Live Through This

Friends Like These

Girl gangs I have loved and lost.

The Fab Four #2: Emily, Becky, Sonja, and me. Illustration by Emma D.

In my experience, groups of teenage girls treat their friendships like bands: you’re not really, truly official until your gang has a cool name. Every time three or more girls fall madly in friend-love, they grasp for some sort of snappy moniker to legitimize their bond. If I had to guess, I’d say that it has a lot to do with wanting something awesome-sounding to write on walls, of both the social media and the graffiti varieties (more on the latter in a minute). Also, who didn’t see Grease 800 times as a child and envy the bad-girl camaraderie of the Pink Ladies? Mostly, though, I think it’s a result of wanting to place ourselves in a new context, one characterized by the qualities we love most in our friends. Girl gangs take on names so we can take on bits of one another’s identities, which can be a really validating and awesome experience. Identifying with an official group can also have its downsides—who among us hasn’t been painfully excommunicated from a ring of friends at some point or another? For better or for worse, I’ve been a part of plenty of girl gangs over the years, some with cooler names (and people) than others:

1. The Sexxi Crew

Much like the aforementioned Pink Ladies, the first girl gang I was a part of was the female answer to a group of tough guys—well, as tough as guys can be in middle school, anyway. Sixth grade was a little too early to be thinking about pregnancy, beauty school, and drag racing, but we had plenty of small-time dramas of our own.

My hometown had separated grade schools into different districts until that year, when we all merged in one building. Our middle school was like a beautiful melting pot of training bras, Lisa Frank school supplies, and mossy retainers. We scrambled to assert our places in this newly expanded social structure. The noisiest of the misbehaved and skateboard-obsessed guys quickly banded together, built a shaky plywood quarter-pipe at the abandoned house across the street from the school, and christened their pack simply the Crew. Since I was also fairly loud and in possession of a skateboard, not to mention in instantaneous love with a good half of them, I wanted in.

Due to the gender segregation common to many if not most younger kids, this was not to be. Lucky for me, though, these guys had a bunch of brassy female friends who would gather around after school, braying flirtatiously in their New Jersey accents at some boy or another as he hit his unhelmeted head on the pavement after a failed trick. These would-be sirens of the skate park called themselves the Sexxi Crew, and although at 11 I didn’t consider myself particularly sexxi, I set my sights on rolling with them. The group’s dynamic was pretty well established before I found my place among their ranks, so I was more of a peripheral member. More central to the structure of the Sexxi Crew were Krysten,* a perpetually confused-looking Wet n Wild devotee who wore a daily uniform of rolled-up Soffe shorts and tight Abercrombie T-shirts; and Marisol, a frowny new girl who had just moved to our suburban neighborhood from Newark. She was the first in our school to have nameplate hoop earrings, a trend that soon caught on like really tacky wildfire. The leader of the pack, though, was Jacki, who had two tiny dogs named Mercedes and Cristal and a serious rhinestone fixation. She could always be counted on for a wild story about drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade in the abandoned house with one of the members of the Crew. Jacki’s appreciation for the finer things in life, coupled with her oddly premature experience with alcohol and making out, made her the sexxiest among us. She was clearly the best choice for our leader.

Jacki forever cemented her bad-girl cred one day during our after-school ritual of getting gross brownie-flavored Frappuccinos and trying on discount-store lace thongs over our jeans at a nearby strip mall. The combination of caffeine and flimsy underwear made us feel sooo grown-up, which may have given Jacki the courage to take our misguided attempts at maturity to the next level. As Krysten, Marisol, and I looked on in awe, she whipped out two cans of pink and black spray paint and, in delicately looping cursive, graffitied “~Sexxi Crew~” on the back wall outside the T.J. Maxx. I have no idea where she got the paint, since we weren’t even teenagers yet, but it was another testament to her position as the untouchable queen of the tough girls. Unfortunately for her, though, this title came with a police investigation, which was quickly launched to find out who could possibly be behind this utterly criminal defacement of a respected community discount institution. In the minds of our small-town authorities, some pink paint in an alley was a more serious issue than the adolescent drinking and splintery plywood-inflicted lacerations that our stomping grounds provided just steps away from our school. After some hard-hitting detective work on their part, Jacki was arrested. I was barely a part of the Sexxi Crew in the first place, having only just perfected my intonation of the phrase “OH MY GAAAH!” when witnessing a skateboard-based mishap, so I promptly set out to find a different group of middle-school girls, perhaps the kind who decided to crack their books instead of their gum, but definitely ones who didn’t come with police involvement. Despite this disavowal of the Sexxi Crew, my crushes on their modern-day-T-Bird counterparts persisted until long after I became OK with my friends getting hassled by the cops.

2. The Fab Four #1

I’m fairly certain that most of the girls that I know, at one point in their lives, have been in a crew called this. Or the Fab Five. My original Fab Four formed in the seventh grade, its core members being Maria, who was sharply sardonic and bore the power of being widely accepted as the second-hottest girl in school; Beth, who was a hysterical and kind girl from an enormously wealthy family; and me. We three loooooooved one another in the obsessive, around-the-clock way that only girls of that age are capable of. We never separated, except to go to class, and even then we stayed invested in the group’s welfare by spending writing heartfelt notes to one another, which we always signed off with “BFF4L” or some similarly devoted acronym. Maria and Beth defended me from the scorn of the other 12-year-olds when I messily home-dyed my hair purple, accidentally turning the skin on my entire body the same color in the process, and cried with me on the phone when my alcoholic mom threatened to move our family to the South for the thousandth time. (She’s been sober for a few years now.) I could go to them for just about anything.

Maria was always up for a magazine-quiz-heavy hang session and taught me how to flat-iron my hair and apply eyeliner to my waterline, the two key elements to her success with our grade’s boys. While Maria was creatively invested in her appearance, Beth was more into applying her artistic energy to do-it-yourself projects with me. Beth and I created name-based sub-sects of the Fab Four, like when we learned guitar together and formed a band called Boo Boo Bazooka. We also founded a very self-aware poetry group called Confessions of a Tortured Teenage Soul, or COATTS for short. COATTS had its own website (not this one), on which we posted oh-so-dark verse about hating our parents and being misunderstood, with plenty of edgy imagery of blood, spiders, and the color black (the deepest color, doy).

I know that you’re thinking that I must be terrible at math, as I’ve only accounted for three members. While you’re definitely right about my math skills, the other girls in the Fab Four were pretty forgettable and not as essential as the original trio. They were added and subtracted (see? I got this) in what we called “tribal councils,” which was our weird euphemism for AOL chatrooms. In them, we’d brutally break the news to one girl that she was OUT in the most impersonal format possible. Beth, in an uncharacteristic diversion from her normal sweetness that probably should have been a warning sign, was the main organizer of these. Maria and I were certainly just as horrible for taking part in them, though, adding digs about how the girl in question was “fake,” which everyone knows is the utmost in adolescent insults. After removing whoever it was that week, we’d ceremoniously usher in another member to our ranks by letting her know that we LYLAS, or love you like a sister. The departed girl would then be ignored in the hallways, while the new one would join us for weekend sleepovers until the process began again. I’m half-convinced now that these peripheral members were brought aboard solely so we could justify our gang name, which, in retrospect, isn’t such a great reason to terrorize someone online.

The internet is such a powerful vehicle for preteen hurt, which I’m sure is even truer today than it was then. When we weren’t using it to break the hearts (</3) of our ex-members, it served as an essential tool to the Fab Four’s friendship. We were too young for cell phones, but we needed some way to be in constant communication without our parents bitching at us. One day, I was IMing Beth, who, like me, had a screen name based on the writerly pseudonyms we had affected as members of COATTS. Mine was, for whatever reason, liegeliberty24. I didn’t realize until years later that this made me sound less like an eloquent wordsmith and more like a great lover of LARP and Renaissance Faires. I think Beth actually came up with it for me, so the blame for that weirdness lies with her, as well as for what happened as a result of our online chat that day. She said that she was at a family party at her house and that it totally blew except for the presence of her cool 15-year-old cousin, Benji. She decided that he would like me since we had similar taste in music, so she gave him my screen name. I immediately got an IM from BenjiGCGDAFSC, the initials of which, he explained, stood for Good Charlotte, Green Day, Anti-Flag, and Something Corporate, my favorite bands at the time (I KNOW—remember that I was 12, though). I invited him to a punk show I was going to that night at my favorite local venue. He replied that while he loved that place, he couldn’t make it, but his band, the Impassioned, played there all the time and I should come see them sometime. Predictably, the fact that he was a musician, not to mention the romantic-sounding name of his band, sealed the deal in my becoming totally crushed out. At the time, Beth also had an online boyfriend whom she had never met, so she encouraged the flirtation wholeheartedly and helped me see it as a totally normal way to connect with somebody.

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17 Comments

  • Cassandra November 1st, 2011 11:34 PM

    I wasn’t exactly in a girl gang, but my friends and I did start a sticker club founded on our mutual obsession with awesome stickers and trading them – the fluffy ones were particularly coveted. We called ourselves ‘Stuck Up’, and we had personalised ID cards and everything.

    Even though we are grown up now and the club is no longer, I am proud to say that I am still good friends with many of the girls who were in the sticker club. Those friendships formed in childhood can be the strongest.

  • Whatsername November 1st, 2011 11:37 PM

    WHAT! I thought my friends and I invented “lylas”! I feel so much less special now, LOL.

    I’ve only really been in 2 friend gangs so far, one called the “PokePals” in elementary because pretty much the only thing we had in common was pokemon. There were around three of us, we pretended to be trainers during recess and everyone thought we were really weird.
    Once the PokePals expanded and we found more friends and more interests we called ourselves the Detours, after the band we keep telling ourselves we’ll form even if we’re all too lazy to get together and actually practice a song. The Detours still lives on today, and in the original three’s minds, the PokePals are still alive too.

  • Raebbies November 2nd, 2011 6:51 AM

    ahh i remember those days I had a little girl gang!!

  • Adel November 2nd, 2011 7:39 AM

    My two girl gangs in high school were ‘the krew’, your typical plastics style gang in an all girls school. Then i changed groups and we became ‘the scribblers’ which sound oddly similar to ‘fab four #2′.

  • Hunter November 2nd, 2011 8:28 AM

    This was really fun to read haha

  • erin November 2nd, 2011 11:36 AM

    well I’ve never been apart of a NAMED girl gang, but I certainly did the whole “being a jerk middle schooler with my best friends that I looooved so much”. I’ve got two girl friends now, but one’s been drifting away and being all mean lately, so it’s just me and my best friend basically. We don’t do crazy things, cause there’s nothing crazy to do here, but we make pom poms and crowns (thanks Rookie) and all sorts of creepy things that people make fun of us for. But whatever… how does it go? BFF4L!!! <3 OmG!

  • Chele November 2nd, 2011 2:40 PM

    I can definately understand the heartbreak of finding out someone you trusted and thought you were relating to is not what they seem.

    In my case the perpetrators behind the boy were girls I didnt get on with as I was quite shy and they were extremely outspoken in an obnoxious way.
    I felt utterly humiliated when I realised these girls knew things about me some of my closest friends didn’t. It’s so easy to confess things about yourself to someone who you don’t have to look in the eye and perhaps don’t even intend on meeting in real life.

    Us girls can be so callous sometimes x

  • Brittany November 2nd, 2011 2:48 PM

    My crew calls themselves The Pussy Posse. It’s fun. I didn’t realize that this was a common thing. We aren’t in a sorority, so this felt like a way to validate ourselves as a cool group of ladies.

  • stephanie4786 November 2nd, 2011 5:25 PM

    I love your writing. These stories are so raw, and personal and real. I love it.

  • darksideoftherainbow November 2nd, 2011 6:54 PM

    merely reading, “the misbehave skateboard-obsessed guys” gave me a girl boner.

    i was part of a group all four years in high school. the same group. we didn’t have a name but everyone knew us for the table we sat at in the cafeteria. i want a new girl group now! :( hahaha

  • unicorn November 2nd, 2011 7:01 PM

    is there something wrong with green day?

  • spectra November 2nd, 2011 10:58 PM

    in 4th grade, we were the fairies. we would draw chalk flowers on the blacktop to sit in and talk about boyz, we would draw each other in winged portraits, and we’d always have a tube of glitter going around. and for the class halloween party, you can bet we wore our wings.

  • KusterBeaton November 3rd, 2011 2:00 AM

    In elementary school my three friends and I would sit in the foursquare court everyday during recess. It was perfect because we each got our own square, and also because it gave us the opportunity to deny others entry to our special spot. Anyone who wanted to hang out with us had to sit way off to the side and were punished if they ever entered our area. Eventually they rebelled and overthrew our regime and one day we came out to find four new kids sitting in our spots, and we became the ones sitting off to the side.

  • hannahsophia November 3rd, 2011 7:18 PM

    I was in a girl gang in middle school, we didn’t have a name and we didn’t actually do much, but we were a gang. We simply hung out in the locker room at lunch and thought we were hot and were mean to anyone who wasn’t us…fun times. Now it’s just me and by BFF4L, we mostly devote our time to rookie, 80s movies, creepy bands, and making pom-poms and such. :)

  • amelia November 7th, 2011 9:10 AM

    i was in a few girl gangs when i was really small, but the few that really stick out in my mind go as follows:

    1. ‘The Conversing Circle’
    so, i know conversing isn’t a word, but at ages 12- 14, we weren’t that bothered, we just needed a name to express what we were best at- talking. we were around 10- strong in this particular group’s heyday, and we would have sleepovers, go to movies and concerts, sing innapropriate songs (a noteable pasttime, for sure) and just generally gossip, as all girls do. it was great. then, a few of the girls left, which brings me to:

    2. The Best Year Of Our Lives:
    9th grade. we had a few shuffles, like any good girl gang (or band, whatever) has, and we were now made up of most of the girls from the year before, with a few having left the school or the group, and with a few extra having joined. we went to parties together, snuck out for the first time, got drunk for the first time, and spent A LOT of times gigglingly recapping these antics for the WHOLE week, until we did it all the next weekend. This lasted for a few years.

    3. Present Day
    Now at the rear end of teenhood, my group has significantly decreased. we are still in contact with many of the girls that left the country or changed schools,but we had now moved on to form a close knit, kind, sharing group, who mostly spends our time gabbing about the future, or reminiscing about the past, coffees and cigarettes in hands. we go on trips together, talk on our home- phones, old school style, and just love other, becaause some of us have family situations that leave us lacking. it feels good.

  • lula November 12th, 2011 1:25 PM

    when i was younger, my two friends and i had a group called ‘hooked on harry’ in which we only talked about harry potter.

  • Mags November 22nd, 2011 3:32 PM

    We were “The Mud Children.” Don’t ask. We also gave each other sexual nicknames. Oh, middle school.