Beginning of a novel about growing up.
I am so scared that you will hate me if I tell you the truth. I value our friendship so much, that I'm afraid to talk to you. I did something that you won't believe that I did. I need to know that whatever I did, you will still support me or I'll probably never tell you...I know this sounds totally fucked up, but I am really afraid.
My heart dropped, then fought desperately to start again, unaffected. She did it. She went through with it, and she didn’t tell me. Oh my God, she actually did it. This is not a joke, or a prank, or some sick nightmare. How could this beautiful woman have made a decision to hurt herself? How can she hate herself so deeply when I love her so strongly? Why wasn’t my love enough for her?
My first memory of her is in the band room, nearly fifteen years ago. I was standing near the office, calling to her, when she turned to look at me through the strands of her chestnut bob. Disassembling her clarinet, she was not able to grant me her full attention. Had I known in that small moment that this scene would become a metaphor for our lives, I wonder if I would have turned around to leave, never calling to her again.
Our new band director was a temporary substitute for a veteran teacher dying of colon cancer. She was ready to talk with me, and I knew Suki needed some advice, too. She and I were both new to the school and had no idea what was going on in the band. We stood just outside the glassed-in office of the stand-in director. Suki spoke first, “I need a reed.”
“What size do you take?” asked Mrs. Marsh, flapping her overbite at us. Of course, Suki didn’t know what size reed she needed. She simply played her instrument, not caring about the technical aspects of her skill. I would learn in the coming months, as we practiced together, that she was quite talented. Her time couldn’t be wasted to swab out her clarinet or keep her reeds neatly stored. Often, I would gently care for her abandoned horn long after she had turned her attention to other pursuits.
Suki moved with such electric current that a blue haze fell over me. We were suddenly inseparable, though I don’t recall ever going through the niceties of a developing friendship. One day, we were just “us” instead of two separate entities. I would wake up at her house on Saturday mornings; she snuck out of mine on Saturday nights. Our high school lives became a question of “What are we doing tonight?” The fusion was complete before I knew it had started, and by the time I realized I was tethered to a wild child, I had lost the perspective to delineate myself from her.
Although we lived in the same small town that could be easily circumnavigated in fifteen minutes, we lived on different sides of two major Indiana highways. Living between the crossroads of America, we put our lives in danger every day dodging semi loads of steel, grain, and livestock. To keep us safe, the school bussed us to and from our front doors. The bus ride was gave us a chance to commiserate with one another about our terrible teachers, intolerable workloads, and, of course, problems with boys. Before long, we would both get off the bus in the afternoon at one house, and the bus driver would find us waiting together at a single stop the next morning.
One morning, while we were getting dressed for school, she questioned, “Should I have sex with Brandon?” Of course, I didn’t want to have sex with Brandon, so I couldn’t imagine her having sex with Brandon. I didn’t even know who this person was; he was a year behind us, and they’d only been dating for a few days. I scoffed at the question, dismissing her with a “no” punctuated by a long sigh. She just looked up from under her bangs, being held by the curling iron and assaulted by hairspray. Her overly dark lips formed a little kissing shape, but the pout only held for a few moments before she had to reload her aerosol pistol. I just stared. Why was this creature asking my opinion? What value did I present to her as a bumbling, awkward teenager? I had no sex-crazed boy trying to get into my pants, so how could I possibly relate?
I found out that I couldn’t when she announced, just three days later, that sex was overrated. She had lost her virginity to a near stranger! I was angry because, at that time, I still thought virginity was a gift to be given with fanfare and wedding vows. I was angry because entrancing boys came so easy to her. I was angry because my fantasy of the first time was completely deflated by her account of the events leading up to her deflowering. “Did it hurt?” I asked the obligatory question.
“Only for a minute, then it started to feel good.”
“How did it feel good? I mean, what was it like?”
“I don’t know, it was just nice.”
“Are you gonna to do it again?”
“Maybe, but it’s not easy to find time to be alone when my dad’s out of the house.”
“What does he even look like? Is he the one with brown hair?”
I was angry because she didn’t take my advice, but I was also jealous. Not only of Suki, but I was jealous that Brandon had experienced a forbidden intimacy with my best friend. She was too young to be connected in that way, and her greatest connection was supposed to be with me. I didn’t talk to her again until she broke up with Brandon. Luckily for me, it only took another week.
Suki conducted her life in a similar way all through high school. Her days were filled with rhetorical questions, mindless flirtations, and minor indiscretions. I went along for the ride. Of course, a best friend can only travel so far with her soul sister. In certain instances, a young woman needs to be alone. That’s how I met Brian.
“He’s a really nice guy. You’ll like him.”
“How do you know him again?”
“I knew him at Frontier. We dated for a few weeks.”
“And you stopped dating him because…”
“I thought he was gay. He didn’t pay enough attention to me.”
“Suki, no one pays enough attention to you. Why do you think I’ll like him if you think he’s gay?”
“He’s really sweet. Plus, Kurt and I aren’t allowed to go out alone, so I won’t take no for an answer!”
I prepared nervously for what would be my first official date ever in my whole life, a double blind date with my best friend’s gay ex-boyfriend. The circumstances only added to my confusion as I threw questions of etiquette around in my head. I didn’t know what to do or how to act, so I was just following Suki’s lead. I carefully applied my makeup, trying to make it a little darker than I was used to so that I could appear confident and sexy like Suki. My older cousin beamed with pride and awe as I walked toward my aunt’s car, ready to be deposited at the restaurant. She warned me to watch the spot between the eyebrows as she gingerly smoothed the foundation over my skin. Hands on my shoulders, she proclaimed, “You’ve grown up so fast!” My inability to apply a simple layer of makeup told me I hadn’t grown up fast enough.
At Taco Bell, I realized that Brian and I had plenty in common. We were both infatuated with the same girl. I sat, sipping my drink as Suki flirted with the boys to make them both crazy with jealousy. I didn’t play because I didn’t know the rules, and I certainly didn’t know what it would take to win. I picked at my soft taco, looking at her boyfriend with pleading eyes. He didn’t hear me say, “just make him stop,” or muse, “can you believe this guy?” As a matter of fact, I don’t think Kurt looked at me much at all. There was clearly only one person of interest at the table.
<br>The disastrous blind date was bearable only because I was with Suki, but Brian was enjoying himself enough for both of us. Had I not been consumed in the surrealistic scenario, I would have reflected on how hilarious the whole exchange became. Suki would proclaim some amazing feat that she or Kurt had accomplished, and Brian would try to draw the conversation back to himself. Like a clairvoyant, I could read the history of Suki’s dead relationship with Brian. He didn’t have enough time to focus on her incredible mind, body, and spirit because his ego kept getting in the way. His auto-absorption became painfully clear when he leaned over to me in the theatre and asked, “Don’t you think my eyes are beautiful? Sometimes, I just stare into my eyes in the mirror and think, ‘wow, those are pretty eyes.’” In the dark, he couldn’t see my own eyes rolling into the back of my head.
As Suki and her boyfriend drove off to enjoy one another, I watched the taillights of his gigantic blazer, primer gray and covered in mud, recede into the night. Though I knew full well what the two would be doing without me, I still wondered why I couldn’t go, too. I certainly was not going to be enjoying Brian any longer. During the silent ride back to my house, we weren’t talking about his beautiful eyes, or the way we both felt rejected and ignored. As I walked in the door, alone, I thought, “Wow, dating is overrated.”