This is what rejection feels like: like substantive proof of all the things I am most afraid might be true about myself.
It’s not the first time I’ve had someone look at me like I’m a werewolf. For the last year, one of my closest friends has been edging away, trying to fade out of the room without me noticing. Her conversation with me had become the verbal equivalent of a warding off gesture, showing me her palms with her voice deliberately pitched low. No direct eye contact. I finally text her (I know, bask in my maturity) to ask what is happening. She texts back: Just feels like we’re going in different directions, careful verbiage that I know someone coached her on. This is not a thing you can argue with, or even apologize for; it would be so much easier if I could identify something I had done, a sum of money I had borrowed and not returned, or a time I had chased her through a forest and tried to eat her. Some clear explanation for the way she is looking at me, a gypsy curse I could blame it on. But it’s not. She just doesn’t want to be friends anymore, for reasons she isn’t sharing.
It’s weird, because I talk about breakups all the time, but talking about the conclusion of a friendship is harder somehow. It feels lame. Embarrassing, like an odor, or hair growing in places it shouldn’t. Not something to call attention to.
I haven’t lost a friend like this in twenty years. I lost friends at Columbia all the time, because I was in a rolling blackout and my favorite pastimes included going through your medicine cabinet and spending brunch in the fetal position under the table. I sobbed drunkenly on answering machines. I made shit up. I got high and put my hands where they didn’t belong. I made people’s boyfriends uncomfortable.
Friendships have always been tricky. When I was in seventh grade, I had these two girls I thought collectively of as the Bestfriends. One of the Bestfriends was blond, and the other was brunette. They had one personality. We were friends because we needed friends and we had the same homeroom teacher. The Bestfriends were camouflage in the lunchroom and a place to go after school, but I was twelve and losing my mind, and I started finding myself on the receiving end of whole lot of side-eye. I wanted to talk about being depressed, and the Bestfriends looked at me like I was handing them a birthday cake filled with carnivorous spiders.
I had always thought I was smart, but seventh grade made short work of that happy fiction. Science and math got suddenly, precipitously hard; my math teacher was 4’11’’ of concentrated leprechaun meanness who liked to tell me that when I ASSUME, I make an ASS out of U and ME, but I assumed I would fail algebra, and I actually was 110% right.
Worst of all, no boys liked me, and the one I particularly liked had started dating this horrible, popular hatchet-faced girl in our class; they held hands in the hallway on the long walk to the woodshop. At home, I couldn’t get along with my parents or my sisters. I was suddenly hyperaware of being a sexual person in a body that crackled with potential orgasms, and I didn’t I didn’t want anyone in my immediate family touching me– which meant that no one touched me, pretty much ever.
The Bestfriends would pass me notes in the hallway, folded into origami footballs, and sign them with love, dearly but not queerly.
The one unconditional ally I always felt I had was my stepfather’s mother. When I was younger, there were walks in Hedden Park, and sleepovers. She let me eat as many slices of toast in the morning as I wanted and praised my appetite, and she never failed to tell me how much she liked me. She was awesome, but cancer came and took her out with astonishing swiftness. She was just gone, with barely a ripple. It felt more like a crocodile attack then an illness.
At the wake, I couldn’t understand why people weren’t howling and breaking shit and beating on the floor with their fists. They were just standing around, chatting. American funeral traditions are appallingly bereft of ritual, except the one where we put too much rouge on our dead. That one we are very committed to. My grandmother looked ready for the leading role in a high-school play. I wore the same sweater dress I had worn to a particularly mortifying middle school dance a few weeks prior, sitting alone, picking off the sweater pills. My eyes were stuck on swollen.
So I decided I was done. Out of here. Fuck you guys. It was about a month after the funeral that I went into the bathroom and swallowed pills and pills and more pills.
As I am not writing this from beyond the grave (that would be a much cooler blog), I clearly succeeded only in spraying my entire bedroom with vomit. The night was spent at the emergency room, where I tried to act like I was as utterly baffled about how I had gotten into this state as everyone else. The next day I called one of the Bestfriends. I can’t remember which one, probably the brunette. I’ve always been partial to dark hair.
“Guess what?” Back then, I started all my conversations with guess what. I never gave you time to guess what, though. I just plunged in. “I was in the emergency room all night.”
The Bestfriend asked why, and I told her. This was proof of how much I had suffered. This was sure to leave me in the middle; there were three of us, and I had been feeling that the other two Bestfriends were closer to one another than they were to me, an isosceles triangle that left me a little too far from the campfire. They were both talking about going out for cheer squad, which I couldn’t really see the point of. They had parents who would let them sleep over one another’s houses on school nights.
There was a long pause on the phone. “Um, I have to go,” she mumbled. “My mom needs me.” And just like that, the Bestfriends never spoke to me again.
After I got the text from my friend this week, I sat with it for a while, drawing conclusions about myself. I’m upset enough that I think about calling Sketch, but I don’t. Years ago, I would have called him first if something was bothering me, but today I call him fourth, or fifth, or not at all. I am worried he will just tell me to relax, to be easy, and I am not easy. Getting from breakfast to dinner without murdering eleven people is not easy. I pull a muscle in my shoulder and still try to go into my downward-facing dog with one arm, because I lack adult coping mechanisms and I can’t seem to think straight unless I am upside down. I feel like I am full of broken cogs, a watch that tells the right time only twice a day, accidentally.
I don’t know what I want anymore, but I feel like I am rapidly approaching a state of being done with people I can’t be myself around. I go to a state fair last month, where the sign next to an outlandishly oversized rabbits reads, I am cute but I may bite. I want to wear this sign, and then you won’t be able to say that you weren’t warned.
Rolling over in bed with Sketch this weekend, delighted to see him back in the familiar setting of my pillows, my brass shovel necklace catches on the pillowcase and breaks. I haven’t taken it off in months, and it’s taken on superstitious dimensions. I try to fix the necklace first by glaring at it and then by making small whining noises, to no avail.
I bring the broken thing to my friend Scott. He is the person who helps me when I want to put in my air conditioner without flattening anybody on the sidewalk four stories below my window, or when I’m in some kind of jam which requires power tools or a driver’s license to straighten out. He is a competent adult and the most trustworthy person I have ever known, the only straight man I am unambiguously friends with, and I love him the way I love anything that proves me wrong about the things I am afraid of. He is married, and he asks nothing of me, just fixes my necklace, and leaves me the needle-nose pliers, tools that I might one day learn to use myself.
I want to know how to repay this person for existing in my life, and I ask him for his thoughts on how to do that. “Just keep helping people,” he tells me. Helping? He sees me as someone who helps. Not a werewolf that might bite your face. Not as a whirling cyclone of chaos and hurt feelings. A helper! I feel better than I have in days; I tuck my shovel into my shirt where it’s safe, and I make my monstrous way forward, looking for some way to be somehow useful.