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  • We met in sixth grade, that frightening first week of school. Cassie came from Our Lady of Lourdes and Veronica from St. Mary’s, so the uniforms and the crucifixes weren’t too jarring; Laura had been there since pre-kindergarten, so it was all she knew. Emily and I, we came from public school, and the Doc Martins, the kilts, the hair ribbons—not to mention the notable absence of boys—would take some getting used to. The five of us had in common the vulnerability and bewilderment that accompanies every kid at the start of middle school. So naturally, when Cassie tripped coming out of Mrs. Power’s English class in Hamilton House and fell on top of us, we took the blunder as a blessing, forgot our nervousness, laughed until we cried, and became friends.

    We built Styrofoam models of atoms, endured wearing our shirts tucked in, giggled over boys we glimpsed at church. Through the sixth grade, and the seventh, and the eighth, we passed those graceless years with each other, somehow filling them with grace anyway. After much postured talk of transferring, we conceded that we were fated to be Catholic schoolgirls and moved on to Upper School, never admitting that we’d actually stayed for one another. As the Jesuit philosopher Baltasar Gracian wrote, “To find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing.” We went on together, tackling Shakespeare’s tragedies, rejoicing when our date to Winter Ball wasn’t someone’s brother, rolling our skirts shorter when the nuns weren’t looking.

    Junior year, the workload and the stress mounted. I brooded over my identity among the sea of beribboned ponytails. The growing pains began. When Cassie tripped down the hall, laughing, the others on her heels, I no longer ran after them. I spent more time in the darkroom, and with other classmates on weekends. I joined the literary magazine, though Cassie called the club stupid.

    On a school trip over spring break, I couldn’t stand Cassie’s antics anymore. We had a screaming match on the hotel balcony. We apologized, but something had changed, and when I returned to school, they all confronted me about my increasing distance. I felt stifled, misunderstood, weary of laboring for their friendship as we grew apart. So when they came to me puffed up in anger to hide their wounds, I cut my losses and left them behind. “Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity,” wrote the poet Khalil Gibran. The sour shock of adolescence had masked the subtle sweetness of commitment; I did not yet know how bitter the absence of this duty would taste.

    At Cassie’s house after her father’s funeral, I sat with them around vegetables and dip, watching Cassie eat for the first time in days. Emily, always the least begrudging, had texted me about the service. In the family room, the walls painted a shade I didn’t remember, we kept the conversation light. I congratulated Laura and Veronica on their recent marriages. Emily asked Veronica about PT school. Talk soon turned to the last weekend they'd all spent together. We were too old to hold grudges, but as I sat quietly dipping carrots in the tangy ranch, I understood that even this tragedy of Shakespearian magnitude wasn't enough to wash away the aftertaste of my actions.

    Time went on, and I learned to live with the bad taste in my mouth. Laura had her first child; Emily got engaged; our beloved ninth grade English teacher, Mr. Duffy, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the flurry of emails between classmates that followed this grave news, Emily and I reconnected. We arranged to meet while she was in town. She brought her fiancé, who I had heard about for years. Over tart black coffee, I asked about the wedding plans, exposing the understanding that I would not be invited. I asked about the others. We talked and even laughed, forgetting ourselves. She hadn’t changed much. I said I’d let her know if I was ever in Wisconsin. She said I was always welcome.

    When Mr. Duffy died, I broke the news to Emily. I asked if she was coming to the funeral—she said she couldn’t swing it. I sent her the information for the services anyway. At the wake, in the chapel of Hamilton House, a floor below the hall where the five of us had fallen into friendship, I chewed on sugar cookies and cried. I tasted salt and remembered something sweet. When I returned to my apartment, my phone chimed with the arrival of an email. Opening my inbox, I saw the newest subject line: Save the Date.
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