[This is part 1 in a series about shitty things I’ve done to people. You can read the original post here.]
Making friends is easy when you’re a kid. You see someone across the playground doing something decidedly cool in your book. You cross the playground, ask to join in, and within minutes, fast friendship is achieved. And if you repeat this action enough times with the same kid, best friendship results. I wish making friends as an adult was this easy, but I digress.
This is how I forged a bond with my First Best Friend. We met at one of my mother’s work events; our moms worked for the same agency downtown and each of them hauled their families with them for this special occasion (I think it was either a post-election party or holiday event). We were introduced by our mothers, who were two friends in hopes of inspiring that friendship in their children. Skeptical about our compatibility, we sized each other up on the spot, asking each other questions about the stuff we liked to determine whether or not we’d be a good match. We discovered we were a year apart, we both liked to read, and we both played with dolls. This was enough to satisfy our prerequisites for friendship. We clung to each other for the rest of the event, babbling nonsense and pilfering sweets from the buffet table.
When First Best Friend’s family moved into my neighborhood, I was elated. There were sleep overs, play dates, trips to the pool and the park. There were afternoons spent in a tree house her stepdad built, the place we would share our deepest, darkest secrets. I remember trudging through the snow during the blizzard of ’96 just to hang out with her, sled in tow. There wasn’t anything I did without her.
As we grew older, I noticed a competitiveness between us, one that I couldn’t understand because I emulated her and didn’t see myself as any kind of threat. She had to swim better, run faster, receive more praise for scholastic achievements. She always had to be right, even if she was talking utter bullshit. I shrugged it off publicly, but it bothered me quite a bit.
I remember sitting in the back of the bus on the way home from school. This was 1999, I do believe. She had a crush on the blond grunge kid, and she would position herself near him in the back of the bus. I had a crush on him too, but since she had vocalized her crush first, she effectively called dibs and my interest in him remained hidden. When First Best Friend wasn’t there, he and I would exchange the headphones of our Discmans and share music with one another. He got me into Green Day, I tried to get him into Hole to no avail, as he blamed her for Kurt Cobain’s death.
One day, she was sitting next to the blond grunge kid, and I could feel her examining me. He and I did our headphone exchange, talking about Silverchair and The Foo Fighters, and after returning our headphones to one another, she loudly asked why I had sideburns. “Girls don’t have sideburns,” she said, “You should do something about that.”
Pointing out my biggest insecurity (I was a very hairy kid), she triggered an eruption of laughter in the back of the bus. I felt my face get warm and my eyes being to well up. I forced myself to laugh along, saying that I was just hairy and comparing myself to a monkey, trying to own the statement to avoid feeling like the victim. I put my headphones on, listened to more Silverchair, and prayed for the bus ride to be over. When it was time to get off at our stop, First Best Friend yelled to me, “See you tomorrow!” I pulled my windbreaker shut and walked to my house without a word to her.
When she went off to high school, we began to drift apart from one another. I was in 8th grade, experiencing 8th grade things. I had my own set of issues; my parents were fighting more often than not and I was a frequent flyer in the guidance counselor’s office. When we would talk on the phone, however, she would talk about how great life is in high school. She seemed so active; she was in band, Air Force JROTC, and an academic club. After awhile, she stopped asking how I was doing. We hung out less. I had built new friendships with folks in my grade, but my greatest support for years was slowly fading away.
Freshman year had finally arrived, and I had tested into the science and technology program at the local magnet school. I had done my best to do things that First Best Friend would approve of so that we would have some kind of common interest. I too joined the JROTC, only lasting one semester because standing at attention and getting yelled wasn’t my idea of a good time. After that first semester, I fell into my own groove and did my own thing. I discovered journalism and literary magazine, as well as new friends who I could bond over these things with. First Best Friend and I talked on the bus, but that was really the extent of our interactions.
By sophomore year of high school, we had reconnected to an extent. The summer of 2001 brought us closer together. Long days were spent talking at the pool. The comfort I once felt telling her my secrets had returned, and while we weren’t fast friends, she was a confidant. We talked about boys, because every teenage girl can talk about love interests, right?
I had become infatuated with a senior. We’d talked at a few parties and grew accustomed to saying hi to each other in the hallway. This was my first experience with a crush of mine actually reciprocating attention, so I held it very close. One day, I was brave enough to ask First Best Friend what she knew about him. She commented that he was nice. He was also attached. “His girlfriend is in band with me,” she said almost gleefully. Seeing my visible disappointed, she continued, “What? You have a crush on him? That’s messed up. He has a girlfriend.” It was a moral stance that I had not had to approach in my fifteen years of life. I didn’t think crushes were harmful. I didn’t mention it again, nor did I bring up anything that personal.
Fast-forward to my sixteenth birthday. Planning and prepping was well underway. I discussed the plans, the list of invites, and other finer details with my new friends. One friend I suggested I invite my crush. I was nervous about it, but I didn’t rule the suggestion out. Besides, we were just friends, and there was no harm inviting a friend. But what would First Best Friend think? I’d be awash in judgment, and she would spend each minute of the party asking my crush how his girlfriend was doing and other similar questions, just to prove a point. But I couldn’t not invite her. So, as the party was split into two portions, I decided to invite her to the later half. I mean, who doesn’t love karaoke and a sleepover?
The party was held the Saturday before my birthday. A horde of teenage girls descended upon my parents’ house, bearing gifts and an awareness that my crush would be attending. He said he would meet us at the bowling alley and everyone was nervous with anticipation. The anxiety made me ill; I felt my stomach churning and my heart racing. But when we got there, there he was, with a small present and a smile.
Everyone was having fun. My crush and I were sitting next to each other, talking between turns. We talked about music, his college plans, the band that he was in. It was the first time that we had a moment alone, even in the company of my friends. Very subtly, he began caressing my arm as I was paying attention to something another friend of mine was saying. I abruptly looked around to see if anyone noticed, and then I looked up at him, him meeting my gaze with a cool smile. I smiled back and leaned into his touch a bit, the moral ambiguity of the moment playing heavy on my mind.
It was wrong to lust after someone with a girlfriend, this I knew just based on the amount of teen comedies of the late 90’s/early 00’s I had absorbed. But he started it, right? He initiated the flirtation. I wasn’t out to steal him away from his girlfriend. Or was I? Was I acting innocent while merely coercing him to pick her over me? My mind raced, but I remained as calm as possible. In the end, we parted ways and hugged. He told me he would call me and that was that.
Everything was going to plan. I expected to return home to have just enough time to unwind before First Best Friend showed up for karaoke. But upon arrival, she was standing there, in the foyer, with a gift in hand and red eyes from crying. She didn’t ask for an explanation. Instead, she shoved her gift in my direction and avoided eye contact with me for the rest of the evening. We went to karaoke, my mother serving as our chaperone, and she neither sang nor smiled. She sat in a chair with her arms folded across her chest and continued to fight tears.
The next morning, before everyone awoke, she was collecting her things to leave. It was about 8 AM. My grandmother offered her breakfast, which she politely declined. I met her, to see her off, to try and come up with something to say to her to justify my actions, but the right moment failed to present itself. First Best Friend looked my way, smiled, and then told me it was customary to receive “birthday licks.” She then punched me 16 times in my right arm, one for good luck, and “a pinch for an inch,” digging so deeply that she left a bruise. I didn’t fight back. In my mind, I deserved the assault. And that was the last time we spoke.
So, in summation, I was secretive because I knew I would face judgment for doing something that toed the line of impropriety and in doing so, I sacrificed a friendship. Though the closeness of the friendship was dwindling, she did not deserve that treatment.