"It's your turn to man the booth."
These are the last words I exchange with my former best friend. The statement is innocent enough that the students swarming around us don't take notice — we're at our last high school carnival, after all, and everyone has teachers to hug and yearbooks to sign. She avoids my eyes, though, and I know that she's heard the bite in my voice and felt the coldness in my glare. We switch spots without another word — she swings to my side of the table, while I squeeze past her — and I join the festivities without a second glance back.
If you'd asked me six years ago, I would never have thought our friendship would deteriorate into passive aggressive remarks and conspicuous eye-rolling. We met in seventh grade — it was our first semester of the six-year high school we attended, and we were in the same traveling class. I would see her reading in the hallway outside class and casually peer over her shoulder to see if I recognized the book. She noticed my efforts eventually, and soon we were discussing everything from murder mysteries to slice-of-life manga.
We continued in this manner for the next several years. We had our ups and downs, of course, but never any major arguments that would suggest the eventual dissolution of our friendship. I can't pinpoint the specific moment when the small annoyances started to snowball into full-blown anger. But as sophomore year turned into junior year and as the college process approached, I found myself noticing little things that she'd do or say when we hung out in large groups.
We'd be on the subway home and she'd refuse to let me answer questions that our other friends asked me. I remember one friend asking me what I did when I got home from school, to which my best friend replied, "She goes straight home to study all afternoon." I shot her a look of annoyance, but instead of backing off, she smirked and asked, "Is that not true? I could do well if I studied all the time, but I have other interests." I don't remember what I said in reply — her words just rang in my ears, invalidating all my hard work in one fell swoop. I was quiet for the rest of our subway ride, not even bothering to say goodbye as we left the subway station through different exits.
I could dismiss one offense, but these little things piled up over time. She'd ask me to refill her water bottle from the fountain down the hall, even though we were both sitting in the same place. I'd do it because I didn't mind the short walk — I figured that she was just too tired to do it herself. But then she'd clap as I handed her the bottle and remark upon my obedience, nodding her head condescendingly as she described to our friends that this was why my teachers liked me. My obedience — not my effort to participate in class or my genuine interest in learning.
At first, I wasn't sure why these things bothered me so much. Sure, they were annoying, but did they really warrant the dissolution of a friendship I'd had since starting Hunter? We grew more distant as junior year ended, but as senior year and the college process hit, I began to realize why her comments had bothered me so much: she'd disrespected our friendship by being so blatantly competitive when it came to academics.
As part of an academically challenging high school, I understood that everyone was competing with one another to get the best opportunities and eventually get into the best colleges. Maybe I was naive in thinking that, despite the competition, no one wanted anyone else to fail, especially when it came to my friends. It seems I was wrong, as my best friend became the first casualty of the college process.
In retrospect, I could've salvaged our friendship if I'd expressed my feelings more openly. I could've told my friend how crushed I felt when she made those small comments or spoken up when she tried to put me down. Maybe we would've bonded over our cases of imposter syndrome and maybe we'd be laughing about it now — me from my dorm in Long Island, her from her apartment in Charlottesville. In my eyes, she'd started our eventual falling out. In her eyes, maybe I didn't listen to her worries enough to support her at her most insecure.
Sometimes I wonder what I would've seen had I looked back the day of the carnival. Would I have seen her staring after me? Would I have seen sadness in her eyes? Confusion? Or would she have stayed aloof? Would her expression have made me regret letting our friendship fall apart? Would I have tried to make amends?
I've spent countless nights pondering the answers to these questions. I don't know that I'll ever be able to answer them in any wholly satisfying way. At the end of the day, I'm not bitter with the way our friendship ended. If there's anything that girl in Charlottesville taught me, it's that people change and friends drift apart, but only if you let them.