I won’t forget the first time I saw her: she had started school 3 weeks late, and she was seated with her back to the classroom door, sitting at her desk. Small for her age, her feet didn’t touch the floor, and her ankles were crossed. Smiling as I walked into the room, I shouted her name. She jumped. "Hi! I’m Amber." I smiled. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Or so I had thought. We didn’t become the friends I had hoped we would become that year. Her mother (who was both my teacher and principal) and I often clashed, and I had a hard time differentiating the mother and daughter pair. Tensions between my teacher and I hit an all time high that year on picture day. The school required all students to wear uniforms, and like all children who attend such a school, my continuous goal was to see how far I could distance myself from the uniform whenever possible.
Picture day provided the perfect opportunity.
It was a day that will forever be ingrained in my memory. For the occasion I wore a pink v-neck button down 3-quarter sleeved top (with silver threading throughout), a long black skirt that had slits on either side that reached the tips of my fingers, and a pair of cork and denim platform shoes that my friend had given me. I had also attempted to straighten my hair. (There may have been white eyeliner involved.) Personally, I thought I looked amazing.
Do you remember South Park? It was what all the cool kids watched back in the day. Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo was all the rage that year. My friend was completely hooked on saying “Howdy ho!” with every opportunity he had. Which, was often. He said it for everything. Open a book to read? “Howdy ho!” “Hey Jon!” “Howdy ho!” “Bye Jon!” “Howdy ho!” It didn’t matter who, or what he greeted. It was “Howdy ho!” day in and day out. After returning from taking pictures that day, and seated at our desks and still out of uniform, I asked my friend for a pencil. As he handed me one, he said his new favorite phrase. “Will you shut up?!” I giggled. My teacher who was standing within earshot then said “Amber, maybe if you didn’t dress the way you do, you wouldn’t be called such names.” It took me a second to understand. I realized my teacher most likely hadn’t seen a single episode of South Park in her life. She thought I had been called a ho - as in the slang word for whore. Even worse, she was condoning the name that she thought I had been labeled. I was twelve years old!
The daughter and I lost touch, and grew apart over the years. In a strange twist of circumstance, we later became roommates at a college over three thousand miles away from that little school in Hawaii, for two years. I would be lying if I said that the memories of her mother’s words, and what she had labeled me as were far from my mind. But I had hoped that I could put them behind me, and hopefully become friends with the recent high school graduate. And friends we became - at a distance.
Sure there were late nights filled with giggles, secrets whispered, the fabulous decoration of our dorm room, and shared flights home...But there were also the betrayals: I could never get the full truth from her. When a first love of mine rather cooly announced his engagement through a church bulletin, she was among the first to congratulate him on his website (“My mom made me!”). It was the little lies that kept us apart: she often used me as an excuse for her behavior, even if I wasn’t around. Even as recent as a couple of months ago I found out that I was still being used as her “cover”.
I am a person who will fight for what I believe in. I’ve stood in rallies, marched in protests, and held my own food drives. I believe myself to be important - not in a “I’m better than you” sort of way, but in a “We all deserve a mutual respect” sort of way. Over the course of our friendship, it became apparent that my friend didn’t feel the same way. There was no mutual respect for herself, me, or anyone else in her life no matter how close or far. Not that she was blatantly rude to anyone - it was subtle. Lying about where she was or who she was with, or how bad a situation really was. I was expected to listen and sympathize, but never under any circumstance was I allowed to question any of her behavior.
I of course am not without my faults. I am blessed to have people around me who truly love me, and when needed, will point out my shortcomings. I know that I will often use silence as a weapon, and when asked for advice, I expect people to take it. I occasionally offer up advice without being asked. I don’t respond to texts immediately. I am what some may call a feminist at heart, and truly believe no woman out there needs a man to be happy. I’m girly - but not girly enough to ever curl up with a cup of tea and talk about men all night long. I’d much rather talk of world travel and science. Looking back, I can see how this affected my friendship with my friend.
Our friendship ended on my couch, in my apartment. She was angry and I was hurt. I had finally expressed my concerns for her in blatant, layman terms, and I was met with blows that I never saw coming. Arguments that - to me - made no sense. A couple of days later when I sent an e-mail to follow up our conversation, she ended it in something that I should have seen coming: she told me that her new boyfriend, someone whom I had never met and someone who had been in her life for less than 4 months, thought it better that she and I not speak any more. I should have known that what had started with her mother in 7th grade, what followed me into my college years with her as a roommate, and what continued follow into our modern day relationship: it was never me. I had been part of her world of half-truths, insecurity, fear, and a secrecy that I will never fully understand. I was a bystander in a life that I had hoped to be a part of. For her I was safe: I was a landing pad. A safe zone for a self-induced free fall.
I wish I had known what had started the spiral that quickly spun out of control. I wish instead of sitting in the car until the wee hours of the morning talking about her love interests and their mother issues, that she had instead been able to tell me what was prompting her behavior. I was more than happy to be there for her when she needed me. I was happy to be a true, honest, and real friend. What I had wanted more than anything was a friendship that was built on honesty - and sadly, the honestly never came.
A true friend can be separated by many miles and many months - and with one phone call you will find that you’re right where you left off. -My mother