My daughter is made of pretty tough stuff. Not surprising, since she has three older brothers. Mostly she prefers to hang out with boys, and I don’t discourage her. I’m dreading what will happen when she gets a little older, because I had a nightmare friendship in high school and I’m terrified the same thing will happen to her. On the one hand, I can honestly say it was the worst relationship experience I’ve ever had with anyone of either gender, but on the other hand, I think I needed to have it because it taught me so much that I think I needed to learn. I wish I could have learned it all in an easier way, but I don’t think that’s possible. And while I want my daughter to learn the same lesson (“Tell the drama queens and assholes to fuck off out of your life the instant you recognize that they’re drama queens and assholes”), I don’t want her to have to live through an Ellie.
Ellie transferred to my school when we were in 10th
grade. At our first meeting she seemed fun, nice, if a little shy and quiet. I
was never the most popular kid in school, and I was happy to find a new best
friend (not to reveal a spoiler here, but the previous best friend that I
dropped? We made up and are friends to this day. Ellie? No idea. Don’t care).
So here’s Ellie, and I have no idea what she’s like, other
than that she seems fun. She and a girl named Morgan and I become a clique of
three. Three is a bad number for kids, even worse for teenage girls. The first glimpse
I had into what Ellie was really like was on an Assembly Day early in the
school year. We had an all-school assembly every Tuesday and Thursday. On the
day in question, we all agreed to meet at Ellie’s locker or something, and walk
I went to the assigned meeting place and looked for them,
but I didn’t see them. After a minute, I decided to just walk down and find her
at the actual assembly. I mean, big deal, right? The assembly space was a large
room in the basement of the school. As I walked down the stairs, I saw Ellie
and Morgan on the other side of the room. I mouthed, “I looked for you,” and
gave a kind of puzzled shrug. Two faces of stone met my gaze. Ellie mouthed,
“SURE,” and turned away.
What the fuck?
Thus began a seemingly endless cycle of Ellie being “mad” at
either me or Morgan, and having the other one act as her confederate. Morgan
and I went along with this, I can’t tell you why. Because we were fourteen, I
guess. I can’t even remember all the things she got “mad” at us about.
Sometimes it was because we talked to someone Ellie didn’t like (as you may
imagine, Ellie had a very long list of people she didn’t like). I also recall
huge dramas about clothes—every evening we would talk on the phone about what
we were going to wear the next day. If by some chance we, oh, I don’t know, changed our fucking minds, and wore something
other than the outfit that had been “approved” in the conversation with Ellie,
she would be “mad.”
“You said you were
going to wear your turquoise double
dyed jeans. If you hadn’t said that, I would have worn my pink ones, but I didn’t want us both to show up in something so similar.”
She would express her anger in the form of a hostile silence,
and whomever she was “mad” at would initially have to plead to even understand
the transgression, then (assuming she would deign to reveal this) we would spew
apologies and regrets, begging to return to her good graces. She would make us
suffer—“But you always act like this
when such and such happens, and I’m just sick
of it,” she would lecture. After a day or two she’d simmer down and we’d
all be friends again. For a little while.
The slightest thing would set her off, and she loathed not being the center of
attention (which often was what set her off). She had a soap opera habit, and
she was in the process of converting me. We liked to watch “Days of our Lives”
at my house. One afternoon at school our English teacher walked up to me and
handed me a 3 inch long pencil that had almost no eraser and had been lightly
gnawed. It said “I [heart] the Soaps” on it.
“Here,” he smiled, “I found this; it must be yours.”
He was being kind, trying to reach out to connect with a
snotty, disaffected fourteen year old (who, to be honest, didn’t want to be
connected with—I’m sorry, Mr. Weinstein; I was an asshole, and I appreciate
your teaching me that “alright” is not a word, even though spell check let it
pass when I typed it just now).
“What is it?” Ellie asked.
“Just a pencil,” I said, showing it to her. Ellie pounced on me.
“That’s mine!” she
insisted vehemently, “Mine. I used it today during our
quiz in History class!”
I should have called
her on it. I should have said, “Actually, during the quiz you were using one of
those erasable pens.” (And those things have totally disappeared from the face
of the earth, haven’t they? No loss—they didn’t work for shit.) Because I remembered
that, but we were a few months into this “getting mad” shit and I was a coward. I
couldn’t bear to have her “mad” at me, ganging up with Morgan, standing a few
feet away from me whispering and eyeing me, then laughing loudly. And since I
was her partner in crime when Morgan was the victim, I knew the kinds of things
they were saying.
“Look at those hideous
pants. Who would wear such hideous
pants? Someone with no taste,
that’s who!” Or, “Ohmahgod, how gross can you get?”
Pencils were bad, but boys were a thousand times worse.
In a way I won’t go into (mostly because I don’t remember
it), she started dating a guy named Mike. He didn’t go to our school—I think
she just picked him up on a city bus somewhere. One of the few nice things about
being a teenager is the odds are pretty low that another teenager is a serial
killer, and what with siblings and intramural sports, you likely have lots of
mutual friends (which was the case in this instance). So picking up a fifteen
year old isn’t quite as risky as picking up a thirty year old guy at a bar.
Ellie was so insecure that she manipulated for the sake of
manipulation. With Mike, she wanted to know what he was thinking—how he felt
about her, how he felt about other girls, how he visualized their relationship
progressing (in her mind, marriage was the natural conclusion. Yes, she was
fifteen). Her strategy was to get me to call him and ask him a bunch of
questions and then call her and relay the answers. God forbid I was vague or
uncertain about how the conversation progressed.
“So, what did he say then?”
“Well, I think that was when he said…”
“You THINK? You THINK? Don’t you KNOW? WHAT DID HE SAY,
I learned to speak in specifics, never to hedge. “He said X,“ versus, “I think he said X,” even if I wasn’t quite sure. When I was
finished, she’d say, “OK, call him back and ask him…” And if she ever didn’t
like the answers, it was my fault, and she’d get “mad.” At me. Of course.
I swear I’m not
making this shit up.
Then she started dating a guy that she took away from
another girl. His name was Adrien and he’d been dating Kate for years when
Ellie decided he was irresistible and she had to have him (he was not
irresistible; he was gross). This began a whole drama in which he was torn
between Kate and Ellie, and cheated on Kate with Ellie before finally breaking
up with Kate, and Ellie loved every second of it. Since this is already pretty
long, I’ll skip to the end and tell you that she got him, and he was the
biggest loser on the planet. He ended up working at a CVS because he had zero
ambition. However, that was the catalyst for the demise of our friendship. She
was so caught up in her relationship with him that she didn’t have time for me,
which turned out to be an excellent thing.
The summer before senior year, when I hadn’t seen her for
weeks, and had started hanging out again with the friend I’d dropped, she
called me to find out why I hadn’t called her, and we had a very long phone
conversation in which I told her just what I thought of her and her bullying
ways, and that I wasn’t going to have anything to do with her in the upcoming
school year. Surprisingly, she was devastated. Adrien had broken up with her,
and her cat had died, she sobbed to me (yes, the fact that her cat died was a
reason why she wanted to stay friends with me). She would stop, she would
change, she was so sorry she’d hurt me.
For probably the first time in my life, I made a good
decision. I told her it was too fucking late, and she should piss off. Not
those words exactly, but that was the very obvious gist of my message. And
never since have I ever let anyone treat me the way she did, or use me so
shamelessly. I won’t say I haven’t gotten myself into similar situations
(lookin’ at you Jon Henderson), but as soon as I realized it, I walked out.
You may be thinking, “What the hell were your parents doing through all of this?” and the answer
is, wishing their daughter had more of a spine and hoping that she’d eventually
develop one (which, as I just said, I did). To be fair, there was a lot of this they didn’t realize was
happening, but what they did realize they disapproved of heartily. Her parents
didn’t have a clue what a little bitch their daughter was. In fact, early on in
senior year, her father confronted me at a school function and flat out demanded
that I reinstate my friendship with Ellie. I just turned around and walked away.
Thanks to his daughter, that’s how I learned to deal with assholes and drama