by Mila Phelps-Friedl
*names have been changed for the sake of time.
I remember this one day when I really saw you, as we sat beading coral paints onto tiny pinky toes and exclaiming when the drips hit the porch deck— the tang of nail polish remover raised the hairs at the back of my neck. You sat directly in front of the sun, parts of your mousey hair lit by streams of light that covered your face, and I couldn’t tell if you were looking at me. That’s when I realized; I could never tell if you were looking at me. But we’d only been friends for two years now, so feeling somewhat kept at arm’s length must be totally normal, right? We’d shared the same social space for so long now, our names rolled off tongues like maple syrup and I’d counted you among my best friends since that first hello, and yet— looking at you in the sun, I could feel the rough wood of the deck under my legs more than I could feel you wanting me to be there. With us, no matter the situation, there was always a point at which you pushed me away.
The six months that *Stella was abroad I breathed in deeply, like the calm after a storm. I shook water weight from my limbs and without guilt, I breathed in the space. She was one of our best friends, and the space she left was hard to look at, but she’d always been closer to you, and so while I was sad, a part of me hoped that finally I would be allowed to be your friend without sunspots dancing in my way. I was wrong. Instead of turning to me, you turned me aside and filled the gap with more and more people until I struggled to form sentences around you as I felt like the dimmest one in the room. Where I’d once breathed in space, I longed to feel supported and surrounded again by something other than the foundation of salt it seemed I was standing upon.
Three years now of being your friend and I was as expendable as nail polish, only traces of the color that I used to be, and that wasn’t enough for me. So that summer I broke out, laying down a foundation of all the things I wanted to do and be over the crumbling existence of whatever I’d once seen in this friendship — and it was that act of defiance that changed everything.
“What did I do wrong?”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
“No. I’m done waiting for you to tell me. What did I do?”
In a moment of bravery or cowardice, I’d confronted you over the illuminated keys of my computer and you’d waited an hour before sending me a list.
a. list. of. everything. I. had. done. wrong.
1. You never tell me what’s going on with you.
a. Well I would if I felt like you cared.
b. or would tell me anything I didn’t have to feel like I’d earned.
2. You’re far too self involved.
a. Says the 16-year-old to the 16-year-old in a world that currently revolves around the drama of wanting to be your friend a little too much apparently.
3. You stopped really trying to be my friend.
a. I never stopped, I just realized that I was hurting myself more than I was gaining ground or traction or air to breathe, or any response to make me think that you wanted me to be your friend.
The list went on.
For three months I agonized over those words, over all the times I genuinely thought I was being a good friend that had suddenly become stained and swollen under the ways you considered me to be wrong. I questioned if all this time I’d been making something out of nothing, blowing pinpricks into bee stings, poisoning a friendship with my own personal venom. But then I remembered that day in the sun, all the times I spent without you looking at me, really seeing me, draining color and confidence out of a friendship I had genuinely wanted.
You were wrong about me and I was wrong about me.
I should never have let something steeped in that much uncertainty rock me to my core, because once I blinked the sunspots from my eyes and really looked at the situation, it was just me sitting on a deck painting my toenails in brilliant hues of reds and magenta, and I was perfectly content with who I am.