Veronica and Hannah, both 16, live in Seattle. Hold on to your socks, because they will charm them off.
TO: [email protected]
SUBJECT: Friend Crush
Hannah and I met at the start of ninth grade. I was the new kid, and I kept forgetting her name, so I asked her to make up a nickname and she picked Dragon. And thus a Friend Crush was born.
We have been friends for three years now, and the only threat to our harmony has been British television—our first fight was over whether or not I introduced her to Doctor Who, and our biggest fight of late was over which one of us is more like the Sherlock Holmes in the BBC show.
Hannah has been there for me throughout some very difficult times. I found out that I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome last summer, and Hannah never acted any differently around me.
Most people wouldn’t really expect us to be friends—I am fussy about clothes, Hannah is not; I can’t flirt to save my life, Hannah knows tons of cute college guys; I am a theater person with a hidden love of forensics, she’s a math/science person with a deep love of acting. She is one of the smartest people I know, and she even got into college early—really, really early, but I won’t reveal exactly when.
Before I met her I had never known anyone who could tolerate me for long periods of time outside of my immediate family. She is the first true best friend I ever made, and I am so glad that she decided to continue hanging out with me even though she could easily be hanging out with boys or “coolnerds.” I hope that we continue being friends even after she becomes the first person to synthesize dragon DNA and I go on to whatever, because Hannah is the Tenth Doctor to my Sherlock Holmes—a crossover that can happen only once in a lifetime.
ROOKIE: Do you remember why you decided to talk to Hannah in the first place?
VERONICA [crusher]: Yeah. I was always really scared to talk to people, but it was easier if I thought they were as shy or awkward as me. From afar Hannah seemed really quiet and introverted, so I thought, I’ll talk to her, because she won’t be scary to talk to. But it turned out she wasn’t introverted at all—she’s really lively, and people will just listen to her. I’m kind of jealous of that, because I tend to have difficulty just talking to people in social situations. But she wasn’t scary, either—she was really friendly and nice and talkative, and we found out we have a lot in common. For instance, we both really love British TV and sci-fi and old movies.
What makes British TV better than American TV?
I’m a little embarrassed to say I’ve never watched a single episode of Doctor Who, but I know that if I watch it I’ll probably become obsessed. And I know that there have been 11 versions of the show, with 11 different Doctor Whos. You mentioned the Tenth Doctor in your email—is he your favorite?
Definitely; I just think David Tennant is a very impressive actor in his emotional depth.
Is that also Hannah’s favorite?
I think so—she got a replica of the Tenth Doctor’s coat for her birthday when she turned 16, and it is her most prized possession.
What do you love so much about that show?
I like shows that have a mystery to be solved. I watched Investigation Discovery, which is a crime channel, and Scooby-Doo when I was little. On Doctor Who there’s always a mystery that they have to solve, and something that has to be stopped. And there’s a general theme that the worst thing you can do is to ruin something for the sake of improving it. There’s a great emphasis on the evils of genocide—the main enemy of the Doctor is a race called the Daleks who want to kill off everyone who’s not a Dalek.
So it’s a social commentary—but isn’t all science fiction social commentary?
It is. But something that’s kind of special about Doctor Who is that the Doctor is the last of his kind. He’s the last Time Lord in the entire universe. He kind of had to sacrifice his race in order to stop the Daleks from destroying everything. That loneliness, and the fact that he’s the only one like him, overlap with the reasons I like Sherlock—there’s something special about a character that is so alone in the world.
Is there something about that that you relate with?
I definitely do relate with that. When I was seven I was diagnosed with ADD, and I was put on meds right away. By then I already felt different, because I knew I was reading way too much, and I had difficulty socializing—I really liked people, but I didn’t know exactly how I was supposed to tell them that without just walking up to them and saying, “I like you,” which would make them not really want to hang out with me. When I was put on meds, it was better because I was able to do schoolwork, but I also suddenly had the realization that I was on the outside. Before the meds I hadn’t been able to focus enough to realize that I didn’t have any friends. So, that realization has affected my taste in shows, to say the least.
I haven’t watched Sherlock either, but I’ve read that a lot of people believe the character of Sherlock Holmes seems like someone with Asperger syndrome. You said in your email that you and Hannah once fought bitterly about which one of you is more like Sherlock. Was that before or after you were diagnosed with Asperger’s?
Well, it was after I was diagnosed, but before I found out. When my mom told me about the Asperger’s thing, that was nine years after she found out about it. And that was, I think, a year after the Sherlock argument. When I told Hannah [about my diagnosis] I did mention, “So, who’s more like Sherlock now?” [Laughs]
Can I talk to you a little bit about Asperger’s?
Why did your parents keep your diagnosis from you for so long?
I don’t know. They kind of brought it up just like, “Oh yeah, we forgot.” It was difficult, because I’d had nine years to come to terms with having ADD—accepting that, yeah, I have difficulty paying attention, I’ve been on medication, I have a learning disability, that’s who I am. But learning about this whole new thing was a little bit hard for me to deal with.
Were you surprised? Relieved at all?
I was a little bit relieved, because I had always wondered why I wasn’t like the other ADD kids that I know. Anything that made me feel different from most people, I would attribute to ADD. I would say, “Oh yeah, kids with ADD, they do this,” and they’d be like, “No, they don’t…”
Like my ability to retain information about random things—if you want to know about the invention of the bra, or the history of corsetry, I could tell you anything about that. Or about any sort of disaster. I thought, Oh, ADD kids get into nonfiction—getting interested in random things probably helps them pay attention. And that’s not really the case, I learned later. So it was kind of a relief because it explained some stuff.
If any of these questions are too personal, you can just tell me to back off.
This one is probably the most personal: how does your Asperger’s manifest? You become obsessed with certain subjects, and you store facts about them in your head and like to talk about them…and you mentioned that you have some trouble interacting. Do you also have trouble reading social cues?
I definitely do. I tend to be friends with more dramatic people, like theater people, even though I’m not as into theater, because they tend to be more expressive. When they talk, they use their hands and faces more. It’s a lot easier to know what they mean.
That makes so much sense.
I have friends who I’m not sure if they’re really my friends, because I don’t really know what they think of me, because they are less expressive with their voices or their faces, so I can’t tell how they feel at any given moment. And it can be a little bit nerve-racking.
I can imagine. Is it hard to make new friends?
A little bit, but I’ve noticed that in our culture it’s become more acceptable to be kind of random and weird. I think it started with YouTube being a big thing—I remember the early YouTube cartoons that I watched when I was in fifth or sixth grade were totally random; nothing made any sense. And [YouTube] also gave people something to quote from that everyone had seen. So I could just walk up to people and be like, “I like turtles,” and that would start a conversation.
When you learned about your Asperger’s, you were already really close with Hannah, right?
Yeah, we were best friends for two years at that point.
Did you ever read an article on Rookie by Maggie Thrash called “The Champion of Who You Are”?
Yes—it came out the day after my parents told me I had Asperger’s, and it really helped me.
I reread it today before talking to you, because there’s so much in it about having a best friend when one of you is an Aspie and the other is not. Wait, do you hate the word Aspie?
I totally use the word Aspie all the time! It’s fine. I remember reading that article and looking over the best-friends compatibility chart and thinking, Oh, that is totally Hannah!
Really? Let me pull up that chart.
OK, let’s go through this. So the chart says the best friend should have a smaller ego than the Aspie. Under it Maggie says that means that the friend has to be super easygoing, to be able to deal with the typically strong Aspie ego.
Hannah is definitely easygoing.
Next: they have to be as analytical as you…
Hannah is really analytical, and really logical, and she thinks about a lot of stuff. She’s really good at critique. For instance, we can analyze a whole episode of Supernatural, bringing up the religious imagery and everything—it’s kind of like English class, only we do it for fun.
The third quality is empathy—Maggie says an Aspie’s BFF has to be more understanding of other people, so she can help her friend understand people’s reactions sometimes.
Hannah totally does that for me. Sometimes I’ll say something to someone or ask them a question that offends them, and they’ll get mad. And then I’ll have a hard time forgiving them for being mad. [Laughs] So Hannah has to kind of explain to me [how what I said was hurtful], and then I’ll understand a lot better.
The last column says that people with Asperger’s have a tendency toward being judgmental, and your best friend should be really open-minded so they can help you be more open-minded.
She is just like that. A lot of times I’ll have issues with people, and it’s hard for me to accept them or become friends with them, because I’ll decide that I don’t like them before I know them. But Hannah is way more accepting of people that are different. When we’re hanging out with her coolnerd friends who I don’t necessarily know as well, I tend to imitate her, and that makes me feel less scared and judgmental. Even when she’s not around and I have to talk to guys, I tend to think, WWHD—what would Hannah do. It has helped, because when I’m not scared I don’t feel like I have to act out or be random, which keeps other people from thinking I’m crazy.
What are coolnerds, and how are they different from regular nerds?
Coolnerds is a term I made up for people who could be considered nerdy or dorky, but they’re nice and respectful. They don’t judge you because you only like The Hobbit and don’t like the other Lord of the Rings books. They don’t care if your area of expertise is Victorian etiquette or if it’s sci-fi.
Is there anything else about Hannah that you want to tell us/the world?
Hannah is kind of like a friend combined with a mother figure combined with the perfect companion. In Doctor Who, the Doctor always has companions to make sure that he doesn’t get lonely, and to remind him of his humanity. Hannah reminds me to be more open. I know that if she’s with me, I can pretty much do anything without fearing that I will do something wrong, or something bad.
I’m about to call her—is there anything in particular that you think would be a good question for me to ask her?
Maybe “Why do you hang out with Veronica even though she’s slightly rude to other people?”
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ROOKIE: I just talked to Veronica, and I can see why you like her so much.
HANNAH [crushee]: She’s amazing.
What do you like best about her?
Oh gosh, where to begin? She’s just indescribably awesome. To use a corny phrase, she’s full of life. She’s very enthusiastic about everything that she does. And she has the same sort of sense of humor that I do, so that helps.
When she wrote to us she explained how you guys became friends, and she said she couldn’t remember your name at first, so she asked you to choose a nickname—and you said Dragon. I couldn’t help noticing that “dragon” is still part of your email address. So, why Dragon? Do other people call you that?
Well, I have for a pretty long time been a fan of dragons. I just think they’re pretty great. I think it was my fourth or fifth grade teacher who started referring to me as Dragon Lady, because I generally spent an equal amount of time drawing dragons as doing anything else. [Laughs] I tend to doodle in order to focus more, which sounds counterintuitive, but it works.
According to Veronica, you seemed shy at first, which gave her the confidence to approach you, but you turned out to be pretty extraverted.
I guess I would say I’m more observant than shy. I don’t have a problem sharing my thoughts when it’s necessary; I just tend to be chill about it. Someone the other day came up to me and said, “Hannah, you’re the most chill person I’ve ever met.” So I’m chill, apparently! I tend to observe things more than jump into things.
She described you as a math-and-science person with a love of acting.
[Laughs] I read that line in Veronica’s email, and I’m not entirely sure where she got that idea. I don’t actually like math very much at all, but I do pretty much every possible role you can imagine in theater. But I guess I have a math-and-science-y brain.
She also mentioned very discreetly that you got into college early, but she didn’t say how early.
Um…aah. So, my school career has been very long and confusing, and I can’t even remember all of it, but I’m not planning to go to college early—I’m doing senior year next year and then going to college at the normal time. There was a point, however, many years ago—I don’t know, five, six, seven—where I was officially tested and whatnot, and was told that I had the numbers to do some sort of early-entrance program. But I really don’t like to talk about that.
That’s OK. But wait, one clarification: this happened five, six, seven years ago?
So basically when you were 9, 10, or 11, you could have gotten into college? You can tell me not to put it in the article if you want! I’m just super curious.
Well, when I was seven, I think, I was told that my reading level was higher than that of an adult. Then we were considering doing the early-entrance thing for a long period after that.
What made you decide not to go to college then?
I just felt like I would miss a lot. I’m sure I could’ve made the best of the situation, and I’m sure it would’ve been intellectually stimulating or whatever, but I kind of didn’t want to miss out on having a childhood.
And your parents were supportive of your decision…
Oh yeah, my parents have been really great about that. They have taken my opinion into consideration with regard to what I do with my life, which makes an awful lot of sense.
Let’s talk about TV for a second. The Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who, David Tennant, is Veronica’s favorite Doctor; do you share that opinion?
Aaah, that’s such a hard question! ’Cause I started watching with the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, so, like, he was my first, and I’ll always have that special feeling of “Aaaah, first Doctor!” But David Tennant’s really fanastic. And I have the coat—I have the David Tennant coat. So I might like him better, yeah. But it’s very, very close.
Do you remember this fight you and Veronica had about the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes, over which one of you was more Sherlock-like?
I remember this took place almost entirely via text, over the course of an evening after school. I remember feeling progressively more horrible about it, because I got the impression that we were just misunderstanding each other, really. It was meant to be a light-hearted thing; but at the end of it she said, like, very coldly, “OK, I can’t talk about it, goodbye.” I felt terrible for the rest of the day. The next morning she’d written me this long email explaining what had happened, from her point of view. I wrote my own [email] in reply, and it ended up being like, “We took this more seriously than we needed to and misunderstood each other,” and we decided, “OK, we’re both Sherlock. That’s cool, we can do that.”
Why do you think it was so important for both of you to be like Sherlock?
I don’t know! It’s such a silly thing! I think we started making larger conclusions based on this one conversation. Like…are you familiar with the show at all?
I’m sorry to say I’m not.
OK, well, I recommend it. One of the characters is named Molly, and she is some sort of forensics worker or a mortician type—I’m not really sure what she does. She is sort of infatuated with Sherlock in a very amusing sort of shy way, and…
Is Sherlock hot, in this version?
Well, ask Tumblr. They will tell you.
Molly’s also really smart—she’s the one who really understands Sherlock. She’s not a flimsy, weak character. So I said something [to Veronica] like, “You could be like Molly, too,” thinking about her love of forensics, and the fact that she speaks her mind—you know, good things. I only found out later, after Veronica had explained it, that she interpreted that as, like, “You think you’re like Sherlock and I’m like Molly, and that I am infatuated with you and could never attain your level and am only good for small menial tasks meant to serve you.” Which is not at all what I meant, obviously.
She thought you were saying, like, “You could be a helper…”
Yeah, something like that.
While you get to have all these badass skills.
Yeah, and that didn’t even occur to me until she said it, then I was like, “Oh, I see why that pisses you off.”
When Veronica told you she has Asperger’s, what did you think?
Um…I don’t know. She just told me over text sort of casually one day, like, “So, guess what I just found out!” I guess it made sense when I thought about it, but I just didn’t…it’s not that I didn’t care—I cared because she cared—but it doesn’t matter to me. She’s still the same person. I think the harder part was just knowing that she was having a hard-ish time knowing it and dealing with it, because I care about her and I want her to be OK.
What were the things that made sense to you when she told you?
It’s hard to define, but sort of the way her mind works, how quick her mind is, how she can just jump from one subject to another and make really fast conclusions and spin out these long sentences that are really awesome and nice. She’s a really awesome writer, by the way.
I believe that, having talked to her. So you two go to different schools now—how’s that working out?
Well, Veronica or anyone else aside, this school is a much better fit for me, so I’m happy with that. And I’m still keeping in touch with all my friends from my old school. We still hang out and text, and I’m really glad I didn’t lose touch with any of them.
I think that can be hard. Is there anything specific that you did to make it possible with Veronica?
We just have random conversations about whatever TV shows we happen to be watching; that’s a pretty good way to connect. And I got her—and I officially introduced her to this!—I introduced her to the TV show Supernatural, which I also highly recommend, if you have not seen it.
I have not.
It’s really good. So she’ll send me updates like “Oh my god, I just watched this episode, AAAAH, what happened, aaaah, feelings!”
I love that—TV can be a great shared experience to have with someone that you can’t share firsthand experiences with in the physical world. When I asked Veronica what I should ask you she said, and I quote, “Why do you hang out with Veronica even though she’s slightly rude to other people?”
Is she? I’ve never thought she was rude to people. She’s forthright, but I like that. She’s still very eloquent and polite. She’s definitely willing and able to speak her mind, but it’s never come across as even remotely offensive to me.
She has this thing of “I don’t know why you’re friends with me, you could be hanging out with so much cooler people. You could be hanging out with, like, college guys.” Well, I have friends that are college guys, and she is more interesting than some of them, so I don’t know what she’s talking about with that. She is a silly person!
Is there anything else you want to say about her?
I’ve always thought Veronica seemed like some character from a TV show or something. I love her wonderful brain. She comes up with the randomest things. It’s fantastic. You turn on music, and she starts doing an interpretive dance to it. That’s the most hilarious thing ever.
She’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had. She is ridiculously creative and talented in so many ways, and so funny and really just so nice. She’s one of few people that I can talk to about my own problems. I don’t talk to many people about my problems; they talk to me about theirs. She is just so wonderful, and so caring, and she deals with so much and just completely takes it in stride, and…she’s amazing. I don’t even know how she does it. I just love her.
Thanks so much for talking to me. I like you guys a lot.
Oh, well, we’re pretty fantastic, I know. [Laughs] ♦
(Interviews conducted by Anaheed.)
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