First, before anyone else, there was Sarah.
Sarah had owl-round glasses and spotless white leather Keds. She wore them with neatly turned down white ankle socks, and I would study her out of the corners of my eyes in our third-grade class, wondering how she always stayed so clean.
Sarah was like an exotic creature to me: she smelled sweet and powdery, actually enjoyed her piano lessons, and could do a perfect penny drop off the monkey bars, landing on her feet. Sarah had a big house and, best of all, a father who felt really super bad about divorcing Sarah’s mom and so bought Sarah anything she wanted when he came to visit.
A piano in her bedroom. Pretty gold necklaces. Afternoons riding horses on trails. The world belonged to Sarah.
And she shared. At recess, Sarah would go with me to the out-of-bounds hill behind school and open the pockets of her turquoise-and-pink puffy winter coat. Inside the warm dark of the pockets, a treasure trove of Jolly Ranchers gleamed like gems—cherry, grape, watermelon. I’d close my eyes, reach into her pockets, and pick a candy. We’d lie back on the frost-hard hill, sucking the Jolly Ranchers into sharp spears that could stab your tongue, and watch geese leaving for the winter, honking above our puffs of breath.
Sarah and I lived in a private world. We tolerated the other kids at school, but they would never have what we had. Through Sarah, I learned something for the first time: girls are wonderful.
I realized that girls exactly my age, who lived just a few streets away, had ideas I, a sheltered Mormon kid, had never even thought of; parents who didn’t believe in God; knowledge about things I’d never even heard of. Unreal.
I cannot, thinking over my entire life so far, remember ever having a truly good friend who was a boy. It was like they didn’t even exist to me. In my world, boys were funny sometimes, and it was important to get them to like you, but they didn’t really matter. It was the girls I felt I had to get in with; the girls who created the complex social structure that was elementary, middle, and high school life.
Over the years, I developed a pattern: I would become rapid best friends with a girl and absolutely lose myself in her. This started in middle school. Andrea, with her glinting auburn hair and freckles on pale Irish skin, watching The Secret Garden with me over and over again in her bedroom. Rebecca’s curly red ponytail and clicking retainer; her complete disregard for the standard nights of the week for sleepovers. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday –why shouldn’t I sleep over? Kelly with her innate understanding of eye makeup and the importance of Cosmo quizzes.
Each new best-friendship completely consumed me. I would study each new girl: how she walked, what she said, where she bought her jeans. Slowly, I would begin to like the things each girl liked, and she would like all my things, and we would declare undying love to each other and then basically consume each other in a frenzy of girl-worship. It was great. Through my serious obsessions with other girls, I learned to love (in no particular order): origami, The Baby-sitters Club, Saltines, incense, vintage stores, kitschy car air fresheners, The Golden Girls, Dostoyevsky, reality TV, expensive lipstick, Nerds candy, sushi, Ani DiFranco, Nine Inch Nails, baking.
In high school I began noticing, really noticing, how beautiful my friends were. I wanted to hang out with them all the time—smell all the perfume bottles on the tops of their dressers, read every book they’d ever read, hear all the songs playing in their headphones. I wanted to be close to them. Or be them. I didn’t know which one it was. I’m queer now, but it definitely wasn’t a queer thing. I loved these girls platonically, and I loved them completely.
Sarah from my childhood turned into Sarah with a nose ring and ever-changing hair colors. She listened to Tori Amos and made wall-size collages on her bedroom wall of sulking models walking through forests in gauzy dresses. We’d drive around town for hours in her car, Sarah ashing her cigarette out the window and stopping at gas stations to buy fizzy water.
Guess who did all those things too? Guess who also liked Tori Amos and fizzy water and collages ripped from the pages of Vogue? I lost myself in obsessions with my girl friends.
With each girl, the intense friendship would burn brightly for about a year, and then…something would happen. I’d get annoyed with her; she’d find a new circle of friends; someone would get a boyfriend and lose interest. My mom was constantly asking, “What happened to Abby?” and “Hey, what ever happened to Anna? Did you guys get in a fight?” I had no explanation. We had drifted apart. We were interested in different things. But we had actually used each other up in a fiery ball of obsession.
Lots of girls go through this with each other. I mean lots of girls. Intense love, the semi-awe of a cool girl sharing all her secrets with you—it’s heady stuff. There’s a reason why they make movies like The Craft and Thelma and Louise. Female friendship can be extremely intense.
Amazingly, I managed to keep a few of my intense friendships going over the years. Sarah is still around—we even live in the same city now! We’re far less obsessed with each other than we were as teenagers, but still—it is SO COOL to have known and loved someone since she was eight years old, and to see that person as a grown-ass woman, with a job where she’s in charge and a whole grown-up life. And we still do some of the stuff we’ve always done—she still drives around with me buying fizzy water at the 7-Eleven, and we’ve recently discovered the joy of those really big cans of Arizona peach green tea. (For which I have no words, other than HOW CAN IT TASTE SO GOOD?) And Kelly is still one of my closest friends. (She still reads Cosmo and takes it seriously. I can’t get her to stop.) But the rest have just…drifted away. And I don’t think anybody really minds.
However, I sometimes still get that same ol’ omg-you’re-so-cool-let’s-be-best-friends-holy-shit-you’re-awesome feeling about new friends in my life. It happens less these days, but eeeeevery once in a while…you just click with a girl. Right away. She seems really cool and one day you share a tiny moment and you look at each other and suddenly realize you’re going to be friends.
That feeling! Man, I love falling in friend-love, and I can’t wait for the next time it happens. ♦