We held hands because we were pretend family.
Frosty winds blew against our zipped-up parkas as we strolled along the paths of Central Park. The leaves fell around us in orange-red glory as the dimming sky outlined the towering cityscape beyond the trees.
We were some Arizona kids in bustling New York who had long left our warm Arizonan suburbs for the chilly college nights of the Northeast. It was too much of a hassle to travel across the country to spend less than a week with our families back home; instead, we opted for a small reunion of high school friends—a Friendsgiving far from home.
Perhaps Thanksgiving is a holiday that inherently entails long travel time, red-eye flights, and warm family time; however, not everyone has that luxury. I recall Zhengdong, another Yale friend from the same high school, and I waiting on a cold New York intersection for Jeffrey, our high school friend who attends NYU, to pick us up. I scrolled through Snapchats of college friends returning to their hometowns, sitting down to the long-awaited home-cooked meal or excitedly greeting their high school friends in landscapes vastly different from New Haven. I could hear their delirious happiness and couldn’t help but feel terribly jealous with my measly text conversations of “I miss you” with family and friends back in Arizona.
But when I felt a sharp slap on my back, and Jeffrey suddenly appeared and hugged us both, I began to feel the magic of Thanksgiving.
Jeffrey pulled us along the crowded intersection into the night air as I examined his silhouette, attempting to pin down any difference in his face, his style, his manner of talking.
“Have you been keeping your eyes on Allison?” Jeffrey joked to Zhengdong. The combination of the energetic, hip array of shops and the familiar conversation of close high school friends contrasted with the near isolation of New Haven, making the scene feel like we had traveled to a different world—separate from both the independence of college and the comfort of our hometown.
Because Friendsgiving is about relearning.
When two other high school friends joined us later for dinner in a well-rated NYC ramen shop, there was no time to lose.
“Karina, I heard you’re really into the NYC clubs?”
“Allison, I didn’t know you would be this into the college nightlife?”
“Wow, I see you’ve met a lot of cool people!”
But we really caught up when the 6 PM restaurant dinner melted into lounging around Jeffrey’s common room in the later hours.
We sat with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s between our pajamaed bodies and recounted the various experiences we had never had in high school. One of us recalled new crushes despite previously-assumed unrelenting devotion to a former flame. Another one of us explained the newfound social and academic liberation garnered from stimulating discussions with professors or late-night, dimly lit frats.
And yet another admitted, “I’m lonely here.”
“I don’t know if this is what I want anymore.”
In the warm lights of the NYU college dorm, it felt like old times even though we were far from home. Jeffrey reached over and took my spoon, biting off the rest of the icy fudge. Any pretense of a strong, confident college student melted away, and it seemed like I could say anything, confess my deepest insecurities, boast about my darkest forays into adult life without judgment. We could express new, sincere doubt about our futures to truly sympathetic ears.
That first night, we talked until 5 AM.
Sure, we could have talked the night away with our families back at home; however, it’s completely different when the people you spend Thanksgiving with are at the same exact stage of life as you. Your parents and grandparents aren’t currently experiencing this earth-shattering change in their lives. Your friends who are still in high school are likely romanticizing college life and griping about how they “can’t wait to just get outta here.” Even your high school friends who stayed in state for college won’t truly understand the level of isolation and homesickness that an out-of-stater feels throughout his or her first semester in college. In some ways, a Friendsgiving is both a semblance of home and a jarringly novel adult experience.
We wanted to cook our Thanksgiving meal, so we scoured the grocery shops, asked for a slab of steak at Whole Foods like true adults, argued about which pies we wanted—we ended up getting three pies because we couldn’t decide. We learned how to cook in the cramped NYU dorm kitchen and mustered a makeshift Thanksgiving meal.
Each of us ducked out of the kitchen to call our parents back at home, but this experience felt more adult than any college experience thus far. Running through NYC traffic carrying grocery bags with the faces of our high school lives represented a lack of parental control and the loss of familial security in cooking with our Thanksgiving-veteran parents, but it brought together all the new adulting we learn in college–with a family away from home.
There is something magical about seeing old hometown friends in a new city, at a new stage of life.