friendship

Who Am I?

I. A daughter

I was born to walk the middle ground, the first child of type A and type B
[and what does that make me?]
Constantly stuck between too small and too tall,
Talks too little, reads too much, sings too loud,
Hips too big, mouth too small,
Needs too little, wants too much, dreams too big.
I am a combination of everyone I’ve ever known,
But mostly I am too much like my mother,
And too much like my father,
[and too torn between the two people I am to really know who to be.]

II. A sister

I had bite marks on my back and my arm in a sling
Because that’s what it means to have your thunder stolen
When your parents decide to procreate again.
[I guess it also means feeling important,
Because someone looks up to you so much
That it makes you want to be better than you would be for yourself.]
And I would have laughed if you said someday I’d be proud
To have him for a best friend,
But the first time he asked for my advice
[because he thought I was wise]
I thought maybe the bite marks were worth it.

III. A friend

I learned more about friendship from the people who didn’t stick around
Than from the ones that did,
Because I learned when to hold on
And when to let go.

IV. A scholar

I’ve been taught to question everything.
[“Don’t be so gullible, Gwen,”
I hear as I fall for another stupid joke.
“Don’t believe anything you can’t prove.”]
I go to class and they tell me,
“Think critically, Gwen. Pick it apart. Find the truth.”
But I don’t think there’s just one truth.
I think sometimes the truth is that you don’t have to question everything.
[my professors disagree.]

V. A writer

My fingers bleed a lot because I pick the skin,
My brain bleeds words because, because?
[because it’s the only way I know how to feel.]

VI. A survivor

Once I thought that to be happy,
My bones had to poke out of my skin,
And my worth as a person was dictated by a number
On a scale
[or the label of my jeans.]
But when I stopped chasing perfection,
I found someone wonderful,
[Daughter, sister, friend
Scholar, writer, survivor]
I found me.

 

Written for the Weekly Writing Challenge. I don’t usually write poetry.

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16 Reasons My Roommates Are Better Than Yours

  1. They let me eat their leftovers.
  2. They call me out when I do something really disgusting like clip my toenails on the couch.
  3. They proofread my blog posts when I’m a little too intoxicated to string together coherent sentences.
  4. They make the best chocolate chip cookies in the entire universe.
  5. They introduce me to a wide variety of really wonderful and really terrible movies.
  6. They enforce the “every time you say something bad about yourself you have to say three good things about yourself” rule.
  7. They know the difference between times when it’s appropriate to mock my singleness and times when they need to hold my hand because I’m completely convinced I’m going to die alone.
  8. They don’t get mad at me when I drink all their liquor and then buy them a replacement bottle and drink that too.
  9. They share my affinity for Buzzfeed quizzes and understand when I get weirdly emotional about the results.
  10. They decorate the house for every single holiday. And I do mean every single one.
  11. They are somehow still okay with the fact that I’ve crashed 80% of their dates for the past nine months.
  12. They do my dishes sometimes even though I don’t deserve it.
  13. They’re super weird and loud and hilarious. This counts as, like, 3000 reasons.
  14. They have become quite skilled at convincing me that I’m being ridiculous and overdramatic and I need to CALM DOWN.
  15. They actually let me dress us up as Lady and the Tramp and the bowl of spaghetti for Halloween.
  16. They’re smart and sassy and successful and they got me through a really tough time in my life. If roommates were flowers, I’d pick them every time.

The End, In Three Parts

I.

She was always the first one to notice.

“You’re bleeding again!” she’d yelp as she dug through her backpack for a Band-Aid. No matter how many times I drew blood, I never learned to carry them around with me. When she was there, I never had to.

She learned to solve a Rubik’s cube somehow. I was too impatient to figure it out on my own, so she taught me too. “It’ll give you something to do with your hands,” she said. “So you won’t destroy your fingers.”

My history teacher took it away because I wasn’t paying attention. She handed me a Band-Aid, marched up to the teacher, and got it back. “You need this,” she whispered as she slid it across my desk. I spent the rest of class quietly spinning the faces of the cube under the table. I didn’t need the Band-Aid, but it was nice to have it, anyway.

I thought, “this is what it’s like to have somebody you can count on.”

II.

She slept three nights at my house during the Great Ice Storm of 2008.

The days we spent together were full of jokes and musicals and molasses cookies. Then at some point after dark, unexpectedly, she’d slip. Her face would suddenly be devoid of emotion, her voice high-pitched and soft. She’d curl herself up into a ball at the foot of the bed and just lie there, unmoving, until whatever it was had passed.

“Is there something I can do?” I asked once, helplessly, desperate to fix her somehow.

She was quiet for a moment, and I heard her breath hitch before she spoke. “No. There isn’t.”

When she was like this, she never looked at me. She responded to questions sometimes, if I was lucky. But she wouldn’t turn around. I didn’t get to see her face.

I was there, but that wasn’t enough. I turned out the lights and tried to sleep while she kept drowning two feet away.

III.

She made me a card for our high school graduation.

“Don’t forget about me, okay?” it read. “I’m nothing without you.”

I didn’t make her a card. I didn’t even say thank you. I was never good at that sort of thing, and I figured she knew how I felt already. She was my best friend. She’d always be my best friend. Isn’t that how it works?

I took her for granted. I forgot.

And she wasn’t nothing. She was something more.

The Recovery Pants

I, like probably every middle-class, twenty-something female, own several pairs of pants. These pants range in size from zero to nine, run the spectrum of color from white to black, and take up way too much space in my dresser, banishing my shorts to a second-class home on the shelf of my closet. But that’s neither here nor there. Yes, I have many (probably too many) pairs of pants. I would like, however, to tell the story of one.

It was December 2012 when we first met. I was two months into treatment; better, but just barely. I was still pretty convinced that I could recover without gaining any weight, at least until the day when I could no longer button my smallest pair of jeans. That hope died fast.

The Pants were hanging on a rack at Macy’s, waiting to be snatched up on holiday sale. I was looking for Christmas gifts for my family, giddy from the atmosphere of lights and wreaths and carols, trying to forget about the loss of my beloved flared jeans and doing a pretty good job of it. Then Willa and Kate saw them.

“Hey, Gwen, didn’t you say you needed new pants?”

On came the rush of speeding thoughts. Those are cute. They probably won’t fit me, though. I don’t even know what size I am anymore. I could be a 2. Or a 6. Or oh dear Lord Christ I could be a 16 or a 32 or what if they don’t even make pants big enough for me? What if I have to make my own pants from now on? I don’t even know how to sew!

They must have been able to read my mind, or at least my deer-in-the-headlights facial expression, because they immediately offered to help me buy a pair of perfectly-fitting, gorgeous pants without any knowledge of their size. “Trust me,” said Kate. “I’ve done this before.”

I followed her blindly into the dressing room, where I was given strict marching orders. “Close your eyes,” Willa instructed. “I’ll throw you a pair of pants, you put them on, then you open your eyes. No peeking at the label.”

“Sir yes sir,” I muttered as the first pair sailed over the door and smacked me in the face.

The first two were unsuccessful. One pair was too small, the other so big I easily could have fit Kate and Willa in there with me. And then there were the Pants.

I could tell they fit perfectly from the second I pulled up the zipper. They were soft and long and a little stretchy; a beautiful rust-red color that glowed just enough in the fluorescent lights. Kate was right. They were gorgeous.

I didn’t look at the label. I took them off and lobbed them back over the door and held them tag-side-down as I stood in the checkout line. And right after I’d finished paying, Willa asked the cashier for a pair of scissors and snipped the tag right out of the Pants, ensuring that I would never again have a chance to peek.

It’s been a year since then, a year in which I have gone shopping several times and been totally aware of the size of my new pants. I’ve learned to accept that I am not defined by the number on the label; after all, it’s not actually very reliable. But there’s something comforting about my Pants, the lovely Pants with no size at all. They are the size of me, and they are perfect.

Your Best Friend

When you first meet your best friend, it’s like the answer to a prayer. Maybe you’re two, four, ten, thirteen. But when you meet them, things start to make sense to you. You are no longer forced to sit alone in the cafeteria or bounce through friend groups faster than you can learn your times tables. You know that when you’re having a bad day, your best friend is there to make you feel better. When you’re bored, you can pick up the phone and she’ll be there as fast as she possibly can. You go on adventures, conquering imaginary beasts and braving dark, scary forests. You can tell her anything at all and she’ll listen. She throws you surprise parties and bakes you an elaborate cake on your birthday. Eventually, people start to mix up your names or roll their eyes when you say things simultaneously.

When your best friend has big secrets to tell, you’re the first person she runs to. Even when it’s hard, she knows she can trust you. So you trust her too. You are the only person who understands her, who doesn’t judge her for being the way she is. You aren’t afraid to be yourself around her, to express the most embarrassing thoughts or emotions. You are each other’s better half; neither of you fully exist unless you are together. When she goes through the darkest times of her life, you are there to listen and to beg her to keep going; that it’s worth it. You give her confidence; she returns the favor.

It seems perfect when you’re young. It makes sense. But you change. Sometimes you find out that when she told you the biggest secrets, she was lying. Sometimes the trust that you thought you had turns out to be false. Sometimes you get angry. It’s not perfect because she’s not perfect, you think. You hold a grudge for as long as you possibly can. You don’t tell her how you really feel because you don’t want to ruin the friendship, so you pretend that nothing happened. Then other things start to bother you. The way she acts, the person she’s become. But you never say anything. Maybe you start to take it out on her because you’re so angry with yourself for keeping it all in. You wait years, always apologizing after fights because you just want to get it over with, even though it compromises your true opinions. You wait so long that maybe it’s too late. She’s made a lot of mistakes that she’s never apologized for, and then you realize that you’ve made a lot of mistakes too, and two imperfect and stubborn people don’t compromise easily. So maybe you stop trying because it’s easier that way, because that way you don’t have to fight. So that way it doesn’t hurt all the time. And maybe that’s not fair to her. But you don’t know if you could try without losing yourself in the process.

When you lose your best friend, it’s the most painful feeling in the world. There are pieces of you that never recover from that; the awkward interactions wound you every time. And those wounds are where she lives. You never forget or stop caring, just pretend that you do. You watch her live her life from the sidelines as she takes center stage. You know that even though things have changed, you are with her just as much as she is with you. You are still proud when she succeeds and disappointed when she fails. Maybe someday you will be able to work things out. Maybe you won’t. Maybe she can never again be your best friend. But for a long time, she was. She saved you when you were falling apart. She was your best friend, and she matters.

Confessions of a Chronic Third Wheel

Today I was riding my bike home from class, as usual, when I was suddenly struck by a disturbing revelation.

I have gotten WAY too good at third-wheeling.

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Me, every day

It wasn’t always this way…I don’t think. I think I used to have single friends, or at least I sometimes hung out with one person instead of two. And on the rare occasions that I did find myself alone with a couple of lovebirds, I remember feeling awkward. That’s a normal reaction, right? It’s supposed to be awkward?

I mean, I guess I technically spent the first two years of my life third-wheeling my parents, so that could be what set me up for a lifetime of sitting alone on one side of the dinner table. Maybe it’s hereditary. When my mom was in high school, her best friend dated her older brother, so she probably spent her fair share of nights buying her own drinks at bars. Or maybe it developed out of my timid nature and sarcastic self-loathing. People in relationships probably like having me around because I make them glad they’re no longer single and depressing. Something like that.

I was doing homework at one of my good friend’s houses this afternoon, and her boyfriend came by (like he always does, they’re adorable, yada yada yada), and they invited me to join them at the Art Institute on Thursday. At first I was a little taken aback, you know, because I didn’t want to crash their date, so I politely declined. Turns out I can’t go anyway because I have class, but even before I realized that, I had this moment of clarity where I thought, wow, this is actually my life. I live in half of a two-bedroom apartment, the remainder of which is occupied by two people who have been in a relationship for a solid four years. I am actually a voluntary, residential, rent-paying third wheel.

I don’t get it. Am I so desensitized to human affection that it doesn’t even faze me anymore? Am I masochistic? Do I get sick pleasure out of constantly being reminded that I am destined to die alone? WHY did the universe curse me with such a high tolerance for people who like to just couple off like Kit-Kat bars?!

I tell myself that eventually it will be my turn. Someday, I will get to nurture a third wheel of my very own, to tell him or her to enjoy it while it lasts, because before you know it there are sappy pet names and stressful birthdays and (ugh) accountability. It’s not so bad for a while. You get to watch relationships ebb and flow, and you learn valuable lessons without having to get hurt. You just never get to feel the giddy melty butterflies either. But it’s okay, because someday you will.

And in the meantime, couple friends, there will always be someone around to take your picture when you look too cute to resist. Just be warned that this single girl is the queen of photobombing.

Loving You When You Don’t Love Yourself

I wait for you outside the dressing room and hold your shoes because you don’t want me to see you in clothes that don’t fit. When I ask you if you need a different size, you say no so that you don’t have to admit to me that you might be bigger or smaller than you thought. You model the dress you like for me, but you won’t let me tell you that it looks beautiful. You just close the door and take it off and walk out like I never said anything at all.

I sit with you when you cry and wonder aloud if there’s something I can do for you. You always say no. You tell me things are bad for you and that I don’t have to stick around if I don’t want to. You don’t believe me when I say I do.

Sometimes floods pour out of you; not of tears but of words. You have no one, you say. You’ve pushed them all away. You’re out of control and terrified. You shouldn’t get anything good because you always fuck everything up. I listen to you, I challenge you, I reassure you. Like someday what I say will matter. It never does.

I love you, but you won’t let me. I love you, but you won’t believe me. I love you, but you can’t accept it because you don’t think that you deserve it.

I love you because you’re goofy and silly and sarcastic. I love you because you can turn my sobs into fits of giggles. I love you because you care so genuinely about the people you have in your life. I love you because I’ve seen you fight like hell to face your fears, pushing through the darkest of emotions to get to a place that doesn’t always feel satisfying.

I can tell you I love you until I lose my voice, but you’ll never hear it. You won’t let me love you because you don’t love yourself. And I know what that’s like because I used to be that way.

You do deserve my love, but more than anything you deserve your own. You deserve to look back on your life and be proud of the person you’ve become. You deserve to glance into the mirror and see a friend, not a rival. You deserve the happiness that comes from knowing that you are enough, at any moment, just as you are.

I will always love you. Even when you don’t love yourself. But the moment I will love you most is the moment when you don’t need it, when I see that my love for you is simply a reflection of your own. I can’t wait for the day when you really fall in love with a wonderful guy because you can finally see why someone would want to be with you. I can’t wait for the day when you walk down the street with the kind of confidence that makes people stare in admiration. And I can’t wait for the day when I compliment you and you say “thank you” with a huge honest smile that leaves no doubt in my mind that you understand your gifts.

You’ll get there. You’ll love yourself someday. And I’ll be with you every step of the way.

An Open Letter to My Best Friend

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The day I met you, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. You were stunning and well-dressed and friendly, and I knew immediately that you were the kind of girl who would walk into a room and make everybody pay attention to her without doing anything at all.

Not like me, anyway. The eternal wallflower.

I’ll admit that I never thought we’d be friends, mostly because I didn’t really think I was in your league of human being. You struck me as popular, social, well-liked, sophisticated. The person I’d always admired but never known.

It was unfair of me to categorize you like that. I would learn later that in many ways we were completely identical, and that we shared the same struggles and insecurities. I had no way of knowing that one day we would inadvertently order our coffee the exact same way and walk away from a shopping trip with the same articles of clothing, and at the time I never would have believed it.

I was right about some things, though. You ARE stunning, and the more I get to know you the more beauty I see. You ARE friendly, and every person who meets you is a better for it. You turn heads not just because you’re gorgeous, but because you exude grace and intelligence and positivity. You are incredibly funny, endearing, thoughtful, and strong – and I am here to remind you of all those things when you are unable to see them yourself.

I wish that for just one day, you could step into my shoes and see yourself the way I see you. I desperately want you to understand how important you are to the people who know you and how much happiness and love you truly deserve.

We were going through hell when we met. And we still are. After all, the road out of hell isn’t easy to find, or to stick to. But we’ve always, always, always got each other.