We’d been friends for almost fourteen years and for the first time, I didn’t know what to say to her.
There rested my best friend, in a stiff bed you wouldn’t wish on your enemies. I tried to conjure the perfect words. But anything that came to mind was too weak to carry the weight of what I wished to convey.
So I stood there in thought, lost in my memories. I remembered her latest days. She said things like, “what’s the point?” and “the world is fucked,” or “we’re all going to die anyway”. That wasn’t the Nellie I knew.
I don’t remember much from when I was young, but I remember when we met. It was the first day of kindergarten. I was so nervous, I almost peed in my overalls. She approached me first, of course. She was always more outgoing than I. Her long hair was pig-tailed. I liked the pink, frilly elastics that wound around each tail. Pink was my favourite colour. From this, I deducted that she was a friendly kid; and luckily, I was right. She clutched a Barbie doll in each hand, holding one out to me. “Wanna play?” she asked. The rest was history.
We were inseparable. Every day was spent together. And if that wasn’t enough, we’d clock in a minimum of two hours on the phone. Our conversations usually lasted until Nellie’s mom yelled, “Get off the phone!” which preceded Nellie’s reply, “I’m not on the phone, I’m on a chair!” But we would say our goodbyes anyway, as per routine.
Everyone knew our friendship was the best one. Enviable, even. We were like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, but without the ditsy personalities, the fortune, the fame, the tiny dogs stuffed in purses, and all the pink, sparkly outfits. Whenever we fought, other girls would try to swoop in and steal one of us away, in hopes that they’d be granted with the same best friend magic we possessed. But it never took us long to reconcile. Probably a day, at most. Full of sorrow, potential friend candidates retreated into the shadow of our friendship. It was a force with which to be reckoned. Everyone knew it.
We stuck together through everything: first crushes, broken hearts, my broken leg, her broken arm, my brother’s illness, her parents’ divorce...we were always there for each other. Together, we figured out who we were. Together, we shaped each other’s souls.
Once puberty kicked in, Nellie looked good—and I mean really good. Her hair was straightened daily, after the blush, mascara, and lipstick were applied. She kept the same routine every day and she always looked just right. I admired her. Everyone did. Her aura was one of confidence. Nellie held her head high and never second-guessed her choices. If she offended anyone, she’d say something like, “That’s their problem. Why should I care?” Maybe that was a clue of what eventually came of her. She cared little, until she didn’t care at all.
She took chances. She lived on the edge—pushed limits. Nellie pushed me to do some crazy things. On a few occasions, she convinced me to sneak out late at night to get high in the park, go skinny-dipping in the lake near my house, or steal booze from her mother’s liquor cabinet. Some things we did were questionable. But they made us feel alive. We always felt safe because we were together. We always had each other’s backs.
We had a special connection. With a quick glance, we could tell what the other was thinking or feeling, no words needed. We laughed and cried together. If one of us was happy, we shared that joy. We shared our pain, too...until her pain became a menace, chasing me away. It was like a stalking bodyguard, never leaving her alone, making sure no one had access to her...making sure she was untouchable. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t get to her.
I couldn’t remember which minute, hour, or day of the week I knew something had changed in a terrible way. Maybe it was the way she looked. She quit her morning routine, stopped doing her hair and makeup. Her face turned pale and tired. People stopped noticing her. The ‘confident aura’ was gone. Maybe it was the way she spoke, like nothing was good anymore. Maybe it was the first time she said, “What’s the point?” Maybe it was the hundredth time. Maybe it was the way she walked around, at sloth-like speed with her shoulders hunched forward. Maybe it was her sagging eyes or the narrow scars on her legs that tipped me off. She assured me it was her cat. I wanted to believe her.
No, I couldn’t remember the exact moment I knew she was different. But I remembered how that realization struck me, shocked me to my core. I remembered thinking, “We’re not on the same wavelength anymore,” and I didn’t know why. I always knew what she was thinking—and then I didn’t have a clue. She hid herself away, keeping everyone out...including me. My best friend may as well have been a stranger.
Lately, she related more to Eeyore than she did to me. She moped around. Once an active girl, she became dull and careless. She never wanted to go out anymore. She stopped coming over. Our two-hour phone conversations were cut to ten minutes. Whenever I asked her to hang out, I was met with: “I think I’ll just stay in tonight”. At first, she said it once in awhile. Then she said it every time.
I wanted to save Nellie from whatever demons hid her away. I wanted my friend back. The one with the pink, frilly elastics tying her pigtails. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t understand the turmoil that happened inside her head. But I don’t think she did, either. Why didn’t she talk to me about it? Did she think it might hurt me? Because nothing could’ve hurt me more than what she did.
When I found out, I was so angry. Selfish is what I called her, over and over again between sobs. I hit everything I got my hands on, I cursed her, I swore, I broke down. I felt betrayed. I tried, didn’t I? I answered all her wordless calls, her melancholic texts. It felt like I was reaching into a lightless abyss, thinking one day I’d pull her out. That day never came. She was unreachable. She was gone.
In a hallowed hall, I gazed down at my friend. A blank expression was pasted on her tight-skinned face, yet this was the best she’d looked in awhile. Her hair and makeup were done, though not as she would’ve liked. People said she looked like she was sleeping, but I knew better. If that were the case, she’d have her arms splayed out, mouth hanging open to allow her monstrous snoring to sound through.
All my anger was spent. Looking at her, all I could feel was sorrow and regret. I thought of all the things we did together and might’ve done together. I thought of how much pain she must’ve endured to leave everything behind. I thought of how much I love her. I took her cold hand, searching for those weighted words. How could I ever say all the things I wanted to tell her? I expected to tell her many things. In the end, all I said was, “I miss you, Nellie”.
Natalie is a self-proclaimed hippie who loves Earth, animals, and sometimes, people. She hopes to inspire others to live in a more kind-hearted, environmentally-conscious way, while making their lives less materialistic and more meaningful.