Mark and Ben were the two people I spent time with in college.
Due to my ongoing health concerns, I ended up at the crappy state university in my town rather than any of the prestigious private universities to which I had originally applied. And it was worse than I could ever have imagined. Most of my classmates didn’t care about our classes, and so I was ostracized because I did my homework. When I tried to get involved with extracurriculars, I was mostly invisible to any of the other students I tried to talk to. When I finally seemed to have made a friend after quite a bit of college spent completely alone, my new friend told me that I would be using my ID to buy her alcohol. I refused, and she made it clear we were no longer speaking. In the end, I finished my degree requirements in online courses. Why be with other people when all of them were clear that they didn’t care about the coursework and they didn’t care about me?
So you can understand that I spent a significant amount of time home alone watching the Food Network. Most days the only people I would speak to at all were my parents. I was so alone, and I had been absolutely alone for several years by then. I ended up being offered a nannying job with a 10-year-old girl named Alexis who I had met briefly several months before that. Her parents ran a restaurant and were out of the house most evenings, and she was lonely. My job was to keep Alexis company, and in turn, she kept me company.
My evenings with Alexis were full of chatting, of trying to cook simple meals, or going to eat at nearby restaurants. It was the first time in my adult life that I had a social life, even if it was with a kid rather than any same-age peers. There was a lot of laughter and each of us telling the other goofy stories. And I learned that while most of the people at my college had made it clear they didn’t care about me, Alexis chose to care. She genuinely liked me. She was often automatically happy just because I was there. Alexis was a kid, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t a person. And Alexis made it clear for months and months that I was someone worth being cared about.
It was shortly after Alexis’s mom was able to start working a lot less, that I was approached by Arlene to do cooking and spend evenings with Mark and Ben. And so Mark and Ben were to become the best friends I’d make during college. They called me nice adjectives, like cool and fun. I helped them, but they also helped me.
Mark and Ben started college this Fall, and I am beyond proud of both of them. It’s time for them to fly.
But I regret that after all these years, the illness I had last winter caused so very many same-age peers to vanish from my life. Years spent putting work into all sorts of friendships, with only four true friends left. My sister Laura. Our best friend Jonathan. My almost-cousin Heather. And my friend since birth Aviva. The most wonderful, committed, lovingest four of all.
The only friends who choose to care.
And I wonder. What is it about me that makes it so much easier for people to choose not to care? Or is it really about my personality after all, when the times of my life I’ve had the most symptoms are the times of my life I’ve been ghosted the most vigorously? Are millenials automatically afraid of health problems in other people? Have we as a generation made a choice to exclude people who live with chronic illness?
Are millenials the generation who choose not to care about others?