The moment I entered the room the first time we met, I felt like you were the person I was always supposed to be around. With your unnaturally long dark hair and your caramel-colored skin, you were beautiful and enticing and oddly shy, now that I reflect on it. Your tattooed father loomed over your shoulder, acting as if you trusted him (you didn’t) and your mother had her arms crossed, wishing she were anywhere but here. And your sister. Your sister’s gaze was locked on the wall, as if she was floating somewhere else. I was painfully unaware of what was going on. But who could blame me?
I was hardly fourteen and my mind was filled with books and what I was having for dinner that night. My focus wasn’t on the purple bruise just peeking out from your dark shirt, a stark contrast from the warmth of your skin.
Your shy behavior didn’t leave me for hours that day and I hoped that we could be friends. I just wanted a friend. That’s all I ever wanted. I wish I hadn’t wanted it that hard.
Months later, when I saw you again, I practically fell to my knees and said, “I’m so glad you got in!” Only to be met with, “Who are you?”
I was dumbfounded. How could she not remember me when I had made it a point to memorize so much about her?
My cheeks ran red and I tucked my head low, one of many mannerisms I gained from being in your world and said, “Oh, we met at the audition.”
We would become best friends, attached at the hip, and I would tell you everything. Anything and everything. When I was with you, there was no filter. You were my world, my reason for getting up in the morning, my best friend and my sole confidant.
I would tell you everything, but you would never.
The things you would say were base level, nothing that proved that you trusted me with precious information. You were so closed off and it used to annoy me, but now it doesn’t. The things you would tell me, I wish you never had. Before you, I lived in a world of naivety that I would never get back.
I had considered her my best friend before the truth in our relationship began. I think I was desperate to dub someone that title because, like her, I was so suffocatingly lonely. And just as much as I needed her, I think she needed me. Neither of us had truly known what the words meant – or, I guess, we had different definitions of it. Best friend. Above all others. The bestest of the best. The one who triumphs all the others. She was my best. And I thought I was hers. Maybe, for a time, I was, but then I lost her to other things.
It took a whole year of friendship before she finally opened up to me and poured out her entire soul.
We went to see one of those, now cringey, young adult films at the old Regal theater in our small town. She lived in the apartments right next to it. I lived about ten miles away in a gated community with a four number code that she knew well. It was ten o’clock at night and the film had just ended. My father sat at the entrance in our second car while her mother was nowhere in sight. She murmured, “Go home, I’ll be okay waiting alone.” My father refused and said, “No, we can wait until your mom gets here.” I think she was used to being left and gaped slightly at my dad’s words.
He sat in the car and we waited at the entrance. She turned to me and whispered things that I don’t think I was ready to hear. But she felt in her heart that I was ready to hear it.
Her dad had just been arrested in Miami for robbing a bank and her mom was about to get fired because of an “indiscretion” at work. (Months later she would reveal that her mom was addicted to cocaine and had kicked her and her sister out, leaving them practically homeless.) She revealed the abuse and the toxicity and all of it while my dad sat, with the windows rolled up, in our little car.
I didn’t know what to say. When the words finally came, her mom pulled up and she reluctantly got in the car. I watched carefully as they pulled out of the theater parking lot. Two days later in school, she pretended like she hadn’t said it.
From then on, I reminded myself how lucky I was. I was damn lucky. I had a mother and father who loved me and a brother and sister who I protected. I extended a hand out to her and basically told her she could be my family too.
We let her stay the night – many nights. We took her on family vacations. She was in every family picture and every family moment for nearly three years. It wasn’t charity, it wasn’t because we felt bad, it was because we loved her like an extension of ourselves.
The shame didn’t come until junior year.
I would eat a sandwich and she would side eye me, making a comment about how bad it was. I would look in a mirror and say, “I look chubby” and she would say, “It’s okay, I do too.” She would make comments about how fat she was – she wasn’t – and then obsess over my weight. It felt like a game and I fed into it. I stopped eating. She stopped eating. We fed into each other’s worst qualities and exploited them.
She would fall back on her work, I’d let her copy every assignment.
I’d ask for one bit of help and she would silence me for a week.
I would cry in the corner of a room, she would laugh with the girl who would end up replacing.
Maybe it was petty of me, but I fell from her good graces. Every single thing I did for her fell away and I became the shell of a person that I once was. I wanted to help her, do her right by the world because no one else had put her first. I celebrated her successes; she didn’t celebrate mine. And maybe that’s because she didn’t know how to do that or what it would mean to do that.
I would’ve supported her in every decision.
I was falling apart, only living for her approval and the idea that she would be okay.
I wanted to die. I was falling apart. I was stuffing my face with diet pills and eating nearly nothing.
I was falling apart because I wanted to look like my replacement. I wanted to be in my best friend’s world. I was a puppy dog. I lived only to lift her up and not for myself. If there was something we both wanted, I would throw myself to the wayside so she could have that special moment.
We wanted to go to college together. I wanted it so badly and when I was unable to live out that dream, she shamed me for it, saying, “How could you abandon me? Why would you do that to us? I hate you.”
When I reflect on high school, I can see so perfectly why I was miserable the whole time. I only lived for her.
When it all came to fruition and I gave up on her, she had blocked me from her life.
Leaving her was the most cathartic experience.
I was so afraid of leaving her because she made it seem like she would have nothing, only she didn’t. She got into our dream school, found an old woman to pay for it, and now she is living out her best life while I lay in my dorm room unable to move most days.
There were days when I felt like I carried both of our worlds. I so desperately wanted to give her everything but I fell short.
I am still healing.
She reaches out sometimes.
It doesn’t go further than that.
From that experience, I learned the most valuable gift.
You must be gracious in this world. Help those who need it but don’t lose yourself in the process. A savior complex is the worst kind of burden to have. It’s unfair to yourself and your potential. That was my most valuable spiritual journey.