birthday conversations, part I.

“Listen to me: it didn’t just hurt. It hurt.”

There are so many versions to this friendship story and its inevitable outcome – the breakup. Some nights I convince myself I’ve let it all go, I’ve let the past fucking go, because it happened at seventeen. How much do we actually know at that age?

What happened, distorted as my memories likely are, still appear from time to time in my writing here. Other times, the events unroll in the corners of my mind. But I haven’t spoken about it, not out loud, for a long time now. Not… until two weekends ago.

“What really happened?” She’d asked. “I noticed you guys weren’t on speaking terms by the time [high school] graduation rolled around, but I was never clear what actually happened. What… really happened?”

It was one of those nights. There was a stillness in the air unlike other nights, laden with a peculiar quietness. We sat, the two of us, side-by-side on the sofa in my partially cleaned studio apartment located halfway across the globe from where our friendship was first forged, eleven years ago. Funny how life turns out.

Maybe it was the comforting presence of an old friend; maybe it was the unexpected tranquil; maybe it was, very simply, one of those nights. The truth decided to pay a visit.

When I spoke about them, my voice betrayed my calm demeanor. It was shaky, buoyed by emotions. I took a deep breath, weighed my options. To let sleeping dogs lie, or…?

“I haven’t spoken out loud about what happened – retrace the steps for a long, long time. I don’t know if I should be doing this, I don’t know if this is the right thing to do,” I finally said. But it was one of those nights, so I kept going. “Do you remember me and those girls? There were seven of us, up until fifteen I think. Then one of the girls moved schools and so there were six of us. We were close. We did all those things in movies you’d see friends in high school did with each other – hung out in malls, watched movies together, formed our little clique… it was all so stupid. But we were close. I thought I’d finally belonged somewhere, you know? Always the one with messy friendship breakups. I thought I finally belonged.” 

“It was so stupid,” I repeated, “what caused the friendship fallout. It was a small thing that blew up because of misunderstandings and you know how opening up a can of worms only leads to a dozen more?! We were seventeen. We didn’t know how to handle confrontations so the one time we finally spoke face-to-face, it just made things worse. It was so stupid. I was at fault too, I know that now. But I…” I paused. “I think I’ve forgiven them now. I’m not close to them by any means – save for one, maybe her, because I really do think she’s a good person – but we’re all still in contact. Kinda. You know how our circle of friends are like – it’s fucking annoying. Everyone is friends with everyone. If I wanted to cease all contacts, I’d have to stop being friends with the rest of our friends. And the world is annoyingly small when it wants to be. Remember my old deskmate? Yeah I’m not talking to her these days either, it’s sad. But you know how she’s close with them? So throughout college – immediately after high school – I’d hear all about them from her and I’m pretty sure vice versa. Back then, I hated this so much.”

“I think I’ve forgiven them, truly. But if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever resolve this feeling I have deep inside, about having been wronged. I know this is a strong choice of word, but… betrayed. That’s what I feel. Felt. We were the kind of friends who’d promised to be there for each other and all that nonsense, you know? We knew each others’ parents and siblings; we hung out in each others’ homes – and you know, back in high school, my family drama was more intense. It was hard; I struggled to keep home and school separate. I never told any of them what was going on but little or a lot, I gave them access into this other part of my life that for the longest time, I desperately tried to hide. I… trusted them.”

“I trusted them with myself.” 

I wasn’t in tears, but my voice quivered. It was one of those damn nights.

“What hurt the most, the one I find so hard to resolve, is that when the rest found out that two of us fought – they chose her. All four. All fucking four. They chose to side with her. They chose to stand by her. None of them – not one – stood by me. Not one.”

Two weekends ago, one of the six girls got married. Three of them attended the wedding, presumably acted as the bridesmaids, with two of the three having flown back from their studies overseas to attend this – whether by coincidence or deliberate and meticulous timing, I’m not surprised either way. Just like them to do so because that was – is – the kind of friends they are to each other.

Seven years have passed since we left high school.

There was a rawness that night, and it emanated heat so tangibly felt it crackled the air. It was one of those nights …where halfway across the globe, a mini-reunion took place. A joyous occasion was happening. The girls were back in each others’ arms.

Later that night, in the privacy of the bathroom and away from my friend’s sharp gaze and sharper words, I stared hard at my reflection in the mirror. I wiped a tear, digesting the most painful truth – more painful than what actually transpired, fiction or fact – and it is that seven years have passed since what happened. Seven years. And yet it took me but a minute to realize that I haven’t actually healed from the scars of the past.

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