Friday, June 8, 2012

Tori and me

This whole week I've been sitting around in my room - with the occasional hour or two of leave on trips to the grocery store or to visit my grandma or my niece briefly - with one thing in mind: how very empty I feel without my friends.

At school everyone is right around the corner, literally. This past year I could barely escape my friends what with their living in my suite. It got to be a nuisance to have to silence myself on the phone or turn down my laptop when I played a movie so as to not annoy them to death, but I guess such are the sacrifices we make to be close to the people we care about.

I'm only a few minutes' drive from any number of friends, but most of them aren't here yet. Of those that are here, I still haven't gotten a chance to see them. This morning, I received a text my friend Tori had sent last night about going to Disneyland today. She was going with her family and was wondering if I could stop by to hang out for a while.

I've been trying to make plans with Tori since I got home but things just haven't worked out yet. And now that today marks yet another day that I might have made plans with her if not for extenuating circumstances, I guess I'll do the next best thing: write about her.

Happy National Best Friend Day!
I try not to write about specific people too often. It's partially because I don't want to single anyone out and make them uncomfortable as well as because I don't want anyone to feel left out because I don't write about them. But in the case of Tori, an exception must be made.

If not because it's National Best Friend Day then because she matters to me so much. Without any further ado, here's the story of our friendship:

Tori has been my best friend since sixth grade. Until that point I'd been floating in the elementary cesspool, unsure of my place and definitely unsure of my friendships.

In the first few years of elementary school, I made a couple of good friends, one of whom I've completely lost contact with and the other who I'm not particularly close to. But in those years I don't think I cultivated any relationships that could be labeled as lifelong best friendships.

In fourth grade I transferred into a "Gifted and Talented" program where I made a couple of friends, but being an outsider in a class filled with a bunch of other outsiders meant that cliques formed fast and I never quite found my niche.

It wasn't until fifth grade that I made a good friend. Every day we used to hang out in "The Garden" in the early primary grades' playground, picking out weeds and watering flowers as we ate our packed snacks and lunches.

But she was a year older, and by sixth grade I was back to square one, sitting along the portables and reading books rather than making friends with anyone.

Then there was Tori.

The story of our first encounter isn't entirely clear to me, so she'd probably tell it better than I would, but the lasting impact is something that has never been lost on me.

From the moment I first met Tori in sixth grade, I remember thinking she was weird. But not in the "ew cooties" or "she freaks me out" kind of way. In the "this girl is way different than everyone else" kind of way. And since everyone else was ridiculous, her weirdness made her the best.

In our time together in sixth grade, we would have poke wars in the back of our classroom while our teacher lectured. We'd make homes for ladybugs out of freshly mowed grass in the field outside our portable. We'd read books and we'd make jokes and we'd eat lunches and talk and talk and talk and talk.

And in my hour of need, she was someone I could count on.

It was only a few months into our friendship that my mom had a stroke. In the Emergency Room at the hospital, I remember asking someone - either my dad or my sister - whether this gave me the right to take the day off from school tomorrow. The answer was yes. And I did.

A few days later I heard from my teacher - who was, incidentally, my neighbor as well - that Tori had been asking where I was. I guess I'd been gone long enough that it was evident to her that something was wrong.

In the coming months, she would prove a lifeline to me - my single steady friendship and one of only two friends who would sit by my side and cry with me at my mother's funeral when I was 15.

The thing about Tori is that, besides her being incredibly fun and outrageous and unique, is that when you need her to be, she can have a bigger heart than anyone you will ever meet. And she will extend her heart out to you at the drop of a hat, even if you've only known her for a few months.

I knew she was mature for her age early on. She'd tell me about her plans for the future - how she wanted to go to school so she could become a pediatric oncologist. At 11 years old, saying the term "pediatric oncologist" is a feat in itself. Planning to become one is a new level of achievement. But that's always been Tori, a planner and a dreamer.

When we got to middle school, we had no classes together, but every day we sat on the same bench at lunch together, facing the quad and eating our terrible school-bought food. If one of us forgot the correct amount of change, we could always count on the other to have extra to spare. It was a relationship of trust and reliability, something that existed as early as sixth grade.

Even in high school, our routines persisted. For the first year or two we'd buy lunches together, making our dietary decisions based on what the other wanted...which pretty much meant getting the faux Chinese food every day with a carton of milk.

Until she left high school a year early to pursue college, we remained inseparable. We finally had classes together, we still ate meals together, we spent time together whenever we could. Even when Tori had her first boyfriend, she didn't sacrifice her time with her friends for the guy. "Why are you eating with us, shouldn't you be eating with Brad?" we'd ask her. But she was adamant about her decisions. Things wouldn't change with Tori just because some guy had entered the picture.

Of all my friends, she is the one who I've always held the most respect for. Even though I have a pretty awesome group of friends whom I love very much, Tori has always stood out head and shoulders to me as the person whom I could count on through thick and thin.

One day in freshman language arts, we were joking amongst ourselves as usual. A kid in the class came up to us and asked us if we were twins. We laughed, kind of surprised but also aware of why a question like that wasn't completely unfounded.

Today we call each other "sister from another mister." The rhyme may be silly, as is our friendship, but it represents the twinhood that perhaps we were destined to find in each other. Tori and me. Me and Tori.

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