My life was about to end. I had to choose a partner.
I spun toward my best friend stretching behind me, my heart beating faster than bad Karma.
“Hey Jess, want to be partners?” I asked, my voice almost too high.
She shrugged, tying back her long brown hair to keep it out of her face. We were about to embark on the treacherous journey of exercising on land, the same as being tortured alive if in water polo. Swimming a mile sucked since it was the equivalent of eighty laps, but run one? The coach might as well have asked us to sacrifice our first born.
My best friend strolled over to me, waiting for our coach to tell us the next horrible workout when someone piped up next to me.
“Jess want to be my partner?”
Jess’s eyes lit up, a small smile spreading across her lips. She looked over at the blonde girl who had spoken, about to accept when she stopped short. Her gaze flitted to me, a shadow of sadness crossing her face.
“Um…” was all she was able to get out.
“I can tell you all about this video I just saw while we exercise, it was epic,” the blonde mentioned, waltzing closer.
Jess glanced between me and the blonde, curling into herself. “Don't make me choose between the two Hayley’s.”
Hayley. I happened to share the name of the blonde, a fact she did not appreciate. I thought it was cool at first since I had never met anyone with my name before. I tried to become her friend, thinking our name would bring us closer but she despised me. For stealing her name somehow. It made no sense to me, especially since this girl could be a model while the only thing I could pose as was the Pillsbury Doughboy. The worst that could happen was that she would be labeled the pretty Hayley while I was the fat Hayley.
Hayley the Gorgeous refused to look at me, “It’s okay, I'll just text it to you later. Gotta keep the meme chat alive.”
Jess beamed and it felt like a knife stabbed me. My best friend had all but demanded that I not text her as she was too busy to talk over text or the phone. A meme? Talk about a catastrophe.
I had grown up with Jess, knowing her since preschool. We ran around the field playing horses in elementary school, talked for ages on the steps of our middle school, and now we sat at the same table sharing lunch. She was amazing and talented and special. I don't know how I could have grown up without her, but deep down something told me she didn't feel the same.
Jess glanced back at me, her arms tight across her abdomen in a self hug. Her eyes silently pleaded.
I surrendered to them, “It's okay, you can be partners with Hayley. I’m sure I can find someone else.”
She grinned and turned to the blonde. They marched away as I started my hopeless search but I already knew the outcome. There was an odd number, and I was always the one person left alone. Today had been the first and only time I had been able to pair up with my best friend. Sorry, almost pair up with my best friend.
The coach ordered us through multiple exercises that had the pairs giggling to each other. I would imagine my partner there, hiding a laugh behind her hand. I had discovered that the other person was mainly there to make everything easier and fun, but not absolutely necessary. There was always a way to do it alone.
We finally finished, sweat soaking through my shirt. I began the trudge back to the locker room with the rest of the mob, Jess and Hayley walking slightly ahead.
“Do you want to hang out tonight?” Hayley asked, linking arms.
“Of course!” Jess began skipping, dragging along a cackling Hayley.
I tried to ignore the wetness threatening to accumulate behind my eyes. Jess had stopped wanting to do anything with me outside of school at sixth grade. She told me she was busy, and that I would have to schedule any meeting at least two weeks in advance. I did, but she said that it was still too close to the hang out date. I then tried coordinating things months in advance, which was somehow still too soon. It wasn't just a phase she went through either. She didn't want to meet with me even now. She complained how bored she was, that she just sat in her red chair all day, but when I offered for her to come over she was suddenly the busiest person alive.
I shook off the sting, changing quickly and driving home. Focusing on it would only make me miserable.
Weeks blurred into months until my elbow slipped off our lunch table, jarring me awake. Water polo had ended and the school year was limping to the finish line. I snatched my backpack which was falling off the bench, resounding in a large bang. One of the four people sitting at the table glanced up from their phone. My friend group played games against each other every lunch break. The problem was that the game was compatible only with IPhone. I had Samsung.
The one who had looked up refocused on their screen and Jess cheered.
“What happened?” I asked, extremely bored.
They both looked over at me, acting like I had two heads. “Nothing, I just won,” Jess teased at her opponent.
The opponent rolled her eyes, “Barely.”
“Want to go again?” Jess challenged.
Their thumbs began flying across their screens once more and I sighed, accepting that those few words were likely the only ones to be spoken for the next week.
I stared at a spider spinning a web in the eves above us, the silk shimmering in the sunlight.
“Hey,” someone whispered. I searched the faces of those I sat with but all of them were captured by their phones.
I spun around to see a girl standing awkwardly behind me. She was friends with Jess and me but we weren't super close. She would sit with us at lunch from time to time though.
“Can I sit here?” She gestured to the spot my backpack was inhabiting.
“Sure April,” I shoved my bag off the seat and April floated into the empty chair.
She pushed her glasses farther up her slender nose, wringing her hands. “I passed.”
My jaw dropped to the floor and she giggled, “How? His tests are impossible.”
She nodded, eyes as big as saucers. “Believe me, I know it.”
We both laughed. It felt good.
“Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, I'm raising baby chicks!” she exclaimed.
I clutched my heart, “that sounds so cute!”
“You can come over and hold them if you want.”
The shock that rang through my body nearly caused early onset paralysis. With my luck that was probably a thing. I must have scared her cause she hurriedly added with hands raised in surrender, “Only if you want to.”
I nodded, the movement almost inconceivable, “That sounds amazing.”
She smiled and whipped out her android phone, “I'll let my mom know you are coming. Do you want to bake cookies with me later too?”
My lungs didn't know what to do, whether they were supposed to inhale or just hold in the air. The exhale memo must have missed their department.
She smiled, the kindness restarting my bronchioles. “We will see how much time we have, how about that?”
I nodded, thankful that I didn't have to remember both etiquette for visiting someone's house, and cooking.
The bell rang and we parted. I almost wanted to cry tears of joy as I stumbled to class. This was the first time I hung out with someone since sixth grade.
Let me just say those cookies were delicious. The ones she made, not the ones I attempted. Even the dog didn't want those.
I blinked and was in college, banging my skull into the textbook I was renting.
“Was that you head?” April asked through the phone.
I didn't respond, staring at the evil book I was supposed to read all in one night. Procrastination was great until the due date came around.
April sighed, “That book is worth more than you and I put together, you better not hurt it.”
I giggled, that statement way truer than I wanted to admit.
“I’ve got to go,” she stated sadly.
“Call you soon?”
I could almost see her smile shining through my phone, “Definitely.”
We hung up, my heart beaming.
If people read memoirs about random nobodies, I would crank one out. Probably just so I could procrastinate more in all honesty. It would be a blank book with only a few sentences marring the first page:
Friendship is like a teeter totter. It can send you into a flurry of giggles as each of you soar into the sky, or it can leave you stranded so high in the air you can't see the ground as your partner refuses to push off. Even if the person you first jumped on with sent you to your all time peaks, they can give up. Never mistake the length of a friendship for its strength.
Those few people you surround yourself with are your community. If they are toxic you will be unable to breathe, believing it is your fault that they hate you. Despise you. Wish you would just disappear. The main thing people rarely understand is that you have to change it. Without taking any action nothing will become better. Sometimes it is as simple as nodding yes, other times it requires marching in the streets.
Just take a leap off your teeter totter, I can assure you there is something below.
You know what, maybe I should just leave writing to the experts.