There is no feeling more wonderful than having a best friend. Someone you can tell everything to. Someone you feel no shame around. Someone you love with all your heart. I felt that once, and just remembering it makes me laugh and cry in equal measure.
I met her in first grade. When introduced by another little girl, we took a moment to contemplate each other. I admired her blonde hair and she stared enviously at my glasses. I decided in my head that she was my friend, before speaking a word to her. We played together on the playground pretending to be the time traveling “Super-Pups.” The story had no ending, because we started it over again every single day. I couldn’t spell her last name right, but I could draw her. I still have old crinkly papers with crayon drawings of the two of us. A brunette and blonde, identical in all other ways, holding hands on a hill, oblivious to the world. If only we could have lived our lives in those drawings.
That year she was chosen to play the lead in our class play. I threw a fit because I couldn’t be with her until my teacher showed me that there was a bunny in the drawings of the book we were basing the play on. I got to be the bunny. I contentedly hopped along behind her as she picked flowers. All I had to do was follow her around – perhaps the first instance of a pattern we would follow well up into middle school.
In third grade, she told me she thought she was a werewolf. She told me that she craved human blood. I went into my kitchen and grabbed a glass. I considered grabbing one of the knifes and slitting open my arm so she would have something to drink. Instead I settled on water with red food coloring. If she had really needed it, I don’t think I would have hesitated with that blade.
In fifth grade we spent hours on the phone each night. We talked about everything, but more often than not, the subject was boys. She only had one boy that she would talk about. I had a new one every week. She would listen and nod. I don’t remember her ever making fun of that – at least not then. Sometimes she didn’t want to hang up so she would put the phone outside the shower so we could talk more. Sometimes we didn’t even talk – merely knowing that the other one was listening was comforting.
In the summer before middle school she took it upon herself to explain sex to me. She was disappointed that I already knew the things she was telling me. That summer she blossomed into a gorgeous flower – even more perfect than before. The boys never left her alone. They bothered her wherever she went. Some were angry that she wouldn’t date them. One boy dared her to kiss him on the bus, and she did. She never refused a dare. One of them would grope her and put his hand up her shirt. The next day he would hit her. She had bruises up and down her arms.
That year I slapped her for saying that she was taller than me. I yelled that I was smarter, and she yelled back that no I wasn’t, I was just a bragger. The second my hand struck her skin I regretted it. In my head she was already better than me in every way imaginable. I didn’t need her pointing it out to me. I wouldn’t forgive myself. I had given her a bruise too.
One year, cuts joined the bruises. She told me that the previous night she had sat trembling over a candle, desperately trying to melt the plastic off a razor, so she could express her rage against herself. Her smooth arms were marred with scars. She wore sweatshirts and long sleeves only. Sometimes I would sit at recess, holding her deeply in a hug, trying to summon the most comforting words I could. She asked me to make a suicide pact with her. And I did. She told me not to tell anyone. And I didn’t. One week she got rid of all her razors by giving them to a friend. She said she would have given them to me to get rid of, but she was too scared I’d use them. I think I might have.
The spring of sixth grade she cut off all her hair and asked me to call her Aaron. And I did. I changed her contact in my phone and called her by that name every time we were alone. She never asked me to stop but I think eventually her dysphoria calmed. She confirmed for me later that this was just an exploration phase – she is definitely a girl. That didn’t stop me from waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of a high school night to call her and make sure I hadn’t been using the wrong pronouns for four years. I lived in constant fear of insulting her or ruing our friendship. It was like our relationship was a glass statue that I had to carry along with me.
She called me in a panic one Saturday. She had been hanging out with two of her older friends who were planning to drink some alcohol. She made an excuse and ran back to her house to call me. We must have talked for hours about what she should do. I was worried for her, but I was also happy that I had been the person she chose to call.
In the fall of seventh grade she decided that not only was she definitely a girl, she liked girls. Then she had her first girlfriend. The girl’s name was Ella – she had ebony curls and skin like milky coffee, but she made me clench my fists until my nails dug into my skin. In my head she had taken away the person who meant the most to me. She wasn’t smart enough for my best friend. She wasn’t nice enough for my best friend. She wasn’t … good enough. No one was. Especially me.
During our winter party that year they sat together in the largest stall of the girls bathroom and talked for two hours. I had been looking for her for a long time before stumbling upon them. She asked me to bring them two cups of Mountain Dew and then to leave them alone. And I did.
I never really liked any of her other friends – even the ones we had in common. I was always jealous of them. Nothing stung more than knowing that to the girl I considered my best friend – I was but one of many good friends. Everyone seemed to want her to be their friend. She was cool, funny, pretty, and smart enough to be impressive, but no so much that it was deemed rude. I was obnoxious, childish, and a know-it-all. Everyone liked her. She had dozens of friends. I could count all my friends on two hands.
In eighth grade she stopped sitting with me and the other “nerds” at lunch. Instead she sat with boys and some of the popular crowd. I could have sat there if I wanted – I just never felt welcome or comfortable. I tried to sit with her once and one boy told me that I couldn’t sit there until I proved to him that I knew what a dildo was. I refused to say it, even though I knew. I went back to sit with the nerds. They weren’t always nice to me either, but they certainly never asked such crude questions.
I think that spending nine straight years with the same 70 kids made us all hate each other by the end. We were certainly tired of each other, and a lot meaner. One of the girls once asked me how many months pregnant I was in an attempt to call me fat. When I went and told my best friend, she yelled at her furiously, despite the fact that they had been on good terms just a few months ago. That same girl ended up being my roommate for one of the nights we were in Spain. I yelled and cried for an hour but no one would let me switch. My best friend came in and sat with me on the bed. We talked and she let me cry it out. Than she walked me to dinner and sat next to me the whole time.
She wore a pure white suit to our graduation. She looked like a gay angel. I wore a silvery dress that didn’t fit quite right. I looked like I was trying too hard. That fall she went to public school with the rest of our school. I left for art school.
When I had my first boyfriend, she was the first person I texted. She replied in all caps, super happy for me. She told me that the was so proud that she had shown pictures of him to our old school friends and bragged about me to them. She said all those girls were proud of me too. I texted her again when he broke up with me. She told me that he wasn’t good enough for me – he was dumb and didn’t know what he’d given up.
She had many different boyfriends those first two years. I wasn’t able to keep up. We talked several times that first year, exchanging stories about our different school environments. Slowly, the time that passed between our exchanges got longer and longer. I was a planet in a decaying orbit around its sun, trying hard to stay, but knowing it would inevitably get sucked away to orbit some other star. I made new friends, ones who didn’t know the stories about the Kate who existed at my old school. They only knew what I told them. I haven’t mentioned her to any of my new friends. I don’t think she’s mentioned me to her new friends either. It seems to work better that way.
We saw each other a few months ago. It seemed like years since she was my best friend – even longer since I was her best friend, if I ever was. She told me that she’ll always be there for me, and I told her the same thing. I mean it. I choose to believe that she does too.
When I sat down to write this I was angry. I meant it to outline all the things I did for her. I loved her more than anything alive, and I remain bitter that she never returned that fully. But in writing this I realized all the things she did for me. She loved me as much as she could. She was my best friend for eight years. A wonderful, wild, loud, furious, hormonal, sad, exhilarating eight years. Our lives will forever be entwined, albeit distantly, through the experiences we shared.
The time we painted her treehouse and her mom yelled at us. The afternoons we spent pretending to be Harry Potter characters in my backyard. The time we rolled down a muddy hill after a Science Olympiad competition and our teacher made us go turn our pants inside out before the awards ceremony. The time she argued with a turkey. The weekends we spent at her lake house, staying up until dawn talking and playing Truth or Truth. The time she had me come over to her house to play a section of a scary game with her so she wouldn’t have to do it alone. The paths we cut through the woods running around with her dog pretending to be the boys from The Outsiders. The hours spent in my downstairs hallway playing with my rabbit. The book we started writing together. These memories will forever remind me of the amazing girl who was my best friend. The girl I still love more than anyone, and would still do anything for.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.