At six, I pledged to a girl named Isabel that she’d be my best friend forever. She was blonde. I was brunette. Despite this, Isabel always insisted on playing Gabriella when we re-enacted scenes from our beloved High School Musical. I started to hate her a tiny bit. At fourteen, we fell out over boys.
When I was nine, I told myself my best friend was a girl called Aoife. She was a bitch in the making, and something about that drew me in. She had a strength that I didn’t. But, like any blossoming bitch, she wanted to surround herself with other bitches (and despite my efforts, I was just a bit too off-the-wall to fit the bitch criteria). I haven’t spoken to Aoife since I was twelve, when her parents shipped her off to boarding school.
When I was thirteen, my best friend was Clara. She had frizzy hair and braces. We had art class together. One summer, I remember asking her if she’d ever like to get married. She said yes. I laughed; it seemed stupid to me to admit such things. I then asked, ‘would you want to marry someone from here, from Ireland?’ She said, ‘probably’. To me, anyone who thought Ireland was anything other than torture was immediately written off as someone I absolutely could not ever, ever respect. Somewhere along the way, my Ireland had become a prison I couldn’t get away from fast enough. Conveniently, Clara gravitated towards another group of friends. I told myself this suited me fine. To assert some sort of control over the situation, I called Clara up just before school started back. I told her I didn’t want to be friends anymore. In my head, this conversation was some kind of revenge on Irishness.
At fifteen, I met Lauren. She was an American exchange student, in Ireland for only four months. She was the first person I’d met in years who didn’t have that specific Irish something about her. She was like fresh air. I saw her again when she visited Ireland in the summer of 2018. We smoked cigarettes outside a hotel in the local town, and she told me about her friends back in North Carolina. I forced myself not to cough each time I took a drag; I had stupidly told her that I was a smoker now. I also told her about my friends, of which none were real. I remember feeling quite low when Mum picked me up that night. Lauren had a boyfriend, a best friend, a plethora of close-ish pals. I didn’t have any of this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted any of it, though. I just didn’t want to not have what everyone else seemed to have.
That summer, I decided to take another year off before university; re-entering mainstream education was something I was eager to delay for as long as possible. I au paired in Zurich four six months. That’s where I met Catherine. Catherine was six years older than me. She was a real hippy, all yoga and kombucha. But, more importantly, she was Irish. Something in our age gap meant that there was no competition between us, not the way I had had with other female friends. I don’t think any other person has ever struck me the way Catherine did. Our friendship did something to my confidence that gave me the strength to finally attend university. She also did something to my relationship with Ireland that helped detangle many of my hang-ups. Catherine left Zurich before I did, moving to New Zealand to continue travelling. True to her bohemian roots, we only correspond over sporadic emails these days. Despite this, the impact Catherine had on me still lingers.
Whether it’s Isabel with the blonde hair, Clara with the braces or Catherine with a yoga mat in toe; each of them has left an indelible mark upon me. Humans have this way of sneaking up on each other’s lives, of weaving their way in so that it’s all the harder when, naturally, friendships morph and evolve. They might even die. But isn’t there something to be said for that, for the transience of it all? We’re led to think that we should have a solid group of friends attached to each stage of our lives; primary school, secondary, a-levels, university. If we trip up at any of these points, we risk not fitting the social mould promoted by our culture. I think this causes many to hang on to the dregs of past friendships, if only to tell themselves that they do indeed have many friends. I bought into this for years; I was convinced I was the only one who hadn’t kept in touch with every close friend I’ve ever had. But I’m not. The fact that I’ve lost touch with people who I once felt deeply connected to isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is that connection of less value now. There are many of us who slip through the cracks in some way, and things may just go a little wrong when we’re young, and that somehow snowballs. For me, university was a do-over of sorts. If you’d told me six years ago that, at 22, I’d be living with brilliant friends, and that I’d have a healthy relationship with someone I love, I’d have seriously questioned your sanity. But that’s life: things change, connections alter, people drift the way they’ve always done. We’re more nomadic than we’re willing to admit.
This leads me onto the theme for our final issue of this academic year, and my last issue as editor in chief (insert crying face emoji): connections. Connections are not just a friendship bracelet from Claire’s Accessories or rants about commonalities. They’re the fractures in friendships, fallouts, breakups, reconciliations, laughter, tears, memories, conversations. Connections are one of the most interesting parts of the human experience, if you ask me. And with that, I present Orbital’s connection issue.