Girl Talk: My Bully Was My Best Friend

I met Rebecca when I was eight and forced by my parents to join an AYSO soccer team called the “Killer Bees” because my mom thought it imperative that even scrawny girls who much preferred watching late night re-reruns of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” should get out and enjoy bitter winds of Chicago fall on the lakefront.  Early on, my feminist mother had adopted a policy that my brother and I had to do the same extracurricular activities, a policy that sometimes made me the only girl at a football camp or meant that both my brother and I had to take carpentry lessons.  In this case, my six-year-old brother had become a soccer fanatic overnight and I had landed in a pair of golden knee guards. (To this day I consistently get panic attacks when someone  peppily utters the phrase “Shake it Off!” )

There were so many times when, after a series of her hurtful emails, I tried to separate myself from her, but our long-standing past, and the fact that despite it all I loved her, kept pulling me back in.

When I say I met Rebecca then, this is a bit of an exaggeration. It was later, when I transferred into her middle school and we had become friends over mutual teenage angst, that we realized that she was part of a group of girls that used to stand off to the sidelines during soccer practice, making fun of my arms-out, limp-wristed running style.  I couldn’t really blame her, I did run like the definition of a gym teacher’s derogatory use of the word “girl.”  And besides, we were eight.

Over the years, Rebecca and I never had what one could call an “easy” friendship.  I enjoyed her wit and her alarming ability to tackle any project no matter how large or small, and so we stayed friends. But as time progressed, she started to ask me fewer and fewer questions about myself. Sometimes I felt that when I was talking to her, she wasn’t really listening at all and only waiting for my lips to stay still so that she could reroute the conversation. She has increasingly reduced me to a “one liner” in front of other people, calling me her “most hipster friend.” She would tell stories about my wild high-school days to groups of people (sometimes ones I had just met) that were less than flattering. Most recently, she had started telling a story on repeat (even when I was not around) about how when I was in high school I always wore thongs. Which is fine except that it’s not true. Not that it would matter if I did because it would have been a totally normal teenage girl thing to do, but why was she telling complete strangers about my supposed underwear choices 10 years ago?

It wasn’t just the stories. While she could be very supportive (feeding me wine and watching dance-off movies with me after my last breakup), if I did something that she didn’t like she wouldn’t hesitate to call me a “bitch” or to write me 10 aggressive text messages in a row.

There were so many times when, after a series of her hurtful emails, I tried to separate myself from her, but our long-standing past, and the fact that despite it all I loved her, kept pulling me back in.

Recently, our friendship ended over a manicure. It still seems insane for me to even write that, even though it has been months since we really talked. But it did.  I had been out of town for a month for work and was excited to land and see all my friends that I had missed—including Rebecca. I was getting back Thursday morning, but when Rebecca told me that she was getting a manicure that afternoon before an important interview, I suggested that I join her. Because the traveling gods have long since banished me from their good graces, my flight was delayed and the moment I landed my phone started to vibrate with messages from my boss crying “ASAP” and “EMERGENCY.” A client needed something and they needed it by the end of the day. I called Rebecca to explain the turn of events and asked if it would be okay if we grabbed a quick cup of coffee before she headed off to the manicure spot instead. She agreed and I jumped in a cab to deposit my huge bag at home.

Now, let me back up a second and explain one key aspect of this story. About seven years ago, in a fit of depression, I made a rule to just say “Yes” to everything. It was my way of putting down the novel and getting out of bed and trying to participate more fully in the world. And it worked. I have said yes to everything from getting a DIY tattoo to surfing trips in Hawaii, but the negative consequence is that I am constantly over-booking myself. Thus I have the really bad habits of being a flake and being consistently 15 minutes late. I’m not proud of this and I’m working to change, but like nail biting, it’s very much a part of who I am.

I texted Rebecca to tell her I was leaving my house (we lived three blocks away from each other) and got a text message saying that I was a huge bitch for not going to get a manicure with her on this important day and that we should just forget coffee. I called her, attempting to explain the tough spot I was in; I even offered to ask my boss if he would accept the work the next day. That seemed to calm her and she told me not to worry and that we could still get coffee. But five minutes later, I started getting text after text calling me names, telling me I was so selfish I didn’t deserve friends and really just the most vile things anyone has said to me in a long time. I tried to call. She wouldn’t pick up, but kept texting me hateful messages. I asked her to stop. She replied that all further messages from me were going unread and that I shouldn’t contact her. So I didn’t.

Four days went by. On Valentine’s Day, I was walking through the farmer’s market in search of a bouquet to buy myself, and I got another text filled with hate from Rebecca. I wish I could repeat her words verbatim, but they stung so hard that I had to delete them so as not to cry. I do remember clearly that according to her I was “nobody’s friend,” “a c**t,” “selfish,” and not worth her time. I tried to call her to talk about it, but she wouldn’t pick up my calls and instead kept texting me that she wasn’t reading anything from me or taking my calls. She said I was selfish not to call her to ask her how her interview went. The texts kept coming, picking up steam as they hurled insults at me. Finally, I wrote her an email with the subject line: “YOU ARE A COWARD FOR NOT TALKING TO ME, STOP CONTACTING ME.” And she did.

A week or so ago, she texted me a peace offering of sorts. I thought about it for a few days before I settled on writing her an email, which (without going into too much detail about our private lives) basically said that though I wished her no ill will, this friendship of ours wasn’t something that I wanted in my life right now.  She sent me an email back first saying it was rude to offer unsought advice and then detailing my faults as she saw them. I haven’t responded.

The thing is, she is right about some of my faults and wrong about a lot of the others. If she had initially just said, “You know what, I’m sick of you being a f**king flake,” I would have understood. But because she textually assaulted me for what is honestly not the first time, I feel like she should apologize. And in a way it doesn’t even matter if she does. I don’t think I have room in my life for someone sizzling with so much anger towards me under the surface.

Am I wrong? Should I be more willing to work it out for a friendship that has spanned more than a decade?

Photo: iStockphoto