This title sounds like a scary movie. Coming to theaters tonight so grab yo refillable popcorn bucket and don’t forget to stop at the seasoning salt station!! You can keep the popped kernels but it’s not that. It’s the earliest thing I can remember learning about authentic friendship.
Nine years ago in eighth grade, I sat next to the kinda friend you don’t hang out on weekends with but share the best conversations. It was English class and we laughed endlessly before, during and after that bell rang. We had different friend groups but effortlessly clicked.
I remember the day she showed me the bruises on her legs. She pulled down her knee high socks (throwback to our beloved uniforms!) and commented how she didn’t know where they came from. Being a dancer, she assumed that she must have gotten them at dance class and I never thought to question it. She was mistaken.
She stopped coming to school and English class got a lot less exciting. A week or so later, our principal sat our grade down and told us that she had been hospitalized and diagnosed with leukemia. I didn’t know what that entirely meant but I knew it was cancer and my grandfather passed away from it before I was born.
Remember when I said I didn’t hang out on the weekends with her? That changed. Not out of pity but out of love. Out of ‘that’s my friend and I want her to know that she means something special to me’. Out of ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through but I miss seeing you every day and you’re not fighting this alone’.
I visited her in the hospital but the real memories came when she was home. She continued school by skyping in from a cleaner environment where her immune system wouldn’t attack her by a common bug. Her basement felt just like English class again.
I got to know her mom and always loved how she hummed when she cooked. I used a cotton towel to dry my hands after I washed them as she used a disposable paper one. She informed me that she could still go to McDonalds as long as she asked for fries without salt because they would have to make a fresh batch just for her. Most importantly, she taught me how to truly interact with a human being and not tip toe around a sick friend.
Another friend and I were over at her house and were sitting on the floor in a circle, chatting about who knows what. Nothing was planned and nothing was there to distract us. Just good ole conversation. Our friend with leukemia told us something I will never forget. Wellll, I can’t actually recall the precise wording but it went something just like, “I love when you guys come over because you don’t just put a movie in like other friends do. You actually talk to me and make me laugh.”
I’m not belittling her other friendships one bit. I know that she had much closer friends than myself who definitely didn’t just stare at a screen while sitting next to her. However, it can be tricky to relate to a friend who lost her hair from chemotherapy and had a chest tube to pump medicine through to avoid too many IVs. It can be difficult to relate to anyone with different life experiences, especially at age 13. Heck, movies are a sure way to entertain ourselves and simply relax.
I don’t know how we came to the conclusion of never suggesting watching a movie but I’m so so SO glad that we did. Because Becca didn’t want to be treated differently as the elephant in the room. She simply wanted the normalcy of making memories with her friends instead of “visitors”. Becca wanted to look at the faces of those who cared about her instead of those that belong to celebrities.
I would like to think that we all want that. Movies can bring people together, showcase phenomenal talent and tell great stories. I too find joy in them especially when outdoor projectors and eight blankets are involved. But my perspective on movies is shared with mine about eating out: food (and therefore, a movie) is pretty empty when the emphasis is on the food/movie, not on the people you’re enjoying it with.
The difference here is that we are largely discouraged from talking during movies. When I do, I a) am told to shut up and/or b) feel guilty for talking in a theater or as the people I’m with don’t want to miss a detail. Both a and b happen to me every time until I end up falling asleep. That happens every time too.
I would assume that Becca agrees. About the ‘let’s watch movies but do plenty of other things too because I treasure the time where you sit with me on the floor and look me in the eyes and be in that moment like it’s the most important moment of your life’ thing. But I can’t confirm that because she passed away a few days after Christmas during our sophomore year of high school.
I still think about her single comment that reveals what being a friend and frankly, human, is all about: connection. She hasn’t been on this earth for six and a half years but she continues to remind me of the subtle yet ginormous importance of making people smile. This beautiful girl taught me one of my most treasured life lessons in appreciating the company around me:
Don’t put the movie in (literally and figuratively). Don’t you dare. Let’s sit right here and enjoy each other’s absolutely unique selves instead! Because we never know the last time that person felt truly listened to, we have a whole lot to learn from each other and we’ll never get this time back.