times, we would see a lamp flicker on in a bedroom, panic and run for our lives or simply hide in the woods near the edge of the house. One time in particular, a friend's father thought he was being robbed and exited the front door of the home holding a shotgun. We screamed and fled the scene crying and hyperventilating. He quickly realized what was happening when he spotted the white streams of toilet paper hanging from the trees we had managed to attack, and called our parents to apologize when finding out who committed the rolling. Much to our dismay, our parents quickly banned our summer adventures, and we were doomed to stay away from the chaos of rolling yards, although managing to continue occasionally in secret and vowing our silence to each other in oath to defend our all consuming operation that was rolling yards.
As highschool ended, we were all close but clearly developing different personalities that we didn't know existed prior to us growing into ourselves and our interests. For example, some were into sports, some got serious boyfriends, and I began to discover even the simplest of things like an interest in music that they didn't share. We were all close when highschool came to a close, and I went on to follow an older friend in the group to the same college, whereas others went to a different college. I was ready to move on, to find myself, to find people that got "me" and didn't think of me as highschool Kali. I quickly found those people and slowly drifted further and further away from all my highschool friends, even the one I had followed to the same college.
As years went on, we went through four years hardly speaking, but watching each other on social media as proud friends from a silent distance. When I became pregnant, I dreaded moving back home to the same small town where all of these memories once were born. I was comfortable in the new version of myself that I had embraced over the past four years, and I wasn't sure if old Kali was still inside of me. I resisted her coming back in, I resisted the simplicity and excitement of the people I once shared every moment with. I viewed this place as a sort of box that I had moved on from, but was being forced back into. In retrospect, it was the best thing I could have asked for. It forced me to integrate my new identity and my old identity, becoming a non-compartmentalized version of me. Upon moving back and driving down the very roads I once tiptoed along the side of dressed in black with my friend group, I quickly found myself picking right back up where I had left off with my friend group, who had also graduated and moved back for jobs or online graduate school. What seemed like a decade of distance and an entire lifetime of growth, we were all different, but all the same. The friends I thought I had left in the past for good to move on for bigger and better things were suddenly the only ones who cared more about Kali than if I was available to make it out to the bars on the weekends. I realized regardless of the distance, the growth, the toxic drama that had once plagued us all with chaos, we were all loyal to each other in some odd sense. One friend I didn't speak to for four years gave me a baby shower and supported me, while my college friends who I thought were my new soulmates went their own ways and were merely worried about the hottest spot to drink at on a Saturday night after the football game. The tables had turned.
Two years have passed since coming back to the place where it all began, and while we aren't close in the same sense that we were in high school, there is still a strange sense of loyalty, of home, of community, of friendship on the level beyond companionship. This taught me that while people grow in different directions, only your true friends will be able to accept the new version of you and pick up where you both left off without a blink of an eye. Be careful who you believe is your friend. Notice who wants to have fun with you and who you can call in a low and desperate moment. Be careful who you tell your secrets to, who you cut off due to petty drama, who you believe you have outgrown. Those are often the people who will either tell your secret, those you once trusted blindly. On the other hand, the ones you believe you have outgrown will often know the version of you that you left behind, and the part of you who you needed to get back to in order to return to your authentic self. Of course, you will have grown, but you are still the old version of you, and often the version of you you forgot existed. The version of you that didn't realize the box she once grew up in wasn't a box, but a place that made her who she is today. And, although she isn't the same and she is eager to live her own life, she cannot deny that the version of herself she once resented was the version of herself that she had abandoned for a new, but not necessarily better version. And today, the two versions, although different, live inside a better version together.