PLEASE JUST BE A GOOD PERSON SO I CAN FINALLY BE SOMEONE WHO HAS FRIENDS

 


PLEASE JUST BE A GOOD PERSON SO I CAN FINALLY BE SOMEONE WHO HAS FRIENDS

“Marilla,” she demanded presently, “do you think that I shall ever have a bosom friend in Avonlea?”

“A—a what kind of friend?”

“A bosom friend—an intimate friend, you know—a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my innermost soul. I’ve dreamed of meeting her all my life.”

 — L. M. MONTGOMERY, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES



When you don’t have the affection and/or attachment you should have at home, it’s totally natural that you’d quickly become someone who is OBSESSED WITH FRIENDSHIPS. Kids with stable home lives can Make Friends™ in that casual, take ’em or leave ’em way, but you, poor you, will want to MAKE FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!! in a desperate, gasping for air while drowning kind of way. And so did I.


Because of that, I can say with some certainty that I was bananas in love with every best girlfriend I ever had from the ages of six to seventeen. The only reason the to-the-ends-of-the-earth love stops there is because that type of girlfriendship can be harder to come by as you get older. And even when you do find that person, being friends with your very own Rayanne Graff from My So-Called Life is not always fun and light and drawing yin-and-yang symbols on your notebooks and shaving your vulvas together. (Though, to be honest, I never watched that show growing up and only got into it a few years ago, despite a guy I knew in my teens telling me I was “such a Rayanne” because I almost—accidentally!!!—hit some nuns with my car when I turned too far to the right in the grocery store parking lot and I am sorry for it every day, poor nuns.)


Very often, best girlfriendship, especially of the middle and high school variety, is more along the lines of near-death experiences and sleeping-with-Jordan-Catalano betrayal. (I think I need to rewatch this, though, because I remember very little about this show except that Angela had, like, zero problems and the show focused on her as though she had ALL THE PROBLEMS. That said, this has been true of eight million shows about men who also have zero problems who feel like they have ALL THE PROBLEMS, so okay, fine.)


For those of you who have yet to experience the awkward teenage magic found within virtually any episode of My So-Called Life, Rayanne Graff is the enigmatic, Janis Joplin–esque best friend of straitlaced-until-she-dyed-her-hair-red Angela Chase, and Jordan Catalano was a boy who would fit snugly into any bad-boy-the-teen-girl-has-a-crush-on category in which you’d like to place him. Especially if that category includes qualities like “white guy in a band” and “secretly illiterate.”


I was not a Rayanne in high school, but I don’t think I was an Angela either. No one is really a fictional character down to a T, but I definitely followed more than led, adored more than was adored. In other words, my best girlfriend growing up was always some loud, endlessly hilarious, total knockout girl in a crop top and hot pants, whom I stood beside making jokes while covered in glitter and nonthreatening supportive cuteness.


In junior high, that girl was Sam. Sam had long blond Courtney Love hair and shopped at the cool-girl stores in the mall because that was her style, unlike me, who in those years just shopped in the stores that carried the right clothes to avoid bullying. I’m pretty sure “LOOK I’M WEARING ABERCROMBIE EVEN THOUGH IT’S OVERPRICED NONSENSE TRASH PLEASE DON’T HURT ME” was the store’s unofficial slogan.


Sam was also an amazing photographer and indulged my love of creating filthy flip-books about a character named Fred who was constantly doing inappropriate sexual things in a hilariously irreverent manner, and fake newspapers that were basically a rip-off of The Onion, but based on people we knew, because I’d never read The Onion. (Which is tremendous foreshadowing, because, years later, it would become my dream to work there—and a dream I would realize.)


If I wanted to spend the whole day speaking in what were probably regionally inaccurate accents, she would too. If I wanted to act out imagined scenes between Ginger and Baby Spice—who I believed had a vaguely sexual relationship—she went there with me. (Obviously I was Ginger Spice. I think that’s clear. Also, this was definitely a convenient way for us to be like “We like each other . . . haha, no we don’t! Ginger and Baby Spice do! We aren’t gay, THEY’RE gay! We’re just playing gay CHARACTERS who do gay things, but we don’t because we’re NOT GAY. Hahaha. If you shout it, it becomes more true!!!”)


Sam was the best sidekick ever, though I always felt like her sidekick—her weird, goofy friend who would do any dare “as long as it’s not physically dangerous or sexual.” We had mostly the same taste in movies and consumed them voraciously while quoting all the lines and doing the dance numbers (if there were dance numbers) together and imagining which of the characters we’d most be like when we got older. We’d dream of moving to Los Angeles together, like Romy and Michele, getting an apartment together, and finally, finally being pretty. Granted, I already thought Sam was the hands-down prettiest girl in the world. But not in the way you’re picturing her.


Sam wasn’t movie-star hot or even the most popular girl in school. But to me, if I can sound like a gayer version of Love Actually for a moment, she was perfect. Sam looked like she would’ve been more at home in the seventies than in the present day, and was also a size 4, and I know this because she constantly talked about how that was too fat. I was twice her size, so I would just stare at her, hoping my confusion would penetrate her like a visual blood transfusion. But that’s the thing about teenage girls: Whether you’re the heaviest or the thinnest, the most striking or the most plain, the world has effectively convinced you you’re hideous. So, uh, you have that in common, though you won’t know that until years later.


I’m struggling to describe Sam to you in a way you can see clearly. And not just because I hate lengthy descriptions (“the bookshelf was a soft oak, with big bookends that looked like mountains hovering around trees that had been kissed with snow”—ugh, it’s a bookshelf, I get it!!!), but because when I remember people I’ve really loved, I just remember a feeling. But nonetheless, fuck it. Let’s try. You know the quiet girl in your eighth-grade class who kind of scared you, but then occasionally would laugh in a way where it seemed like even she was surprised she had that much joy inside her, and even more surprised it found a way to escape? That was Sam. You know, the girl who was carrying more pain than you realized at the time, but whenever you went left, she went left with you because going left seemed fun? And if you decided to go right while walking like a toad because that just seems fun, she was already immediately walking like an A-plus toad and was five steps ahead of you? That was Sam. You know the girl who was the best at every subject because she genuinely cared about school (?), but would also participate in your endless inside jokes about masturbation, AND spit her milk out while you did spot-on impressions of Jewel? That was Sam.


Sam was just game for any weird stuff I wanted to do. I had this computer game in which you could pick out characters and have them act out scenes, and I’d use it to create full musicals. We’d voice all the characters and I’d write parody songs for each of them to sing, and they were honestly the most disturbing musicals thirteen-year-old girls could possibly write. They dealt heavily with “jokes” about child abuse, but every time I think back on them, they were also really fucking funny and I wish I could watch them now, though I can in my head and that’s so nice.


One time Sam and I both decided to shave our vulvas on the same night with shitty razors, and we absolutely went against the grain, which you should never do, but we did. And the next day she came up to me in the hallway and said, with uncharacteristic self-consciousness, “Hey,” and I said with matched hesitance, “Hey,” and she paused for a moment before saying with a laugh, “IT FUCKING ITCHES!” And I laughed and said, “I KNOW!!!” And we both vowed to never do that again, though obviously we did.


She was family in the only way I knew it. She made me feel like I belonged somewhere, to someone. We talked all day every day, from the minute we got to school and unlocked our lockers until we walked to the bus together after school. I wished, more than anything, that I lived in her house and could go home with her. When I’d get to my house, we’d immediately call each other and talk until someone made us stop, and then we’d start the whole thing over again in the morning at school.


We used to call the local radio station and request the Divinyls’s “I Touch Myself” at midnight and lose our shit when it came on. Everything about it was awesome, from calling in and requesting the song, to the moment when they actually played it, to jumping up and down on the bed and losing our shit while singing along because we genuinely loved the song. My favorite part was when the lead singer would say, “I fuck a sink, just how much I adore you.” It would be years, and many karaoke nights, before I would realize she was singing, “A fool could see just how much I adore you,” but I still sing it my way because it’s way better.


Sam’s family wasn’t perfect, and as we got older, I found out just how far from perfect it was. Her mom was kind of half there, a reluctant adult who was frequently stern in a way that made it seem like she was reminding herself to be stern in case anyone asked, just so she could say, “I did it!!!” Far as I could tell, she was a woman in her thirties who wasn’t sure how she’d gotten to be in her thirties with four kids, but she had, and she seemed very unhappy about it.


Her dad was mostly absent. He had bizarre, and in retrospect almost costume-like, facial hair, like he was auditioning for a Jeff Foxworthy sketch. He always seemed like he hated being married with kids, kind of like a redneck Don Draper. Sam’s three brothers were basically dirtier male versions of her, with dandruff-laden bowl cuts and a lot of Nine Inch Nails T-shirts. I one thousand percent would’ve made out with any of them if given the chance, despite how effortlessly annoying they all were in that specific “dirty-nailed little brother who loves skateboarding and probably upsetting porn” way. If I met them now, I would probably punch them in the face.


Sam’s house was a winding farmhouse out in the country that seemed full of magic to me, mostly because she lived there. It was filled with stained glass and had a beautiful kitchen that seemed straight out of an old-timey cottage—full of plants and wooden spoons and marble countertops, with stones lining the backsplash and . . . I’ll stop now because I sound like a lesbian real estate agent (whom I’d totally hire). In some ways, I remember her house more than mine. I focused on the details of her house more because I felt safe there, and even now, I can feel what it felt like to be there: like an interloper who always knew she’d have to go home and was trying to memorize everything so she could dream about it when she left.


I sometimes wonder if my imagination is so intense because I spent so much of my life imagining this was not my reality. So it won’t surprise you at all to know that I was obsessed with witches as a kid. Obsessed. I grew up heavily influenced by the late nineties, which was basically one giant cauldron filled with black lace chokers and covers of the Smiths’s song “How Soon Is Now?” You had The Craft, which was seminal, then you had Charmed(aka Wiccan house porn), and honestly, that was enough for me. You also had Practical Magic, aka one of the best movies of all time, even though it falls apart in the second act when it stops being about two sets of incredible witch sisters and starts being about some moony-eyed doof in a cowboy hat WHO WAS NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR SALLY OWENS AT ALL!!! and some bizarre attempts at special effects. More than anything at the time (and fuck it, this applies to now too) I wanted a group of women who were all crazy powerful to come over to my house and make lightning appear in my basement while we summoned whomever for whatever reason.


And I kind of got this to happen.


Obviously, Sam was one of the Chosen who would perform a ritual ceremony in my friend Margot’s creepy uncle’s apartment in a shitty part of town on Halloween (aka the best day of the year). His apartment wasn’t even cool-creepy—it was just a shitty studio that had a weird kitchen—but it was creepy enough.


My costume that year was set to be epic. I was going to be a Rollerblading Fairuza Balk from The Craft. I would do crazy eye makeup and wear some sort of witchy velvet top, a very short skirt, fishnets, and Rollerblades. I loved my Rollerblades so much. Not to brag, but I was really, really good at Rollerblading (a by-product of spending as much time outside my house as possible), except for the fact that I never learned how to use the brakes. I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t trust them. When I wanted to stop, I would just try to veer off toward a tree or a streetlamp and wrap my arms around it casually—no big deal, I meant to do that. Or I would point my toes into a triangle until I wobbled to a halt. Arguably, way cooler than brakes. [Shakes head no.]


At the lunch table one afternoon, I found a way to bring up the idea of the ritual. “Hey, would you guys wanna do, like, a Wiccan ritual the night of Halloween?” My friends stared at me and laughed, thinking I was joking, but I could not have been more serious. I had done research for months. I knew what kind of tools we needed. I knew that sometimes dudes were invited, but that would NOT be the case with me. (According to my references, men got naked, and I was not interested in seeing that, because I loved Halloween and nothing ruins Halloween faster than a male Wiccan’s penis.)


I let them laugh for a few minutes and go back to eating their Farmer Bartholomew cookies (I think whoever that person was, he sponsored my school, because all we ate for like six years were these grease-laden cookies that looked like hardened lumps of butter but were DELICIOUS) before I added, “No, but really. We could call the corners and light candles and play cool music.” Still nothing. Silence. “Also, we could do an offering to the gods, which means we get to eat pound cake.” They were on board.


On the evening of Halloween, I went to Margot’s uncle’s shit-brick apartment and began setting up in the living room for what would later unfold. Candles over here, incense over there, and “here’s all the cake I brought I hope it’s enough is one cake per person enough?” in the center. There was truly a lot of cake.


We went trick-or-treating first. I got the most candy in the quickest amount of time because I was on Rollerblades and KILLING IT. But sometimes I’d slow down to talk to Sam. By this time, I’d realized that she was less a best friend and more a “haha wouldn’t it be funny if we were gay but seriously I’m in love with you if you wanna get married, hit me up” best friend. She was the family I’d never had before and wanted more than anything, so I treated her accordingly by hoarding and giving her extras of her favorite candies.


“Come on, you guys, be serious!” I barked at them, in as much of a bark as I could muster while also giggling, because I was physically incapable of being serious, because my entire identity had become an airplane with a banner attached that read “HAHA SAD? I’M NOT SAD I KEEP MAKING JOKES WHICH MEANS I’M FINE” that won’t stop flying over your house. Plus, Sam was holding my hand in the circle and I was going to marry her for sure.


In my experience, most queer women—and heterosexual women, for that matter, because women absolutely have crushes on guys who don’t see them that way—don’t get as pissy as some heterosexual dudes get about the Friend Zone. The Friend Zone, while not always ideal, is still a goddamn gift, and really, the definition of true love. If you love someone, or even just care about them, as you claim to, you don’t mind the Friend Zone at all, because sure, fine, you don’t get to French them and stuff, but you get to know them and be close to them and hear all the dumb things that run through their minds and all the brilliant things that they don’t even know are brilliant. You get to know them and share the same air, and you’re alive at the same time, which is a gift in and of itself. If you don’t want the Friend Zone, you don’t want the girl. Simple as that.


Queer women will gladly remain there as long as it takes, whether that means, “As long as it takes for them to realize I’m the one for them, probably,” or if it just means, “Okay, they don’t think I’m the one for them, so I guess I’m not, and that’s okay because they’re still wonderful and I will just find someone else.”


I always hated when the guys I grew up with would tell girls they didn’t “get it” when they’d collectively objectify women and we’d ask them what the fuck their problem was. Or they’d tell us we have “no idea what it’s like” to be crazy about a cute girl, especially when she doesn’t know you exist or just sees you as a friend. First of all, bro, not everyone’s straight. I could totally fathom being crazy about a cute girl, except they’re never just cute girls, not ever. They’re everything, and probably a lot of things those guys couldn’t see, or didn’t care to see. Plus, hahaha, you think queer women don’t know what it’s like to be into a girl who just sees you as a friend? Dude, try being into a girl who doesn’t even see your gender as a socially sanctioned option!


A straight high school—or even junior high school—boy will never come close to knowing that level of “I don’t have a shot with this girl” pain. First of all, you do have a shot, because as far as you know, she’s straight or has been told to act straight. Second of all, all our lives, girls are told in not so many words that our main job in life is to please men, don’t embarrass them, don’t make them angry, give them what they ask for, be nice. So really, men technically “have a shot” with literally every woman they see, because we’ve all been trained to give you one, or else we’re assholes.


We’ve all been taught to lose our fucking shit if a boy, any boy, has chosen us. “WE HAVE BEEN CHOSEN!!! And now, we must do whatever he wants because it is so special that he has chosen us!!!” It’s truly upsetting how persistently that message is communicated to us and how we accept it blindly, on a molecular level. Not attracted to this guy at all? BUT HE CHOSE YOU! Don’t think he’s funny or kind? STOP BEING SO PICKY, HE CHOSE YOU! Wish he treated you differently? OMG, NO ONE’S PERFECT, AND HE CHOSE YOU! YOU KNOW, ONE DAY BOYS WILL STOP CHOOSING YOU ALTOGETHER IF YOU DON’T CONSTANTLY DATE EVERY GUY WHO CHOOSES YOU AND THEN YOU’LL DIE ALONE, SO FUCKING LET HIM CHOOSE YOU!!! YOU ARE A TEDDY BEAR PULLED OUT OF A SHITTY ARCADE MACHINE AND HE PAID SEVENTY-FIVE CENTS. HE’S YOURS NOW. But with men, in the broadest sense, they get to choose who they do or don’t want, like a king deciding which of the seven types of lamb placed before him is suitable for dinner. Mostly because no one cares when men get married, and if they wait until they’re forty or fifty or sixty we all assume it’s because they haven’t found anyone good enough for the high standards we allow them to have for themselves. And then we sneer when women do the same.


Please know that I am not suggesting men put these ideas in their own heads. I truly assume anyone reading this right now is a good person with great intentions who would gladly remove this shitty programming from their own head and the heads of everyone around them who also wanted it gone. God, I wish we could all—every person, regardless of gender—point to the movies or TV or commercials or people who gave us the damaging ideas about what our gender means and what other genders mean, but it often seems like a mixture of sources we can’t quite place, making us feel crazy or like we chose to believe this—but ask around, and you’ll find we did not.


Back to the ritual. I had to regretfully drop Sam’s hand so I could hold the stupid Wiccan book that I wished I’d given enough of a shit to memorize, and let me tell you, if I’d known I would’ve ended up holding hands with Sam and would’ve had to drop that hand to read, “Sage the area in a clockwise motion three times,” I would’ve memorized every word and volume of future and past editions to the letter.


As I read it, I realized this ritual was kind of slapped together. We didn’t have everything we needed, like a scrying mirror or a coven leader, though I guess that was supposed to be me? Plus, I seriously could not get those girls to focus. They were all over the place, laughing and talking about non-witch stuff. It was a disgrace. A disgrace! So finally I just gave up and ate a ton of cake in the corner alone while “I Want It That Way” played from someone’s stereo.


I’d really wanted this to be something. I don’t know what exactly. But I wanted what they had in the movies. I wanted friendships that meant something, connections that went beyond making pizza bagels and listening to PJ Harvey. The closest thing I got was when Sam slept over at my house that night. Both of us exhausted, we flopped onto my bed. I don’t know how, but we started talking about things that scared us. It wasn’t framed that way, but that’s what it was, and often is with friends at that age. The gentle and very quiet opening-up that happens late at night when you should be asleep already. You feel safe enough, and maybe sleep-drunk enough, to say the things you can never say when you’re wide awake and it’s morning, because if you say something you might need to take back, you have a cover. “Did I say that? Ha, I was half awake last night.” Being sleepy is the being drunk of being thirteen.


She told me, in words separated by pauses, and then sped through like she was trying to get out all the words before she lost her nerve, about her cousin and how he used to “make her do things to him,” and how he’d give her presents at the end. My eyes widened for so many reasons. She had a family. They were weird, but she had one. Her mom made breakfast and cared enough to be stern sometimes. And far as I knew, Sam didn’t live in fear of her family, and they paid attention to her and seemed to give her what she needed. Compared to me, she appeared to have everything I didn’t have. But apparently she had more of what I had than I knew, more of what I had than I’d wanted for either of us. And she just cried. For a really long time. And I cried too, for reasons I couldn’t tell her, and because she was another person I couldn’t save, couldn’t protect, and why was no one protecting us? Why? We were kids and someone was supposed to protect us.


So I held her hand. And I didn’t stop holding her hand. So much so that I didn’t even get up to take out my contacts, because I didn’t want to leave her there. I woke up the next morning and my eyes wouldn’t open; they were sealed shut, red and burning. Sam’s mom came to pick her up and I couldn’t even see her as she left, except maybe a little bit through a hot red space in my right eye. I told her I’d call her tomorrow, like I always did, like everything would be like it always had been.


This is a time period I live in constantly inside my head, in moments like this, but better. This wasn’t Sam giving up on photography and joining forces with people we’d previously agreed we hated to bully me in the hallways—both seemingly aftershocks from the end of our friendship, shaking us both so hard that our lives shattered, in their own ways, leaving us with no choice but to build entirely new ones without each other.


We went from spending every waking moment missing each other, every evening on the phone, and every weekend at each other’s houses, to Sam’s completely ending all contact with me; a type of heartbreak from which I don’t know if you ever really recover.


I saw her slipping away from me as we got closer and closer, as our jokes about being “gay” became more frequent, and then immediately less frequent, until I was the only one keeping up the jokes, as she’d swiftly change the subject. She started hanging out with a girl named Helen whom we both hated because she was super mean and smelled like a hamster cage. I got us tickets to see Joni Mitchell for my birthday, even though at that time Joni Mitchell was more Sam’s favorite than mine, so I had literally gotten us a birthday present for her, on my birthday, which speaks volumes about what I thought true romantic love was back then: all about the other person and nothing about me at all. Healthy stuff.


This whole period of time felt like one long Sunday night, or better yet, Saturday night. I don’t know what it is about Saturday night that makes me want to leap off tall buildings in a single bound. I think it’s probably because Saturday nights are like weekly New Year’s Eves. You’re supposed to not be alone, you’re supposed to do something So Fun!!! You’re supposed to have friends and it’s supposed to be the Best, and when it’s anything less, you just feel like you’re six thousand miles away from your best life, and fun, and normalcy.


She asked if Helen could come with us. I was stunned. Her friend-mistress whom we had both literally hated, like, two weeks ago? “I don’t know, she’s kind of nice,” she said. I retreated immediately. “Well, if you really want her to come, that’s fine. I don’t care. I just want you there and me there and it’ll be great.” But something still wasn’t right in her voice and I didn’t know what. She was silent for a while, and then she said we were getting “too close,” she needed to be friends with “other people besides you.”


“Okay! That’s fine!” I said. But it didn’t do any good. She was gone.


I can’t pinpoint why she ended our friendship, but I do have theories. For one, I think our friendship blurred a lot of heteronormative lines, and from stories I’ve heard from other women, this happens a lot. It doesn’t even necessarily mean either one of you is queer, but when you’re a teenager, there is an overall pressure to be “normal,” and spending that much time with someone of the same sex can quickly call “normal” into question. This type of intimacy and closeness is not often socially sanctioned, as we’re told it’s reserved for your romantic partner, who—in your teen years especially—is “supposed” to be someone of the opposite sex.


We did joke about it. “What if we were gay?” And the more we played house and “joked” about these things, the more I think it started to hit closer to the truth than either of us knew what to do with. So she did something about it.


And then, in true Heavenly Creatures minus the murder fashion, her parents moved them somewhere far away and that was that.


I can’t say for certain whether or not our relationship was romantic (jk it so was), and really, that’s not the point. Either way, I think she also had a very difficult time recovering from what happened between us. I see the effects of this type of thing in women in their twenties and beyond: recovering from finally finding the girl who’ll make collages of 1960s starlets for them and cry with them until four a.m. while they tell each other things they can’t tell anyone else. But invariably it all gets ruined because one betrays the other, one of them falls in love with the other, or both of them fall in love with each other—and they’re too terrified of what people would think about that.


With Sam, she proved my worst fears to be true: that I was too much and needed too much. I’ve spent so many of my relationships being terrified the person I love will hurt me, and always questioning whether or not the other person really means what they say, and worrying if I love more, or feel more, and what that means if it’s true.


The only way I can explain this is by telling you a story from when I was really little. My parents were going out to dinner when I was six or so, and before they left, I felt instantly desperate and went to the bathroom and grabbed my mom’s lipstick and put red dots all over my body and then begged them not to go. “I have chicken pox, you can’t leave,” I said. I remember they both laughed and laughed and then they left. And I cried and couldn’t stop. They laughed at me like I was a wacky child pulling a wacky stunt: kids say the darnedest things, etc. But I think about that night all the time, that little kid desperate for someone to love her, take care of her, spend any time at all with her, make her feel connected to literally anyone or anything, and they just laughed. And left.


Not long after this, I realized the only time anyone would take care of me when I was a kid was when I was sick, when they were forced to (and this fell on my mom, because I don’t think my dad literally ever took care of anyone but himself). So I made myself sick all the time, just so she’d spend time with me. And I knew the whole time my mom was doing it, she didn’t have it to give. Still, as a kid, you can’t rationally think, “My mom is barely able to keep her head above water in her own nightmare. It is not personal that she cannot care for me on top of that.” All you absorb is “My mom hates taking care of me, I can feel it, she wishes she could be watching TV or reading a book or talking to a friend,” but I didn’t care. I just wanted her to take care of me so badly I didn’t care that she seemingly didn’t want to, or that I’d stayed home sick most of the year, or that I’d developed an ulcer by the age of six from stress—yet another warning sign no one noticed.


Even now when I get sick I often get impossibly depressed because I just want someone to take care of me, like I wanted someone to take care of me then, and no one’s coming for either of us.


To counteract this, I take a fuckton of Emergen-C at all times, because if I never get sick, I can never get sad!!!


I always think about that “contact comfort” study they did with rhesus monkeys. Basically they paired one set of monkeys with cloth-covered surrogate mothers and no food, and another set of monkeys with wire-covered surrogate mothers with food. The idea was to see which monkeys thrived more: the ones who had comfort and no food, or food and no comfort. Not that surprisingly to me, the ones who experienced comfort and care, despite not having any food, fared so much better. And I have always identified with the kind-of-dying monkeys who technically had food, but desperately wished they had softness and care too.


I know they used mothers in this study only because they supply milk, but I wish we could talk more about the fathers who technically supply food and nothing else. And then occasionally don’t even provide the food, and as was the case with my family, take the mother and lock her in a glass case where she could barely function, let alone reach out to love us, like I believe she wanted to, so there is no one left to turn to. I wholly reject the idea that “Well, if the father fails at being a caretaker, or abandons his family, or is abusive, it’s expected, what can you do? Men are like this! But if the mother isn’t an ideal caretaker, she’s a monster.” No, I don’t agree. Especially when one monster had a very large part in creating the other.


    When Sam and I stopped being friends, I went into a deep depression no one at school could understand and I was made fun of every day for crying about it. But they didn’t get it. When you don’t have a baseline of love and security and home, and you finally get someone who can seemingly love you and you feel accepted and special and you feel like “Aw, is this home? Finally! I can’t wait! This is so great!” and then they kick you out, you feel like you’ve lost everything. You don’t have a foundation, so you look everywhere for one, which means the weight of any one connection is so heavy, so important, so delicate. If you lose it, what else will you have? And it has definitely kept me in a ton of awful friendships and relationships because I’d felt like I had nothing or no one else to fall back on. I’d made my “friends” my family, and you fight for your family, and you don’t leave them ever. But they’re not your family. And they know that. And you don’t.


Every so often I hear adult women say things like “I just get along better with men,” or “I can’t stand other women,” or some variation of one of the two. I want to believe with all my heart that those women still long for the close female friendship they had and then lost, or never had at all. I want to believe that some part of every woman remains a teenage girl who just wants to find an unstoppably kind and inspiring girl to laugh with, someone to be in total awe of. But the combination of the indescribable intimacy of women at that age, when everything seems so fraught, and the walls are changing all around you, the floor sinking and rising, and all you want is to grab on to someone you know will go through it with you, makes it the most challenging and necessary thing to obtain.


And if your family is horrible, and then you go to school and everyone there is horrible too, it can feel like everyone is trying to kill you—physically or emotionally—everywhere you go. So partnering up with someone who sees you and thinks you’re special, you’re perfect, you’re choose-able, and of all the people in the whole world (see: school), they’d choose you every time, seems wise. But then one day they un-choose you, and you feel like you’re nothing again. “Well, fuck that. I’m not letting that happen again.” And then you become That Girl. “I just get along better with men,” and you do it for however long you choose to make yourself believe it. But I don’t believe it.


I know too many women, myself included, who however briefly tried this role on and then realized it was bullshit. They were just scarred from their childhood female friendships, and that, coupled with a culture that’s constantly trying to get you to see other women as an invisible threat to your getting a man or a job or some similar nonsense, made it easier for them to slip right into a pair of Girls Are Too Much Drama, the jeans for women who secretly hate themselves.


I don’t think we ever really stop wanting that, though. Even as a grown woman, I still want to go over to someone’s apartment, borrow a pair of their pajama pants (and not feel the deep, deep shame I did as a child when their pants didn’t fit me, because it was SO MUCH SHAME), and order Chinese food like real adults. I want to put on Spotify playlists and talk until we pass out and wake up to the quiet hum of whatever we were playing come morning, because we only turned it down and forgot to turn it off. And to shake out our messy hair, content in the knowledge that we belong somewhere and to someone, for however long they’ll have us. I’ve had shades of that now and then, and it’s a feeling I admittedly chase. When I’m with friends now, as an adult, I don’t want to have polite adult tea and talk about our jobs. I don’t want to sit in dress pants while we talk about a New Yorker article. Not really.


I want to lie on the couch, cozy in blankets, watching movies, feeling safe enough to pass out and stay the night if we want to. I want to turn English muffins into foundations for pizza bagels at ten p.m., even though they’re not as good as bagels and we know it. I want to tell each other things we can’t talk about online, or we can’t tell our coworkers, and to cry and still be lovable, even if we’re in pain sometimes. To break in front of each other, and pick up the pieces together, before making some dumb joke and telling each other we love each other and knowing we’re safe to be all of it.






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