When my best friend dumped me

Her name was Gina, and we were in the fifth grade. She had lots of black wavy hair, bright green eyes and dimples. And I adored her.

Gina and I did all the things best friends do. Sleepovers, roller skating, pretending to be the latest and greatest pop singer. At the time, I think it might have been Olivia Newton-John.

Fifth grade is a time when a lot of girls are on the threshold of adolescence, in body and mind. Looking back, I realize that it was puberty that probably separated us. I don’t remember her being boy crazy. I remember her wanting to be more independent. She wanted to do things without adults around. Gina wasn’t into any mischief. She just didn’t want her parents or my mom to correct her.

I wasn’t there yet. I still needed my parents. I still wanted their guidance and I definitely craved their approval.

The tension built fast with me and Gina. I don’t remember what cause the cataclysmic fight; I just knew I was bewildered and so, so hurt when she scoffed at me and ignored me in Ms. Clayton’s fifth grade class. One day, during a class filmstrip, Gina turned and put a note on my desk. I looked at it like it might be a moon rock. I took it in my hands. Suddenly, Gina swiveled in her seat and whispered.

“Can I have that back?”

She could. And I handed it over. I saw her put it in her desk. I immediately needed that note. It held the secret of her sudden chilliness. It was the answer to all my questions. During a class activity, Gina left her desk. I immediately pretended to drop a pencil under my desk. I crouched down and lunged for the small, folded piece of paper in the corner of her desk. I unfolded it and was surprised at how much she’d written. I didn’t read the whole thing. I didn’t want to get caught. But I saw enough. I saw that she’d written: You always do anything your mom says… My eyes scanned the loose leaf page and settled on something that felt like a kick to the chest: …and now I hate you even more…

Gina was turning back toward her desk. I crumpled the paper and jammed it back into her desk. I never knew if she suspected I’d read it.

After that, there were exactly two phone calls. Both times, Gina hung up on me. After the last call, I looked at the phone in my hand. After that, I cried myself into a headache. Neither my mom nor my sister’s embrace helped much. I sobbed until the sobs turned into involuntary jerks of the diaphragm, and I was lightheaded.

I don’t remember how I passed the days after Gina ended our friendship. I remember feeling strange, like walking and breathing took more effort.

Things eventually evened out. I managed to avoid crying by never letting my eyes fall on Gina ever again. I pretended she just wasn’t. We didn’t speak again.

Gina made new friends, and by sixth grade I had new friends too. We were all dealing with middle school, new breasts and body hair. New feelings. And then I heard that Gina’s father had died very suddenly. The pity that reared up in me surprised me. (By this time, my big sister was learning to battle mean girls, which meant learning the full meaning of schadenfreude. I kept waiting to enjoy just the thought of Gina’s tears and loss. The enjoyment never came.)

The last time I spoke to Gina was in line at the high diving board at the community pool. It was the summer after our sixth grade school year. As much as it had hurt when she’d ended our friendship, I thought about how awful it must be to walk inside your house after school and know — each and every day — and know your dad wasn’t going to come through the door for dinner.

Our eyes met. Before things could get awkward, I said it.

“I’m sorry about your dad.”

She looked back at me.

“Thanks,” she said.

She climbed the ladder and stepped on to the board. She hesitated, then turned back and looked down at me.

“It’s not a whole lot of fun,” she said.

In the moment it took her to skip to the end of the diving board, I knew I was going to be OK without Gina. Sure, there was a twinge of something – was it pain? Regret? Or just a girl’s heart getting a callous over its first bruised spot? I wasn’t sure.

Gina disappeared into the green-blue water, a little splash sort of punctuating our scant exchange. It was the last meaningful conversation we had. As a grown woman, I like to think it was our way of shaking on it, agreeing to chuck any ill will into the deep end of the pool.

It probably wasn’t that neat. The grief probably lingered. But more than 30 years later, I remember Gina and the days after she wasn’t my friend. Sometimes, In my head, I pretend I answered her before she took that jump into the deep end.

“I hasn’t been a whole lot of fun for me, either.”

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2 comments on “When my best friend dumped me

  1. Maggie Wilson
    February 22, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    Ouch. On your behalf, I so much want to go back there and read the entire letter and then write a lengthy defense, dispute it word for word, grievance for grievance. Maybe even get Gina to see the error of her ways. Such a painful loss. Betrayal, even.

  2. julian
    February 22, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    I like that you’re writing here at Wondertwisted again. This post is quite touching and poignant.

    I think a really good title for it would have been “L’esprit de l’escalier and 5th grade friendship”. Your very last sentence defines that title.

    Hope all is well for you.

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