Brooklyn, NY, USA
Saint Ann's School
You tell me the spots in your memory where you can feel, like an itch, your neural synapses worried threadbare and you can feel the discomfort of what you can’t remember. Spin it over and over in the shower, and in school, and in bed. Remember the good parts and wash those years out like vegetables in the sink, scrub them with cold clear water and watch the dirt swirl down the drain, so much of it that your hands are caked with grime when you’re finished. What do you try to hold on to, and what do you wash away?
Do you hold on to the day after Valentine’s Day, when every year you and she would buy stacked up boxes of discount heart shaped chocolates and make a mess in her lobby because her mom thought the two of you were dating and wouldn’t let you upstairs together? What about how you both took the love language test together, and both of your love languages were touch, which wasn’t a surprise anyway, because you were on the same page about everything, and even in summer you two used to walk down the street shoulder to shoulder, with your arms around each other’s waists because both of you were able to take comfort in physical touch without the other worrying you were weird, or clingy, or coming on to them. What about your backup first kisses, back in seventh grade, because you both worried your real first kisses would be gross and uncomfortable, like how they always are in teen coming of age movies, so you staged your own first kisses from the romance books you’d read – at the circus, in the rain, underneath fireworks – platonic pecks on the lips so you could tell those stories forever. What about how you were the perfect teen friendship of books and movies, a fact that delighted you both, and so there were friendship bracelets and posters that said sisters for life and songs written for each other, and how exhilarating it was to live a story you’d read so many times. Her first girlfriend, your first girlfriend, the unspoken promise that you were both more important to each other than your girlfriends, how she’d never gone thrifting and you’d never talked to strangers and how you both played guitar and read tarot cards and how for a little while you both shared the same music taste before she spun nostalgically back to One Direction and children’s music and you took a hard turn towards alternative folk that you liked but none of your friends did. How maddeningly, unshakably close the two of you were, and how it almost felt like you shared a brain and a body, as if if one of you took even one step back you both would collapse like a Jenga tower with its center removed. How even if you both went different directions you still always ended up in the same place – maybe she was soft and you were emo, and maybe she liked self-help books a little too much and your memory was short so you read the same novels over and over and over again, and maybe she always assumed that you had more friends than she did and you always assumed that she had more friends than you did and so both of you always felt a little lonely.
Maybe the years spun on and on forever, until one day it seemed like you had known her forever but you and she had only been friends a few months, and the next you had been friends for five years and sometimes you would forget that you knew her at all and become so scared. Maybe when you were eleven you didn’t really understand money, and when you were older and you started to understand it you felt guilty for having it so you were constantly compelled to pay for lunch, and gifts, small things she wanted because your mom always gave you at least twenty dollars when you left the house and even though she always had money too, most of the time it was because she babysat or walked dogs. Maybe you felt a little unsettled at how readily she accepted things, without a real ruse where she would pretend to say she would pay you back someday at all, or any reaction other than blind acceptance. Maybe, even though it wasn’t really fair, you started to see parts of her mother in her – the way she shoplifted without any sense of irony, and how she was always okay with being the one to pick what the two of you did, and how she never really said thank you when you were always the one to come to Manhattan and she only came to Brooklyn once a year for your birthday party, even though it was an easy train ride for you and you knew it had to be that way because her mom wouldn’t let her take the subway, or go to therapy, or admit she had a girlfriend, and so most of the burden fell on you. Maybe sometimes you would feel tired of being her only real support system, especially after you went to therapy yourself and became more stable and didn’t need to text with her fifteen times every day about how much you were both hurting. Maybe, even though it wasn’t her fault, you would sometimes ignore her texts for days at a time until ten or twenty of them would pile up, and you could feel them gathering dust and cobwebs in your inbox, and out of guilt and worry and love, you would brace yourself and respond.
You should forgive yourself for not being available all the time, and for never being the perfect friend. Best friends see each other too closely for any false images of perfection. They scratch and clash against each other, but they do it with love, and in the process you look back and see the growing pains of aging side by side. Having someone you trust the way you trust a best friend when you’re both teenage girls, and so fragile, and hurting so badly, gives you a scaffolding to grow, because, at least for you, being angry and unsure and frustrated at someone takes enough trust to know that they’ll still love you even if you’re not easy to be around all the time, and you know her well enough to know that it took trust for her too.
Maybe your friendship isn’t perfect, and maybe it isn’t modeled after movies and books anymore, but one of the hardest parts of growing is creating an identity for yourself that is disentangled from Archie, and The Gilmore Girls, and inspirational instagram posts, and the endless narrative around how teenage girls’ lives are supposed to look. Maybe you don’t talk every single day, but still, neither of you have taken off your friendship bracelets that you bought from Barnes and Nobles since you first put them on, back in eighth grade. Maybe in your memory she is laughing with her mouth open, and both of you are just starting to learn what it means to be a teenager, and her eyeliner rests an inch above her lash line, and the leggings that used to go down to your ankles only go down to your knees. Or maybe, more likely, that old version of herself is replaced with who she is now, and you see your face alongside her because it’s impossible to imagine the different ways that the two of you would have grown up without propping each other up and giving each other space to be who each of you are when you are alone, but with another person, and so when you remember the ways you’ve grown since seventh grade you remember the ways she’s grown as well, because even though they are different, they cannot exist without each other. Maybe she has bangs now, and you have bangs now, and both of you have settled into your skins and are doing genuinely okay, and the frantic, codependent spark of your friendship that made you feel that the two of you were lost at sea together and she was the only thing keeping you together is gone, but you two are still friends, even if you’ve both done wrong to each other, and you can see her flaws and she has people in her life that aren’t you. Maybe you can ask forgiveness of yourself for letting something so precious and intense go free to the open air, and think that maybe that isn’t betrayal, but a part of moving forward. Maybe the two of you will never be roommates in college like you planned because you both want to go to different colleges, but even if you don’t know any classic love stories about two close friends who Facetime once a week from their separate dorm rooms, maybe that’s just because the two of you haven’t written it yet.
With flowing, lyrical prose, “BFFS” tracks the evolution of a friendship in all of its clarity and grime. The piece is steeped in memories of rose-colored joy and aching pain, poignantly exploring how people grow individually — and together. Read the piece and ask yourself, “What do you try to hold on to, and what do you wash away?”
Phoebe Levitsky is a high school senior at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn. She loves taking long walks through New York City, collecting tea sets to house her plants in, and watering her plants (sometimes.) Her work has been recognized by The Princeton Center For The Arts, The Global Poetry Consortium, and The Scholastic Art And Writing awards among others for her poetry, playwriting, short stories and personal essays.
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