When I was thirteen years old, I was involved in a threesome. There was me, with my hair-sprayed to death, short, blond, spiky hair dressed in a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt – and there was Sarah and Jane (creative licence deployed with regard to names). Sarah was the ringleader of the group. She styled her hair in the same vein as Madonna on her True Blue album cover, and had the uncanny ability to make her school uniform rock. It could have been the way she wore her off-kilter tie or how she pushed down her socks, so they hung nonchalantly at her ankles. Sarah wore makeup. Well, when I say she wore makeup, I really mean, the makeup wore her. But despite this, to me, she was my idol.
I’d gaze in wonderlust as she applied layer-upon-layer of Rimmel Alabaster foundation, and ringed her eyes with smudgy black eyeliner. Sarah was the pivot in which Jane and I constantly moved. Circling at all times, eager to be her favourite and eager to make her laugh. Even being in Sarah’s air felt kind of special. Like if you breathed it in, you’d suddenly be more attractive and more confident.
This odd fragment of a friendship survived for three years. During this time, my emotions regularly alternated between skyrocketing euphoria, and then, plunged to the staggering depths of despair. It must have been exhausting, and this combined with the onset of puberty – it sure wasn’t pretty. Sarah would only give us her attention, one at a time. If I was the lucky one, Jane was the unlucky one. Sarah was my addiction, before I even knew what addiction was. I never spoke to Jane about how she felt about all of this. Jane tried hard to back comb, and spray her long, brown hair in an effort to match the Eiffel Tower, Sarah, miraculously erected on her own head every morning. But she could never do it. By the time the 9am bell rang, Jane’s hair had flopped, and hung over her eyes. In my own desperation to be like Sarah, I would mimic her expressions, but stopped the day she caught me out.
‘Are you trying to sound like me?’ she asked.
We were stood at the end of her driveway and Jane and I had just watched her slowly saunter across six lanes of traffic and back. The winner was the girl who gained the most beeps from passing cars. You can guess. The game was Sarah’s idea.
‘No…cause not,’ I managed to splutter out whilst gaining a new interest in the scuff marks at the end of my too tight, pointed black slip-on shoes (I had severe paranoia at the time about the size of my feet, and squashed them into shoes at least two sizes too small).
‘Your turn then,’ she said with the obligatory hand on hip. ‘You’ll never get more than me.’
She was right. I didn’t.
The truth was, Jane and I had more in common and got on better when Sarah wasn’t around. If Sarah was off school for the day, we hung out and chatted and there was, I’m sure, secret relief that for one day we could be ourselves. We had nobody to impress.
The end of this threesome wasn’t dramatic at all. My recollection is that Sarah left school at sixteen, maybe to work in her Dad’s business. Jane and I went onto the Sixth Form, made new friends and I woke up from my slumber and realised that I deserved to be treated better.
I was thinking about this time the other day, in relation to how we make friends now. It’s still as complex and at times can still be as heartbreaking. We’re adults – but sometimes we don’t grow up as much as we like and we find ourselves negotiating this tricky terrain in the same awful way we did as teenagers. The tangle and politics of people’s lives, commitments to family, stress at work, promises to siblings and parents and how our time is pulled every which way. It’s astounding how we even have time to maintain friendships, let alone make new ones.
In the past few years, I’ve succeeded and lost at this friendship game. There are my stalwart friends. They’re the ones, whether they live in the next suburb, or on the other side of the world who will remain in my life until the very end. I love them. They’re like family. Then, there was the person I was a friend with for a longtime, who simply ceased all communication and it gutted me. In comparison, as my two boys have started school, I’ve made, as Bill & Ted would say some, ‘Most excellent,’ new friends. They get me. We’re kind to each other and we make each other laugh. We can be ourselves.
Isn’t this the most important thing of all?