On a cloudy November night, I stood with frozen fingers and a wind-burned face in a dreary parking lot which was softly illuminated by lamp posts. I watched a girl in gray slippers sprint away from the site of the mischievous act she had just committed — dropping a roll of Mentos into a 2-liter bottle of Coke. Side-by-side, we gazed and cheerfully applauded at the glorious geyser before us which spewed light brown foam into the night sky. Despite being juniors in high school, childlike laughter erupted from our stomachs and bounced off the dark trees lining the parking lot. I watched as the fog of our warm breaths danced together in the crisp air. Once our laughter subsided, I realized that this was the most fun night I had had in a while and smiled at the thought of someone driving by and witnessing the scene: two grown girls performing a childish science experiment in a vacant parking lot on a bone-chilling Wednesday night. Although somewhat ridiculous, I was perfectly satisfied with how I’d spent the evening. Who knew the recipe for an exciting night out was a Mentos-induced explosion accompanied by a mere acquaintance?
Before our spontaneous experiment, the most notable interaction I’d had with this girl was in seventh grade when we were doubles partners in tennis. I remember our time spent on the courts fondly; we held an undefeated record all season and had a strong, comedic dynamic. Although we were all just a bunch of inexperienced 12 year olds, I treated every match as if we were playing in the U.S. Open, and she would humorously play along with my cutthroat mentality.
“Hit to her left side; that girl cannot do a backhand,” I’d whisper to Claire as I went to serve.
“You are crazy,” she’d laugh.
“Just listen to me. Also, I’ll hit some short to tire them out.”
In between my ruthless game-time commentary, we would perform mini celebrations with a handshake that included bumping rackets after every successful point. Whenever I got a little too competitive, Claire would start singing the lyrics to “Despacito” by Justin Bieber and Luis Fonsi, and without fail, I would double over laughing. Whether perfecting ground strokes at practice or driving to our matches, we were always giggling and messing around. I began looking forward to practices and matches just to hang out with her.
Unfortunately, we lost touch shortly after the tennis season ended. I returned to spending time with my friend group, and she did the same. We would awkwardly smile at one another in the judgmental middle school hallways and text sporadically, but I missed the fun and constant bond we once shared. Claire and I never had the same friends throughout school, because in our small town, students usually stuck with the same friendships from pre-K to high school graduation. Trivial, yes, but that’s the way it was.
However, in high school, I somehow became acquainted with Claire’s older sister, and she began offering me rides home from school. During those numerous car rides, the three of us would chat about random topics ranging from who was dating who to the new songs we had been listening to. These conversations reignited my friendship with Claire; our witty repartee from seventh grade survived the drought of lost contact in the world of high school cliques. I loved reconnecting with her and knew I wanted our friendship to grow.
Naturally, the next step in our reconnection was throwing Mentos in a soda bottle. One day, our car ride conversation somehow reached the subject of our childhood science fairs, and the next thing I knew, a cashier at Rite Aid was rolling her eyes at Claire and me as she cashed out two teenagers purchasing incriminating supplies at 10 p.m.
From that night on, many of my weekends were occupied with late-night escapades of random activities. I would pick her up and we’d drive around, listening to Harry Styles and Olivia Rodrigo and chatting until we decided on an activity. Then we’d get to action. Some nights, we’d stroll through the aisles of Michaels, purchasing cheap crafting projects and assembling them in my car. Other times, we would attempt to skateboard in our old elementary school’s parking lot at midnight, humorously blasting “Sk8er Girl” by Avril Lavigne from my car’s speakers. Many nights, we just parked somewhere, chatting and eating McDonald’s french fries or ice cream. We talked about anything and everything; our conversations ranged from how much we loved Applebee’s mozzarella sticks to ranting about our frustrating family members. All we needed for a fun night out was my blue Jeep Renegade, our imaginations and an exciting idea. No matter our chosen activity or topic of conversation, I trusted that a night out with Claire would be a night of entertainment and delight.
I appreciated this trust, as my friendship with Claire entered my life when I was feeling unsatisfied with the way I’d been spending every weekend: On repeat, I was partying in people’s houses after football games. I loved hanging out with my other friends, but I also craved adventure and longed to try new things. There wasn’t much to do in our quiet little town, and Claire and I were eager to do anything outside the walls of cement-bricked basements and chilly garages. I believe we came back into each other’s lives at the perfect time and gave each other the gift of a renewed friendship and adventure.
Now that I’m in college, we are separated again, but we still stay in touch every day. Whether I send her pictures from Timothée Chalamet’s recent photoshoot or she shows me what she cooked for dinner, we’re always checking in. When either of us needs to rant about any minor inconveniences like packed coffee shops or rainy walks to class, we type away, knowing we can tell each other anything. Our rapid texting may not be the same as dramatically acting out stories while devouring McDonald’s French fries, but for now, it will do. I know our friendship is rooted in a strong foundation from all the time we have spent together shopping, talking and listening to music. I know I can always count on Claire.
From this friendship, I have learned that not every night out has to involve dully observing my peers tossing ping pong balls into red solo cups and waking up the next day with a pounding headache; there are more wholesome ways to make an evening enjoyable. Unfortunately, in college, a stereotypical night out consists of dancing in a humid frat basement or getting elbowed at a crowded bar. I won’t lie and say I never find partaking in these activities fun, but I will admit that sometimes I would rather just jump in my Jeep, blast some music and spill secrets with some friends. When I long for the latter, I cure this craving by opting out of a night on the dance floor and instead making a run for Ben & Jerry’s or catching a film at the Michigan Theater with friends. Although somewhat tricky, I work hard to balance the different forms of going out to do what feels right for me.
My friendship with Claire has also taught me the power of vulnerability and prepared me to build more meaningful connections as I meet new people in college and beyond. I now know that it’s unrealistic to create lifelong, fulfilling friendships in crowded bars or dimly-lit basements alone. For authentic relationships to grow, people must spend time together talking and, of course, listening. I’m aware that not every one of my relationships has to be so deep that every friend I have knows about my childhood crush, nicknamed Pineapple, but I find those connections to be the most valuable. I appreciate knowing how a friend got that scar above their eyebrow, about their embarrassing haircut in fourth grade and that they still sleep with their pink childhood blanket. There is beauty in knowing intimate details about a person and them knowing yours. These meaningful types of friendships take time and trust, and I feel excited for all the connections awaiting me and appreciate the ones I already have. And of course, I give special thanks to Claire for showing me how a friendship can grow from the simple pleasures of late-night skateboarding sessions and Applebee’s mozzarella sticks.
Statement Columnist Jenna Hausmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.