The end of the world, 13 year old friendship

girl's friendshipI was looking down the long hallway when something hit me in the head. The brown paper bag bounced to the floor and I bent down to pick it up careful to keep my skirt pulled down and my legs together. Behind me my friends were laughing. I gave them a confused smile and unrolled the top of the brown paper bag. It was filled with scraps of paper.

This was middle school. Friendship was the only way to survive.

I walked to social studies, my only classroom without windows. My desk was in the front of the class, close enough to see the spittle congeal into a white paste at the corner of the teacher’s mouth. It was difficult to find a way to read the notes from my friends this close to her. So slowly that you couldn’t hear the crinkle of the lunch bag I plucked out the first note and smoothed it on my lap.

“Anna picks her nose.”

The heat rushed through my body.  I opened another one.

“You are uninvited to my birthday party.”

I was sure the whole class could hear my heartbeat.

“You are a know it all and everybody hates you.”

“You think you are funny but really we are laughing AT you.” This one was signed by every girl that I considered a friend.

There were at least 30 slips of paper.

Everything slowed. I could see the cycle of the fluorescent lights. I could feel the tilt of the earth as it spun on its axis. This was probably the end of the world.

I pushed my chair back and rushed out the door leaving behind my notebook but clutching the bag of notes in my sweaty hand.

Standing right outside the classroom the long hall that I had walked confidently just moments before seemed to go on into an unfathomable darkness. Through the small slice of window in the French room across from where I stood I met the eye of one of the six authors of the notes. Her blond hair shone, her blue eyes sparkled, and I noticed for the first time how many teeth she had when she smiled.

I kept the brown bag of notes in my desk drawer until I left home for college. I read through them every once in a while, slowly feeling the sharp pain dull as I moved on to new friends and new schools. When I finally recycled them it wasn’t because I had finished my exposure therapy. As I packed my t shirts and edgy black and white photos for my dorm room I imagined my mother missing me. I thought of her walking down our own long hallway past her books and my father’s sculpture and sitting on my mint green bedspread. I thought of her opening the desk drawer to find a bag marked Anna anna ANNA Anna ANna in 7 colors of markers and considering whether to open it. She would, not to intrude but because she missed me. She wanted a piece of Anna and here was a bagful. Then she would see the truth. That I was unlovable. That I was a know it all. That I would never have a friend again. And that I picked my nose.

So to spare her from this imaginary pain I got rid of the bag of notes leaving behind love letters and funny postcards and cartoons from people who became my friends. But not when I was thirteen. Not when I needed friends the most.

It was a lonely year of lunches in the bandroom and keeping my head down as I walked the hallway.

As it turns out it was not the end of the world, the earth still spins, hallways lead to possibilities rather than pain, and I am proud to say that I pick my nose.

——-

I was inspired to write this post by my friend Sheryl Glubock who is making a short film about 13 year old girls and their changing friendships.   In an industry that largely ignores the voice of girls Sheryl is carving out a place to tell a coming of age story that every woman can relate to. It is not just this project that is worthy of your support, it is also the new space that is being created in independent film. Joining the seed and spark community (which is free) allows filmmakers to break away from Hollywood and commercial driven screenplays. The seed and spark page for Lily and Rose is going live today. Would you please like this project and consider supporting this story.

 

 

The friendship equation. Solving for the unknowns.

friends hikingOutside of my family the person I see most is someone I haven’t spoken to in nine years. We don’t live in the same state anymore, but when I am in a certain state of mind he visits me, sometimes helpful, sometimes mocking, always too slippery to hold on to.

For the first handful of years after our break up I nursed my pain. I was energized by the hot spike of indignation I felt when I told our story and his ultimate betrayal. I would tease out the ways in which he was wrong, the ways he failed to appreciate the intimacy of our relationship, choosing business over friendship in the most literal way.

I should not have been surprised. Through my divorce, my father’s death, my weekends spent with unfamiliar men on unfamiliar drugs he was my Monday morning. We would meet for breakfast and he would tell me matter of factly that my latest hook up was married. He knew everyone in town, but would only vet people for me after the fact, informer rather than protector. We would have our coffee refilled and transition from my craziness to his business. He would flip back a page of one of his endless loop of list notebook and we would track the to dos that had to be carried over from pages ago. I would try to assign them psychological significance and he would laugh. With him things were systematic not symptomatic.

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]He was the constant in the equation of my life that I found too difficult to solve.[/Tweet] He was the constant in the equation of my life that I found too difficult to solve.

With time and distance from my tumult I became more comfortable in my own head, no longer using men or hallucinogens to muddy my mind. I committed to therapy and legal drugs. I slept more. I began to recognize real numbers. I healed myself with eight hours of sleep, 100mg of antidepressant, four hours of yoga, two hours alone each day. Despite my growing time alone there was still lunch and breakfast, investing and house renovation recommendations.  As we both entered committed relationships the threads from which our friendship was woven began to loosen. We had gotten into business together years ago when he was pragmatic and I was emotional. Now the sum of our relationship was rental income minus repair cost, multiplied by hours spent on management plus number of excuses we gave each other as our lives moved on and away from each other.

When I would get his text reading “lunch?” I was a town or two away, at the grocery store. When I made it into town and asked to meet for breakfast he was already in our spot with someone else. Years later I know how natural this is. I don’t know exactly the role I played for him…but I had found a new constant in my husband, and new mysteries in my kids. I was ready to flip the pages of my own to do lists. Despite this I was hurt and angry. As we dissolved our business partnership he was unemotional. I faulted him for this despite it being the very quality that had drawn me to him in the first place. I had expected him to act the way I would have…the fact that he was simply himself was disproportionately crushing. 

Like most grudges this one was not really about the object of my upset.

When I am thoughtful, when I am kind, I know the break up was never with him. Our friendship had played the exact role it should have for our life stages. Our friendship was my one point of pride in a time of life I would rather forget. The person I was really angry at was myself. That young twenties version of me, with her highs and lows and drugs and sex and business and getting into other people’s business. I never really said goodbye. I never really told her why we were finished.

So I will now.

Thank you for the time you gave me away from time. I am not simply embarrassed by my lost weekends and sleepless nights. I needed them to stop the incessant measuring my life and ambitions that had been my nagging partner since childhood. I stopped being good and lived to tell the tale. I finally lost control and came out the otherside. Today I am less fearful and more steady. After a decade bouncing between tears and going on a tear I am finally settled down, literally and figuratively. I couldn’t have been this person without being her for a while. And I probably couldn’t have been her without the constant of my Monday morning friend.

It took a decade but I can look back at both of you and say thank you. And almost all the time I mean it.

Friendship equation
Friendship equation