I've finally come to terms with who I am, what I value in myself and what I value in friends. Thank you to all five of you for teaching me these life lessons well before my 20s.
1. To the 2nd grader BFF who ditched me for the popular girl...
You never seemed sure of what to do with our friendship, so when I started going through a hard time, you didn't stick around to see how it'd work out. Second grade was a rough time, but it became worse with the release of "Mean Girls." Little kids did an A+ job copying cliques, especially that one scene where your best friend suddenly leaves you to become best friends with the girl you secretly hate because she's always making fun of you. Yep, no beating around the bush. However, early disappointments helped prepare me to suck it up when all our other friends started ostracizing me as well.
So, thanks, for teaching me that people don't need a good reason to leave you.
2. Best friend number two: anime violence in its human form
Our childhood was forever imprinted with the rage of "Naruto" and the birth of an entire generation of weaboos, so recess fights were oftentimes more bloody than not. Play fights became a lot more hardcore, because what kind of ninja were you if you couldn't unleash a low spinning kick at the speed of light — Rock Lee style. Though I officially embraced the ninja life after graduating high school, I was just a punching bag in the fourth grade. I never knew how to successfully tell her to stop actually hitting me during our playfights, because saying, "That hurts, stop," was unclear, apparently. I didn't know how to stand up for myself and forcefully stop her without feeling like I was being "too harsh."
So I just went along with it, grimacing through the pain. Until one day... she kicked another kid. And that kid cried. Hard. Not only did my best friend have to tearfully apologize to our classmate, but she also had to sit in time-out for the rest of recess. My best friend understood she had misbehaved by hitting the other kid. But then what about all the times I was shin-kicked?
I confronted her about it but never got an apology. However, I learned a vital lesson.
Thank you for teaching me that physical abuse is never okay, even if it's just a "game," and they claim to be your "friend."
3. Seventh-grade bestie, back when we both needed reality checks
In seventh grade, you were an amazing, supportive best friend. When we ended up in different schools for eighth grade, I knew it would be harder to stay in touch, but we always tried our best — except, I was making new friends, getting along with kind teachers and finally gaining self-confidence whereas you were still hanging with our toxic ex-friends. This changed you. I understood why, even then. It's hard to be happy for someone, even if that someone is your best friend, if you're having going through the worst period of your life, and they're having a grand ol' time. There was an emotional disconnect. That's why you lashed out and tore me down whenever I shared my accomplishments. You just wanted your best friend back. But I wasn't that girl anymore.
I'm sorry if I hurt you, but I don't regret breaking off our friendship. If I could go back in time, I would still switch schools. If I could go back to that night, I would still hit send on that final email.
Losing you was hard, but losing myself to keep you would have broken us both. Inevitably, you taught me that self comes first, then friends. People will always demand your time, energy and attention. It's up to you to meet your own needs first by setting standards.
Thank you for showing me that people can change with time and distance, for the better or worse.
4. Then, the girl who fancied herself as "the one who got away"
Fool me once, shame on you. Fooled me twice, shame on me. That was exactly the case with my ninth grade homegirl. She was intense, could keep up with my adventurous antics and always strived to be on top. She was the reason why I started to take school seriously and actually put in effort to work towards getting straight A's. Except, once I started doing well, she became antagonistic. It wasn't like I was doing much better than her, but instead of encouraging my progress, she would either verbally downplay my achievements in comparison to hers or worse, try to destroy my work.
I remember in biology class, we had an extra credit opportunity to write anagrams of a vocabulary term. No one took it seriously, except my best friend and I who made it a friendly game. We hustled for three days straight, googling every combination possible and racking up our word counts to 800 for her and 1000 for me. Our teacher was flabbergasted. "I should offer more extra credit if y'all feel so passionately about it," she exclaimed, trading off my print-outs for a homework pass. All our friends were bemusedly surprised, congratulating me — except my best friend. She just grinned widely. Then, she snatched the homework pass from my hands and pranced around the classroom, daring me to "come get it." What I thought was just teasing took a turn when she tore up the pass and threw the remains on my desk. The rest of my friends were stunned, and I just stood there, memories flashing through my mind, like wow, shouldn't you have known better, three ex-best friends later?
I realized that one of the reasons she had been friends with me because I was beneath her. I had lower grades. I wasn't as assertive. I didn't participate in any extracurriculars or contests. As soon as I raised my grades, somehow became likable and began taking part in school activities, she lashed out. My own best friend didn't like it when I did well. We're still acquaintances today, but since that day, there has always been a gaping fissure between us.
Nonetheless, thank you for showing me that sometimes, life hands you lemons a second time to teach you the lesson you didn't learn the first time around.
5. The fade-out bestie who was always too busy to keep in touch
You were the bestest friend out of every single one of these girls. You were there for me from childhood to now. When I was struggling, you'd give me a pep talk. When I accomplished something, you'd celebrate with me. You held my hand through so many stages of life that if the memory of you were erased from my brain, then half my life would be blank without your presence. I loved you. I still love you. I think you're one of the most amazing people I know. But unfortunately, I just couldn't be that best friend for you then or now.
I still wonder, if maybe I had tried harder, if I had put in more time, if we had hung out longer or shared more secrets, would things have been different? Where did we go wrong? At what point did I miss my timing? There are too many years to flip through.
And nearly a decade later, I've come to the conclusion: you can love someone with all your heart, you can do your best to change yourself for them, but if you both don't belong together, you just naturally won't stay together. No amount of me wanting that or you wishing things could be different will change that. You cared, and you still care, but you didn't invest. You didn't prioritize me the way you prioritize the members of your squad. And I don't know what else to say, except that I still think all of you are great girls.
As a crew of BFFs, y'all rule.
I'm just not part of that squad, and I'm not your best friend. Let's be real, a girl with emotional baggage like mine? I was never cut out for the #squadlife. Let's just stick to friends.
Thank you for teaching me that, even if you put time and effort into a friendship, sometimes it's just not meant to work out, and that's OK.
Wherever you all are now, I hope you're enjoying the best in life, achieving all your dreams and spending quality time with some wonderful, true friends who will stick by you for the rest of your life.
As for me? I've taken all your lessons to heart. I'm going to do my best to become a loving, attentive friend to the ones who are still standing by my side. Thanks for taking part in making me the strong woman I am today.