I’ve always had a close friend who hates me. Different girls and women have stepped into the role over the decades, but the job is rarely vacant. As far back as I can remember, I’ve had two kinds of friends: sweet people who love me and think I’m wonderful, and vicious narcissists who see me as the enemy they must keep closer than their friends.
My dating pattern tended to be the same. I think I married the healthiest version I could find: a sweet, narcissistic, loving man who sees me as the enemy but thinks that’s totally hot.
I’m still working the friendship deal out.
I am as much to blame for the dynamic of those relationships as the other person. I have fed off of the drama. In fourth grade, I became part of a triad of best friends. Rachel was the daughter of hippy farmers. She was tall, long-legged, blonde, and buck-toothed with a loud, horsey laugh. In photographs of us, she has her arm hooked around my neck in a proprietary way, pulling my head into hers. She loved me, and I loved her less because of it. Our other best friend, Anna was the one I chased after. British by birth, Anna was polished, proper, and pernicious.
Seeing me devour a brownie, Anna said of me, “You’re always doing something to fatten yourself up.”
Toxic Best Friend was not the first to fill the position, but she was hopefully the last. Even as I type that, I remind myself I still have a person in my life who loves to say the shittiest stuff to me disguised as compliments or helpful advice (“I love your coat! It’s gorgeous! So not something you would wear!”), but we are not really friends and I let her snide remarks roll off my back. Mostly.
Toxic Best Friend (TBF) and I met in sixth grade and she continues to play a recurring role in the movie of my life. In school, she was alpha-girl, homecoming queen (okay, princess. She didn’t win), cheerleader, cheer captain, goodie two-shoes youth church group girl. I came mid-year to an elementary school full of kids who had been together since pre-school. The cliques were closed to outsiders. The only people who befriended me were my neighbor across the street and a few other rejects.
TBF wasn’t in this class. Not only did I wear the wrong clothes, like the wrong things, eat the wrong foods, and live in the wrong kind of house (a rental), I was in the wrong sixth grade class. There were two classes at the school and mine was the wrong one. Even more, I was at the wrong school. There was another elementary school (across from the high school) the really super cool kids attended. As far as that went, though, TBF was in the same boat as I.
She was small, skinny, slept in pink sponge curlers so she’d have perfect spirals at the ends of her long honey blonde hair. She curled her bangs under with a curling iron. She had big, white, straight teeth. Didn’t need glasses. She had the right clothes, the right friends, liked the right music, and lived in a house her parents owned. She knew I was jealous of her. It made her feel good to be nice to me because she knew how badly I wanted her to like me. I was like her charity work. I could see her filling out her community service hours sheet wondering “How many hours do I put down for being nice to Bummergirl?”
Ten years later, when we were in our late twenties, we met up by chance. She looked so different that I couldn’t place her right away. There was an extremely cheap looking bleached blonde accepting a schooner of chardonnay from the bartender at my family’s country club. Volleyball night. My brain could not put this person in context. She was wearing a skin tight dress revealing gigantic breasts on a size negative two body. When my synapses finally made the correct leap, I thought, “Shit, I’ve gotten so fat.”
Her quick up-and-down-eye-flicker/smirk combo told me she’d noticed.
We approached each other warily, and by the end of the evening, she’d made me promise to meet her for coffee the next day.
She still fried herself in the sun at every opportunity, and I hid in the shade and complained about the heat. Every time we met at a restaurant, which was often when we had money and no kids, I’d find her half naked on the patio, basking in the heat and the lusty stares of every male from sixteen to sixty. I was virtually invisible in her company. I felt like her security or personal assistant.
She also helped me get into teaching. She drove me to the impound early on a Sunday morning when my car was towed for parking tickets and provided the cash to get it out. We watched hours of “Sex and the City” together when I was single and lonely. Because she was the center of the universe and could never sit still, I was forever dashing off to meet her somewhere then follow her elsewhere, forcing me out of my isolationist cocoon. My phone would ring, back in the days when we talked on phones, and she would simply command, “Come over.” She accepted no excuses. She got things done. She was always surrounded by people, energy, and drama. I say all this to attempt an explanation for what I was doing in a relationship with her.
And why I keep getting sucked back in. Especially after what happened in Vegas. But that’s a story for another time.