“OMG! When they mention the friendship started with scorn, it’s always the best plot!!!” Naira said as she watched the movie trailer. Sofia and Deena exchanged an amused glance. It was their friendship story, after all.
After Naira left, Deena said, “by the way, even now it’s hard to admit that ‘we’ became best friends… I mean when I first met you, I had an impression that you were just a pretentious person and you also didn’t think highly of me for sure. I’m glad we didn’t stick with that shallow viewpoint and obtained a deeper insight. This friendship was a savior!”
“I am as grateful as you are because after all I had been through, I was hustling so much for a long time and kept myself over-occupied to avoid the much needed self-confrontation.” Sofia added.
“I bet our story can be a big seller”, Deena responded, and they both snickered.
It was freshman week and Deena had just moved to the campus from another city, Sofia was her classmate but living in the same city and having her part-time job at this campus, she was at an advantage and so she was hired as an in-charge of the freshman guide team.
“Okay, so the hostel building is the 5th one North-east; a-and, here’s your assigned room number and key; oh! you will be my roommate, I was assigned the same room, this will be great!” Sofia said to Deena cheerfully with her bright smile that she always had at work and other social settings.
“Yeah, thanks… I-I guess I’ll see you later...” Deena forced a smile and said in a low voice, then turned away, dragging her bag along.
“Such a pretentious person… None of her words or expressions were genuine…” Deena said to herself.
“How cold can people be… she couldn’t even smile properly…. I wasn’t looking forward to having a roommate either bu-” another student came to Sofia’s desk to ask for assistance and interrupted her thoughts.
After her shift was over, Sofia picked her stuff to return to her room half-heartedly when Sam, the event organizer on campus, showed up.
“Hey! Great work today! Make sure to be at the welcome party tonight, take a pass and bring other freshmen. Sam handed out multiple invitations to everyone.”
Sofia took the invitations enthusiastically and headed to her room. With all the excitement fading, her actual feelings of exhaustion replaced the forged expressions. “Going there is a struggle itself, but… who can I bring along on top of that? Do I have to make calls and approach people again?! Agghh!! I wish I could just ditch it all with excuses like I did back in school but… If only the consequences weren’t a pain…” her first encounter with Deena replayed in her head.
She noticed the complete silence and darkness in the room… Is she asleep? Sofia thought and slowly turned the handle to enter and tip-toed inside to not disturb Deena. Sofia sat on her bed and looked at Deena lying on the other bed with her bag beside her. She was lying there covered in a thin blanket from head to toe… A few moments later, Sofia also laid in bed with her eyes closed for a nap and plugged in the headphones to listen to the soft music that she always fell asleep to but when she could not sleep after roughly 15 minutes, she removed her headphones and the soft sniffing voice caught her attention at once. It took her a moment to finally realize that it was Deena sobbing.
Sofia wanted to reach out because that’s what she trained herself to do and that’s what she was apparently supposed to do. With the concern intact, her second thoughts were all hindering. “Maybe she’s just homesick? Maybe she needs to be alone and I just shouldn’t poke my nose in her affairs. What if that offends her?” the overthinking halted when she figured she can’t remain inconsiderate and wanted to, at least once, offer help.
“Hey… uh- a-a-are you alright, Deena? I-I’m sorry for interfering, but I just want to let you know that; I’m all ears if you want to talk….” Sofia began hesitantly and said in a soft voice.
The room was filled with silence as Sofia waited for a response awkwardly. A few moments later Deena removed her blanket from her face and sat up facing Sofia.
“I just feel…” Deena tried to speak, but paused midway.
Sofia stood up and switched on the lights, then sat on her bed, facing Deena attentively.
With Sofia’s body language, Deena needed no more encouraging words to speak up.
“I am homesick and I feel… kinda… trapped” tears fell on the blanket covering her lap as she spoke with her head lowered and eyes fixed on her feet.
“Trapped? Is it the room or campus vibe?” Sofia tried to understand Deena’s misery.
“It’s my whole life…” Deena barely spoke, choking on her tears and covered her face with her hands as broke down.
Sofia quickly approached Deena and sat beside her with her arms around Deena and stroked her back. “It’s okay! You’ll be fine! It’ll pass…” Sofia said softly to console her.
Deena’s first impression was wiped off in Sofia’s mind and she had an open mind towards her now. Sofia talked to Deena until she felt comfortable and then suggested going to the welcome party while handing over the invitations to her. With sparkling eyes, she seemed thrilled about the idea of going to a party and have fun because it’d definitely pull her out of the homesickness and also be an opportunity to make friends and feel comfortable here.
Sofia immediately noticed Deena’s excitement fade.
“I think I’ll pass; I have to unpack anyway…” Deena said in a low voice with a forced smile.
Sofia looked at her and took a deep breath. “If there’s a problem, let’s talk about it Deena. There’s no point dragging an issue that makes you feel awful; it has to be cleared out; the sooner the better.”
Based on their conversation, Sofia figured Deena was comfortable with talking and expressing herself and in fact, those moments are when she looks full of life and then suddenly she’s gloomy, as if she remembers a boundary.
She was just unable to be herself- Sofia concluded in her mind, but that phrase made her uncomfortable. As if irrelevant means cornered her towards a long ignored truth of her own.
Shaking off her thoughts, she fixed her focus on Deena again.
“I have always wanted to be more social, out-going… people oriented. I felt lively outdoors with people, but all my life has been the complete opposite of that. It’s like I was grounded for life…. Sometimes it was being scolded and at other times it was just them being too busy for me. I lacked energy, Everything I used to do at home was all affected and that further added to a long lecture about why I should stay home and focus on studying and all… I barely survived that prison looking up to this day but now I feel awkward and weird going out own my own and speak to people and that makes sense because the only people I really know are my parents and a brother or maybe not even him because he has his own secluded life and freedom to hang out with people he prefers…. It’s just like a perfectly fine person was forced to stay on bed rest and now years later with the freedom to move, they can’t get back up on their feet; let alone moving around….”
“Why weren’t you allowed to socialize or go outdoors?”
“I don’t know… maybe because I am not a boy? Or maybe because all the dangerous people in the world waited for me so I can’t step out on my own… all my friends eventually gave up on me after I showed interest in plans and even made plans to hang out and then chickened out at the end…. I lost my confidence and became the outcast. It was like living in hell and I decided that I have to move out or else life is worthless. I have managed to study to get here for the freedom I craved and now I am too broken to live it….”
“Wow! Too broken to live it; that is a nice phrase, I’ll borrow it, but honey you aren’t broken, just a small layer of dust has to be blown off with practice and all your social skills will be good as new, unless you say ‘I’ll pass’ to all the opportunities…” Sofia didn’t want Deena to get back in to her emotional sack so she tried to maintain a light mood.
“We have an hour. You do whatever you need to get ready and we are going to that welcome party. I mean, you don’t even have to think so much about ‘how?’ you’ve talked to me with no awkwardness all this time. An extrovert with a tempered environment and self-confidence must have been hard, so it’s time to change that! And you have what it takes because it’s definitely easier than what you’ve been going through”
Later, at the party, Sofia stayed with Deena the entire time and introduced her to several people. Deena struggled with initiating a conversation but carried it very well once it began. Sofia gave her all pieces of advice that she owned and a semester was all it took Deena to be herself.
*ABOUT A YEAR LATER*
“You know, when we first met, I thought you were so pretentious and your smile and words had no sign of genuineness. Now, I know you are a good person and I am so glad I met you! You were like an angel fixing my life for me. But the more comfortable we become, the more distant I felt… You weren’t your usual-cheerful self with me but I saw you the same way outside with others… is there a problem? Did I offend you in any way? It’s like you never talk to me anymore….” Deena finally confronted Sofia.
Sofia ended the conversation without a proper explanation, but the thought stayed with both of them as they departed for their different holiday plans.
Sofia wrote an email to Deena after 2 weeks to explain herself conveniently.
I am sorry to make you so uncomfortable, but watching you be yourself and the joy it brought you tempted me so much to be myself, too. You were right about me being pretentious. You really are good with people that just a first impression was so accurate and that too when you doubted yourself. I couldn’t afford to be myself freely like you because I trained hard to change so I could avoid the consequences of being myself. My own family was treating me like I had no will or desires of my own. “Oh, she doesn’t like to talk or oh she wants that or oh no she doesn’t like going out or oh she might not wanna see him because she is a loner”, all that crap and I was so done with it that if I hear another “oh she blah blah…”, I wanted to blow myself up with everyone involved in the conversation. My lack of words and avoiding certain gatherings was taken against me and my questions were answered by others and my decisions were made by others without my consent. I loved travelling, just not with a large group of annoying people, but I missed out on everything… I also lost my confidence and for me it was hard to regain because speaking up was a bigger hurdle and the lack of support and understanding from people around was weighing me down even more. I began with watching videos about introverts online and moved on to get therapy secretly, and that’s when I worked on my confidence.
The landmark for success was when my therapist told me that I was an introvert and it meant I needed my alone time and comfort for recharging my drained energy, being sensitive is okay, the overpowering rude people are what’s not okay, the fear of people and their point of view affecting my life is not okay. Wanting to be alone and not go out without having an excuse to justify it is also okay. It was okay to not be talkative, but the controlling people weren’t okay. The ones who were taking advantage of it were not okay!
I fixed what was needed, but I went overboard because I felt like a whole new person. It trained me to talk and get attention, be liked. It’s huge for someone whose absence did not differ from their presence because they’d go unnoticed anyway and now, suddenly, my world turned around. As draining as it was, I enjoyed being acknowledged. Not only my choice and my wish were considered but also my suggestions were wanted. I was promoted from a pet to a person in my family. Sorry, but being pretentious was to maintain it, to not miss out on what it brought me. I cancelled plans every now and then with lies, but made sure it was only known to me. I was grateful to have you too; I became comfortable with you and thought that at least you can be the one I could freely be myself with. But perhaps I’m the only one who is comfortable with my real self… I noticed the uneasiness from your side and thought I’m too boring for you now. Being clear about it instead of running away from confrontation was the right thing to do. Saying it all in person was a challenge that I wasn’t ready for. But you deserve an explanation, so here it is. We both misunderstood the situation, so the awkwardness between us increased. I hope we can overcome it now….
Deena stared at the screen for a while after reading that email. She felt sorry, angry, amused all at once. Cutting the trip short, she went back to the hostel that night.
“I knew you lied about your plans! Why would you lie?” Deena said to Sofia as soon as she found her in the room.
“I didn’t lie, I just cancelled those plans because I was too bothered by our last conversation…. I didn’t feel like going anywhere…” Sofia replied.
“You made me read a huge email on my vacation!”
They both laughed after a brief pause, then hugged each other.
“I am sorry about the misunderstanding.” Sofia murmured.
“I am also sorry about doubting you. We can respect each other’s differences. None of it will impede our friendship.” Deena responded.
They both talked for a while and then went for a walk around the campus.
“You have all that it takes. The confidence, the skill and personality. But you must not go overboard. If you need the alone time, take it all. You don’t have to give up being yourself. Strike the balance that prevents this extreme fall and rise.” Deena said in a soft voice as they walked.
“It’s like a student teaching the teacher.” Sofia nodded and said with a smile.
“That’s because you were a brilliant teacher.” Deena chuckled.
Knowing each other well and save each other while overcoming their insecurities is how Deena and Sofia connected and the patience, understanding and respect for each other’s differences gave them the space that they needed to be themselves with confidence and comfort as best friends.