When I was in high school, I had a best friend who was horrible to me. I had just moved to Cypress, Texas and I was desperate for friends so I latched onto the first person that I could, who turned out to be my neighbor across the street. We were in the same grade and we both loved Harry Potter and it seemed so quintessentially suburban so it was perfect. We were in a lot of the same classes and, god, she was so much smarter than me, so on top of having a friend, and best friend at that, I had someone that could help me with my schoolwork. We rode the bus to and from school together, we sat at lunch together, we hung out at each other’s house after school; we did pretty much everything together.
Sometimes she would say something not so nice about me. She would say something rude about my hair, which I’d grown accustomed to living in a town so shockingly lacking of Black people. She would make comments about how gross it is that I don’t wash it every day or lecture me on how I should take care of it. And since she was smarter than me and clearly knew more than me, I took those kind of comments to heart; I straightened my hair in high school, since that was what hair was supposed to look like. She would make other comments about my clear inferiority to her as well, especially in regards to school. If I brought it up, apologies took the shape of “I’m sorry if you were offended but…” Even though we were friends, best friends, she would get frustrated with me when I would ask questions about the homework because wasn’t I in the same classes she was and didn’t I pay attention when the teacher explained it the first time?
My best friend was a very selfish person, I came to realize after we ended our friendship. In high school, most of the things we talked about, when we weren’t talking about the latest Harry Potter novel that had come out or the reruns of Charmed that came on after school, were about her. They were about her crushes and about her love for country music (ugh) and how much she loved singing and her opinions and her. I knew she wasn’t always the most confident person, so I would constantly comment on how smart and pretty and great she was because I felt like it would be good for her and help her self-esteem. I encouraged her to talk to the boy she liked and to sing at school events. And regardless of the outcome, I ensured her that she was awesome and did a good job. I was a good, supportive friend.
She was not.
She wasn’t always outwardly mean, although looking back on some of the things she said and did to me, sometimes she could be. But other than her meanness, I think another part of what made the friendship toxic was how unbalanced it was. I was incredibly supportive and encouraging and she just wasn’t. She’s Indian and I made a conscious effort to learn about her culture. I learned so much about India and Indian customs, both on my own and by being around her and her family so much and asking questions. I asked questions about the paintings of the different gods hanging on the walls in her house and why she wore certain clothing sometimes and what different symbols meant. I watched Bollywood films with her (Jab We Met is still an all-time fave of mine) and after-school specials about Hinduism and learned words and phrases in Telugu. I threw a surprise 40th birthday party for her mom in our cul-de-sac, inviting the neighbors (at least the ones we liked) and made Indian food for everyone. When her grandmother came to visit from India, I spent hours with her after school, learning about the family of my best friend. I put in the work I was supposed to, and then some.
She never did the same. She wasn’t uninterested when it came to stuff about me or my thoughts or stories of my enormous family or whatever, but she didn’t make a point to learn or ask about them. She didn’t like my music, or attempt to, even after I had to sit through hours and hours of country music; I’m pretty sure that’s why I can’t stand the genre today. She was easily frustrated with me because I wasn’t as good as her in school and I didn’t understand math as quickly as she did and even though she was kind enough to help me after and during school, she would make snide comments about my intelligence. My family and friends would point out rude or mean things she would do or say to me, or note that I did so much more for her than she did for me, but I would brush it off because she was just like that sometimes and we were best friends. My favorite cousin, one of the people who knows me best, came to visit and after spending only a few hours with my best friend and me told me straight up that she doesn’t understand how we’re friends.
I don’t know if I’ve stressed this enough so far, but looking back now and as I’ve been doing periodically since the friendship ended, a large part of why I was so willing to be so supportive when she wasn’t and tolerate the not-so-nice things she said to me was because I was desperate for friendship. I craved it. I just moved to an entirely new place where I knew no one, and I needed someone. I was only 13 and I needed a best friend.
After high school ended and we both got into the University of Texas, we became roommates at an all-girls dorm. I didn’t want to be roommates with her because I’d heard that friends who live together stop being friends ( and thank god that line of advice is true.) The only reason I roomed with her is because her mom asked me to. It was after the armed home invasion at her house and her mom told me she would feel better if we lived together. I wanted to do the potluck roommate thing, but I was willing to ease my best friend’s mom’s mind, so I changed my plans.
That first year was amazing for me. I loved college. I loved being independent and being able to go where I wanted and explore Austin and go to school events with free food and shirts. There were so many possibilities open to me and I wanted to absorb them all. My best friend did not. I asked her before I left the dorm everyday if she wanted to join me on a bus ride downtown or to a school function or just to explore campus. She always refused. So I did most things by myself or with new friends that I made. Once, she asked me to go with her to the introductory Indian Students Association event, and of course I did. It was a scavenger hunt, I remember, and she wanted to be partners with me. I told her she should pair up with someone else because the point of this thing was to meet new people. She was unhappy with that, saying the point of coming to the thing together was to be partners, but I refused because I thought it would be good for her to make new friends. I think this was the first incident leading to our friendship’s end.
The second incident was definitely the catalyst, and it was far from my fault. In this friendship, I was never one to deflect blame, always taking responsibility, even if what happened wasn’t my fault, but I was truly blameless here. We both bought bus tickets from campus to our hometown of Cypress. The bus left at 4:00 on the dot, no exceptions. We got to the bus at maybe 3:45. She realized she left her brother’s birthday present at the dorm, the reason she was going home that weekend, and I told her she’d just have to leave it because there would be no way she would make it to the other side of campus, up to the fifth floor where our room was to retrieve the gift, and back in 15 minutes. It was just impossible. She said she’d be quick and went anyway. I got on the bus, stressed as hell, and waited for her to get back. I called her at 3:55; she told me she was just getting to the dorm. There was no way she would make it back in time. She asked me to ask the bus driver to wait, but he kept repeating that we must leave at 4. She asked me to put the bus driver on the phone and pleaded with him to stall. He gave her 5 more minutes, which still wasn’t enough time to make it back to the bus and eventually we left without her. When I arrived in Cypress, her mom was waiting at the bus stop. I gave her my friend’s belongings, which made it to Cypress without her, and explained what happened as best I could and that was that.
I don’t know why this was the catalyst. I don’t know if she expected me to miss the bus too or somehow stall even more so that she’d make it back. She never told me why she held this against me. And I can only assume it was this event that did it, because afterwards she stopped talking to me.
Like, totally stopped talking to me. It really took me by surprise at first, but I wasn’t initially upset or sad because school was so busy and I had other friends. It was more irksome than anything, because she would do things like turn off the light in the room when she was ready to go to bed without asking me first and other small annoyances that could’ve been avoided by simple communication. The next January, maybe a week or so before we went back to school she texted me asking if we could talk. I was partial to that and I didn’t even bring up that she could’ve talked to me in person at school since we lived together or walked across the street to talk since we were both home. We met up at Starbucks back in Austin. And although I thought it would just be us, she brought another friend to this meeting, as if she needed back up or something. We talked about how we were growing apart and I told her explicitly that if she had a problem with me to please talk to me about it because I’m not a mind reader and I can’t know when she’s upset at me.
Things were ok for a bit, but a few weeks later she was back to not speaking to me. She always went to bed early and one night, around 11, she got a phone call that woke her up. I was still awake and thought nothing of it until the friend she brought to our coffee chat showed up and made a makeshift bed on our floor. Now I was actually mad. The not talking to me was fine; I knew the friendship was ending and being so busy with school and other stuff was easing me through it. But the disrespect of not even mentioning to me, not even asking if her friend could come spend the night, especially when I was already awake when the friend asked to come over, was the final straw for me.
The next day after class I told her we needed to talk. I told her how fed up I was with her not speaking to me and how upset I was at her friend coming over because she didn’t tell me. I pointed out that in our roommate contract that we signed at the beginning of the school year, we both agreed to ask the other when someone was spending the night, and she hadn’t even had to decency to inform me. I told her I was frustrated that she went back to not talking to me, even after I asked her to tell me when something was wrong so we could work through it. She started crying and made herself out to be the victim, which made me feel worse. I was at a loss because like I said, I didn’t know that I’d done anything wrong but now she was crying so clearly I had. We made up and she agreed to tell me when something was wrong.
I went to my next class, Introduction to Music (shout out to fine arts credit) and I immediately opened Facebook as a freshman college student in 2011 did. She unfriended me. It took maybe 20 minutes to walk to class, and in that time, she decided to end our virtual friendship. So, I was done in real life too. I knew I did all I could to make the friendship work, but this was the final straw.
My fall semester of my sophomore year of college was probably the loneliest I ever felt. I had a best friend for four years and even in that rocky period of my freshman year, the friendship wasn’t completely finished yet. But the next semester was hellish. And even though I had other friends, it wasn’t the same as the friendship I cultivated in high school. I was sad a lot that semester so I started thinking about how much better off I was after we stopped being friends. I put every cool thing that happened to me in a mental post-bestfriendship category to prove to myself I didn’t need one. I met cast of Harry Potter, I went to ACL, I volunteered at SXSW, I worked for President Obama. My life after being her friend was awesome, I told myself.
But the emptiness from missing that friendship was still there. Even after I discovered what a shitty person she was to me, I missed the prospect of having a best friend.
I’m sure she feels differently; I’m sure she doesn’t think she was horrible to me, at least not 3000+ word essay worthy horrible. I haven’t spoken to her since 2011, so I don’t know. I’m sure if she read this she wouldn’t agree, especially since we really never got full closure on things. I never personally talked to her about how her selfishness and meanness in high school affected how I interacted with people for years. I never spoke to her about how the disastrous end to our friendship changed me so much. So much of what I learned about how toxic our friendship was happened after it ended and after a lot of introspection about myself as a person and learning how that’s not what friendship is supposed to be.
I haven’t spoken to her in five years, and I don’t want to ever again. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but she ruined the way I make and maintain friendships. I’m hyper aware of how much I talk about myself to my friends because I don’t want them to think I’m selfish, like her. I apologize whenever I feel I’m oversharing personal details about myself because I don’t want to be annoying. I am incredibly hesitant to call anyone my best friend because I’m scared they’ll leave. For so long, the different ways I approached friendship after that were so different because of her; I understood friends to be people that could potentially hurt me and it took me a long time to get over that.
The reason I’m writing this right now (it’s currently 4:12 am) is because I woke up from a dream about an hour ago. It’s one in a series of dreams I’ve had about her since I moved to California. In the dream, we are both older and more mature. We were friendly and hanging out as friends would do. It was pleasant and I woke up thinking for a moment that it would be nice to reconnect.
I tweeted these two things less than a week apart. I’m sick of these dreams. I truly do feel like I’m gaslighting myself and it’s not fair. On a surface level, I am confident and steady enough to know that I didn’t deserve the way she treated me all those years ago and cutting her out of my life was the healthiest thing about that friendship. So it’s confusing and aggravating that my brain is forcing me to remember fun times we had, suggesting we try to be friends again. I’m spit-balling here, but I think the reason is probably because I do feel lonely since I’ve moved out to California alone. Not as lonely as I did that sophomore year, but definitely similar.
I sometimes feel silly for harping on a friendship. It wasn’t like we were in a serious relationship; we were just friends. But despite the nature of the relationship, it was one nonetheless and one that lasted for so long and left a lasting impression on me that took years and years and years for me to unpack. And even though it’s annoying and frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking to remember the kind of friendship we had, and have these deceptive dreams that suggest reconciliation would be positive and good, I think it’s sometimes a good thing. I think remembering what I was put through reminds me of my own worth. I know to expect better for myself because I’ve tolerated so much worse.
I have good friends now, and I have best friends who are good people. I have people in my life who don’t insult me or feel the need to make little digs about me. I have people in my life who reciprocate the respect and appreciation and love I give them; people who I’m not afraid to talk to about touchy stuff and who aren’t afraid to talk to me. High school is hard on everyone, I know. It’s crazy to think that life lessons I learned from so long ago can have this long lasting effect. Thinking about my life back then, the kind of person I was and what I let others do to me, is insightful. It makes me a bit sad for my younger self, but I’m also proud that I came out on the other side with a stronger sense of self.
Even if it means I have frustrating dreams sometimes.