In this installment of the Gratitude Challenge, I’m raising a proverbial glass to the friends who liked me in the old days and stuck with me to this very day.

You know who you are.

You’re the ones who witnessed my insecure, bad-perm-and-braces junior high era, when all I cared about were boys and the Beach Boys (why?? why??) Yet you still invited me over for sleepovers and hung with me at the mall, spending babysitting money on crap from Claire’s. Listening to my endless blah-blah about some dumb crush and how if only I could lose a few pounds he’d like me!!!

You knew me when I marched in the high school band, not entirely aware of just how dorky I appeared, proud of my shiny black shoes and military style uniform. Sure, I was the founding president of the Latin club and secretary of the math club. But I was cool — in a way — right???

You’re the friends who slugged it out with me on those late, late nights at the college newspaper, trying to come up with just the right headline for the big story about an on-campus parking pass shortage. Trying not to panic while Larry the printer guy waited patiently in the corner of the newsroom for us to hand off our latest edition on a disk.

You helped me readjust to life in the Nati when I came back home to work, after years away at college, my first job and grad school. Ten years ago, you were my “new friends” — all the old ones had moved away. We made inappropriate jokes and hung out in each other’s cubicles like dorm rooms, going out together every weekend. You kindly warned me away from local rock stars and fat geeks, and gently encouraged me when I took a liking to the nice intern who turned out to be my husband.

Years have gone by, and lots of things have changed. You may have moved away, married, had kids. So did I. Our career paths have zigzagged and we’ve — I almost hate to say it — matured. But I know I can always count on you for many hearty belly laughs, stories about the good old days, as well as genuine interest in my current life and support for my choices (even when they’re crazy). It’s immensely comforting to know I have you in my life (even if we only get to “chat” on Facebook). As the Golden Girls theme song says, “Thank you for being a friend.”

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