I forget how long Benji and I continued to chat online—maybe it was a week, or possibly closer to a month. In any case it was enough time for us to discover that we had all the same interests and experiences, from liking all the same authors to sharing some pretty horrible family situations, which stemmed from our both having addict parents. He told me how hard it was to come up with lyrics for his band and asked my opinion on them, and we sent each other songs that described about how we felt about each other. Benji always seemed to know just how I felt and respond to it perfectly, so it was him I spoke to when I was hiding out from a world that seemed to grow exponentially harder to deal with by the day. Our communication was something I needed, especially since my friendship with Maria and Beth seemed to be cooling off. Our phone conversations and sleepovers had become less frequent, and they seemed distant at school, although I told myself it was probably nothing. It meant a lot for me to have the respite of a really cool but faceless boy who said he wished that we could meet so I could be his girlfriend—that is, until the day I unexpectedly got an instant message from his real one.

She called me a laundry list of hurtful epithets that definitely included “fake,” in a reversal of the language I routinely directed toward other girls. Benji, who had been such a valued confidante and solace for my 12-year-old woes, shockingly joined in as well, insulting me harshly with the artillery of secrets I had told him, and no one else, about my home life. He told me that he could never actually like a girl as strange as I was and that I had just been a funny prank to him all along. My gentle eighth-grade spirit was crushed. It seems ludicrous and vaguely embarrassing to me now that I was so hurt by the rejection of a person I had never even met, but I really, really was. I sobbed to Beth and Maria on the phone about it, and they were kind of sympathetic, but also disdainful about the fact that I was so upset. They told me to just, like, get over it, and that the whole thing was, you know, pretty stupid, which only made me feel worse about myself. If my two best friends and this really awesome guy all thought the things I cared about were that weird, then I must be a freak after all, right?

You know what comes next, right? I didn’t. A few weeks later, I was at Beth’s house, hanging out in her family’s computer room. It was the size of my house’s living room and had three top-of-the-line desktops, while my sisters and I shared one janky Dell. This surplus of technology was awesome because Beth and I could be on different computers at the same time, which allowed for rapid-fire dissection of each other’s AIM conversations. I had just gotten off the phone with my mom, who had told me that a chick that we kept as a pet was really sick and in critical condition at the veterinarian. I was bummed out, but not as much as when I hung up and went to sign online and a list of the screen names of people who had used Beth’s computer before popped up. I felt sick when I saw Benji’s, but even worse when I saw his girlfriend’s handle, since she had obviously never been to Beth’s house. The realization that Beth and Maria had made up the whole saga suddenly hit me in horrible waves of betrayal, nausea, and anger. The semi-anonymous outlet I had used to grapple with my most personal problems had been my best friends, who had then used them to laugh at me behind my back!

I confronted Beth about it by calmly showing her what I had found before dissolving into hysterical tears and running upstairs to shut myself in her bedroom and sob. Beth was crying just as hard on the other side of the door, gasping apologies to me between wails. I told her that I needed some time to collect myself before I could come out, which she used to write me a lengthy letter of apology that she inexplicably glued peppermint candies all over. I coolly forgave Beth, called my mom, and went home, under the guise that I was just really worried about my pet baby chicken, which I now think is one of the funniest moments of my entire life: “No, I’m totally over you ruining any and all trust I had in people as a species, I’m just super concerned about this farm animal.”

If you’re a straight girl in the seventh grade, having a “boyfriend” is significant especially because it gives you something to freak out about to your girlfriends. Many of my earliest breakups with boys were fun occasions for me to dramatically fling myself on my bed with my BFF4L arranged around me, full of indignation and support. But where do you run to when your girl gang is the one breaking your heart? I was so ravaged that I was convinced the answer was boarding school (although my mom refused in light of the not-so-small fact that we were broke). At least the incident inspired plenty of tortured poetry, although my outlet for it had dissipated with my ruined friendship.

It turns out that the wild intensity that drives the love that younger girls feel for one another can also be observed in their devastating cruelty. The first Fab Four taught me that middle-school girl friendship is what happens when you combine the most dramatic aspects of love, hate, and the World Wide Web. I think most girls have found themselves on the mean side of a friendship at least once or twice, like I was as part of the “tribal councils.” It’s just a temporary by-product of the insecurity we feel as we’re figuring out our identities, and thankfully, people tend to outgrow it. These days, I think Beth, whom I speak with from time to time, is a pretty cool person. I still fucking hate peppermint, though.

3. The Fab Four #2

After I ditched the mean-girl group that served as my first experience with this name, I found myself a part of another Fab Four, albeit a very different one. It began with my best friend, Sonja, whom I met at a nightmarish Evangelical youth group whose ideals seemed to be angled against everything we believed in. After speedily decamping from that community, we found ourselves in need of a new, more progressive one. Lucky for us, we soon met Becky.

She and Sonja attended high school together and had become fast friends. As soon as I met her, I loved her too. Becky was a soft-spoken girl whose personality was the antithesis of the one that Sonja and I seemed to share. Where we were impulsive, wacky, and often abrasive, Becky was collected and thoughtful, but open to our peculiarities in a way that our church friends never were.

Emily, the final member of the Fab Four, was Becky’s exact complement, so she balanced out our collective. She was the definition of unruly, having left high school in favor of painting and smoking in her room all day, then going out until the sun came up. During the first year that I knew her, she acquired five piercings in her face and a crude, ill-advised tattoo of two flaming dice, colored orange and lime green, between her breasts. Her personality was pretty juvenile, as observed in her petulant refusal to go to school and her potty-mouthed sense of humor, but also mature in terms of what kind of debauchery she had already experienced at 16. Needless to say, her boyfriends were the worst. Their sketchiness never really mattered much, though, because she always had our love to rely on.

The Fab Four met every weekend at our headquarters, Sonja’s bedroom, for the next four years or so. We would take drives and go to house parties at night, although Saturdays were always tinged with the knowledge that we’d be expected to go to church with Sonja’s mom, whom we all called Aunt Kim, in the morning. That was her only requirement of us; she didn’t really care about illicit substances or late nights. She interfered with my teenage exploration only once, but it was probably the worst thing she could have picked to scrutinize–she eavesdropped on a phone conversation between Sonja and me, and it happened to be the one where I was describing losing my virginity to my boyfriend in minute detail. As awful as that already sounds, it gets so much worse: Aunt Kim then called my mom and told her everything she had heard! Even though my mom didn’t really care, it was still excruciating, obviously–especially when I remember how responsible I had been in making that decision, talking openly with my partner about safety for months, and my own anticipation and excitement about it. It’s not like I was showing that kind of careful consideration when the four of us were swilling sugary Smirnoff Ice in the next room from Aunt Kim or going streaking on the busy road outside Sonja’s house. But I eventually forgave her for selling out my broken hymen. She was only trying to save my soul, after all.

Under the relative freedom that Aunt Kim allowed us, we were left alone to feel out the things that fascinated us most, an incomplete list of which includes music, guys, art, mind-altering substances, and how to stay friends forever. We took ecstasy for the first time together and wrote love letters to one another all night, drag-raced shopping carts down the street, and counseled one another through countless family- and love-related dramatic episodes. We made out with one another on sidewalks and made birthday mix CDs with our portraits Sharpied onto them. We did everything, and then slept through sermons that seemed to be directed specifically toward us on Sunday mornings. After them, my dad would pick us up and take us hiking or to the beach. Once, when we didn’t feel up to hanging out in the great outdoors, Sonja gave Emily hickeys all over her back. We told my dad that she had a skin condition that was badly exacerbated by the sun and showed him the marks as proof, hoping he’d take us to the movies instead. The plan, against all odds, worked beautifully. It was certainly the only time I’ve seen a hickey get a sympathetic reaction from a parent.

Our more run-of-the-mill love bites came from guys over whom we competed, since we all shared an idea of what made someone hot. Sonja and I routinely bickered over the same shaggy-haired dreamboat before one of us finally made out with him, at which point we dropped the argument and moved on to some other alterna-hunk, with few hard feelings. The guys in question were attractive largely because we had picked them together, and once one of us was left out of the equation, it wasn’t fun anymore. Becky and Emily were more diplomatic and dated pairs of best friends a lot, with Emily naturally picking up the wilder of the two. They once even went out with twin brothers. No matter whom they were with at the time, when one couple broke up, the other was sure to follow suit soon after. I can see now that while we were definitely interested in guys, it was only as a part of our greater interest–our friendship.

The second Fab Four provided me with the kind of friends who balance one another out, support one another infinitely, and, if necessary, help one another fake a rare skin disorder. For my 16th birthday, Becky gave me a photo of us that had a frame decorated with golf balls and the phrase “Fearsome Foursome” because it was the closest thing she could find to our gang name. A foursome, it turns out, is the term for a golf match between two teams made up of pairs, although it also works well to describe four teenage girls who would gladly do anything for one another. ♦

* The names of everyone in the Sexxi Crew and the Fab Four #1, and Aunt Kim’s name, have been changed.