One of the author's friends, Imani Spence, in front of a giant waffle at Artscape 2011. Photo by Jalynn Harris.
One of the author's friends, Imani Spence, in front of a giant waffle at Artscape 2011. Photo by Jalynn Harris.

My life in a body consists of two substances: water and friendship. Water cleanses me as sweetly as squeegee boys do window shields— yes, liquid drawn heart and all. Friendship allows me to grow as firmly as the ancient gingko trees growing around the city— their wide leaves like palms spread out in high-fives. A healthy dose of both is the sculptor’s hand to the stone; I am boasted, shaped roughly in preparation for finer form. In turn, I must boast about them, because genuinely, I must admit, Baltimore has given me the best friends in the world.

Last week, I was taking an online writing course for teachers. The facilitator asked, “Outside of being a teacher, who are you?” While everyone spoke meaningfully about being parents, wives and coaches—to which I nibbled on my nails thinking, gee, if I’m none of these things then am I anything?—one woman was brave enough to say, “I am a friend.”

In a society where romantic partnership, parenthood, and employment are dominant markers of “somebodiness” I often get caught up like a fish in a haggling hook. I am miffed by the myths. I worry singleness is close to nothingness. I worry the only antidote is a romantic relationship soaring me ever after into the rainbow skies of somebodiness. But this woman from the workshop was proud. Proud to admit that she is in fact, a friend. And oh, how I loved her response. Because, yes, friendship. The true ever after!

There is no home without the homies. Six years ago, when I came back to Baltimore, I moved in with my best friend: my mom. At 5’4″ my mom is a giant. She is a woman committed to service as a means of growing finer. With 30+ years as a librarian— abridged resume: Goddard Space Center, BCPL, and University of Baltimore— not only can she stand for hours on end unperturbed as a gargoyle, she will also go the distance to find you the information you need. Ask her for a book on swimming and she’ll find you the CCBC class to match. Ask her for a ride home and she’ll take you every week. Ask her for a hug and she’ll give you her heart without condition. Oh, and you’ll never see her more serious than when she’s being a friend. Luckily, she’s the oldest of 12 other Baltimore babies who happen to also be excellent friends– of mine, to one another, and to others.

There is no friendship without the swelling chain of captivity. Hear me out. Cisheteropatriarchy loves captivity. It legislates, supports and codifies captivity. Anti abortion laws? Nom nom nom. Animal labor? Another helping please! Assigning people a gender at birth? Oh, boy it’s Christmas! And never forget, schools. (Don’t get me wrong. I love schools. Teachers are the most precious gift to humanity. But school systems? School boards? Allocation of funds? Curricula? Grades? Superintendents? I’d rather hire a fourth grader to do my taxes…)

I met my best friend in a Baltimore County high school. Imagine the meet-cutes of Netflix, but in between the brown brick of a jail and a Five Guys. Here enters me– a lowly freshman wearing the Bible like a purse. Then, Imani, a sophomore transfer reflecting the fluorescent light of the hallway off her braces. Dramatically, these two nerds collide in a flurry of journal pages and Italo Calvino quotes. There’s a dirty rolling backpack in the background. A rogue rolling G2 pen. A pad before the diva cup revolution. Sorry, we both say. Or Watch where you’re going! Or Do you wanna read together? The bell rings. We’re late to class. “Zebra” by Beach House plays as the opening credits roll.

Years later, we’re still here, adult children of emotionally immature parents, reminiscing about that Artscape with the giant waffle or the Virgin Mobile FreeFest year where we almost saw Das Racist mere minutes before they broke up. (Note: we did see Big Sean before he was a father and CeeLo Green before he was on that show that makes no one famous; I’ll be her friend forever).

There are no friendships without chance. Years ago, as a very eager and broke grad student, I was looking for work. My bestie sent me a tweet from a Charles Theater employee that said: we takin applications. Immediately I walked from UB to The Charles. I filled out the app on the spot. A few days later, I came in for an interview. Just before meeting the manager, I walked up to one of the only other Black people on shift that day. “Tell me,” I said, “the truth. How do they treat us here?” He said, “I dont know. This only my second day out here.” “Okay that’s honest. I’m Jalynn by the way.” I reached out my hand and introduced myself. Then, he said, “I’m Jalen.” I looked at him, peeved, because I thought he was trying to make a joke. “No,” I said, “that’s my name.” “Yeah, and that’s my name too.” Years later, we go everywhere together and people always say, “Hey! It’s the Jalynns!”

Friends are rescuers, trauma bonded binders, respites in the storm. Friends are growers, not showers. Friends are tightly wound smudge sticks and loose leaf tea. And friendship is what this city is made of. And you, reader, how did you meet your Baltimore friends? Do you know what they do for a living? If so, is it a regular part of your conversations/ hangouts? If you share a vocation with a friend, do you do that together? i.e. Writers do you write together? What does a good friend mean to you?

Chances are, if you’re from Baltimore, you probably don’t care what your friends do for a living. Our friendships aren’t about work. They’re about play. Sure, we love a well paid collaboration. But I’ve not met one person from here who’s concern with friendship is purely for network building. No, people here just want to be friends because simply we love hanging out (and because we don’t wanna keep running into our exes without a solid buffer of friends around us all the time).

I love my friends more and more the longer I get to love them. Like the eternally opened turnstiles in the Baltimore metro– you never have to pay for friendship, you just keep on through. I love friendship because, like the construction around Druid Hill Park, I have a really strong feeling it’ll never end.

As much as I love Philadelphia, I want that name for us. But since the city of brotherly love is taken, could we be the city of nonbinary friendshipping? The city of gender nonconforming huggers? The city of maternally motivated cherishing?

There is no home without the homies. People come to Baltimore because of something— a job, a home, a lover. Others of us are born here. But all of us stay because of the people we meet. And when–or if–the time comes to move, people always come back. What other city can claim this pull? A pull so deep and irresistible it’s oceanic. And we are its ridah girls in a silver breasted submarine plummeting to the bottom.

Jalynn Harris (she/they) is a writer, educator, and book designer from Baltimore. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Feminist Studies, Poem-A-Day, The Hopkins Review, The...

One reply on “Tha Homies”

Comments are closed.