Most of the memories I have of Gabriel involve, in some capacity, water. This is for two main reasons. One, because I live in a quite boring, rather small, very quiet city on Lake Huron, so the beach is any self-respecting young person’s main attraction. Two, because Gabriel loves water: the ocean, the lake, the pool, the rain and, of course, his fish tanks.
The first time I met him was beside the pool both our families were members of, both of us waiting for our swimming lessons to start. Gabriel was one of the first strangers I ever initiated a conversation with, on account of my being unbearably shy for the first dozen or so years. We never exchanged names, even though we kept seeing each other all summer, just by chance at the pool. He would have remained anonymous had we not been members of the same church, both attending confirmation classes at the same time. For him, confirmation was something he did because it was the next natural step in practicing his faith and religion. For me, confirmation was something I did because it was the next natural step in avoiding a fight with my parents about faith and religion.
On the day of our confirmation, I asked my mother permission to invite Gabriel (and Mary to avoid being teased about a boy) over sometime. For the next three years, Gabriel was my best friend, and I was his.
We didn’t go to the same school, but from what I gathered from his stories and stories my friends told me about him, Gabriel was a popular guy. I wasn’t unpopular, at my school, but I certainly wasn’t accustomed to being friends with someone who had so many people vying for his time. I was proud that he usually leant it to me.
Whenever we hung out, whatever we were doing, it was always fun. Even if we were just helping each other with the other’s paper route, the conversation was always energetic, original and funny.
We didn’t talk about serious things very often, in part because we were 14, and in part because I avoided broaching some subjects with Gabriel. He was a very active, very vocal member of the Catholic Church, bringing me along to his catechism classes for a few weeks. At these meetings, they would discuss all the things that I knew to never discuss with Gabriel – abortion, creationism, gay marriage, scripture – while I would smile politely and enjoy the provided snacks.
When we both got jobs, we saw each other less and less. But we would always bring each other stories and souvenirs from any travels we took. By the time my prom rolled around, we weren’t hanging out too often, but he was still the first person I wanted to bring as my date. He charmed, as he was wont to, everyone I introduced him to at both the dance and after-party. Seeing as it was my first time drinking, he made sure I had neither too little nor too much, and taught me the rules of various drinking games.
Prom jumpstarted our friendship back into its prime for that summer, but when I came away to school we didn’t talk much.
We see each other occasionally, when some mutual friends invite us to the same party. The last time I saw him, he was standing beside a pool; taller, thinner and only slightly less strange than when I saw him the first time.
I must have had good taste in friends, even by grade eight, because I still get along well with Gabriel when I do see him, but neither of us say “We never see each other anymore!” or “We should definitely hang out more soon.”
There’s nothing tragic about drifting out of old friendships and into new ones. Gabriel was the perfect friend for me when he was my friend. He was someone that I initiated friendship with, for the first time by my own volition and control, and it was empowering. He was someone that people teased me about when they saw how well we meshed, and it was interesting to have my identity positively linked with another’s. He was someone that made me realize I could be more charismatic, and it was a confidence boost. He was someone that guided me into new experiences, not gently, but safely, and it was exciting. He was not someone with whom I shared major worldviews or had serious conversations, but it was fun. He was not someone who would budge when confronted about his opinions, but I was learning to pick my battles.
That was I what did and didn’t need then.
I’ve grown. As have Gabriel and I, from best friends to effortless acquaintances.
Growth in relationships isn’t always about growing closer to someone. This is why I do not mourn for faded friendships. The person I was held them dear, and the person I am now holds memories and lessons.
Baobab trees, my favourite trees, require frequent watering and nurturing while they are germinating. You can even keep them indoors during that stage, out of direct sunlight. Once their trunks start expanding though, they require a lot of space for their root system.
But not much water.