My Best Friend

My eldest girl had her ‘best friend’ over for a play date on Wednesday. This girl is a sensation in our household. She and my charge became friends on the school bus, as she is a year older than my charge and not in her class. My charge does not stop talking about her. Her best friend’s name is turned into songs, into passwords in games that we play, into poems, into stories, into our make-believe games etc. etc. Even though this magical child has only visited our house once, the whole family knows her full name, her family’s names, what sorts of things she has in her house, the fact that she doesn’t like dogs, and we all speak about her at least 3 or 4 times a day, simply because there is currently no more exciting topic of conversation for my eldest charge.
When the girl came over for the play date on Wednesday, there was much celebration from my eldest girl. The best friend was treated like royalty. Lollies were handed to her first, she was given first choice of chips, popcorn, sandwiches etc. If she said she didn’t like something, neither did my eldest charge. If she said she did like something, so did my eldest charge.
I, on the other hand, became persona non gratis. I was looked upon with great scorn and derision by my eldest charge. I was not allowed to participate in conversations with the two of them, I was ignored whilst they were playing together, my charge always going to her mother, I was only good as a fetcher of toys, food and other necessary items, and only as a far second to my host mother (I was referred to as the ‘servant’ at one point by my charge, which thrilled me no end, let me assure you). This was not attitude that I received from the friend, by the way, who really is a charming and sweet little girl, but from my own charge. She was so determined to have this little girl all to herself that she was jealously protecting her from all other quarters, from anyone else who might potentially steal her away, and whilst she was pretty sure her mother wasn’t about to attempt anything, she didn’t trust me as far as she could throw me with her puny little 8 year-old arms.
It was, of course, not a little hurtful, but its not behaviour that is surprising or even particularly foreign to me. The best friend is such an important possession in girl world, and certainly was to me as I was growing up. I remember a fantasy I created as a child of around 7 or 8 (about the same age as my eldest charge), which I felt very guilty about, but loved to play and replay in my head (no, not that sort of fantasy, you dirty buggers). There was a little girl in my class that I thought was the bee’s knees. She was pretty, nice, gentle, freckles, long, blonde hair and a really lovely family. Whenever I went to her house I had the best time. I desperately wanted to be her best friend, but I had only just moved back to Newcastle after being overseas, and I was too late to be nominated for such an important post – that is to say, it had already been filled. My family was also too late to be part of the coveted ‘family friends’ group of this little girl’s family either, much to my chagrin. Let me be clear, we were family friends, but there were other, more special family friends: family friends who had been there since the beginning, who booked holidays together, who went to each others dinner parties and joked about various cross-family sibling pairings getting married one day so that they would all end up related to each other. So, to make myself feel better, I created this fantasy, which revolved around the stories I had heard of the Newcastle earthquake, where one day at school, the concrete playground opened up wide and all the other little children were swallowed whole, so that it was just me and the object of my affection left. She had no choice but to become my best friend.
I eventually got my very own best friend, someone who I would remain linked to all through primary school. She was also sweet, pretty with lots of lovely freckles (and, actually, now that I think about it, she had the same name as the first girl I really liked, though it was spelt differently… wow, rebound best friend, do you think?) and she had a great house too. We were best friends for 3 and a half years and we did everything together. Walked to school, spent weekends together, dressed my cat in peasant clothing, dressed ourselves in peasant clothing, watched movies (including ‘A Chorus Line’ and its very scandalous song about sex, which we approached in highly mature and oh-so-serious manner, collapsing into hopeless giggles every time the guy sang, ‘but then we did it again’), lay in bed reading ‘Garfield’ comics together, packed picnics and went on adventures through the backyard and down to the park together. We had our own complete fantasy existence in the school playground, which ran parallel to, and in and out of, all the ball games and tag games that all the other children were playing. We had personal jokes and personal songs. Personal dances and personal stories. We could crack each other up with just a word and a wiggle of the ears.
And then, abruptly, she left me to be Mary in the Australian production of The Secret Garden.
Such betrayal! Such jealousy! I didn’t know what I was more upset over: that her family had let her audition for a professional show, that she had been cast (another horrible moment I remember, which made me feel like I was a terrible human being – sitting in the bathroom praying fervently to a God I didn’t believe in that she wouldn’t get the part that she had been shortlisted for it, because ‘even though she was a better dancer than me, we were just as good singers as each other and I was a better actor’), or that she was leaving me behind, making new friends, and having new experiences that I wasn’t a part of. To make things worse, after the production, she ended up going to the private high school in Newcastle, and I went to the selective public high school, meaning we didn’t see each other regularly anymore and our passionate little friendship fell into non-existence. I ran into her at a shopping centre in Sydney a few years ago, and we were utterly delighted to see each other,  exchanged numbers, promised to call, meet up, catch up, but we haven’t spoken since. Part of me wonders if she’s on Facebook, and the other half just feels like that friendship was confined to a certain time and place and its past and it will never come back.
For the first few years of high school, I was casting about for another passionate friendship that could replace the one that had been so cruelly taken from me. I gave my heart away to another pretty, blonde-haired girl, following her about like a little pup, liking everything she liked, hating everything she hated, not expressing an opinion or desire until I had checked what hers was beforehand. Turned out, in the end, her opinion was that I was a pretty awful and annoying human being who she didn’t like very much at all, which was all very confusing and just a step too far for me (though I certainly took some of her thoughts on board), so I moved on.
There were various best friends in between, some of them are still friends, some of them are not. One in particular took up a majority of my high school years. I saw this girl most days (except Sundays), we spoke on the phone most nights and wrote each other letters in between times. We spent most of our time talking about the boys we liked, how much we liked them and how desperately we wished they would like us back. Looking back on it, I don’t know how these particular boys would have fit into our lives, we were so focused on each other, but that is besides the point. It was a friendship of a similar intensity to my primary school friendship, personal stories and personal jokes, dissolving into helpless giggles with just the mention of a word or a movement. I was always aware of the fact that I was not actually the ‘titled’ best friend, but I took comfort in the fact that, in my mind, we were so much more in tune, talked to each other much more, saw each other more than my friend and her actual ‘best friend’ did. It was all very complicated and difficult and political and at one point caused me great angst and self-doubt and jealousy and uncertainty.
And, then, sometime in Year 11, without me even realising it, without anything definite really happening, we just… stopped. The relationship just ended somewhere around June, July, August 2000. I can’t even give you an exact date, because there was no falling out, no event that I can point to and say, ‘there. Right then, that was the reason we stopped being friends.’ Its all…  kind of blank and mixed up. I got very busy with drama projects, she got less busy with them. Her views on the Australian film industry, on the British film industry, on anything that wasn’t completely mainstream started to really piss me off. She seemed totally stuck in Newcastle, with no desire to challenge herself and leave and cut a new path somewhere else (please realise that this was what I thought at the time, in Year 11, and is no reflection on her and her actual achievements. As I have heard through the grapevine, they are very impressive, much more so than my own and she certainly did get out of Newcastle), and, at the time, I was completely derisive of this. By Year 12 it wasn’t that we weren’t even ‘best friends’ anymore, we were hardly even friends. We barely spoke unless we had to. Various things happened between us, around a certain boy that we both ended up dating and now, I can’t even bear to add her as a ‘friend’ on Facebook, though I’ve looked at her profile a few times. It doesn’t seem like the right title, not at all. If they had a ‘hugely significant person who somehow disappeared out of my life and I would like to be able to pry into her current existence but don’t really want to deal with all the unsaid resentments and issues or pretend to be a normal, superficial ‘friend’ of’ button, then that is what I would press. But, Facebook is not so forward thinking or understanding of the politics of female friendship as this. 
Anyway, getting back to my eldest charge. She had the best time. There was discussion of the coveted ‘best friend’ title (My charge: ‘You’re my best friend. Are you my best friend?’ Best friend: ‘Yes.’ My charge: ‘Who’s your second best friend?’ Best friend: laughs, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I have lots of best friends.’ At which point, my heart sunk a little for my charge…), they had a picnic together, they set up a roadside stall, they made signs about ghosts and stuck them all over the house. At many points during the day, she would link arms with her best friend, or pull her in close and hold her by the waist as they walked down the road. My host mother remarked, ‘Little girls are so funny with their friendships, aren’t they? They’re like lovers.’ And I suddenly recognised that this was exactly how I felt about all my old ‘best friends’, and the eventual breakdown of these relationships. The feelings were almost as intense as later romantic relationships I had with men. The strength of these feelings worried me for a long time (does this mean I’m gay???), but I’ve just grown to accept that, for whatever reason, this is how I form attachments to people. Incredibly passionately, all-or-nothing.
And, for you who don’t know, I still do have a ‘best friend’, though we talk sporadically and see each other even more infrequently. I think, at the age I am now at, those passionate best friend years are behind me, and those emotions are now directed towards men in a romantic way. I’ve known my ‘best friend’ since I was about 12, but we gave each other the ‘best friend’ title around Year 11, when my other friendship broke down. How do I know she’s my best friend? It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been apart, we always pick up exactly where we left off, as if nothing has changed. I could talk to her about anything. And, when her Dad was pulling down her old tree-house earlier this year, it had written in it, ‘Erin and Jenny are best friends’, and neither of us can remember when we wrote it or why. So, it must be true.

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Filed under Introspection, Ireland

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