I have a confession to make. I’ve been truly awful at maintaining contact with my high school friends. Other than a month in the summer when I worked out at Crunch Fitness with a few of them (spoiler alert: I am horrendously out of shape), I have barely talked with any of my old compatriots since graduation.
COVID-19 had effectively eviscerated my spring semester of senior year, with social distancing and online school making everything feel like a blur. It also didn’t help that I, like many self-professed nerds, didn’t relate to most of my classmates.
When I arrived at Hopkins, I simply tossed my rather lukewarm recollections of the time before into the mental refuse bin, overwriting them with my much happier memories here with my Hopkins peers. To me, high school was something to rarely look back on, a speed bump you just quickly forget.
I was surprised then that my dad suggested I meet up with my old friends in New York City when I told him I would be heading there for spring break. My high school friends? I thought. Do they even remember me? Still, not usually doubting the wisdom of my parents, I thought it was worth a shot.
Several months and text exchanges later, I am getting off at Penn Station to meet up with my friend Liz, now a Columbia University student. As I head to the subway entrance, I mentally note that it’s been two years since the last time we’ve seen each other. How have I changed? I wonder. How have my friends changed? Will they even recognize me?
“Min-Seo!” I hear a familiar voice call out. I look to see that Liz is there, smiling radiantly from across the entry gates. She lets me through and we hug each other like friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long, long time. We hop on a subway and over the roar of the cars on the tracks, we excitedly catch each other up on major life updates, the initial nervousness evaporating like fog in the morning sun.
We get off the subway to go get lunch, where we continue to fill each other in on all the latest developments. She takes me to Columbia’s campus to give me a brief tour, where I stare in awe at the immense, heavy stone buildings populating the campus that give off an aura of immense prestige and power.
Afterwards, Liz and I walk to her dorm, where we are joined by her significant other and Diana, a mutual friend. Before I know it, we are transported back to a scene reminiscent of our high school days, where we would talk about everything from gossip and drama to life advice to domestic and world politics during lunchtime, only now we’re a few years older and (hopefully) a bit wiser.
What was originally planned to be a two-hour meetup turns into a seven-hour affair, as we do our best to make up for the time that was a casualty of the pandemic and our many, many commitments in college. Eventually, I very reluctantly decide it’s time to leave and part ways at the nearest subway station under the starless, light-polluted New York night sky. As I head back toward where I am staying, I feel both euphoria and a strange sense of sadness. But why?
Days later, I meet up with Diana and Maiya, another mutual friend, at a cafe in Koreatown and we again repeat what we did in high school — catching up, trading all the latest tidbits of gossip (a lot can happen in two years) and discussing more high-minded issues, like foreign affairs, for hours on end. It’s almost as if, despite the long separation, we’re reverting back to our old selves.
I then head over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to rendezvous with Liz. We walk together through the arms and armor section — the display cases filled with beautifully decorated suits of armor, swords and guns — and the sculpture garden before she returns to Columbia. I linger on a little bit before leaving myself, stepping out into icy night. I once more feel a contradictory mix of great happiness and melancholy. Again, why?
In hindsight, I slowly began to piece together the reason behind this seemingly incompatible combination of emotions. The happiness was obvious; after all, I had met up with some of the people dearest to me and I was proud of how well they were doing in college.
But the melancholy? After much pondering, I realized it was because my old friends are some truly great people who helped me get through a rather dour high school experience. I might have taken them for granted, only much later recognizing how much I missed them. If they had forgotten me, I wouldn’t have blamed them.
Yet, they didn’t. Despite two years of pandemic-induced memory blur, despite going our separate ways and doing wonderful things, we hadn’t forgotten each other. I now understand that, despite the distance, true friends never really fade away; they instead remain a part of you wherever you go, memories of them bringing a smile to the face.
So yes, to my dearest friends past, present and future, I thank you for everything. And if we are separated, let us hope that our paths will cross again soon.
Min-Seo Kim is a sophomore from Cincinnati, Ohio majoring in Public Health. He is a News and Features Editor for The News-Letter.