March 30, 2009

Best Friends? Not Really.

A little chunk of my brain cells died recently, I'm certain of it. And when they did they went out with a big fiery explosion, red and hot, loud like a freight train that rumbled through, shaking the windows and leaving me with a distinct palpable image in my mind.

It was the image of Fresca. For no reason at all, except that perhaps I have a big tumor like John Travolta in Phenomenon, a tumor caused by the gamma rays that my alien neighbors shoot through my bedroom window at night.

The image of the Fresca was followed quickly by a memory of my mother working in a greenhouse shortly after my parents divorced. She worked for a dirty old man that one time slapped her on the butt when she bent over to pick up a flower pot. Except what Mr. Sexual Harassment didn't know is that getting slapped on the butt is something my mother wouldn't tolerate from ANYONE including the husband she had just divorced. He figured it out about five seconds after my mom turned around and punched him right in the jaw and said, "You won't be doing that again." I asked her later if she got fired. She said, "No, but I did get a raise."

For some reason men really dig my mom.

After school I would get off the bus and walk to the greenhouse. There were two other girls my age who lived nearby and would walk with me for a little while. I was ten and still learning the ropes of social adeptness. I was ten and learning to live without my father and my brothers. I was ten and riding a new school bus with new people and walking to my mom's new job.

The bus door creaked open and we three climbed down the stairs too big for our legs and watched the bus drive away. We walked and chattered 10-year-old girl chatter. We passed one house and Maria waved goodbye and went home. Jill walked further with me and as we walked she asked me if I liked her better than Maria.

Even in my 10-year-old social ineptitude I understood on a primal level the question was a dangerous one. I also sensed it wasn't a fair or appropriate question. What I didn't know was how to answer the question, because the problem is the answer was NO. I didn't like her better. I found her shallow and annoying. But I cared about her feelings despite her character flaws.

And because I was ten... I lied. Maybe it was weakness, maybe it was fear, maybe I just didn't know how to answer the question gracefully. The simple fact is I told her I did like her better and the lie laid so heavy on my shoulders that my mother could see the ghost that haunted me and gave me a quarter to go buy a Fresca from the Coke box -- the kind where you open the glass door and pull the bottle out.

The next day Maria approached me with confusion on her face, saying Jill told her I liked her better than Maria. Traitorous bitch, I thought. Well, not really, because I was only ten and I didn't know yet what a traitorous bitch was. But it would have been something like that. Or it might have just been, "Oh man, my mom is right, lying DOES always catch up with you."

I don't remember how the story ends (because I think this is right about the point those brain cells did actually take their last breath before screaming away into the night), except I'm pretty sure I confessed the lie. If she were sophisticated she would have realized not only that I was a liar, but also weak of character.

But it was also a pivotal moment because I learned that a lie is unsatisfying and the fruits of a lie are poison. And I also learned that fear is unproductive. Months later I proved that when I organized an uprising of all the girls in my neighborhood to stand up against a boy bully. Like a little Norma Rae, I stood up on a rock and incited the girls to riot, to stick together, to say "from this day forward you are not the boss of us". For a 10-year-old girl it was a darn fine St. Crispin's Day speech before we were off to war.

A friend of mine once said she never liked the term "best friend". I think it's because it indicates some hierarchy where ultimately a friend who is good and loyal and true is somehow labeled less than "best". Until my friend remarked on that term I'd never thought about it before.

I'm not sure there is such a thing as a best friend. Isn't it just the best friend for that particular job? The best friend to complain to about your boyfriend or your family life? The best friend to complain to about your job or your parents or your dog who just ate the cushions of your new couch? And the friend who helps clean you up after you got drunk and puked all over yourself may not be the same friend you call to help you weigh your future life options. Is one of those best or just different?

I think my friend's observation is keen (and wise) and worth thinking about. Which might be why some of my brain cells died.

Damn her.

16 comments:

  1. I was really hoping the story would end with you punching Jill in the face and saying, "You won't be doing that again."

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  2. No, that's the kind of stuff that happens over at YOUR blog. :) LOL.

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  3. My 8-year-old daughter has lots of "best friends." I guess to her, the role of bff isn't a one-girl job.

    When I was a kid, we moved every few years. Although I had "best friends," I doubt I was ever my best friend's best friend. I was always second in line, because everyone already had a best friend whenever I showed up. Oh, well. Now, I don't have many girlfriends. My best friend is my husband, and the girlfriends are just friends.

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  4. I think I go for the idea of 'portfolio friends' now: friends for various occasions, like your friend says. Friends for going out, friends for cheering me up, friends for serious life stuff and friends for hanging around with. I got into all sorts of trouble with the 'best friend' thing at school too, so always tried to avoid it.

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  5. K before I say this just know that it's not my fault...you confirmed my warped brain and I just can't help it...

    "No, but I did get a raise." hehehe I bet she did :p

    Ok, I'm done being bad LOL and I agree that there are different friends in my life that give me different joys. I do have one friend I feel like I can say anything to though and that she'd never judge me...that's hard to find these days...and she's the one I would say ANYTHING to. I don't love her more than I love my other friends though..I just trust her more :)

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  6. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

    For the record: I too, dig your jaw punching mom... So much so that when I read that paragraph, I did a spit take. So long mouthful of tea, hello belly laugh.

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  7. I loved this entry. It's so funny how our memory gets jogged by random things like a soda bottle or a smell.

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  8. 365: isn't it nice when your husband truly is your best pal?

    Madame DeFarge: I love that term "portfolio friends". It sounds so sophisticated. :)

    Kathy: I am so glad my mom doesn't read my blog. You'd be in BIG trouble!

    Alan: Thanks for coming over and spitting. That made my day. :)

    I.Writ: So true. I did a post a while back called "smell-o-vision" on that topic!

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  9. Okay, okay! Wow! ANOTHER beautifully written opener: "And when they did they went out with a big fiery explosion, red and hot, loud like a freight train that rumbled through, shaking the windows and leaving me with a distinct palpable image in my mind." you've got talent, girl! and I love the reference to your alien neighbors! lol!

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  10. I love the story about your mom.

    And you must take after her, with your St. Crispin's Day speech!

    Actually, the story of Jill and Maria plunges me into a memory soup of similar confusing and awkward moments. Aargh, childhood is hard!

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  11. Funnyrunner: you're a sweetie!

    Becky: My mom is a hoot (most days, some days just frightening). I've got another incident this morning that I have to write about this week sometime. I'm going to wander over to your blog to look at some of those childhood stories you alluded to. Get to writing! :)

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  12. Wow. That's good. Damn fine writer, you are. It's very nice to meet you.

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  13. I love this story... so well written. I've been thinking about this "friend" business a lot lately myself... it's like there aren't enough words for friend, so we end up stuck with adjectives and prefixes - best, worst, good, ex....

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  14. I think we need a system like the Inuits have... where they have like a gazillion words for different types of snow. That would be great for friends!

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  15. Nice post. Your friend is sage indeed. We all fill different roles, meet different needs with our friends. It's awfully nice to have them.

    Wish I could have been there when your mom slugged the greenhouse man.

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  16. Wendy's Unnamed Friend, Codename: ElleApril 2, 2009 at 9:35 AM

    The real reason I don't like the term "best friend" is pure jealousy. Many of my friends have best friends (the ubiquitous "BFF"
    *shudder*), but none of them are me. To be best friends means that
    the other person also has to be best friends with YOU. So I'm at best second-best. And the last Fresca I ever drank had a worm in it. Which is why it was the last. (Not the best.)

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