The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 06, 2021 1:00 am

'So long' is really 'I love you'

High school friends cope with pain of their pending parting

June Hill

I never had a ton of friends in high school.

It probably comes with being an introvert, and in a place like Homestead High School I sometimes felt like a very timid little fish in a very large pond.

In the ninth grade, I was the new kid in the district. I didn't know a soul, and I was terrified.

It took time, but eventually there were always friends to sit with at lunch, and a kind face or two in all my classes.

It mostly stopped there because I rarely saw anyone outside of school. But there was one exception: I had one, wonderful best friend.

I sat with Emmalyn at lunch the first day of freshman year.

Actually, I recognized a different girl sitting at Emmalyn's table, someone who had been nice to me in my world history class that morning. A bundle of nerves and awkward excitement, I joined their little lunch group.

I remember the version of Emmalyn I sat with that day, her long blond hair, which I would later learn was naturally a joyful tumble of curls, was on this occasion carefully straightened. Her wide blue eyes cautiously explored the cafeteria, probably questioning the small brunette who had just claimed a spot at the table.

Back in Journalism 1 class after lunch, I noticed Emmalyn sitting at a desk across the room, and that was it. We bonded over liking dogs more than cats and how we both wanted to join the school newspaper. We were similar in so many ways, and I remember automatically being comfortable and weird around her. It felt like we were the same person.

Emmalyn and I have been attached at the hip for four years now. Four years of strange inside jokes, sleepovers, IHOP pancakes, and laughing until we can't breathe.

We have watched each other grow up, and I have seen her transform into a beautiful, strong young woman, even if she refuses to believe it sometimes. If it weren't for Emmalyn, my memories of high school might have been bleak.

What is the first thing you think of when you remember high school?

My guess is it won't be those long, painful nights cramming for tests, or having to speed through the halls to make it to class on time.

My guess is it's your friends. It's the people you clicked with, who made you laugh, who listened while you processed and developed your positions on love, family, religion, politics and the meaning of life.

Your high school friends were by your side as you made a brisk, sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious, sometimes surprising transformation from child to adult. That's certainly how it is for me.

That's why high school friendships are so important; at the end of the day, it's not the classes and homework we remember, it's the people who struggled through it all with us, making us laugh when we didn't think we could.

But, they're right, you know. High school goes by quickly. Blink, and you will be crossing the stage at your graduation, as I will this afternoon.

Recently, Emmalyn and I have started to accept that we will not be in the same state come fall. It's uncomfortable, thinking about how your favorite person, the person you feel happiest around, will be thousands of miles away.

With her at Arizona State University and me at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, we will have very different lives and new friends.

But I think that's OK. We should all want what's best for the people we love.

I want her to make new friends, best friends even, and I want her to enjoy going to football games, parties and late-night study sessions with these people.

It's OK if the best we can do is a FaceTime call every now and then because we will always share our memories from these past four years, and I will always love her.

It may not feel like it, but in high school we are impossibly young, and being impossibly young makes us forget that time is passing quickly.

So, whether you are still a student or not, I hope you take a moment today to hug someone who's known you since high school. And congratulate a graduate if you know one. They've been through a lot this year.

June Hill is a member of the class of 2021 at Homestead High School.

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