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I wonder how far I could go endure something that so ridiculously got under my skin to the point where all I wanted to do was tear out my hair, one thick, brown chunk at a time. How long would I be able to stand here and persistently tear at my scalp in frustration as I watched the world in front of me spin around three hundred and sixty degrees repeatedly until all that consumed my vision was blinding, colorful streaks of chaos?
How long? Better yet . . . why? Why am I allowing myself to put up with such absurdity? How did I allow it to get this far?
But it’s not their fault, not really. Or hers, rather. I guess I’m the one bringing this upon myself. They’re completely unaware of what is going on inside my mind as it runs with wild thoughts that drive me to almost the peak of insanity.
I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried confronting her, attempted to release the tension between us and our friendship, but nothing seemed to get through to her. Nothing.
Suddenly, my senses peaked when a boiling hot liquid rushed over my hand, and I yank it back towards my body, snapping back to reality.
Only a few seconds had passed as I forgot that I was pouring coffee into my mug. See what I mean? Crazy thoughts, insanity. I’m losing my mind.
With a deep sigh I found a damp dish towel lying crumpled on the counter near the kitchen sink and used it to clean up my mess that my stupidity had ever so kindly caused. The hot coffee absorbed into the dark blue dish towel, and I kneeled onto one knee to get the remaining amount that had spilled on the white tiled floor.
It was only eight o’clock in the morning, and I already felt defeated by the day. Ever since I moved into this apartment in New York, nothing seemed to carry out right. Yeah, my job was wonderful; I shouldn’t complain about that. Nothing makes me happier than working with children and filling their young, hopeful minds with dreams for the future. Unfortunately, it stops there.
As I stood back up and tossed the soaking towel into the sink, I let out a loud sigh and placed my hands on my hips, taking in the surroundings of my dull Manhattan apartment. The kitchen had to be about the size of a walk-in closet. All it consisted of were the usual appliances: an old-fashioned stove and oven that looked like they had been there since the eighties, a small steel sink that constantly had trouble differentiating the hot water from the cold, a small wooden table with two chairs, and the world’s tiniest fridge stuffed into the dusty corner. The lack of counter space kept me frustrated, as it restricted my area for baking. How much worse can it get?
Not to mention the rest of the place. Aside from the kitchen, the only other two rooms were a small common room, with nothing but a couch and an old TV set, and my bedroom. And of course, a bathroom that didn’t consist of anything worth bragging about.
Tugging at my ponytail, I made a mental note to fix this place up as soon as I got my feet on the ground. Which may take a while.
The other positive side to this was that my best friend had a job offer in New York as well, so we’re within close range from each other.
The weird part? She’s the center of my problems. I’ve known Jen since kindergarten and we had the time of our lives growing up together back in North Carolina. I couldn’t imagine a life without her, so we were ecstatic that she found an apartment only several streets down from me. It was a great time ever since we moved in this past summer, but then things started to change. She met someone, which is wonderful for her, but I’m pretty sure she’s lost sight of what’s important to her. Like, I don’t know, maybe me?
Anyways, I shook that thought out of my head, feeling a bit self-absorbed, and started to get ready for work.
“The kids were absolutely adorable today,” I told Jen that afternoon as we chatted over a late lunch. “They started learning how to write the alphabet. If you saw their faces while they tried so hard to draw a simple C, you would have died. They’re the cutest kids I’ve ever had.”
Jen sat across from me, hunched over her cell phone as she tapped at it obsessively, her face only inches away from the screen. She didn’t look up even in the silence after I finished explaining how my day was.
I took a sip of my ice water, my eyes intent on Jen as I watched her continue stabbing at her iPhone with her index finger. Knowing she hasn’t been listening since the moment the first word came out of my mouth, I stared her down, waiting for her to realize the silence.
Jen has always been a very mature, intelligent girl ever since a young age. She was working for Price Waterhouse, which was an enormous achievement for someone just out of college. She always focused on her studies and worked to her highest potential, but I recognized something different in her now.
Especially now, considering her eyes remained glued to her cell phone like a middle schooler. Is she serious?
Crossing my arms, I started tapping my foot on the ground beneath me.
Glancing out the window, I saw a young woman walking her golden retriever and thought to myself I bet if I was talking to a dog I’d get a better response out of it than I would from Jen.
Liking the idea, I smiled to myself. That’s it: I’ll get a dog. At least it will listen to me and maybe act like it actually likes me.
I sighed sharply, focusing my eyes back on Jen’s distracted face, and reached for my napkin on the table.
Once the silverware on top of the napkin rattled, Jen looked up, startled.
“What?” It looked as if she had just been caught by the cops breaking into a house.
“Well,” I drawled out slowly, checking my watch on my left wrist. “That didn’t take long or anything.”
My sarcasm came out of my lips like ice, and I saw the color drain from her face. She sat up a little bit and put on an embarrassed smile, her small white teeth showing.
“Whoops,” she said, placing her hands in her lap like the good little girl she thought she was. I repeat: thought she was.
“No, it’s okay. I enjoy being ignored, actually, I’m used to it.”
“Sorry, I just wasn’t really paying attention,” she said, stating the obvious, her chocolate brown eyes hardening defensively at me.
I rolled my own eyes, not in the mood for an argument as I kept my arms crossed tightly over my chest. “So who was that?”
Jen smiled lightly, looking down at the dark wooden table in front of us. “It was just--”
“No wait,” I interrupted, holding my hand out. “Let me guess. Ryan.”
“Yep,” she said simply, making eye contact for barely a millisecond before tucking a piece of thin, brown hair behind her ear and looking away.
Nothing else. No heartfelt apology, no admittance that she always ignores me for him and never pays attention to her best friend anymore. Nothing.
I couldn’t take it. And the thing is, I’ve brought this up to her before. And all she does is deny, deny, deny. Oh, and turn the situation around to make it all about her by saying “I just have so much going on” and “I’m trying to please everyone in my life” when really all she’s doing is trying to please herself. She’s blind.
I rolled my eyes just as the waiter came with our food. The minute our plates were settled down in front of us, she picked up her fork in one hand and held her phone in her other, texting wildly once again.
Does she not get it? How old are we here?
I was so disgusted with her self-seeking, childish ways I couldn’t even eat my food. Instead, I left my salad untouched as I turned my gaze back to the window beside me, watching the people go by until it was appropriate for me to leave.
Being in New York felt so different from my old life. I was used to being in the suburbs back in North Carolina with my old friends and family nearby, not the distant life of the city. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city and always have. Actually, I’ve dreamed of living in New York City ever since I can remember. I just never thought it would feel so different, so far from comfort.
I missed my older brother, that was for sure. He always protected me and never failed to make me laugh even on my dreariest days. Thinking back on it, I realized why he always watched over me as if I was his own daughter. Ever since my mother left us when I was merely four years old, I remember constantly crying for her and asking where she went, why she was gone, if she was ever coming back.
Later on I began to hate myself for the absence of my mom, convincing myself that it was my fault she had left. Nate always comforted me in my times of need for my mother, and his efforts for cheering me up had succeeded nearly every time.
My father wasn’t like my mother, luckily, but he wasn’t like Nate either. He loved us and cared for us, but he always had his nose so buried in his job that he didn’t spend as much time with us as he should have.
One thing I know is that I’ve always been thankful for having Nate in my life to keep me on my feet. Yet now he’s so far away.
Later on that week, I had gotten so used to the neglect Jen was expressing towards me that I actually began to form a distaste for her. It’s hard to imagine my best friend changing so much to the point where I actually cannot stand her, but that’s what this looks like it’s turning into.
Instead of dwelling on it, I convinced myself that she wasn’t worth my thoughts right now so I focused on my job and making the days more interesting for the kids at school. One thing’s for sure: I always found happiness in working with the kids. It was a stress reliever, and the minute I would watch those young, bright faces run into the classroom with innocence, I felt everything on my mind wash away and become replaced with pure enjoyment.
Weeks flew by as my days became consumed with work and renovating my apartment one small step at a time. I hadn’t seen Jen much at all, but she was about to change that.
The day that Jen ruined our entire weekend plans by bringing her boyfriend along with her or hanging out with him instead, I snapped. It was like I couldn’t fit into her schedule anymore. That’s how she made me feel, like I’m not important enough to spend one simple day with her.
I had been dealing with her nonsense for months and gave her way too much slack than she deserved, so I decided to do the best thing I thought possible. Confronting her about it obviously didn’t help. Instead, I made the decision to ignore her and see if she would realize how different life would be without her best friend.
Just an experiment. Not harmful, right? I mean, I was just testing to see how effective it would be on her, if she would even notice that I was absent in her life.
Our daily conversations over the phone had already decreased once she started dating Ryan, so it wasn’t much of a difference now that I wasn’t calling her. And we barely ever saw each other anyways, except for the days I had arranged to hang out with her, so that didn’t help much either.
Well, great. My experiment made me realize that I’m already not in her life anymore and she, in fact, does not care one bit.
A few weeks later, I decided to drive upstate to go to a cute little organic grocery store that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I loved what they had there and found the time, so I figured it wouldn’t be much of a hassle to go ahead on the drive.
The sound of the wind as my little Hyundai raced down the highway whipped against the windows around me, causing that familiar rumbling sound. I plugged my iPod into the stereo system and relaxed into my seat a bit as the calming words of Joshua Radin filled my ears.
As I drove, the soft music sent my mind into overdrive, reminding me of the times when Jen and I would listen to this artist. Thoughts raced through my mind on the topic of her, and I couldn’t help but feel broken about it. Here I was, thinking I couldn’t live my life without my best friend who was nearly a sister to me when in reality, I have been living without her for a long time now. And I noticed that gap.
I could remember our elementary school days when nothing else in the world mattered except for who was going to play Knock-Out at recess and what pictures to color while spending time at Jen’s house.
These thoughts blended into my memories of middle school when Jen and I spent every minute together out of school, having sleepovers on weekends and swimming in the pool in my backyard all throughout the summers. Within just the first few years of elementary school, our friendship had blossomed into one that seemed as if nothing could break it apart.
She was the sister I’d never had.
I felt that prickly feeling in my nose that I usually get when I’m about to cry, and my cheeks burned as a single tear fell from my eye.
I sniffled, wiping my index finger underneath both eyes to prevent more tears from falling, but that only released the floodgates.
Before I knew it, I was sobbing, my tears flowing freely down my face as I tried to prevent my vision from blurring as I watched the road. My hands gripped tightly on the steering wheel and I clenched my teeth, breathing sharply as I tried to make the crying cease.
The rich green forest passed by on either side of me, and as I looked up, blinking rapidly to prevent further tears, I noticed how bleak and gray the sky was getting. Just minutes ago it was a bright sky blue, and I marveled at the huge, thick clouds that moved in so quickly, shielding the sun’s rays.
My vision on the road became even worse as the rain began pouring out of the sky, causing puddles on my windshield that even the wipers on their highest speed couldn’t take care of.
My nerves began getting a hold of me as I realized how dark the sky was continuing to get. Wiping my eyes one last time, I squinted, trying to see what was ahead of me. I could make out blurred lights coming my way as cars rushed past on the lanes opposite mine, but nothing else was visible through the soaked windshield.
I thought of pulling over and waiting for the rain to stop, but if it didn’t stop anytime soon, I’d be sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere for far too long. What if it continued late into the night? It’s not worth missing all this time.
Besides, I needed to work on a project I was going to have the kids start in class tomorrow. And I’m pretty sure I’m close to my destination, and by the time I do my run-through in the store, maybe the rain will hold off.
Decision made, I squinted even harder, straining my eyes to make out where on the road I was driving, being sure I was staying clear of the cement divider in the middle of the highway. After contradicting thoughts fought violently in my head, I forced myself to dial Jen’s number. Thinking about her made me nostalgic of the past, and despite the anger towards her that has built up within me, a little voice in my head told me I should just talk to her and try to form a peace treaty of some sort.
I could faintly hear the sweet words of Brand New Day playing from my iPod over the loud pounding of the rain as I listened to the phone ringing back monotonously into my ear. The headlights of a car shined vaguely in the distance.
Driving on, I focused on the dark road in front of me, keeping the wheel straight as to not veer off, and lightening my foot on the gas pedal to avoid hydroplaning. Not surprisingly, I got Jen’s voicemail. No doubt she’s with Ryan right now, putting off my call.
The headlights across from me became larger with little time, the bright circular lights still blurry behind the puddles of water on my windshield. I steered my eyes away from them as not to be distracted as I dropped my phone into the cup holder.
Relaxing a bit, I realized the rain wasn’t so bad. Keeping the wheel straight and my speed lower, I felt in control of the situation.
Typical for Jen not to answer. Why did I even think she would? She used to answer all of my calls within the first two rings. Whatever. Things obviously have changed. The nostalgia and heartbreak immediately washed away, being replaced with disappointment and more frustration.
As I turned the music up a bit, I took in a deep breath, absorbing the beautiful words being sung as I banished Jen from my mind. Before I could even let out my breath, I noticed how close that same pair of headlights was. Panic overtook me.
Holding my breath, I thought it was just a glare on the windshield, but before I could even think any further of it, I found the lights just within feet of my car, blinding my sight.
Heart in my throat, I slammed on the breaks, but it did nothing as my car continued sliding over the water, and suddenly I felt the impact, the glass shattering, the airbag pounding into my chest. My head whipped in all directions, and I could feel sharp, piercing pains everywhere in my body before everything went dark.
Darkness engulfed me, and I felt as if I was floating, my body numb and weightless. A loud, rhythmic beeping intruded into my hearing, and suddenly I could hear my ragged breathing. Groggily, I forced my eyes open, blinking rapidly until I could make out that I was in a bright, white hospital room. Confused, I looked down, seeing cloth blankets buried on my body, and a large bulge protruding abnormally where my left leg should be located beneath the blankets. Beeping machines surrounded me, and I noticed the three IV’s that were inserted into my hands and arms. I cringed seeing that; needles have never been a friend of mine.
After being awake a few minutes, I could feel my head start pounding, and I shut my eyes, clenching my teeth from the pain. I felt like I couldn’t move, my body felt too fragile.
Days slowly rolled by as first doctors came in and explained to me that I had been in a serious car accident and that a good amount of damage was done, but I would be okay. I had a broken tibia, three fractured toes, a bruised spleen, and several cuts and bruises scattered across my body and face. I had suffered from a mild concussion as well, but the doctors said I was lucky it wasn’t any worse of one.
My dad and brother visited me as soon as they heard the news, and the site of them in front of me almost brought tears to my eyes. Nothing had been going right since my move to New York, and the relief that their presence brought me was overwhelming. Knowing there was still some people in my life to show affection and care towards me provided a warm sensation in my heart.
At least some people and apparently not others.
I spent a few days recovering in the hospital, and no matter how hard I worked my mind to remember what had caused the accident, I couldn’t recall it. They had told me a car had lost control in the torrential downpour the night earlier and crossed over into my lane.
Nothing rang a bell.
Several days had passed, and I began to wonder about Jen. Did she even notice that I was gone? No one had told her, she hadn’t called?
Feeling better after several days of recuperation one day, I was flipping through the pages of a magazine, as I wasn’t able to watch TV with my concussion. But the small letters looked like a completely different language to my mind, so I tossed it aside and lowered my head onto the soft pillow beneath me. Thoughts rushed through my mind once again about Jen and why I couldn’t remember the accident and when I would be able to return to work . . .
I had almost drifted off when I heard a shuffle at the door to my room. My eyes snapped open, and there standing in the doorway was the center of all of my thoughts.
Her pale expression portrayed concern as she rubbed her hands nervously together, biting her lip. She opened her mouth slowly but hesitated as nothing came out. Shutting it again, she shuffled her feet, pulling the sleeves of her blue sweatshirt down over her hands.
I looked at her with a blank expression, waiting for her to say something. I didn’t expect sympathy from her because of my state right now. I didn’t expect her to kneel at the foot of my bed as she wailed to me about how bad of a friend she’s been. I didn’t expect anything, nor did I want her to feel any of those ways towards me just because I wound up in the hospital.
Finally, Jen blurted out an apology, her voice cracking in three different places as she fought back violent sobs. “I’m so sorry, Alli,” she said, her voice strained. “I . . . I didn’t answer your call, and then I get a call that you’ve been in an accident, and--and it’s all my fault because I didn’t answer, and--”
“Jen,” I interrupted softly, “it’s not your fault. Don’t say that. It was the weather, and I was going too fast; I should have pulled over until the rain held up.”
Suddenly, I realized I had just spoken of the accident. Shocked, I could see it all in front of my eyes again, everything that happened. The rain, the headlights, the music, and then complete, utter darkness. I squeezed my eyes shut, fearful of the recent memory.
“Alli, I’ve been awful to you, and I never even realized it,” Jen continued as she walked to my side. “It pains me so much that this is how far things had to go before I knew what I was doing. I just . . . I can’t . . .”
Her voice trailed off as she took in the sight of me. “How are you? What did the doctors say? Are you going to be okay?”
I laughed lightly, recognizing the old Jen with all of her interrogating questions. Beneath all that has changed about her, the real Jen is still there.
We continued to talk, all hard feelings set aside for now, but after about an hour, another visitor showed up. Jen was in the middle of a sentence with her back to the door when he arrived, and when I slowly turned my eyes from her face to the doorway, my stomach dropped.
Standing there shyly against the doorframe was none other than Ryan. I looked at him, shielding my feelings with a smile. Jen noticed my turn of attention and whipped her head around.
“Ryan,” she breathed as she turned and walked over to give him a hug. My insides felt hot and I had to regulate my breathing to avoid spontaneously combusting.
No hard feelings against Ryan whatsoever, but the fact that Jen just took responsibility of her actions, promised to change, and suddenly completely seemed to have forgotten all of that when she brought Ryan in and chatted and giggled and later on left with him . . . that nagged at me.
At this, I realized the line. I realized the thick, toxic line that divides a friendship in half, cuts it off completely. There’s always that division that will never go away when someone can’t differentiate between what’s right and what’s wrong, loyalty and betrayal. I had suffered through enough, endured enough emotional pain, neglect, and hurt put forth on me.
How much further could I go? I may end up ripping all of my hair out of my frustrated head.
It’s times like these that expose who is really true to you, who really cares about you. My family is always there for me, and here I was, thinking Jen was family. It seems that she can only think of herself now, and that’s where the line is revealed. The funny thing is that she didn’t used to be like this. Until she began sharing a life with someone else, she used to be loving, caring, selfless, and a whole lot of fun to be around.
People change. I guess that is true. Some don’t believe that people change over time; some believe they stay the same throughout their years, only growing older, but not changing. Now I realize how valid that statement is and how evident it is in my life. I love Jen, and I’ll always consider her one of the most important people in my life, but I’m not sure if the tension that has formed between us will ever go away.
Things change, people change . . . that’s life. And despite the differences and clashing of personalities, you just have to live with it all.
So I guess that’s the way it’s going to be. I guess I’ll have to simply let my life carry on along with the reality of the world constantly changing around me.
No matter how life goes, change remains inevitable.