Friends! How many of us have them? Friends! The ones we can depend on? Sorry, sorry, I do have a habit of breaking into Whodini songs.
There are a lot of things I could talk about when it comes to friends. There is my friend, Sarah, who doesn't judge when we're watching Project Runway at her house and I suddenly say, "Do you mind if I unwrap a dozen of these Hershey Kisses, mix them into a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats, and pour milk on top? For the purposes of eating?" I could write about my history with friends who move away, and the one who didn't say goodbye. But I think today I'll write about one of those people everyone seems to have in their childhood, that person who is connected to you in some way and therefore the adults in your life think you should be friends, never considering that you may not only have nothing in common - you may hate each other's guts. Yet social pressures force you to put up a facade and because you're, like, seven years old, it doesn't occur to you to say, "Um, no."
In my life, this girl's name was...Ava. Not really. But I have to protect myself, here! She put up a pretty convincing front as a good girl, but she was bad in ways our parents could not imagine. Have you read Jo Knowles' Lessons From a Dead Girl? It was a little bit like that (but not for the same reasons, as far as I know). Most of the time, we didn't go to the same school, but because of the connection our parents had, we were forced to spend way too much time together. Even more unfortunate was the fact that our birthdays were a few days apart and more than once our moms thought it was a good idea to have a joint party. I've blocked those out.
What I do remember: Ava was blond and pretty and girly - everything I wasn't. When we were little kids, I liked to play make believe Prairie Wagon. She liked to make her Barbies have sex. As we got older, she liked to scare me. If I was sleeping over, as soon as it got dark and we were settled in bed, she'd say in a creepy whisper, "Did you hear that?" or "Did you see that shadow?" or "I think my dad left the door unlocked..." knowing that the rest of the night I would be terrified and wide awake, imagining murderers lurking in the hall. Then, her games got more cruel. One time (another sleepover - I don't know why I kept putting myself through this), I was changing out of my clothes into my pj's. Her older brother had a friend over. In the second I was totally naked, she called for her brother's friend to come in. I fell, screaming, onto the floor behind the bed. Ava thought this was hilarious. "What?" she said. "It's not like there's anything to see." As we both got into our teens and our parents were less involved in our social lives, these episodes became less and less frequent. Still, there were a few scary nights and a lot of compulsive lying on her part. At least, I hope it was compulsive lying. Because if the stuff she told me about herself was true, she was worse off than I thought.
Why, oh why, do people stay "friends" - or, at least, continue to agree to spend time with - people who terrify them, or belittle them? Why don't parents notice that the two aren't a "good fit," to borrow a phrase so often used in the publishing world? And if any of this sounds familiar to you, you should totally read Jo's book.