My mom used to say that I could make friends anywhere. She told me that I would find a girl somewhere close to my age and befriend her in the time it would take us to make a bathroom stop at a gas station on a road trip. It would be an understatement to say that I’m a gregarious and social creature; even one friend told me that I am “aggressively friendly” and that’s saying something, even by Midwestern standards. When I was very young, I also made a vow to myself that I wanted to make friends with the most difficult people that I would encounter in any given day. This challenge has guaranteed that I would have some very interesting adventures and more than one awkward or dangerous situation, but always thrilling. Over the course of my life, I’ve had too many acquaintances to count, dozens of friends, a handful of true friends, and a sizable amount of frenemies.
During two heady years of prepubescence, my best friend Antoinette and I ruled the roost of 3rd and 4th grade girls with a conjoined iron fist. We decided what games to play during recess, who was included and excluded. We decided which crushes were appropriate for the other girls and which boys to chase down on the playground. We had exclusive slumber parties where there were strict rules of participation and mandatory pranking. We even had some girls pay us to be friends with us for a day. Yes, I was a mean girl, and in retrospect, I had it coming.
Antoinette and I were what my mom called, “bosom buddies”. We were attached at the proverbial hip. We were best friends. The kind you tell all of your secrets to and entrust with your thoughts. The kind you spend hours and hours on the phone with talking about your crushes, elementary school boyfriends, and your pretend future husbands. We traded fashion tips and elaborately folded notes, the game M.A.S.H. and chapbooks. We gave each other nicknames like “Muffy” and “Buffy” and thought that shit was hilarious. We invented our own language and slang. We gossiped about everyone else non-stop. We had sleepovers and froze each others bras, and put makeup on each other “The Mary Kay” way just like grown-ups.
But then fifth grade year rolled around and somehow everything changed. To this day, I’m still not sure what went wrong. Perhaps, it was puberty that changed our friendship forever. We both discovered that we were the first girls who got their periods and starting growing breasts at the tender ages of 10. We were still revered by the other girls our age and elicited distant curiosity from the boys, but these new developments made us rivals.
My best friend decided that she hated me and spent the better part of that year systematically, in her words, “making my life hell.” She started by turning every other girl against me by telling them all of the mean things we had both said about them, but then only attributing it to me. I quickly became a pariah as quickly as I had inexplicably rose to popularity just one year previous.
Antoinette was the first in a line of girls who became my frenemy. The things that built our best friendship became the most destroying ammunition used to tear you down bit by bit when you become a frenemy. All’s fair in love and war and anything and everything will be used against you.
At the time, the boys didn’t really care about girls, although some of their interests were piqued by the charge in the atmosphere. They still picked their noses openly in public and were more interested in the dramas of the WWF and local baseball teams than they were in the swirling cacophony of gossip that surrounded them everyday at school. I tried to find refuge in a boy who was probably mildly retarded and was only interested in talking about his favorite baseball team The Astros or his favorite book, “It’s Like This, Cat.” There was also the boy who had been telling me that I stuffed my bra every chance he got and really seemed to get a kick out of the fact that I would generally respond by slapping him really hard across the face.
One afternoon, after coming into the classroom and watching Antoinette mouth “You’re dead” to me over and over, I got so frustrated that I excused myself to graffiti the girls’ bathroom with the words, “Antoinette is a big fucking slut.” At first, it was exhilarating and then it just left me with an empty sadness in the absence of my best friend and all of my other potential friends. Of course, the teacher knew exactly who did this without having to guess at the culprit and I got detention and was required to scrub off the graffiti after school. My revenge was short-lived.
Time marched on, and with it the advent of 6th and 7th grade year. I met some friends who helped wash the pain away of that first friendship lost. There was a girl named Andrea, who was quiet and unassuming but just under the surface was the most mischievous and scheming dirty-minded girl I had ever met. There was Clarissa, who loved The Cure just as much as I did and who introduced me to the joys of sniffing markers during recess. There was Melinda who giggled non-stop and introduced me to a famous Spanish pop singer whom she personally knew. There was Polly, who listened to the Smashing Pumpkins with me and with whom I agreed that the way to identify really cool people was to see if they wore black or blue nail polish.
Frenemies didn’t ruin my future friendships with people and didn’t tamp down my aggressive friendliness. They didn’t make me hold back in telling people my secrets. They helped me appreciate my quirky, delightful, and loyal friendships that much more. I no longer had to be a mean girl to secure my bond with another girl. I learned that that is usually the sign of a future frenemy. I continued to seek out the difficult people, making acquaintances and those rare friends. I had even more frenemies waiting for me in high school, but I found that nothing quite stings like that first one.