To Those Who Show Up

Tonight is not going as planned. It’s my friend Julia’s 23rd birthday party. Because of the snowfall, several of the people she invited had decided to drop out last minute. Though she shouldn’t, Julia is sitting on the other side of the wooden table with a frown on her face, mumbling about her supposed short-comings and how she’s a loser.

“You’re not a loser!” I tell her, extending my hand out to her own. She takes it, and we interlock fingers. We are 20 something women with brown hair and sweet faces. We are both dressed in blue, with glittery eyeshadow. We’ve both had at least one shot of liquor in our systems. There is party food on the table. We haven’t touched it yet. “Don’t say that about yourself. Don’t say that about my best friend.”

Julia laughs. She gets a twinkle in her eye whenever she’s happy, and I’m looking to see if I can find it tonight. The truth about Julia is that she isn’t very popular. She’s a lovely person, with a beautiful smile and a heart of gold. But she’s honest, and direct, and this does not go down well with the Midwestern sensibility that surrounds us. Julia is the type of person that will go above and beyond for the people she cares about. I consider telling her this, but I don’t want her to think I’m saying it just to soothe her pain. Too many people in this country say things they don’t mean. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

“Why can’t I have people show up to my party? I’m always showing up for others. I do so much for other people, why can’t they do the same for me?” She asks honestly. A phone buzzes on the table, and we both look to see who it is. It’s my boyfriend. He’s heading over. “Well, that’s one person. But he’s only here for you,” she tells me. I guess, I think.

“That’s still a person who’s showing up,” I say to her. I get up from the table and walk to the counter, where a bottle of cheap vodka is sitting. We are in my kitchen, and it’s dark out. Snow is falling outside the window. The harsh overhead light illuminates the small room. This kitchen was what made me fall in love with my apartment. There’s a beautiful light fixture right over the dining table, and there’s a high ceiling with lots of cabinet space. Plus, the kitchen is green, which is my favorite color. I pour a shot out and turn back to Julia. “Shots for the birthday girl?” I jokingly say. She agrees.

I hand her the shot glass and she takes it. She gives a weak smile.

“To 23,” she sighs. “I’ve got no one,” the pain is palpable in her voice. She drowns the liquid. She winces as it goes down.

“You’ve got me,” I tell her. “Plus you’ve got James, Zach, and Leila. They’re on their way,” I remind her. I know how easy it is to forget the people who actually show up when you’re in a pity party mood. “And Jay’s showing up. Who cares if he’s just coming to see me. He’s coming.”

“Yeah, but it’s only ten people. I invited fifty!” she retorts. I sit down again, and hold her hands once more. We look into each other’s eyes. I spent years being my high school best friend’s therapist. I know what to say in these situations. The half-truths that I didn’t really believe, because I felt the same way that she did. The pop psychology advice that goes over easy and soothes the nerves. I was once just like Julia. In a lot of ways, I am still just like Julia. But I don’t want to bullshit her.

“Who cares,” I say. She looks at me funny. “I know, you do. I do too. I’ve been in your situation. But I had to change my view of things,” I continue. One perfectly done eyebrow raises. She’s listening. “You need to change the narrative from ‘so and so didn’t show up’ to ‘these are the people who showed up to my party’. Those are the people who matter. Who cares about the people who don’t.”

“But why don’t they? I always show up for them,” she asks.

“They suck, I guess,” I say. I would move mountains for her. She would move mountains for me. “No, they don’t suck. They’re just different. They have different ways of viewing friendship and stuff… But if this is how they view friendship, then you don’t need them. You’re the type of person who would trek through a winter storm in order to show up for someone. You put your all into everything you do. And if the people you call friends can’t also do that for you, then maybe they’re not the right friends for you.”

“What if I never find those people?” she asks earnestly.

I take a minute to think. I’d been right in the spot that Julia is in. I’ve also cried about a small guest list at my parties. But I changed my perspective, and I no longer care about people who don’t give me the same energy. I stopped seeking their approval and started looking for people who show up for me, who care. People like Julia. People like Jay. I’m trying to be that person for others, too. I don’t pity Julia. I don’t think anything of her at this moment other than I wish she could understand that this isn’t a reflection on her worth.

“You will,” I tell her. I give her a comforting smile. I’d told people that same sentence countless times in the past. This conversation was like a flashback to high school parties, as if I were back at 17 years old trying to convince my friend she wasn’t horrible. Every time I said that advice in the past, it was a lie. I didn’t believe it for myself. But this is the first time I do. I truly believe in not only Julia’s ability to find the love she deserves, but also my own.

Hours after our kitchen conversation, the party comes to an end. People showed up. We laughed, we drank, we played a silly card game. As I start to clean up the dishes and bottles, Julia comes up to me with a smile plastered on her face. The twinkle in her eye is there.

“I had the best time tonight,” she says. She’s drunk. She’s happy. She feels loved. “Tonight was amazing,” she leans in and gives me a hug. “Thank you so much.”

This is what we both deserve, I think. And for one of the first times in my life, I not only believe it about my friend, but also about myself. I take my own advice. I deserve to be loved. I deserve people who show up. I deserve good things. This is a breath of fresh air.



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Megan Virginie Stephenson

Megan Virginie Stephenson

Lover of people, pop culture, and sociology.