Deeper into the Gift Project

Mariana Papadopoulos           Integrative Seminar 1: Avatar

September 11, 2018       Professor Raabe

 

The People Behind My Gift Project

Breakfast makes me think about all the times my boyfriend and I went to the best diner in Whitestone. I met my boyfriend in the beginning of sophomore year of highschool. I went to St. Francis prep, the Co-Ed Catholic High School on Francis Lewis Boulevard. He went to Holy Cross, the all boys Catholic High School on Francis Lewis Boulevard. Naturally, we had mutual friends. At that point in my life, all my friends and I were using the busses as our main form of transportation and would often go to soccer games or hang out at McDonald’s during the fall of sophomore year. The first memory I have of Joe was coming home from one of those soccer games when my school played his. My friends and I were walking and he had his bike.

As the weeks went on, we’d all gather at McDonald’s and hang out and enjoy each other’s company. Joe and I clicked as friends almost instantly. We were in group chats together and began snap-chatting, he very quickly became one of my best friends. One of my most prominent memories was when a whole bunch of us went to his house, played ping-pong, fooled around with his toy guitar, and just had a great time. After a while our group chats died down and the contact was more one on one. Then we’d begin hanging out after school for a little. The relationship grew and grew. He became so important to me, he got a candle at my Sweet Sixteen. In the beginning, I had no idea he had developed feelings for me. It wasn’t until our friends began teasing us that I knew something was up. I avoided the subject for a long time, and learnt how to do so rather skillfully to prevent any awkwardness. It wasn’t exactly out in the open anyway, he never made any obvious advances. I denied returning the feelings in fear that I would ruin the relationship I had with my best friend. Afterall, we were so young, I don’t believe you can have a serious, mature relationship at sixteen years old. He was worth too much to me to enter into a juvenile relationship that had too much risk in ending badly. So I waited. I knew we would end up together, I just had to wait for the right time.

In the spring of our junior year I took driver’s ed at his school, so a lot of the time we’d meet up after. I remember one day we walked all over the place after driving class. From Holy Cross, to Utopia Bagels, to Aphrodite’s Sweets, to Beauty Bar, and finally to my friends house. I was wearing a grey sweater, he was wearing a navy blue shirt with a teal Adidas logo on it. He took a picture of me in Aphrodite’s Sweets and set it as my contact photo. I knew we wouldn’t just be friends for much longer. I remember another time after drivers ed. We went to hang out at his house and I was wearing my mossy green sweatshirt. We were up in his room, sitting by the big map he has on his wall, that was the first time he tried to kiss me. I moved awkwardly and we continued on with our day. I remember the time we went to the movies. We went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. It was just the two of us and It was the first time I knew I wanted to kiss him too. Finally, my road test came around, I was so excited to drive. I passed. My mom wouldn’t let me take her car, so my grandmother let me take hers. His house was the first place I drove to. I was leaving for San Francisco the next day, and by the time I would return, he’d be long gone for his annual two months in Croatia. We were all hanging out at our friend’s house, I said my goodbye’s and left. I didn’t want to begin something and miss him for the next two months. Later that night, I hastily asked my mom to drive me back to the house. I knew I couldn’t leave things the way they were. I went back, and I kissed him.

We kept in contact while he was away. He was in Croatia, I went to Greece shortly after returning from San Francisco. Being in the same time zone made it easier to talk. However, where we were in terms of the kiss was left unspoken. Finally, the two months was up. He came home with a giant Toblerone chocolate bar that said “I MISSED YOU.” I thought it was the sweetest thing ever. Of course, there was some awkwardness when we were back together. The lines between friendship and relationship were blurred and it was hard to navigate through. After a few weeks we finally managed to get back into a semi-normal routine. Throughout September we got closer again, the awkwardness faded, and by the 30th, we were officially dating. In a few weeks, that will be an entire year ago, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. On August 29th we were at a party and he asked if i wanted to go on a date to the food festival, Smorgasburg. I said yes, but he asked me if I wanted to go on a date, not if I wanted to date him. The next day at my friend’s house we laughed about it and cleared it up, and I agreed to be his girlfriend.

This last year has been incredible. I could not ask for a better boyfriend. It’s so important to me that we were friends for so long before dating, I think it makes our relationship so much stronger. We know each other so well and rarely fight, when we do we talk about it and it gets resolved almost immediately. We don’t argue about petty things or try and force one another to do or be something they don’t want to. I credit that to our strong friendship. Dating my best friend makes me so happy I can hardly put it into words. I absolutely love him. By no surprise, hearing about him going away to Croatia again, and then directly after he’d be going away for college, I was crushed.

Luckily, we had all of June together. Two proms, after-prom, beach days, movie nights, breakfast, lunch, and dinner dates, June was wonderful. Then July came around. Our days together were coming to an end. We spent the evening before he left in my basement. The Office was on in the background as we talked about the future and cried. The next five weeks without him were rather difficult. Some days I was more distracted than others. Snapchat, text, and FaceTime helped bridge the gap a bit, but it wasn’t the same. He was in a different time zone in a different country where service is sparse. Finally it was August 9th, he came home. All my nerves about things being different and awkward disappeared as soon as I saw him. We snapped right back to normal and time we had together were great. We even got to go out to the Hamptons to a friends house for a weekend. Nine days later the day came where I had to say goodbye before he left for college. Once again we found ourselves back in my basement. The Office was on in the background as we talked about the future and cried. I was devastated, but I knew we’d make it work. He’s my best friend, 200 miles couldn’t change anything.

Two long weeks without him went by, and he came home for labor day weekend. Once again, we clicked instantly and things were great. I even planned a trip to go up and see him the following weekend. I was so excited to go up and see where his life is now. The hardest thing to wrap my head around while he was a way was that he’s living in a place I have never been to, where we have no memories together, with people I’ve never met. It broke my heart a little to know that while he was away, he was living a life without me. I was a mere memory from home. Once again, I credit our communication and success at having a long distance relationship to our longstanding friendship. We text and snapchat everyday and almost everyday exchange a phone call or FaceTime. That helps a lot, but it’s still hard. I may be home for college, but home isn’t the same without him here.

This past weekend I went up to Binghamton to see him. It was a long weekend so we got to spend Friday evening, all day Saturday and Sunday, and Monday morning together. Boarding the bus to come home on monday, I was met with deep sorrow, but having spent time up there made me more confident that we can continue doing this. He may still be living in a different place, but now its a place where I have been, where we do have memories together, and with people I got to meet. The time apart is not easy, and the daunting idea of studying abroad for months is always lodged in the back of my mind. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but there’s one thing I know for sure. Joe is my best friend, I love him more than anything, and I’d rather wait for him for however long it takes than not have him in my life. That fact, along with all our history makes me sure that this is right, this is something that’s going to last. No matter where he is or where I am, I’ll always hold our breakfast dates at Whitestone diner and all our other memories close to my heart.

Lunch makes me think of going for sushi with my best friends. I met my best friend thirteen years ago. P.S. 184, September 2005, Ms. Beltakas’ kindergarten class. All my elementary school memories circulate around my three best friends and I. Maria, Gina, and Ellie. The four of us were inseparable. Every weekend we’d ring each other’s doorbells bearing sweet treats and bags of our toys. Our basements were transformed from simple living spaces to different worlds depending on what game we’d play. While our imaginations ran wild, our mothers sat upstairs and talked. Those three girls had an enormous impact of who I was at the time, and who I am now. No matter where we are at this stage in life, we all share the same formative childhood memories of playing dolls, dressing up, and singing to our favorite songs. As life went on, relationships shifted.

Onto middle school, Maria and I were in the all the same classes. Gina made other friends, and Ellie stayed close to us. Although we didn’t see Gina as often, the bond was still there. Other girls came and left the group, but our core was always the same. Like elementary school, my best friends got me through the awkward years of middle school. Being in the same classes, Maria and I often hung out with two other girls. One went to a different high school, and the other went to St. Francis Prep with us, but we didn’t really keep in touch. As we adjusted to high school, Ellie ended up making a different group of friends and seemed to have drifted from us. Gina kept several friends from middle school and joined cheer, she was often doing her own thing. Maria and I made friends together, and as they came and went, it was always the two of us who remained. The October of Freshmen year, Gina’s mother passed away after a long battle with a brain tumor. Maria, Ellie, and I were all at the wake. No matter what had changed, we were still connected and would forever be there for eachother.

Freshmen year I met Victoria, and she became a part of our small group. Later on, Taylor joined. These were the girls I’d spend the bulk of my high school experience with. I had a ton of classes with Victoria and each year we’d have art together. We got very close. As dramatic as she may be, Victoria has a good heart and only good intentions. I knew she’d make a good friend, and I was right. Taylor added a sense of adventure. She is very free spirited and always ready to do something out of the ordinary. I loved those girls, and still do, but the one person who’s been through it all with me is Maria.

From kindergarten to our fifth grade graduation, from the bad hairstyles and questionable outfits of middle school to all the strange teachers we had, from daily bus rides freshmen year to senior prom, Maria has been by my side. No one knows me better than her, and with every year that passes, we have grown so much closer. Every significant memory I have, she was there for. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. In highschool we got particularly close. We did everything together. Writing about Maria is difficult because it’s impossible to single out important isolated events. Writing an essay about our memories together would be like writing an essay about every important even in my life. It’s impossible. From day one, our lives have been intertwined. We went to the same schools for thirteen years, had most of the same friends, went to Greek school together, played soccer together, went to girl scouts together. However juvenile and embarrassing it sounds, she was just around the corner when I had my first kiss, and I was on the other side of the park when she first kissed the boy she’s still dating today. She was one of the first people I drove with the day I got my license, she was one of the first people to see my new car, she was one of the first people I drove on the highway with. We’ve spent holidays together, vacationed, gone on double dates. I know her family, and she knows mine. She’s driven my brother home from school on days when I wasn’t even there. If she called me in the middle of the night and needed something I’d be there, and I know she would be too if I needed her. Maria is my best friend, she’s my whole life. I have absolutely no idea what I would do without her.

Starting college was particularly difficult because she was not by my side, she wasn’t even close enough to grab lunch with. I was a very shy child, it took me a lot of time to open up and be more outgoing and embrace my personality. By high school, I thought I’d completely gotten over my timidness. Coming into college having to start over and meet all new people, I realize I’m the same, shy kid i was ten years ago. I just don’t have the people I’ve grown comfortable enough with to be myself around. I don’t have my best friend to crack jokes with, or finish my sentences, or know exactly what I’m referring to all the time. It’s weird knowing that for the first time, we won’t be making the same group of friends, having similar classes, having lunch together, or going back and forth to school with one another. Even though we’re both still living at home, during the day we’re 23 miles apart, and on most days, we’re too tired or too busy with work to hang out like we used to. Despite the shift in actually getting to see her, it’s such a comfort knowing she is never that far away and that no matter where we end up, our relationship will never change.

Over the course of life, people create different bonds with different people. It is rare to find someone so good whom you love so much at such a young age and actually create a life long friendship. I am so lucky to have met Maria all those years ago. Other friends have come along, some stayed, some left, but she is the friend that stuck. She is my sister. I know that she has always been there for me, and I know that she always will be. Wherever we are, we can always reconnect and meet for lunch at our favorite sushi spot.

Dinner reminds me of family dinners at my Grandmother’s house. I am who I am because of my huge, crazy, close-knit, Greek family. To give a vague idea of how big my family actually is, I’ll note how many siblings each of my grandparents have. My maternal grandmother is one of eight children, my maternal grandfather was one of six. My paternal grandmother is one of four, and my paternal grandfather one of six. Each of them had about two to three children, who had two to three children, and some have already had two to three children. One would think that the massive expansion of my family would make us grow apart, but that is far from the truth. I love my first cousins like siblings, and my second cousins like first cousins. My great aunts give their two cents of wisdom and judgment every so often, and my uncles love to tease each other about appearances, politics, and everything in between. The older cousins give advice to the younger cousins, and those younger cousins babysit the even younger ones. It is never a dull moment when we get together, and I look forward to weddings, baptisms, and barbecues.

I give a lot of credit to my grandmother for keeping our family so close. She always cooks dinner, hosts holidays and gatherings, and make sure everyone stays connected. My memories in her home and with my father’s side of the family are irreplaceable. That side of the family spreads from New York to New Jersey,  Connecticut to California, and Greece to Canada. Even though I only see my New Jersey cousin once a year around the holidays, we still talk about everyday. My california cousins come around once every summer, but there are no gaps in our relationships when we do get to see each other. Getting to go to Greece does not happen very often, but going last summer connected me to my roots and allowed me to meet family I’ve never met before. I get to see my father’s side more often than my mother’s. They live closer to the area, I have more cousins my age, and like I said, my grandmother does a lot to keep us connected. However, that doesn’t change the love I have for my mother’s side. Most of them are up in the New England area and we try to go visit at least once a year. While we’re there, I get to go skiing with my cousins, eat at all their pizzarias (that’s the family business up there), and reconnect with those I don’t get to see often.

Even my immediate family gets along, and for that I’m lucky. Yes, my parents are more strict than I’d like them to be at times, but if I explain myself, they are very understanding and willing to help me out. Yes, my younger brother gets on my nerves, but as we have gotten older we have gotten closer. We are only a year apart, and I do enjoy his company, I would consider him not only a brother, but a friend. My mother is a teacher, and she has been one to me since the day I was born; talking to me, reading to me, teaching me sounds and colors. I spoke at the young age of nine months, and by my first birthday I was singing the happy birthday song to myself. She is also the reason I’ve always performed well in school, as she taught me the values of education and focusing on what’s important. My father is an extremely hard working man, who set an example of doing what it takes to support your family. I’ve been told I get a lot of my personality from him, and I can see why. We’re both quick to make jokes and rebuttal with sarcastic comments. I’m blessed to have a home life where my parents and sibling are supportive of me and where we care about one another. Coming from this greatly impacted who I am as a person, and how I look at the world.

Every time a wedding or baptism happens, the whole lot of us get together and have incredible celebrations full of food, dancing, and laughter. There is always so much love in the room. Every time a baby is born, we gather to celebrate him or her and congratulate the parents. Every time someone passes, we are all there for one another. There is nothing more important than family. The value of family is something I hold very close to me, and I consider myself lucky to have such an amazing one. Not everyone has a big family, or even a close one. I couldn’t imagine life without mine. I am who I am because of my family.

 

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