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WHAT'S LEFT: On not fearing the distance

As my childhood friends prepare for big changes — like leaving the country — I try to remember that some things are stronger than distance.

101321.O.DG.EMMA MCNAMEE
Emma McNamee
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WORTHINGTON — I had a tight-knit group of friends when I was a kid. Six of us lived within a few blocks of each other — a lucky four all on the same street — and our similar ages and close proximity made it easy, maybe even inevitable, for us to all fall into friendship.

For all the popularity of childhood friends in movies and TV shows, it’s a lot harder to accomplish in real life. People change so much during those formative years; your interests evolve and you grow apart. You can imagine how lucky I feel to still be able to say I’m close with people I was friends with at age five.

As we changed from running around the neighborhood for night games into long weekends away at cabins or late-night movies and board games, there was a span of years where it felt like the six of us were hardly ever apart.

I knew where to find the cups in their kitchens; we left pieces of ourselves scattered around the neighborhood in the form of loaned paperbacks and borrowed sweatshirts. The open door policy at my house was well documented, and at times I would come home and find a mix of teenagers camped out in our living room, just waiting for me to complete the set.

There is a piece of me that always expected us to stay that way: young, inseparable, intertwined in ways that were hard to describe. They were my best friends; at times I was sure they knew me better than anyone. At times, I think some of them still do.

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Inevitably, though, we grew up. It wasn’t until college, when we were no longer living side-by-side-by-side, that some of those bonds really began to falter. It’s a consequence of age and distance, I guess, and as the only person from our friend group to leave the state straight out of high school, I felt it keenly. I missed them all incredibly, even though a few of us still talked daily.

It was strange to suddenly have state lines separating us instead of just fences. It was stranger still when I fell out of touch with a few of them; for the longest time, that group had been one of the biggest constants in my life.

We’re not the entity we once were, six kids all rambling together, growing up and into one another. I’ve seen each of them within the last couple of months; most of the old gang came out for my 23rd birthday back in April. It was one of the first times we were all together since the pandemic, and for a few hours we fell back into old patterns as if little had changed.

I still talk to some of them regularly; we plan trips and lunches and phone calls so we stay in each other's lives.

My friend Cass — whom I’ve known the longest and is a pretty permanent fixture in not just my life, but my entire family’s — is leaving at the start of next month for grad school in England, something that’s been a dream for her for years now. I hope it’s everything she’s wanted.

I’d be lying if I said the distance didn’t intimidate me; the five hours between us now seems small compared to an ocean. But there’s a whole other world of experience just waiting for her, and that thrills me even more than it scares me. This is my best friend; distance doesn’t change that. We’ve got nearly 18 years of inside jokes, shared shenanigans, and more than a few weathered storms. Different time zones won’t be the end of the world.

It matters that we stay in each other's life, so I have faith that we will. It's that simple. Across the street, across the county, across the ocean — distance hasn't done a number on us yet.

The thing about growing up is that the people in your life are also getting older. They’re changing and moving on to bigger and better things. I’ve never been great at embracing change, but I love my friends, though I doubt I say that enough. I want their lives to keep getting bigger and better; I want them all to be as happy as they can be.

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Cass goes off to grad school; another friend gets married and prepares to move to Canada. Another buys a house in our hometown. I move to a different town to pursue a career I love and remind myself that these new beginnings don’t have to mean the end of something.

It’s not like it was when we were kids, and though sometimes I miss the days when we roamed the neighborhood together as one loud, sprawling group, I'm glad that I've gotten to keep the majority of those old friendships. These people are a part of me, for better, for worse, and for whatever else lies ahead.

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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