I remember I met you on a Thursday. It was the second day of school, the first day of the writing class we had together and the first time you sat down next to me. I still remember the way your eyes lit up when you saw me, despite the fact that we had only talked twice the year before. The scrape of the blue chair as you pulled it out, the clatter of the pencil as you dropped it on the desk, the thump of your heavy binders as they were dropped unceremoniously onto the table – everything told me that today was a normal day. A good day.
If I could go back to change history, to change a day, an hour, 30 seconds, I would chose that day.
I regret getting to know you.
The day is October eighth and you’ve invited me to your birthday party. It’s a month late and I am surprised. I am not close to you, not yet. I didn’t know why you’d invited me. I didn’t know why your sights had locked onto me, out of all the kids in your class. I still do not know why it’s me, it’s always me.
A week later I find the first Google document. Remember that? You used to share things on Google drive, dropping little hints about what was happening in your life. First come your school troubles. Next comes your excitement about being on stage crew for the school play with me. And finally comes the big bomb about your sexuality. None of that really bothered me, especially not the last one. It tugged at my heartstrings in a way that made my brain go flip-floppy whenever I talked to you in the halls. You’ve started dropping hints in your documents about a girl on stage crew that you had a crush on, a girl who happened to match my description.
That should’ve been the first red flag. The hints, the hints, the hints. Never in person. Never outright. Always laying the land mines for people to step on instead of detonating them yourself. You always waited for the other person to make the first move, whether that was by waiting for them to suck it up and do it themselves or by outright manipulating them into saying it.
You never told me it was me.
Never, not once.
Your X-marks-the-spot mind map pushed me until I stumbled over the fact that you wanted me to do something about us, bombarding me with clues just vague enough to confuse.
A week after that, we’re heading to the GSA and I’m pushing you into a corner and my face is on yours and my lips are on your lips and you’re crying and you’re hugging me and–
No, really. You are. You promise.
It’s early December and I find it, the gem in the shared doc. It’s no longer stories of loneliness and family troubles. They’re now chronicles of blades, slashing the upper skin of your arms where nobody will see them, rivers of blood running down your bathroom tiles and all the way down to me and my life. The document is cryptic, as always, and of course never actually says the words self-harm. But you want me to know – no, need me to know so at school the next day I can give you a crushing embrace, saying that things are going to be okay and no, I won’t tell anybody unless you want me to.
Life goes on.
The docs keep flooding into my shared folder, keep coming until I’m not sure I can leave you alone anymore because you might hurt yourself. I stay up for hours, talking you down, waking you up from the terrible nightmare cocoon you’ve trapped us both in. It’s 1 a.m. and I’m crying because of all of your weight. All of your problems and self-hatred and doubt and unresolved mental illness is dropped onto my shoulders like Atlas giving up holding the sky. You start to corral me off from other friends, telling me not to talk to them, to not invite them over, keeping me so busy I can’t even have a conversation with my own mother anymore. I am your therapist except I’m not because I can’t be; I am a 14-year-old with my own problems and–
“I CAN’T KEEP PRIORITIZING YOU ANYMORE.”
This is shouted in early June. This is shouted at you after months of you never listening to me. After months of you using my own accomplishments to put yourself down because you say you’ll never be good enough. This is after months of begging you to get help, of you refusing, of you lashing out over text and trying to get me to hang out with you and you alone. This is after months of using me like a well, drawing out everything I hold dear. This is shouted at you the day I make other plans with a friend I haven’t been able to properly talk to in months because of you always needing me and me alone and giving nothing in return for ages of worry and a warm hand to hold.
You look at me and shout back. “We never get to hang out anymore! You’re always with other people!”
You run off, sniffling into your hand.
And as you’re running away from me, I can’t help but think about how every conversation with you always leads back to you. I think about the messages you send, but never directly to me; no, they’re always through some sly system that I need to decode.
The night before this incident happened, I searched the term “toxic friend” on Google, as some Freudian way of seeing what might turn up. I remember this as you run from me, and I almost believe I can see the toxic waste in your wake.
I think about how I’ve barely been able to think about myself and my own battle with mental illness for an entire year. I think about the nights you’ve kept me awake worrying about what you’re going to do next, and the further damage control I will have to do to make sure The Friend Group doesn’t see this battle happening behind the curtain. I think of the things you’ve said, and what you’ve done, and your constant need for attention and validation no matter how much I tell you, no matter how many hours I devote to you, how many times I’ve chased after you when you ran off in the middle of class. I think about how you never take the necessary steps to recovery.
I can’t keep prioritizing you. You’ve kick-started the slow destruction of my own being, and now I need to pick up the pieces. You’re the cause of so many untold stories, stories that could not even begin to be elaborated upon in this piece, stories of breakdowns and tears because of how much you’re relying on me.
I can’t keep prioritizing you.
I need to learn how to prioritize myself. I need to …
I need a friend. An honest-to-god shoulder to cry on. A person to have a real conversation with.
Maybe we’ll meet again in a future time where I’ve reassembled the ruins of who I used to be. Until that day comes, take care of yourself. I mean it. Learn to accept help from the ones who love you. More importantly, learn to ask for help. You’re not as alone in the ocean as you think you are. I wish you the best.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.