Maybe it was because we were dumb, or too stubborn to quit. Maybe it was because we were the perverse sort of lonely where “alone together” typically means no one at all. Maybe it was because we were the opposite kinds of strong. Noah, a metaphor for spider silk coated with wrought iron steel, a weapon that wins battles and loses wars. Me, a raggedy piece of cotton that never quite unravels, a white flag that never seems to wave. Maybe it was because we made a golden fairytale out of a pewter life.
We were the type of close where profound thoughts flew just as freely as insults. The type of passionate where caps lock basically equated to a vowel. The type of confidantes that left Noah’s coats stained with the salt from my fiery tears and my phone exploding after Rupaul’s Drag Race. The type of friends riddled with more holes than Michigan roads, too dark for the suburban world, but too bright to give up on it.
On a night with a greasy sky and frigid air, we came to an elementary school playground. It was silent, save for the slurping of our overpriced icee’s and the cheap chattering of my teeth. Perching on the steps before the slide, Noah turned away from me.
“Look at the Big Dipper. How did we find a way to connect the dots in all that emptiness?” He asked me.
If Noah were an element, he would be air. He is air because he is everywhere and nowhere at once. As essential to his friends as breathing, he could make himself a presence just as easily as he disappearing. Hiding a million pieces of himself in a billion different places, each one on a separate star, he thought there was beauty in the mystery and he was terrified of not being one. Perhaps he was wondering how to connect the strewn about bits of himself without sacrificing their integrity But he was already a constellation.
“The same way you decided to become an actor: by living long enough and hard enough to see the truth” I replied, “It’s the same way you see me.”
Noah understood people the way politicians want to. Most of the time, he understood himself even better. After all, despite my psychologist mother, it was Noah who diagnosed my depression. It was Noah who told me I was more than I thought, that I had a blinding spark inside me. It was Noah who made me believe it.
“Guilty, I am quite profound.” Noah said, a smile emerging underneath his playful smirk, lighting up his poignant green eyes with self-adoration.
In the spirit of Angelica Schuyler, Noah was never satisfied-not with the world or with himself. We had that in common. Yet, it was an unequal balance. Because Noah was a gay boy ostracized more for his haircut (if only by me) than his sexuality, so he had a stubborn itch to fight and an army to help him do it. Because I was mercilessly ridiculed by my family for preferring studying to socializing, so I was exhausted by conflict. I wasn’t defenseless, but I had yet to fire the first bullet in my moral battle.
“You always talk about how great you are. I don’t think you believe it.”
I fidgeted, my sandals scraping against the slide. It was even colder than my forgotten icee.
“What do you mean?” He seemed surprised, usually he was the one offering insight into my psyche. Not the other way round.
Noah’s personality has more layers than tumblr has fandoms. And, like tumblr, his motivations are eccentric at best. I’d spent two years peeling back as many coatings as possible, unwrapping each one with the ferocity of a child on Christmas morning. A pile of presents without an end; Noah might always be a bit of a mystery, nevertheless, I understood him better than he realized.
“You pretend to think so highly of yourself: singing in the hall, equating yourself to a god. But I feel it’s because you think that if the world thinks you’re great, you will too.”
“Maybe on some level” He responded, staring down the play structure, “You know, I underestimate you, after two years you still manage to surprise me.”
Unlike me, Noah is not used to surprises. Eighteen years of studying musicals has left him able to guess plot twists on and off the stage, a master of motivations both peculiar and mundane. While he didn’t elaborate, I could tell from the scrunching of his eyebrows that I had struck a cord.
“We’re more alike than you realize. I’m stronger than you know.”
He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t want to lie by agreeing. He’s seen too many breakdowns to be convinced so easily.
“It’s impossible to move a mountain if no one else pushes.” I argue
And it was true. I faced a mountain of depression every day, hiking up with a sweaty forehead and a ten-pound backpack. And Noah was even less athletic than me.
“I don’t give you enough credit, do I?”
“Only sometimes.” I replied coyly. Now I was the one smirking.
Something changed after that night. A role reversal of epic proportions. Because on some level we had always been unequal, a scale of strength always weighted in Noah’s favor. Noah with the perfect parents and perfect future and perfect support system stretching up to Everest. Me with the miniscule battalion and uncertain future and pathetic foundation crumbling into Mariana’s Trench.
But I had seen something in him, an insecurity no one else had deigned to notice. For the first time in our friendship, we were equals. It wasn’t because he became less in my eyes, I just became more in his. More than a spotlight for his acting, more than a confused confidant, more than a surrogate grandma always trying to feed him. I became what he was for me: a beacon of hope in a world swirling with storms.
Maybe we weren’t dumb, lonely, or even just bored. Maybe our questions don’t have answers but that doesn’t mean we stop asking. Our lives may be in the eye of a hurricane, everything worthwhile blowing by too quickly to see, but we found something worthwhile in each other. For the moment, that was enough.