In primary school, I had this friend. I’ll call her Heather.
I never had any doubt that Heather and I were best friends. We met in pre-school, and became friends quickly and stayed that way throughout primary school; I don’t even remember not being best friends. As far as I can remember, she was just always there. It’s as if she always was.
I had other friends, of course, but there was never any challenge to her. We were so similar; weird in the same way, quiet in the same way, but also loud in the same way. I couldn’t imagine life without her. We were also close with another girl who we met later, Myrtle. She was my second best friend, if you like. Between them, I had all the friendship I needed. I didn’t really pay that much attention to other people because I didn’t need them. I had Heather and Myrtle.
When we moved up to secondary school, we stayed close, particularly Heather and I. It was the same as primary school; I made other friends, I talked to other people in class, but she was by far my closest friend, followed again by Myrtle. Almost 2,000 people in the school, but I needed no one else. We were best friends forever.
And then, suddenly, I didn’t have her.
I remember when I was told. It was April in Year 7, I was having a bath, my mum knocked on the bathroom door and came in. She told me that Heather’s family had managed to sell their house. I’d known that they were trying, but with the housing market as bad as it was I’d just never really believed that they would actually manage it.
And so… she moved away. 400 miles away, to Scotland.
It would have crushed me to lose her at school. But at least I had Myrtle, right? … until she also moved away, to Greece. A month after Heather left.
And then I was alone.
Thus, I started Year 8 with no real friends, no one I felt close to, or comfortable with. I’d given my heart entirely to my closest friends, because I had only needed them. And in their wake they left nothing.
Everyone else had spent Year 7 forming extensive, close and seemingly exclusive friendship groups, and after a year of barely talking to them I didn’t feel welcome. So, for the first year or so, I largely spent my break and lunch alone, trying to avoid older students who might try to make fun of me for being a loner. When I saw people I knew, I wanted so badly to join them, eat with them, laugh with them… but they all knew each other and I didn’t really know them. I didn’t know what they liked, or what made them laugh, or what to say at all… what could I offer them? I felt that if I joined them, I would be an outsider, a nuisance. They were happy without me, I thought, I didn’t have anything to offer them. They didn’t want me. I would just be annoying to them.
It took me a long time to become fully incorporated in a new group of friends. But even so, that feeling never went away. No matter who it was, I always felt that whenever I opened my mouth, they would think I was annoying, an irritation, someone they wished wasn’t there. It began to extend not just to friends, but to teachers, shop assistants, family members. Everyone.
And so I learned to not speak at all. Pretend like I didn’t exist, because I thought that that’s what other people wanted. Any personality I had had with Heather and Myrtle was buried deep beneath an exterior of shyness so that I would not be noticed. And so, I became shy.
After a few years, my shy exterior eventually began to crack. I became loud, argumentative (in a good way) in English classes. I debated with my new best friend in such a loud voice that it’s hard to believe that no one noticed. I had extensive conversations with my history teachers, giving them intellectual thought beyond school work that I knew they could appreciate.
Slowly, slowly, I came back out of my shell. But those insecurities still crippled me, forbade me from making many friends when I came to university. They kept me lonely, dependent on just a few people who I trusted. They kept me weak.
But no more.