We grew up together. Our relationship was basically pretending to know each other without really knowing anything about each other. I met her in the fourth grade. We were best friends in the beginning. We played with a basketball during recess on her first day. Standing on the sideline of the basketball court, we passed a basketball back and forth. I guess I wasn’t really paying close enough attention, or maybe her toss was a bit too hard, but my pinky finger on the right hand got jammed that day. It must not have been too bad, though, because it healed correctly without me even doing anything to it. You know, sometimes my memory doesn’t serve me correctly. I might have done something to fix it. After all, I do remember carrying a broomstick to school as a crutch when I pretended to twist my ankle. I remember that because I left the broomstick at school and my parents made me sweep the floor with a feather duster.
Apparently she had a lisp. I can’t recall ever noticing she had a lisp, but everyone always tells me they heard it. Now, I do remember when she would talk in this pitch that we called her “baby voice.” It was sort of like the pitch you’d talk in if you were talking to your dog, but we put this spin on it to make it sound more babyish. I don’t know a better way to describe it. We were kids and kids do weird things like that.
We didn’t really start to drift as friends until middle school. We had assigned seats at lunch because everyone got too rowdy and it upset the lunch lady. She sat with a group of girls in the grade above us and instantly hit it off with them. I don’t really know about her life during middle school. We didn’t talk at all, or if we did, it usually wasn’t about her. We did have a reconnection in the eighth grade. Whether or not that was because everyone else hated us, I don’t know. I revealed my deepest secret to her that year and she told me it was okay and she would always be my best friend no matter who I had a crush on.
She started wearing glasses with black frames and a gray jacket with black leather on the front in ninth grade. I think she started smoking weed that year. I only know because I asked her that summer if she’d ever tried it and I told her I had wanted to know what it was like. Maybe even try it for myself. I never did, and I still haven’t. “I only smoke it when I’m stressed. I keep some in my room all the time,” she said. I don’t know if that was true. I always felt she kept a part of that from me. She made friends with people that year that I’d never meet. She made friends with college kids or college dropouts. I don’t know what happened to her the next two years. She went to a lot of parties and talked about them in school. I heard the same stories over and over again as she told anyone that would listen. “This kid showed up and was doing donuts in her yard! People were jumping over the fire!” She’d say. She always smiled really big when she talked about the parties. She always said she hated alcohol and had no tolerance for it. Something else had to have been in her system those nights. Maybe it was weed. Maybe she just felt alive.
She never caught me up on her life. During senior year, we both took Calculus. It was a small school and we were the only two in the class. She poured her heart out to the teacher and I almost every day. One of those days was the first day I’d seen her cry. She had been talking to her boyfriend or ex-boyfriend outside and her eyes were wet before she even came into the classroom. Every time she rambled about her feelings to me it felt like a new hole opened in my heart. Where had I been all this time? I was never there to help her through any of it. I was never there to keep her on the right path. I was never there at 2:00 A.M. for her to tell me the things she never told anyone and I was never there to give her advice. I was never really there for her at all. Here I was, growing up with a girl I didn’t know anything about. Every day that she poured her heart out, every day that she told me things in private, they never could add up to the time that I already missed.
At the very end of the year, during the senior luncheon and graduation rehearsal, we sat next to each other and didn’t say anything. I never really understood what was going on that day. She tried to tell me what happened, something about her boyfriend, but she spoke quickly and not clearly. Her eyes seemed to be permanently looking at the floor. I didn’t know if she’d be able to smile for a week. She even disappeared for twenty minutes that day and our teacher sent me to find her. I found her outside standing by her boyfriends car, talking to him while he sat in the driver’s seat. She was crying so much and trying so hard to make it go away. She was always really strong, even in that moment of weakness.
She took her hair clip out of her hair that day and attached it to the strap on my purse. I reminded her it was there before she left, but she never got it back. That brown faux suede purse with the brown fringe is hanging on the hook on my bedroom door with the little black hair clip still attached. Two of the teeth on the clip are broken off. One on either side. Maybe that’s why she took it out of her hair. Maybe that’s why I’d never really know her. Maybe that hair clip is the reason she bottled everything up inside. Maybe it’s the reason she didn’t keep things bottled up.