love in the friend zone

As I entered high school, in the aftermath of years of emotional abuse, I was a psychological train wreck. I put on a front for everybody, because that’s what I learned as a child: It’s nobody’s business, they don’t need to know, you can’t trust anyone other than your dysfunctional family. I became an actor, playing a role just as well as anyone in the drama class in high school. I had “friends”, but they knew nothing about my life other than what I allowed them to see. Everybody thought of me as the smart guy who had everything going my way; I felt like a fraud. I had the stress of being a teenager, the stress of portraying the overachiever I was expected to be, the stress of undiagnosed early-onset bipolar, and the stress of recovering from an abusive childhood. I was at a breaking point, and I wondered what it would be like to die, though I didn’t have any suicidal plans.

Lisa was the first person I knew I could trust with everything. We had become acquainted over a couple of years of friendly competition in middle school, but when we got to high school we became much closer and started hanging out together most of the time. Rumors flew of course, but at the time we didn’t care, we were just having fun being friends. I realized she wasn’t being superficial, and she wasn’t going to pull the football away at the last second. Even in my confused and fragile state, I understood that she was a true friend.

There was one day when something had triggered me, and I was in one of those mixed depressive states I have come to know too well. I was on the verge of tears all day, but also ready to fight with anyone who crossed my path. At some point I hid myself away in an unused corridor and cried so hard it physically hurt, the sadness and anxiety and anger just pouring out of me uncontrollably. Somehow, Lisa found me, and she sat down and cried with me. It made her sad that I was hurting so badly, and her empathy touched me deeply. No one had ever been there for me in that way before, and it was unbelievable that anyone could care for me so much.

My love for her grew from friends to something more. I was so immature emotionally, and maybe I saw her as a caregiver as well as a friend and a potential romantic partner. Eventually I got the nerve to bring up the topic, and finally I asked her what she thought of being more than friends. She gave me the “it might ruin our friendship” speech, and from anyone else it may have sounded fake, but I believed she was being genuine.

I accepted what she said, for the time being, and our friendship was fine, but I was always looking for an opportunity to convince her she was wrong. That opportunity never arrived, for various reasons. We both had relationships come and go, and we remained friends, but she was who I wanted to be with. I would have followed her anywhere if she had given me any kind of indication that she loved me in the same way I loved her. Anywhere.

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Part of me still misses what we had at the time, and I have thought a lot about what a life with Lisa might have been. I used to IM her and write her manic e-mails in the pre-Fakebook days, but she eventually stopped replying (probably because my messages were bizarre and obsessive). I still dream about her, and I’ve written poems and blog posts about her. I’m friends with her on Fakebook, but we never chat or message each other; if she wanted to communicate with me, she would have by now. I could never tell her the million thoughts I have had about her, because it would be too disruptive to both our lives. It would be unfair to her to drag her into my messed-up mind.

I know that between us, I am the only one who is still obsessed with our ancient history. I’m not a perfect person, and I know hanging on to memories like this is unhealthy to me and potentially damaging to my current relationship. I know I should forget those days, but I don’t know how to let some things go. I love some of those memories, but sometimes they fuck with my brain. Maybe other people forget their memories from those days, and they are better off for it. Maybe it helps them move on.

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yearbook

At the end of the high school year, there was always the ritual of signing other people’s yearbooks. Mostly these were pithy little notes like “it’s been awesome knowing you” and “hope you have a great life”. Here’s what I wish I had written in one particular yearbook:

Congratulations, you lumbering dolt, for escaping high school at the bottom of the class. You’ve been a dick to me for the past 12 years, so go fuck yourself. Sincerely, Fishrobber. P.S. I made your mother squeal last night.