I woke this morning, a gray and rainy Copenhagen sky, musing about friendship. Not the intense friendships you form as an ex-pat, the ones that go from “Hi, what’s your name?” to “Will you be my child’s guardian/emergency school contact?” in the space of five minutes. I woke thinking of my best friend all throughout middle and high school, my BFF before there were such things as BFFs. The friend who was an extension of my own identity for so many years. The friend whose name followed mine, mine hers, without a breath between. DinaandHeather*, HeatherandDina. This morning, before the reveille of children’s feet pattering toward my room, there was enough waking space for a moment of retrospection. Long forgotten memories, some as sharp and pointed as a kitchen knife, others blurry and out of focus.
I shouldn’t be surprised, not really. At the moment I am reading John Green’s Paper Towns, with its smart and funny and insightful high school protagonists. Obviously my subconscious has been dredging up long-buried memories, ones that have been submerged below the funk and marsh of everyday life for the last twenty-five years. Then yesterday I got sucked, feet first, into the postings of a blogger. Of all his stories, the one that stood out to me was the tale of her/his sixth grade crush. (Go read it, it’s worth it). It got me to thinking about my best friend from that time, Molly*.
Molly introduced me to The Rolling Stones and is responsible for my still present and accounted for dislike of horror films. Watching Friday the 13th will have that effect on a certain type of girl. I have a vivid memory of attending her pool party in 6th grade. I can clearly remember the swim suit I wore and of being conscious of the pockets of puppy fat that were just beginning to dot my body in those puberty prone places. Until then, I had been known amongst family members as Olive Oyl, a testament to the skinny legs and all that walked me through my childhood. But not long after that party, Molly went on to a different school and suddenly I had a new best friend. Heather. I don’t remember how or why it happened, but from sixth grade onward, we were best friends. Always together, never apart. Fairly inseparable until we had a forever falling out in our early 20s.
She thought it was about a boy. But it never was. It was always about the hold she had over me.
Don’t get me wrong. Heather was never malicious. She was never a mean girl, never a bully. In fact, our friendship dynamic was, in hindsight, probably driven more by my need to be pushed forward than hers was to control. But regardless, she was my everything, and…well, even after years of intense friendship, the sniper-like focus of adulthood, billed-for therapy hours and much thought, I still really don’t know what I was to her. There was a shut down part of Heather, a part of her that closed in on itself. For protection? I’m not sure. There were certainly some out of the ordinary things about her childhood, her upbringing, things that as an adult you can wonder about. But as a pre-teen, even a teen, those things are so far out of your realm of experience that they don’t even cross your mind. Add that to the hyper-focused self-awareness and self-consciousness that most teenagers experience and it’s easy to see how maybe, just maybe, things were missed. But this is only conjecture. There are things I know, but for sure there are many, many more I don’t.
My parents never liked her Heather. There was, I think, something they couldn’t put their finger on. But if you ask my mom, she will tell you it was because she made me cry. A lot. Not because of what she said, not because of what she did, but because of what she didn’t say or didn’t do. There was always a blasé-ness about Heather that masqueraded as a ‘devil may care’ attitude. But now I think of it more as a turn-off valve. When things got too intense, too heavy, she shut down.
It never occurred to Heather to worry about being different. I don’t think it occurred to her to worry about much of anything at all. She is the one who veered off onto a punk rock path long before I did. I just followed along. She was always more comfortable taking it further, pushing it harder, going that extra step. Or four. I was merely a shadow. A watered down version of her. I was tall and gangly, angles and planes. She was short and curvy and had a teenage rack to die for. Despite her fuchsia hair, her curves that bordered on chubby, she was always popular. With the jocks, with the burn-outs, with the geeks and freaks and metal-heads, the Storm-troopers and Death-eaters. She was who I wanted to be, but wasn’t. But, and this is a really huge but, she allowed me to test the waters of my own personality, to test the boundaries in safety because she always pushed it that much further than me.
I followed her, like a love-struck boy. Like a blind puppy. I followed her through the rest of middle school. I followed her through high school. I cried myself to sleep at night when the boys I crushed on confided to me that they were in love with her. It never seemed to phase her. She never pulled a ninja bitch move by going out with any of them, it’s more that it never seemed to occur to her that it was hard for me, that it hurt. In my sophomore year of high school, when a dreamy guy asked me out, I spent the entire week of a longed for vacation worrying that somehow, in some way, he was going to switch teams. That when I returned with my Micky Mouse ears and tanned legs, they would be walking down the hall arm in arm. It didn’t happen, but it didn’t do much to alleviate the mythical status she had been elevated to in my head. Perhaps I am being unfair in my expectations of a teenage girl who was going through her own torments. But I can only deconstruct my own, not hers.
I followed her to New York, where we both went to the same college. Of course we did. We were DinaandHeather, HeatherandDina.
But there in New York, away from the familiar, things were different. We were in different dorms, different classes. We made different friends. I blossomed in New York, like a hot-house flower. I found my own footing, my own style, started garnering my own compliments. For the first time in forever, or at least since sixth grade, no one confessed their love of her to me. It was liberating and refreshing. It was the beginning of a call to arms for me, though I didn’t know it for another few years.
* names have, of course, been changed. But Heather was too delicious not to use. Apologies to all real life Heathers.
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This is so well done. It’s raw and atmospheric, but has that slice of universality in it, too–I think a lot of people have gone through or at least witnessed this kind of adolescent friendship. Beautiful writing.
Thank you. As you can see, reading your work obviously inspired part of this, so I thank you for that as well. I haven’t thought about her or our friendship in years, but with the buffer of time and maturity, you can see things differently. It was a really interesting piece for me to write, cathartic, but not from an emotional standpoint, from a writing one. I actually felt like my fingers were flying over the keyboard. And who doesn’t want that? Thank you again, for the inspiration and for the compliment.
There was a Heather for me too. We parted ways rather more dramatically. I may write about it one day as you have. Until then, it will remain in the shadows.
I just replied to someone else that it is funny that my friendship, which pretty much defined and described me for nearly a decade, was something I hadn’t thought about it, well, forever. It was actually pleasurable to write about, in a ‘wow, look at how different things seem with the passage of time’ kind of way. Does that make sense? We parted too, with surprisingly little drama. That’s Part II!! I would love to read about it if/when you do write about your own Heather.
Two people’s memories can remember the same events two different ways. Our own memory can also have a habit of changing bits of the reality to make it fit with what we believe. Does that make sense to you?
My Heather and I saw each other late last year. The suggestion to ‘catch up’ hung in the air like the smell of stale beer. Haven’t/Didn’t take up the opportunity. How do you catch up on 10 years?
What would you do if you had the chance to catch up with Heather?
Reminds me of one of my daughter’s friends – she’s mean, bad for Trinity and I can’t stand her, always doing hurtful things, one of those types who get their rocks off by hurting others; still a lot of tears left to be cried. We can’t shield our children from the pain of growing up, Heather is always waiting.
After re-reading both ‘parts’ of this, I am still left wondering. I think we gravitate toward people in our lives for a reason. Sometimes they stick around for a long time, sometimes not. Heather was there, all the time. I can’t think about most of my later childhood without her being a part of those memories. In a big way, I wouldn’t be who I am had she not been part of my life for that long. But I still can’t figure out why she needed me.
I can bet, a lot of girls out there can relate to this. Very nicely put.
Thank you. Almost everyone I spoke to after this piece told me they had a friend like “Heather”. Perhaps it’s a rite of passage to have a friend like that, just part of growing up and growing better.