I had a friend. But he was more than just a friend. He was a best friend, best in the actually meaning of the word: there was nobody else in the world that I was closer with. But maybe he was more than a best friend too, if you know what I mean. But at the same time, stagnantly and stubbornly not so on my part, if you know what I mean by that as well.
The actual labels don’t matter to me. Regardless of how I would define it now, he meant a lot to me, and that is what matters.
I’ve always had, and still have, a lot of mental health issues. I’ve never been formally diagnosed, but they are somewhere in the range of depression that revolves around my self-worth and confidence. So maybe that’s why, maybe more so than others, I see and feel it more intensely when someone shows their care. The reaction isn’t strong, it’s not like I cry or scream or whatnot, but I feel it deep. When I see that somebody cares deeply about me, to me, it means that somebody thinks I’m worth more than the rock-bottom position I tend to place myself at. That realization, whether its in big or small moments, always hits me in my core—hard. And regardless of what exactly we were to each other, he always rattled me to my core with how much he cared about me.
I talked about this in a previous answer, but when I was failing physics, he gave up hours of his time every week to give me free tutoring as he guided me through principles he slept through during class. When I raved about a random piano song that I had randomly heard on a random Spotify study playlist, he transposed it and sent me a video triumphantly playing the song that I had said that I loved. When I failed my driving test, he came to my house on a quiet Saturday morning to comfort me, to silently exist next to the crushing and embarrassing weight of my failure. But those are examples of isolated incidences. More broadly, I found that whenever I was fighting the world about something or another, he was always by my side. He was the damn fastest texter I’ve ever encountered in an era where prolonging replies makes you aloof and cool, and he used that skill (yes, skill.) to listen to me. Always. It didn’t matter if it was my family, or my friends, or my own personal pits of hell, he was there. Always. And at the end of the day, that’s all my mental health issues needed: an unmovable rock.
And so I nearly toppled over when that rock moved.
And it didn’t just move, it all but disappeared.
My class schedule of my senior year of high school was odd. It was a unique block schedule in a school that didn’t have block schedules. This meant that while everyone attended seven class as they normally did, both groaning and laughing at that fact as they went along, I only took classes in the morning so that I could drive to a local college to take classes there. This meant that I could choose to take a lot less classes at my high school, and that my overall schedule was a lot less flexible. The result? I didn’t have any classes with any of my friends from junior year. The people that I was the closest with. This was a huge problem, and I scrambled to find solutions. I had to make new friends, people to politely talk to in class at the very least, a task that was damn difficult to do so in senior year. It also meant that I talked a lot less to the people I thought I was already the closest to, including him, as I simply didn’t have any classes with them.
And not talking tends to cause problems.
We no longer had things to talk about, and whenever I tried to create some talking points, his replies were so dry that I found that I couldn’t save the conversation. But I guess that he wasn’t the only one to blame. Surely, I wasn’t very interesting to talk to either, hard to keep a conversation with. Gradually, as the conversations petered away, the time it took to reply got longer and longer and eventually they stopped altogether, for days at a time. And when they did pick up, they were just courtesy messages, usually about something mundane, like club meetings.
We were drifting apart, as people do, but I never thought it could happen to us.
I panicked. Selfishly, I realized that his years of exorbitant care for me, care that anyone could see was more than that shared between just friends, was deteriorating. And my mentally ill thoughts, constantly consumed with doubts about my worth as a person, was desperate for it to mean anything but what I thought it meant. Anything but the idea that I was deteriorating in worth to him. Like a car. Or a unkept house. An object that wasn’t worth human care.
Then, the non-talking turned to fighting. And the fighting turned to more silences. And we never had to actually deal with those silences because we never had any classes together, any time face-to-face that would actually force us to work through our issues.
It was a frustrating cycle.
But it finally climaxed in mid-March, 2020. That’s when our annual state debate tournament is held, and lucky for us, we were contenders in a partner event. In the weeks leading up to the tournament, we clashed constantly as we were now forced to meet face-to-face to talk about competition strategy, interactions that didn’t douse the fire like I had hoped, but instead poured over dumpster trucks worth of gasoline onto it. We argued constantly about debate, arguments that were clearly arbitrary and about things that I can’t even remember now as they were indicative of some deeper issues that we had yet to resolve. But arbitrary or not, they got so severe that the day before the tournament, in a tearful forced discussion moderated by our debate coach, we agreed to bury these deeper issues until at least after the tournament. And we did. We were nothing if not polite as we debated through hours upon hours of debate rounds, even laughing every once in a while in a hollow echo of what used to be our unbreakable friendship. But even those tiny moments of what was gave me hope, maybe we would be better friends after the weight of competition was lifted off our backs. Selfishly, I hoped that maybe things would go back to normal—my normal, my selfishly self-centered normal.
My hopes soared when we finished as state quarterfinalists. Then plummeted when COVID-19 hit the U.S.
School was canceled for the foreseeable future and he still hadn’t reached out to me even though it had been more than a week after the debate tournament. And so I decided to take the higher road and make the first move. I texted an apology, a broad one that would hopefully lead to further discussions of our deeper issues, and awaited a long reciprocated apology at best and a curt reply of acknowledgment at worst. But what actually happened was much, much worse.
He replied, saying that we were no longer friends. And he didn’t even have the balls to tell it to my face or even over a call. He ended five years worth of friendship, five years of something probably more than friendship, over a single text.
I initially reacted as I normally do to all negative things that unexpectedly enter my life: with a blinding rage. I furiously wrote back, telling him that he was a coward to end a friendship like ours over something that could’ve been resolved if only he was willing to talk about it, and that it takes two people to give up on a relationship of any kind. I sent barrage after barrage of the same kind of text, trying to illicit some sort of reply, even an angry one. Because everyone knows that anger at least means that you care.
But he didn’t reply. Not to a single text. And when I realized that he would in fact never reply (as he didn’t have to if school never resumed, which it didn’t), something hit me harder than an eighteen wheeler truck speeding down the highway. Hit, I guess, isn’t the word for it; it was more than I felt something being sucked out of me. And it left a wide, gaping hole behind. I can’t describe what that hole felt like or even where it felt like it was, but it was somewhere in the vicinity of my lungs and muscles and so that I could not longer breathe or support my weight. I had been sitting straight up in anger, but with this realization, I crumpled to the floor where I couldn’t get up for hours. Then the emptiness led to tears, the kind of racking sobs that make you shake and hurts your stomach from its intensity. I wanted to scream, but it was past midnight and I couldn’t afford to wake my family. And so I sobbed on the floor for what seemed like endlessly, in silence.
Maybe it was because it didn’t hit me out of the blue. For months now, I knew that this was a distinct possibility, a possibility though that was so far-fetched that I never accepted that it could be my reality. But it now was. And my pathetic hope, pathetic for selfishly wishing for what was clearly now an equally far-fetched outcome, reeled in disbelief. Maybe that’s why it didn’t hit me like a truck. It had instead sucked the hope out of me.
I didn’t know what to do. I lay on the floor for hours, not knowing what to do. Finally, I called the only person I could think to call. She was my next closest friend, and she had known the two of us and our issues for months. That’s why, I knew that she would pick up, and when she did, I was ready to talk about what had happened to someone who already knew part of the story. But I didn’t expect to find that she already knew all of the story, down to the private details of what had just happened only a couple of hours ago. That realization sent me reeling again. It meant that it was a calculated, discussed decision. And for the first time that I knew of, I wasn’t privy to the details of such an important decision because I was the target.
I ignored that though, initially, because I needed to talk. And, to her merit, she heard me through, all the way to the gritty end. But I wasn’t used to talking to someone about my issues that wasn’t automatically on my side, and it was clear that she wasn’t. She had already picked teams and clearly I was the team leader, and the only member, of the losing one. I ended the call as soon as I politely could once I made that realization. This one didn’t send me reeling though, just empty and alone. She wouldn’t receive another call from me again.
I can’t tell you what happened after that. The next month is practically absent from my memory, like pregnancy brain for trauma or an intense depressive episode. I do remember that I constantly felt like I was floating, eating and sleeping to exist and watching endless TV so I didn’t have to think about that existence. The person that I had trusted with my world, who had seen all of the most terrible parts of me and didn’t used to care, suddenly cared and had dropped me from their life. The person that I had staked my self-worth on had disappeared. It wasn’t just a loss of a friend, or a best friend. I had lost someone who dwelled for years in the intense gray area between a best friend and something more, and it felt like I had lost a limb. Or a piece of my brain. Or a previously unmovable rock to my heart.
I had to keep watching TV, because whenever I stopped then my thoughts would start drifting over to my worthlessness and I wouldn’t be able to stop crying. My eyes were in a constant state of swollen. I couldn’t leave my room. I felt like a shell. Or a ghost, floating along to the puppet strings of life.
Mixed metaphors, I know. But that’s what my depression was back then, a series of mixed metaphors that just didn’t make sense.
About mid-April was when the first time in a long time that I felt something again, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a good thing. On that day, I had logged into Snapchat and was sent reeling by what I saw. Him. And her. And all of the people that I had regarded as my closest friends—not one of which who had reached out to me to hear my side of a story they had presumably only heard one side of—all gathered together in one of their cars. Multiples of their Snapchat stories featured blasting music and talking to random strangers in a neighboring car. Some sort of random fun. Random fun together. Fun without me.
What made it worse is that it was only just a couple of months ago when I had introduced her to that friend group. Previously, she had been my friend separately from that group. But on that night, that night that marked her entry into that group, she had looked at me and smiled, thanking me for friendships that I had been her gateway to. And although I’m not saying that friendships are things to be given, those videos had showed a crime just as clearly as a security camera during a bank robbery. Because that is what it was. A theft. She had stolen something that was mine without a second’s thought.
That one hit like a truck. I felt the breath knocked out of me.
That was also the first time I genuinely thought about dying. After all, ghosts don’t think about dying because they’re already dead. But this one jolted me back into my very-much human heart that ached so deep that it hurt to breathe. Surely, death was better than feeling this much hurt, or this much emptiness. Everyone had deserted me, even the one person who knew my side of the story. I couldn’t take this anymore; my brain was residing strictly on the polar opposite ends of emotion and my heart couldn’t take it anymore.
So before I could do anything rash, I called my debate coach. Another person who knew both sides of the story, but she didn’t know it all. And she took one look at the swollen face and drenched sweater sleeves of this pathetic teenage girl who was shattered beyond recognition, and took me for an aimless ride.
She had battled with her own mental health issues and she took a matter-of-fact approach in coaxing my thoughts out from beneath the mammoth weight of my feelings, trained from her own experiences in therapy.
It is because of her that I made another realization. That maybe it wasn’t because I was a worthless piece of shit who didn’t deserve human compassion. That maybe it was because I had put too much on him over the years, too much of relying on another person to do the emotional processing for me. That maybe after a few months of being released from that emotional labor, he didn’t want to let go of his newfound freedom.
Of course, that didn’t make me feel much better. Even now as I’m typing this, I can’t stop the sarcasm from seeping into my words. How dare that I *relyon someone.
But I know, even if I don’t want to admit it, that I was selfishly hoping for someone who was content with being suspended under a glass ceiling. The only thing is that that kind of person doesn’t actually exist. Just ask anyone from any minority.
But he could’ve asked me to set boundaries. He could’ve asked me in any polite or rude way that we could still be friends, but that I needed to lay off. Or, at the very very least, he could’ve said it to my face.
It’s been months now, and I can say that I’m definitely in a better place. I’ve blocked him on every social media platform and all of the people of that group on Snapchat. I’ve learned to rely on different people, learning from my mistakes from leaning too much on one. But every once in a while, I can still cutting edges of my brokenness. It slices into me whenever I see his name on Venmo, exchanging money with a life that had moved on past me. It slices into me whenever I log into my Quora account and I see his sung praises all over my answers. It slices into me whenever I feel that I am undeserving, and whether it’s justified or not, I have to grit my teeth against the impending spiral.
I mean, what do you think that I’m doing right now? At 1: 36 AM on a Friday night.
And people always act surprised that I’ve never been in a relationship. I wouldn’t want a relationship with someone like me either, someone who needs the wide berth of space for her independence but also the constant emotional reassurance to blockade against the stampede of mental health issues.
But isn’t that what a relationship is?
I wouldn’t know, I guess. Maybe check back in a few years.
You know who you are.