A Friend

April 23, 2012
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I was eight years old the first time my best friend betrayed me. I never really believed it would happen, but as the words spill from her mouth like a never ending waterfall, I realized my vulnerability. I would like to say that I learned from that experience. That I built unbreakable barriers around myself, like a moat around a castle, only letting in invited guests, but never letting them stay too long. That my best friends would never betray to me again. But the privileges and responsibilities of friendship are sometimes too difficult for someone to keep.

Standing on the playground, the smell of woodchips and dirt circulate with the ever-present sea salt air of the Pacific Ocean. My best friend Sammi and I would climb the unenviable monkey bars, which left your hands crimson red and aching. But after weeks of struggle the sensitive patches would become tough and secure, never feeling the once unbearable pain again. We would swing with wind rushing through our hair as waves of happiness passed through our innocent third grade minds. We shared our secrets and dreams under the big oak tree at the far end of the playground. We weren’t the most popular, but I didn’t care, we had each other to rely on. I didn’t care if I had brand name clothes or fancy shoes. I didn’t care about makeup or what my hair looked like. At eight all I cared about were the swings and monkey bars. Sammi, however, only wanted to be popular, like the beautiful Cinderellas who always got their Prince Charming. But friends like me didn’t fit with the popular scene.

Suddenly she started changing. Her once-innocent freckled face was now layered with multi-colored makeup. Her once long, flowing red hair was now a short blonde bob. She started dressing like her twelve-year-old sister, instead of the eight-year-old girl who used to be my best friend. She started commenting on my clothes, making me feel as though I might as well be naked. Her old jeans with dirt smudges and messy rips from jumping off the swings were now replaced with skirts and short shorts. The old T-Shirts that we tie-dyed and covered in ice cream stains were replaced with sparkly tank tops and designer sweaters. The old, scuffed up pair of converse that we had bought together were exchanged for fancy sandals and leather boots. The oak tree no longer had two best friends sitting and laughing under its giant leaves, but one lonely forgotten girl who still wore the old T-shirts and muddy jeans with worn, ripping, dirty converse, who was no longer good enough and was thrown away for popularity. I no longer felt like my opinion or voice was wanted. As Sammi grew more popular and started hanging out with the girls who we had made fun of the week earlier, I folded in on myself and stopped talking. I started to build up walls, digging a moat around myself. These walls, ones that were so unbreakable. Finally began to crack after five years. I began to let people in more often, forgetting the past friendship that used to plague my every thought.

I can feel sweat starting to cover my body, the ever present butterflies in my stomach, sometimes bringing up a wave of nausea. The first day at a new school always brings anxiety and panic into a fourteen year old year. This is my eighth new school since I was six, when my parents got divorced and my mother kept moving away every time she started to have feelings for someone new. Whenever she met someone and things got serious we would move away without any explanation or apology. This had taken a toll on her, but I didn’t outwardly display my feelings when it came to moving. I never had to get close to anyone or was tempted to make friends; I never stayed anywhere long enough. Though this new place, Reno Nevada, will only probably only last three months, the first day of school still makes me nervous. I didn’t care what people thought about me, if they didn’t like my clothes or hair, but I know deep down this was a lie. Everyone wants to feel wanted, and wants to have who someone care about them, if just for a mere second. No one wants to be alone and fade into the background, being forgotten. As I walk through the hallway to my first class, I contemplate ditching to go to the bathroom instead. But, the principle called ahead first, destroying my chances. I walk through the doors of my new history class; I stare at my old busted up converses and brace myself for hushed whispers and snickering from girls in the back, but I hear …nothing? I look up from my sneakers and see a very pretty girl smiling up at me. Her black hair is so straight and sleek, her eyes are so blue it’s like staring into the sky, and her straight teeth are perfectly white. Her name is Alex and I immediately want to her to be my friend. She walks me to all of my classes, invites me to sit with her at her table and even sits with me on the bus. At first I thought I was just her charity case, or she was setting me up for ultimate embarrassment, but as I looked in the mirror that night I saw a different person than the silent girl I was before. Instead of seeing the one with the frizzy brown hair and crooked teeth, who was a thin as a twig and had awkward long legs and a small torso, I saw someone who was confident and happy. She had bronze curly hair and had grown into her body. Her teeth were straight, though she’d need braces to fix an underbite. I went through my closet looking for the new outfits that my mother bought for me when we moved here. I had dreaded having to own those skirts and shorts, but now I felt as though they were all I could wear to fit in. The next day at school, I started to talk, and people actually listened; they didn’t laugh at me, but with me. Sleepovers soon became a weekly thing and I quickly had a huge group of friends who I felt cared about me. The secrets I had kept under lock and key were revealed. Soon, we knew everything about each other, from the simplest facts as favorite colors to the more complicated matter of who we liked. Alex had a huge crush on Johnny. He had brown hair, blue eyes, and a perfect smile with adorable dimples. Every day she hoped that he would ask her to the winter formal. I came to find out that this was a huge deal. The most popular people went, and they usually won prices for best couple and best dress. Since I was now popular it was a mandatory event. I had to find a dress, shoes, and most importantly a date -the thing that made my whole fairy tale crash down.

Everyone knew that Alex and Johnny would go together, it was a given. But what no one expected was for Johnny to ask another girl: me. The feelings of resentment and jealousy boiled up inside of Alex and she could no longer hold it all in. She made a list, the hot-or- not list, the list that was so cruel and had the potential to destroy whoever wrote it. Not just detention, but suspension, and possible expelling. I could not imagine that she had written this. Then, the unthinkable happened: she printed out hundreds of the lists and put them in everyone’s lockers, with my name on top as the author. People who I considered my friends started avoiding me. Everyone started giving me looks of disgust and hatred. I had done nothing wrong and I didn’t know what to do. No matter what I said or did they wouldn’t listen. They just didn’t care and stopped talking to me. The one person I had trusted and relied on was Alex, but she should have been the one I hid from the whole time. This one small act would cause the walls I worked so hard to tear down get built back up again, the moat refilling. I told myself to never let anyone in again, to never make myself venerable or reachable. My secrets were mine and no one would be allowed to find the key to unlock them. I made myself an unreachable island. I lost interest in people and their drama filled lives. I waded through life and school not caring what people thought or wanted from me. I thought everyone was not worthy of the word “friend.” That lies and hurt were the only result from any of my friendships. No one knew the real me and what my dreams and desires were. No one knew I wanted to go to college and be a lawyer, that I wanted to live by the ocean and listen to the sound of the waves crash against the rocks, that I wanted my mom to stop running away from her fears and uprooting my life, and that most of all I wanted a friend. Someone I could tell my secrets to, rely on, and most of all trust.

Blobs of green and brown flash by as my family drives across the United States on a seven day road trip to Connecticut. My mother and her third husband of about two years sleep in the next room of the smelly motel, while I take care of my little brothers. Even as we turn up the TV to its maximum volume, we can still hear the yelling and fighting, over something stupid like an outlet for a computer charger. Picking fights is one of my new step dad’s favorite past times and he has become very well educated on how to @#!*% my mom off to the point where she breaks. People I encounter at restaurants or gas stations give me looks of sympathy, but I don’t want their pity. I don’t want people to pretend they are my friends just because they feel sorry for me. I want real friends who help me get through the tough times and help comfort me. But the stereotypical New Yorker is rude, self centered, skinny, and fashionable, all the things that I’m not. Schools here were far harder and more elite, the people were far richer, and every girl had blonde hair and walk-in closets the size of my house. The wave of nausea from the first day of fourth grade returns. As I walk down the mile long hallway of my High School I know I must look like a deer in a pair of headlights, but as I walk into my first class, English, I see the majority of my volleyball team. Three weeks prior we had all participated in Captain’s Practice for volleyball to prepare us for the season tryouts. I had met Isabelle, Alison, and Molly. Molly, always happy and smiling, herded me over to sit by her and Alison. Suddenly the stereotype I had so long believed was true seemed to dissolve. The English curriculum was not as hard as I thought it was going to be, and I knew where my next class was, so I didn’t look like a freshman. Suddenly my next two classes are over way too fast and I am immediately swallowed up into the countless amounts of students heading to the cafeteria. The awkward feeling of not knowing where to sit or what to eat gnaws at my stomach for at least five minutes, until I am tackled by Isabelle who brings me to a table filled with laughing girls, all who look like they have been friends for years. I felt like I was an intruder and could not possibly be welcomed or fit it, but as introductions go around, I became more confident. Through Isabelle, I met Kaitlin, with the long curly brown hair, designer clothing, and tons of friends. I also met Lily, the shy but always known voice, with a sense for fashion and the grades to get into any college she wants. They were both so intelligent and funny that at first I couldn’t keep up. Day after day they kept prying at me like an old clam, but reluctantly the walls that I had put around myself to guard and protect me came down. I started to again open myself up to the possibility of friends. I was no longer the awkward one looking for people to sit with at the library or cafeteria, but the one that was being looked for. People who I didn’t even know started hanging out with me, making me feel important and wanted. I got invited to the movies, sleepovers, birthday parties, and even family dinners, activities that I had given up on ever being a part of. The walls that I had built and tried to keep people out with for so long, to try to hide the hurt and pain I felt, and the gaping hole that I thought could never be filled again. A hole that people had continually re opened, every time it started to heal, a wound that these strangers had somehow started to mend, with their compliments and invites to parties, with their love and compassion, and for being the friends I had never thought I could have. Maybe not everyone will betray you; maybe there are some people who are actually worthy of the word friend.

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