chickee talk “The Circle of Friendship” by Tina Osceola

As I sit here writing this month’s article, it is New Year’s weekend and I can’t help but count my blessings. I am taking inventory of all the things that bring me true joy. My parents, children, grandchildren, husband, family always top the list but when I get to “friends” I cannot help but be cliché – my friends are the family I have chosen to keep close to my heart.

Regardless of what chapter of my life that we joined each other in our journeys through time, they all hold a special place in my soul. I am blessed with many circles of friends. As I write the article, I am going to take you along while I figure out what the glue is…what force of emotion bonded us together?

As you know, I grew up in Naples. Born and raised is what I proudly tell people. It wasn’t until I went to Saint Ann Catholic School for first grade that I wandered outside the safe boundaries of my family. It was there that I met other children from a world so far apart from mine, that I found every day of school an adventure. Looking back at “first grade me”, I really thought that I was this outgoing child, but in reality, I was shy and most of the talking was in my head… to myself. What I didn’t know was that most of the kids I went to school with in first grade would follow each other through high school and that we would experience 12 years of each other’s lives. We would experience each other’s joys, pain, accomplishments, failures, loss, and excitement. Some of us would absolutely kill for each other, while others could… well, let’s just say we may not have valued others as much. I can say that almost 50 years later, some of those faces are still in my life and I value them even more today because they taught me how to be a friend.

My freshman year of college was as life-changing as my first day of elementary school. I was 17 years old when my parents dropped me off at my dorm at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. I chose to go to a school where I didn’t know anyone. By the time I graduated high school, my friends and I had fully devoted ourselves to life beyond high school and life on our own terms. That being said, with each other’s full support, we all went in different directions. We stayed in touch over the four years, but college life opened up the doors to a whole new world of freedom, a touch of fear, and the choice of finding our own place amongst a sea of strangers. My first roommate was such a dud that I moved out within the first two weeks and into a dorm with my first college friend, Jenn. We moved into a quad on the top floor of the biggest dorm on campus. Our room overlooked Lake Virginia, through a row of Spanish moss draped cypress trees. It was paradise.

In the Spring of my freshman year, I signed up for “Rush” not knowing what it even meant. I just know that the rest of the girls in my quad had signed up so I figured it was something that everyone did. I found out about sororities and the world of legacies pretty quick. Up until that point, my only frame of reference for the world of frats and sororities was from movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Animal House. The girls who chose me were from a local sorority, Non Compos Mentis (NCM). We had no panhellenic rules, national charters to uphold and were all a bit on the fringe of society. I fit right in. The Sisters I met at Rollins taught me a lot about myself. They taught me who I could be at my best and in retrospect, who I could be at my worst. Thanks to social media, a lot of us still follow each other and make sure that we touch base. If I made resolutions, one would be to organize a reunion.

The next chapter of my life began after I had my daughter, Dakota. Life as a mom took precedence, so I had to change the course I had been on (save that for another article). I joined the Collier County Sheriff ’s Office in 1995 as a civilian employee. I was assigned to the Violent Crimes Bureau as a Secretary II. For Naples folks, I’m sure you remember the Cracker Barrel homicides. Well, I joined shortly after the homicides and one of my first assignments included transcribing hours of interviews and to help one of the lead investigators organize the crime scene photos. It was that first year that I spent with the investigators that really shaped my career. I couldn’t wait to go to work and I couldn’t get enough of watching how the investigators did their jobs. The men and women I met at the Sheriff ’s Office are still at the core of my life. We are family.

The last group that I have to write about are my friends from Indian Country. The brothers and sisters from tribal nations all across North America. We stand in unison, holding hands that
protect the very essence of who we are as native people. We grieve together when another native woman goes missing or gets murdered. We know that she too was a sister. We celebrate together as children are born and as we defeat those who assault our people. Some of us met as young children traveling the powwow circuit with our parents. Others met while going to the national conferences as part of our jobs. My sister, Margo Gray, and I met while our parents went to pow-wow in Oklahoma and then reconnected while we were on the national conference circuit. We were meant to be family.

As I journeyed back and took inventory of all my circles of friends, I believe the glue is made of trust and respect. We respect each other enough to trust them with each other’s lives. We trust
each other enough to respect each other’s differences. Most of all we choose to be in each other’s lives because we know that we are all each just a little bit better together than we are apart.


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