We’re The Ones Who Change

Of the memories I have of my closest junior high school friend Jason – the friend with whom I rollerbladed aggressively and watched Brink on repeat and first talked about girls (often while rollerblading)  – two stick out. 

The first is sleeping over at his house, not just because it was the first time I had ever done so with just one other friend, but because it taught me two facts of varied importance: one should always knock when older sisters have their boyfriends over even if the television is on and you can hear the television so you think television must be being watched attentively… and that there was a Zorro series from the 50s that predated the Antonio Banderas movie I loved growing up. 

On whether I learned the second from interrupting the first, my memory is less clear.

The second thing I remember is seeing him when I came back home during the summer after my first year away at college to have my wisdom teeth removed. During day two or three of my recovery, when I could walk but couldn’t run, because I would soon enough try running and marvel at just how distinctly I could feel the throbbing where each tooth used to be on every footfall on the paved roads of our neighborhood, we headed over to our high school. 

Just a year removed from our senior year, the school felt smaller, less imposing. We laughed a lot, and we talked, having more to catch up on than I expected because we hadn’t actually hung out that much since our freshman year of high school when our academic paths had started to branch but afternoon bus rides and weekends spent building skate ramps kept us close.

Why, I had asked, did he think we stopped hanging out? Clearly, at least, it was clear to me, in that moment, and in our hometown, we still got along great.

We all kept hanging out, he said. It was you, he told me, who had stopped coming around. You went off with other people.

I was the one who’d changed.

And he wasn’t wrong. Afternoons of bus rides and skate ramps turned to track, cross country, and musical theatre at the charming point of puberty when, as I’d learn from my background role in Fiddler on the Roof, I resembled a Son physically, but with my baritone voice, I sang the choral parts of a Father.

It stung hearing him lay it out like that, my breaking from a group that stayed the same, because I don’t remember having that much agency. It was not how I remembered it, but memory is funny. 

Not until a recent screenwriting session did I remember I had in fact written a Parks and Recreation episode (a “spec”, as it’s called, which serves as a writing sample) called “The Racist Law.” In a month that has included reading a book about racist laws, signing petitions about racist laws, and taking actions against racist laws, that kernel of my writing history stayed hidden away in my mind, unrevealed. I didn’t remember it at all – it took me going through my old scripts and seeing it right in front of me, laid out on the title page, to recall. 

But that interaction with Jason is something I can’t forget, a deep reminder that as much as we want to be the sun our galaxies revolve around, that’s not how the universe works. We all change and grow, get better and get worse.

It’s just that the change is not always laid plain before us. One small choice begets another, one small change begets another. Without a frame of reference or a guide, we might miss the signposts and just keep on our merry way, changing all the while.

In some respects, it’s become simpler to track our changes in direction with social media. We can see at what point we set out for something, and check back once it comes to pass. Matthew Cherry’s tweet about becoming an Oscar winner was a Babe Ruth moment, calling the shot as he prepared to hit it. Or, even dearer to me, my friend Kara’s tweet about writing musical theater, and how she marches steadily forward, project after project, changing and improving and honing the vision. We set out the change we’re looking for, we affirm it, and we become it. 

That’s why when we see people who remind us of our past selves, it’s easier to make the connection for ourselves. They hold up an image of us that, even if we have to squint to make it out, we recognize in time. What’ss not always true, however, is that we extend that same grace back to them, remarking about others, “Oh, how they’ve changed,” without fully knowing why they decided to bleach their hair, get an MBA, or come back to the job they’d been trying to leave for years.

So often though, I have missed that change happening even as I lived it. It’s why Jason’s comment stung in the way it did. That’s because I am, for better or worse, with myself, every day, and the change accumulates imperceptibly, like pressure in a volcano, resulting in a decision we feel coming – moving cities, ending relationships, pivoting careers, baking a new kind of pie – even if externally all seems calm, unchanging.

In that way, decisions don’t come from nothing, and as I trace backward, as I’ve been doing recently to see how I got to a forthcoming choice, and from there, where I might go, the change becomes more pronounced.

While it hurt then to think how my own changing might have ended our friendship, the friendship likely didn’t falter just because of my newfound penchant for musicals. Who’s in our orbit, and who we orbit around, changes. We’re all changing all the time, bleached hair and MBAs, and all. 

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