The other day at lunch, a group of friends and I sat in a circle and talked about friends we had left behind. Everyone at some point had drifted away from a group or had to break up with a close friend. Some had been dumped themselves. It brought me back to this story.
Ana* and I met in second grade. I had just transferred from a public school and had no friends at my new, private one. Shy and easily intimidated, I kept to myself. Every day at lunch, I got my lasagna or meatloaf, grabbed a carton of milk, and sat down at any table where I could have an empty seat on both sides of me. On the playground, I sat in front of a fence and read, longing instead to swing with the girls with long, silky hair.
One day, while I was reading, Ana came up to me and asked me to play war. I looked nervously at the wooden jungle gym, where the guys were reenacting WWII with sticks as guns. “Are you sure?” I asked. She told me that she was sure, but that there could be only one girl in the game, so we would have to take turns being a dog.
We were instant friends, and our friendship continued throughout elementary school. We were on the same softball team, and I stuck up for her when the other team members made fun of her for not having a boyfriend. She, in turn, defended me from kids who threw basketballs at my head in P.E. (I know it’s not an accident, jerks, I can see you there laughing.) Ana and I did everything together: book club, cheerleading, birthday parties, etc. We even had our own toothbrushes at each other’s houses.
If I had to pinpoint the moment when our friendship started to change, I’d say it was Field Day in fifth grade. Ana beat me in a race, and as we were getting our ribbons and water after, she held up her blue ribbon and said, “See, I’ll always be that much better.” Deeply offended but also somewhat of a doormat, I said nothing in response. Every time we hung out after that, she always had some underhanded comment or backhanded compliment for me. She’d say things like, “If you were as skinny as me, you’d probably be better at sports,” or later, “Geez, you must be really disappointed not to have a date to homecoming. I’d hate to be you right now,” or, my favorite, “Wow, you actually look cute for once.”
I eventually figured out that best friends don’t treat you this way. They also don’t trash-talk your other friends to your face, which Ana was starting to do whenever I started to get close to someone who wasn’t her. I now recognize that this was probably jealousy more than anything else.
At the same time, we were developing different interests. Ana was getting really serious about sports and her grades, and I was starting to take an interest in music and drama. I was making new friends, but she was so focused on dominating me that she didn’t pay attention to many other people. I tried to slowly worm my way out of our friendship, making excuses for not hanging out Friday nights and openly opposing everything she liked (I made a huge point of being disgusted by Avril Lavigne). But no matter how much I dodged her, I just couldn’t shake her.
So I became increasingly nasty. I talked smack about Ana behind her back, letting people know just how ridiculous I thought she was. One morning sophomore year, I parked next to her car. She was starting to walk away when she saw that I was about to hit her car with my door. She literally dove between the two cars, wailing, “My baybeee!” Without thinking, I screamed, “Ana, I don’t give a fuck about your car!” She stood there stunned. I had never been so harsh to her. She later asked me if we were still friends, and I said no.
Ana still goes to my school, and we see each other in the hallways now and then, and when we do, we usually casually talk about college or class schedules. We both seem eager to keep our conversations as brief as possible. Also, I’m a lot happier since our falling out. I can’t speak for her, but I feel a lot better.
I’m glad that we can move on, but I’m not proud of how I treated her. I wish I had confronted her when I didn’t like the way she was treating me. When I felt us drifting apart, I could have been honest and told her I’d like to spend less time together. My main regret is that I didn’t end it before it really hurt her. ♦
* I’ve changed her name to protect her privacy.