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Right. Phone in hand, computer, pull up the word document. I place my shaky hand on the phone and start to dial, 425-406… Pausing, I ponder over the millions of times it seems I have dialed this number and no one has answered. I almost expect no one today, but she, Mrs. Fraudity, answers, and in a cloying voice that makes the desire to wretch over this whole incident even stronger. “HELLO? Oh, honey. I can’t talk long because I’m at my parent’s house.” You’re always there, I want to reply. I reach for my computer so my voice doesn’t betray my confusion and impending sense of betrayal from such a close friend, yes, her daughter.
Oh NO. My computer is dead, died moments ago. NO! I can’t find the charging cord. What was I planning to say? My confident script is gone. My voice sounds unfamiliar and empty like an echo. I stumble on my preplanned first sentence. She thinks she knows what is coming. I catch a glimpse of my face’s outline in my computer’s dead screen. All I need is a silhouette to know that my face is red and shiny like a ripe tomato, just like Alice’s face always was when she confided in me. She did that a lot. For a happy-go-lucky friend, she had a lot of darkness crumpled up inside. My hand quivers and I feel my heart throbbing spastically in my wet palm. Say what you felt, I beg myself, simultaneously trying to convince myself that I don’t still feel the way I did. Tell Mrs. Fraudity what you intended by those emails.
She starts out casually, like I expected her to, trying to weasel her way out of talking to me. I may not have what I wanted to say in front of me, but my bravery is back. “Oh, well, I’m sorry, Mrs. Fraudity, but we need to talk now.” She begins to interject, her voice trying to tighten like a noose around my conscience. I don’t let it. “I decided prior to calling you that this conversation can’t wait. We’ll just have to talk now,” My trembling voice surprises me with its authority. “Oh,” she utters, in a new tone, one a little more circumspect, a little less friendly. We let the phone wiring sit, neither of us speaking for a few steady seconds. My eyes dart about the dim, empty kitchen, trying to salvage my confidence which rests, surely, in the charging chord of my computer. Feeling the edge of my lip slowly curl the way it always does when I am utterly disgusted, I dive in.
“Mrs. Fraudity. My mom informed me this afternoon that I offended you through some emails I sent Alice six months ago. I must let you know now that said offense was absolutely inadvertent.” Silence again, so I keep going. “Alice is my best friend of eight years. I have always been completely loyal to her, and when I sent those emails, if I am correct about the ones that offended you so thoroughly, I was trying to defend her, give a girl a voice when she was too afraid to speak. She was depressed, Mrs. Fraudity. You know why, too.” Mrs. Fraudity coughed, spuriously, an uncomfortable cough. I won’t let go now. “Which emails that I wrote to Alice in desperation caused this sudden upset?”
Finally she responds. “Well, of course you are a good friend. You always were…so sweet. We love having you over. Your loyalty is unrivaled.” Her complements are nothing more than a twisted shortcut past the truth, not to mention an uncreative way of reconfiguring my earlier statements about my friendship with Alice. Incredulity bubbling up inside me, I respond with a terse, “Yes,” and let the silence dangle between us like satin ribbons. The hush doesn’t bother me. I know that deep beneath the layers of guilt she is trying to impose upon me, I cannot be ashamed for using the only tool an adolescent girl with a passion for words can: My. Words. I pause, fighting the ambivalence between waiting in silence until she picks up the slack, or being “disrespectful” for a countless time. “Yes, but today you told my mom that you wanted this conversation, and though I was surprised after hearing about your current state of loathing towards me, I realized that I also wanted to have this conversation. And, well, you know how my schedule is.” “Oh. Up to four days a week now!” I don’t know how many times she has asked how often I dance this year, and how many times I have answered with six days. “Six, Mrs. Fraudity. Six.” She releases a careless chortle. Abruptly, like me tumbling off of my awkwardly tall bed, she dives into the discussion nose first.
“You. You were so disrespectful to send MY DAUGHTER those emails. To me, to my family. You were tempted her, went against our family policies. It would be like me, offering, uh, well, like me offering you meat on Thursday if you were Jewish.” I really want to correct her. That would be disrespectful too, though. I’m out of control. A disrespectful mess. “This would all be okay if you could just STOP. You two were communicating too much.” Her words become a fuzzy blur racing past my ears, leaping over the sound waves they were intending to travel. “I just wanted to help her. Why didn’t you tell me this six months earlier?” “I need to know in all positivity that you did not mean what you wrote. All teenagers get out of hand sometimes.” But I meant every word. I want to yell and tell her that, if given the opportunity, I’d send them again, but I pause. “I, I… It would be a lie to say I didn’t mean them, Mrs. Fraudity. I am loyal. I have spent a lot of time with your family. However, I am also opinionated. I couldn’t sit back and watch when I saw Alice go from an exultant girl, loving her new life at school and everything that came along with that, to an anxious, depressed muddle. We emailed all the time because you hated for us to actually spend time together and talk in person. Our conversations were a private place where she expressed herself. Those conversations were confidential, meaningful…until you violated the privacy you had promised her.” Mrs. Fraudity lets out a long, dreadful sigh, leaving me little to do but continue. “I…I guess it hurts that you didn’t tell me our doing this, this, communicating, bothered you so much.”
Her voice has lost all hint of sweetness. “Excuse me. The books.” What about the books? “I believe there was an email in which you said I might not like the books, but that you would give them to her anyway. That is putting my daughter on the path of temptation.” “They were good books, Mrs. Fraudity. I didn’t give Alice books just to defy you. They were Christian literature, no dirty language, morbid details, or other characteristics that could be deemed inappropriate. Yes, they were young adult novels, so they had a bit of romance. I shared these books like I would with any friend.” She doesn’t pause to think at all, like she is wearing a helmet that keeps my defenses from entering past the registration desk of her brain. “That one, though, young lady. That one about the celebrity’s daughters wasn’t okay.” “What?” I counter, wondering how she even knew specifics about the books I had given directly to Alice when I was at her house one time. She responds quickly, an arrogance lacing her voice. “Alice gave them to me to look at… in case.”
My thoughts freeze. Betrayal is stinging my appalled ears. My voice is suddenly robotic. My words don’t belong to me. “I am sorry. I really did not do that to upset your family. I wanted to share something I had taken pleasure in with her.” Alice must have told her mom. The green monster that has always stood like a haze between us and repeatedly yanked our friendship apart has appeared again, and in the worst way. “Um, what else?” I probe anxiously. Mrs. Fraudity stalls on the other end, yelling “One second!” to her parents, and murmuring a biblical tune. “THAT email was just so incredibly offensive.” Oh. That one. I remember the day I sat down to write it. I remember the distress that had been bubbling over inside of me, on that day, and for months before and after. All of a sudden, though, my desperation to change the situation, to “save” Alice, feels like it is melting off me. My heart after knowing now, and realizing how this situation developed isn’t pounding quite so fast. The shock is decelerating, and apathy is flooding through me as all of my worry and passion for changing this situation dissipates. The things that mattered so much to me yesterday and six months ago still matter, just not for the same reasons.
“Mrs. Fraudity. I did not know how that email would go over when I wrote it, but I did know that Alice told me that you, against her will, had started reading all of her emails. And I did know that I believe in privacy, and that I also believe in the power and responsibility of promises.” “Well, I…” “Yes. I know you believe in all of that too, but your actions, they tell me otherwise.” I collect all of my last momentum and breathe out the final words I want to speak to this woman. “Anyway, I think we have beaten this horse well past death. A friendship between Alice and me is obviously something of elapsed time. I wish I could change things, be friends with her, but some differences are irreconcilable.” That was a lie. I don’t wish I could be friends with her, not anymore. I wish I could be friends with the girl I thought she was. Or maybe just the girl she was when she wasn’t possessed by the desire to be someone that wasn’t her. My body isn’t erect in my chair. I am slumped into its rigid back, a crumpled girl lost for words. My mom plods into the kitchen, the wood floor creaking ever so slightly beneath her feet. Briefly, I think of how I must look so odd, sitting in this chair, in the dark of the kitchen, not saying a word, a phone held to my ear. My silence dwells on the letter I wrote to Alice before I had this phone conversation.
I have learned that the emails I sent to you those months ago hurt your family. Those emails appear to have destroyed the future, and present, of our friendship. I know you will tell me to apologize to your family; then everything will be fine. But, Alice, apologizing for this is something I can’t do, because if I apologize for writing those, I would be apologizing for much more than just emails. I can’t apologize. Not after seeing you attend a real school for the very first time this year. Not after seeing you laughing and smiling, wearing jeans for the first time. Not after seeing you finding yourself, and finding friends other than me and your next door neighbor from church. Not after seeing you discover the internet, and find out that you love to be fully involved in school. Not after seeing you have your first crush, and learn not to blush every time you got within ten feet of a boy. Not after seeing you discover music other than hymns. Not after the frequent conversations we had when you talked about how you felt unloved, ignored, and insufficient at home because your parents just keep having more kids. Not after I realized all you are at home is a babysitter, and not after seeing your parents realize that too, three quarters of the way through your first year of school. Not after hearing you say you are hopeless, stupid, and forgettable. Because, Alice. You are none of those derogatory things. You are my best friend and always have been since we were five. When you were pulled out of school, and your mom birthed another kid, when your mom took away the only way we were communicating anymore, email, by saying she would read everything we wrote to each other. When I saw you spiral into depression, and back into wearing prairie dresses and bloomers and having no self-respect. That’s when I wrote those emails to tell your parents that you deserve trust, that they can’t give you everything you have always dreamed of, a normal school and social life and then take it all away and expect things to be how they were before. I am a girl who speaks her mind and, just like you should, I have a voice and a right to use it. I am proud of how far women have come in achieving equality, and I wish that my best friend could enjoy the rights I relish as a young woman in America. I can’t apologize for trying to give you a chance to keep living a life you loved. And I can’t apologize about failing to do that either. Alice, I am heartbroken that my efforts failed to help you. I am sad that our friendship can’t continue to go on because of who I am becoming, and because of who your parents want you to be. They are your parents, and have desires for you, and I can’t make them realize that you also have desires of your own.
Please remember, even though they tell you that you are “just” a girl, you are never ‘just’ a ‘just.’ You are a person who, in my eyes, and in the eyes of many, are a person who deserves to seek and find happiness. I hope that one day you will once again be provided the opportunity to do so.
Your best friend.
Those feelings that I bundled so carefully into one letter to Alice remind me not to loathe her for succumbing to the pressure of her parents. Mrs. Fraudity responds as though she is taken aback by my statement. As my mom gets closer, I press the loud speaker button on my phone, not caring at this point who hears the conversation. In my mind, the conversation is quite dead, even if, paradoxically, Mrs. Fraudity chooses to continue talking. “Why! I think you must come to our house tomorrow and talk it out with Alice, and myself. You can’t just leave her. That wouldn’t be fair.” Her house? Tomorrow? Me, unfair? “Go,” whispers my mom. I respond, not because of my mom’s recommendation, but because of the letter. “Oh, um, tomorrow, noon? Okay?” “All right now. I have to go. Tomorrow at 12:00. Bye.” “Bye,” I croak, my hand still clutching the letter I have yet to seal away into an envelope. “Do you want me to look it over?” My mom is eyeing the letter. Brusquely I stand up, snatch my letter, and respond with, “I think I need to go to bed. The letter is fine.” When I have pulled the covers over myself, I lay still and cold, feeling annoyed by my heart’s steady bu-bump, bu-bump, by my lack of ability to stay silent when everything around me is so deafening.
Circumstances usually feel better after a night of sleep, but the next morning I feel as though the defensive words I wrote so long ago have been heaved at me, sticking in my skin, weighing me down.
I am very close to my mom, but I feel distant from her as we drive the ten minutes to Alice’s house. The former me would have been excited to see her, but right now I know that the Alice today won’t be the same Alice who was in Journalism with me and who filmed us dancing goofily around her room.
Our car rolls up her gravel driveway. My body is clammy and my heart thumps in my throat.
“I’ll stay. Don’t worry,” my mom assures me softly as we walk up the steps to the backdoor. No friend comes bounding down the hallway. The door swings open and Mrs. Fraudity exclaims, “You’re here!” in a sickeningly saccharine voice. I see Alice’s meek shadow behind her. She doesn’t guide us into the house. Instead, without pausing, while giving me a look that says, I know you didn’t mean it, she catechizes, “You didn’t really mean it when you said you wouldn’t apologize, correct?” I feel, for a second, that my friendship, my family, my parent’s parenting, is all on the line. I realize in that same second that the only thing truly at risk here is myself: my morals, my choices, and what I am willing to make a stand for. “I meant it all, Mrs. Fraudity.” I feel a rush of cold air in my face as the door slams, and her face contorts as she screams, “Don’t come back.”
The letter. I still have it. I sprint around the house and look up at Alice’s window. She is in her room, staring blankly out. Her glistening eyes meet mine when she sees me waving the letter. She opens the window, and I cast the letter up in a crinkled ball. I look up and nod to her as she reads it to let her know I understand just a little, never once will I hate her. When she sets the letter down to wave good-bye, I see a spark of life in her eyes. Perhaps that spark is her realization that her words will always be her own, and if she believes in them as much as her old best friend does, their power cannot be extinguished.