I was last “popular” in 5th grade.  And I really was.  I remember girls fighting to sit next to me on the Computer Bus (mobile computer lab housed in former school bus, ‘cuz we were cool like that).  That was my peak.  Something weird happened in 6th grade, and the 2 girls I considered my best friends became popular, while I did not.  They instantly made friends with the kids who had come from other schools, and I hung back.  Throughout middle school, when a New Kid would arrive at school, I would study him/her to try to detect what made him/her able to effortlessly assimilate with the cool kids, or be doomed to hang onto the fringes of adolescent society.  I never quite figured it out, but I guessed it had something to do with my clothing and my hair.  I knew they were all wearing jeans, Coed Naked shirts, Umbros, and those color-blocked V-neck sweaters, and I was not.  I was wearing leggings, sweatshirts, and “Don’t sweat the small stuff” t-shirts.  I knew I still had my long hair in multiple scrunchies, and they did not.

In high school, I had two different groups of friends, which kept me quite content (plus a bonus group in marching band — it was clear I was never going to achieve popularity), and I often found myself torn between them.  If several of us had lunch at the same time, I had to choose, as a few of one group couldn’t stand a few of the other, and I was their common link.  We were a motley crew, but there were common bonds, namely, each group had gone to middle school and even elementary school with its members, save me.  I had just moved to town in 9th grade, and I was lucky to have made friends at all.  As with any new group, I missed out on the stories of childhood, the inside jokes about common experiences and shared teachers, but that was inevitable. 

One group of my buddies kept in touch solidly throughout the first year of college.  All 8 of us e-mailed the group constantly, developing new jokes and keeping abreast of what the others were doing.  Two of the girls — Sonja and Jessica — went to college not a half-hour’s drive from me, and I probably saw them twice in the three years we were there together.  Every now and then I get a random phonecall.  The last time I spoke to Tim, it was when he called asking me how to tell if food was kosher, because they were hosting an observant Jew, and, being Taiwanse, he didn’t have a clue where to begin.  I explained how to look for the hechshers — kosher marks —  on the packages.  That was it.  I haven’t kept track if he has graduated medical school yet.  Though he did come to Philly once, to visit me and Jessica.  Soon after I moved to the area, she had landed a position with Teach for America, teaching in Camden, and living across the river, in Philly.  In those 2 years, I saw her twice.  I didn’t even know she’d moved to Trenton, or wherever it is, until my Valentine card came back Return-to-Sender.  Emily, another friend, sent me a gift for my birthday freshman year of college, and I haven’t heard much from her, except some Facebook lament about “how horrible a friend” she has been.  Friendship is a two-way street, for sure.  I haven’t exactly made huge overtures, or held dinner parties at my home with the excuse of seeing my old friends. 

In 1998, the summer before senior year of high school, 3 of us did an 8-week long summer school program at Harvard whereby we took 2 classes, and generally just hung out all summer.  One weekend, Jessica and I went down to New Haven, to take an optimistic tour at Yale.  We stayed with her aunt, and somehow ended up looking at her wedding photos.  I can’t remember specifically if her high school buddies were or weren’t at her wedding.  It doesn’t really matter; however we did muse how sad it would be if high school friends (as close as we were that summer, and throughout high school) weren’t at each other’s weddings.  Okay, fine, so she’s a bit of a flake, and has always been “transportation challenged” (hence 2 visits [on my steam] in 3 years of college, and 2 visits [on my steam] to see her in her 2 years in Philly), but I still wanted to think of her as a good friend, and to maintain our friendship that long.

So I invited her — the whole gang, really — to my wedding in 2006.  Even 2 people I’d lost touch with showed up as each other’s “dates”.  They even tracked down my junior prom date and dragged him halfway across the country.  Let me count — Sonja, Emily, Narith, Moira, Jessica, Tim, Mike, Ben, Valerie, Mim — ten people made it out here, a large contingent of them from Minnesota.  They stayed in a hotel and came to my pumpkin-carving girls’ night.  They were here.  They came to show love and support and celebration. 

Last summer I saw on Facebook (which seems to be my news source these days) that Mim had gotten engaged to her long-time boyfriend.  I sent the usual wall-post, and she said the wedding would be sometime this year (2009).  I noticed last night, becuase Jessica had tagged me in some app or another, that she’d also tagged Mim.  And that Mim had a very different last name than the one she used to have.  She’d gotten married.  And I wasn’t invited.  Maybe it was a small wedding?  Maybe she didn’t invite high school friends?  Maybe it was just family?  Facebook with the answer.  I browsed through all 88 wedding photos on her FB page, and saw at least 3 easily identifiable buddies (of the 10 who came to my wedding) in the crowd of the not-so-small wedding out . 

I was the first of “our group” to get married, so there haven’t been any other weddings that I could be invited (or not) to.  I won’t pretend I wasn’t hurt.  I just feel so out-of-the-loop it makes me wonder if I have been in-the-loop since we graduated high school.  Many of us went out-of-state for college, but they always came home for vacations, or for impromptu reunions.  My family moved away, and I didn’t go back much to visit.  I was an outsider when I moved there for high school, and I’m once again an outsider from the place I called home for 4 years.

My 10th high school reunion is coming up in October.  I’m not lamenting how old I am, or how depressed I’d be to see how accomplished my classmates are, or how jealous I’d be to see them fabulously happy (after all, I am married to the best man in the world).  I’m not going, because I’m not sure who I’d want to see.  The other friends I want to see, I already do keep in touch with.  I can go visit them anytime I want to brave the Midwest again.  I’m not ready to go and not be popular again.  I’m not ready to not remember names or classes, or hang-outs.  I’m not ready to face friends who didn’t invite me to their wedding.  It would just make me too sad.  And that’s not what friends are for. 

My mother collects friends everywhere we go.  She has made it her personal mission to track them all in her address book, which is so overstuffed with irreplaceable information and histories of lives we call it the Brown Bible.  She is the proto-Facebook, sending honey cakes for the Jewish New Year, Valentines to her inner circle of girlfriends, and alway having a couch to crash on in whatever major city or rural region she happens to be passing through.  I’m not sure if these people reciprocate.  I know some of them don’t — being flakey — so she gets ticked when they don’t acknowlege birthday gifts or whatnot.  Yet they stay on her list. 

I have a list, too.  I send out Valentines each year.  Mr. Apron and I have been amassing our collective contact list and it now reaches into the mid 70s.  This year I looked at that set of 10 friends who were at the wedding, but whom I haven’t heard from since, and I cut them.  With postage being what it is, and not receiving any acknowledgment of our whimsical Valentines (others post them on their fridges, or keep files of our cards for their novelty value — that’s how cool they are), I just didn’t feel like putting in the effort, if they couldn’t even manage a Facebook or text: “thx 4 the vday card”.  Was that what got me cut from the group?  Or have I not really been a part of them for 10 years?  Why did they come to my wedding?  Was that a show of pity?  Or of nostalgia?  I miss them.  I don’t have a lot of friends in the area.  I guess I miss feeling a part of the group, of feeling like I had those friends, whether or not it was true.

So, congratulations, Mim.  I wish you every married happiness I have known with Mr. Apron.