Of all the ways I could’ve met my best friend, I never would’ve guessed it’d come from assigned seats.
On the first day of school each year, I dreaded being told where to sit because I only wanted to sit with my friends. But, every year, I’d always be sequestered next to people I barely knew on the basis of a shared last initial, and every time, we had little to nothing in common.
But in my sophomore year of high school, my last name landed me next to a short, auburn-haired girl in a cross country jacket with the last name “Power,” and just like every other person I was assigned to sit next to, we barely had anything in common.
Between her quiet, subdued personality and my high-energy, bombastic self, we didn’t necessarily click when first meeting.
We rarely, if ever, spoke for the first week or two of class, save for some polite introductions and obligatory small talk. I never had anything against her — in truth, from her intelligent comments during classroom conversations, I thought she was really cool — but I never made an effort to start a conversation with her.
It was like we had an implicit, unspoken understanding that since our personalities didn’t mesh initially, they were ultimately incompatible, and so we never really tried to become friends.
We didn’t have to try — we only saw each other for 40 minutes a day.
But our time together grew when a few days later, we found out we were in the same gym class. As somebody who laments even the idea of doing something athletic, I wasn’t prepared to spend 90 minutes of dodgeball and track by myself, and so I took a chance and talked to her.
Our conversation wavered between our shared discontent for gym class and how we both barely touched the summer work for English, and at one point we found out we were both trying out for the school’s mock trial team.
Strangely enough, we both made the team later that week and started to spend more time together each week.
Mock trial was tedious at best and painstakingly boring at worst, with my afternoons often spent memorizing objections and courtroom decorum — things I’d never need to know in the real world. Each exciting competition was accompanied by hours of monotonous practices, and in a different world, I would’ve quit within a month.
But there was only one thing keeping me there: this new friend I made.
During wearisome practices rehearing the same sets of questions, we spent our downtime studying for English quizzes, where she’d always get a better grade, even if I read the book and she didn’t.
On long bus rides to competitions, we’d hype each other up before the trial, insistent on our own excellence enough to not practice one last time, only to embarrassingly laugh about our mistakes on the way home after losing — more than one time, in fact.
In between all the mayhem that is high school intramural mock trial, we shared small moments of real conversation and friendship. She coached me through my (failed) attempts at talking to my crush at the time, and I listened when she needed to vent about old exes.
When our mock trial season neared an end in mid-November, I wasn’t prepared to surrender the time I got to spend with her.
During our final trial, I tried harder than ever before to make sure we won and could advance to the regional competition. I’d always worked hard when it came to mock trials, but at this competition, I had this new motivation to succeed. When we finally got to that trial, I was more than confident we would win.
So when we lost, I didn’t know what to do.
I felt like I’d lost this activity that brought me so much adrenaline, despite it being tedious at times. But above all, I was afraid that the hours of practice, meetings and competition where I could hang out with my friend were entirely gone.
But ultimately, that fear never became a reality, and we spent the rest of the year as friends.
Our friendship wasn’t exclusive to sophomore year — by the first day of junior year, an assigned seating chart placed us together again for a whole year of world history.
When I said I wasn’t planning on doing mock trial again, she convinced me to join because she couldn’t bear spending all those practices alone. Remembering the hope I felt when I first saw her in gym class, I couldn’t say no.
We spent our junior and senior year sitting together in class and competing in mock trial, debate team and other school clubs. Every day of school, no matter how unbearable, was ultimately worth it if I got to spend time with Cassidy Power.
Today, we live six hours away from each other, with no assigned seating charts keeping us in touch. Despite that, Cassidy is one of my best friends. The quiet, mild-mannered introvert I first met is now a vibrant, animated and powerful role model for me.
Our conversations, which were once spare and uninteresting, are now filled with shared interests, like Renaissance art, hip-hop music and theology.
When I look back in my last yearbook from high school, I see a message from Cassidy telling me the best thing about having the last name “Power” is that she got to sit next to me in almost every class.
We may have met through assigned seats and mock trial, but the bond I’ve built with my best friend is one I never would’ve predicted and one I’ll never want to let go.
Because the best thing about having the last name “Perez” is getting to meet my best friend.