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It’s 8 a.m. on January 1, 2010. The bright sun wakes her up, forcing her to sit up in her big, fluffy white comforter that lies on her massive, king-sized bed. The sun may have woken her up this morning, but there was only one thing that could possibly begin to wake her from her depression—the depression that had consumed her after the death of her best friend. She felt hopeless, lonely, lost, and terrified in a world that seemed utterly unpredictable.
No one could console her or comfort her. When people told her that everything would be okay, she just couldn’t believe them; they didn’t know what they were saying. How could things suddenly be okay now when she felt completely empty and lost without her best friend? This was a question she knew no one would be able to answer unless they experienced the identical loss she felt—the hole in her heart.
As she sat up in her bed, she began to reminisce on their friendship. It was then that she realized where this reminiscing needed to take place. No matter how painful it would be, she knew she needed to curl up in their special spot—the bench hanging from the tree. The spot on that elementary school playground that brought them together, even though now they would be apart forever.
* * *
“Scottie!!” she shouted angrily at me, “what do you think you’re doing?!?!”
“Uhh…. I’m drawing. It’s what I love to do.”
“Screw art, you nerd. Art is for losers.”
Recess was my time to draw, but before I knew it, I’d be lying on the floor—clutching my sketchbook as if it were a life saving device. After all, it was pretty much my only ‘friend’.
I was distraught. I simply couldn’t understand why this girl hated me so much. She was the most popular girl in the grade and she had so many friends. Why can’t I be like her? Why can’t I be all cool, perfect, and popular? She had this power and sense of confidence that I somehow desperately wanted. That day haunted me for a while. It even got to the point where I became scared to go to school. But I felt weird telling my parents because they would never understand. They didn’t have the time to understand. But then things changed.
Two days passed and I was sitting in my 3rd grade math class. It was almost time for recess. 11:36 a.m. Only four more minutes until my life would become a living hell once again. Ms. Hummel finished the lesson and gave us our assignment. I reached into my backpack to get my small assignment book, flipped the non-wrinkled pages to the right date, and began to neatly write down my math assignment with my squishy ergonomic pen. I packed up my stuff and pushed in my chair. The time had come…. I walked to my little safe haven—the bench hanging from the big tree in the arboretum next to our classrooms. That’s my place, I told myself. After all, I’m the only one who would respect it. I sat down, took out my sketchbook and began to draw, but then I heard footsteps. I flinched when she approached me and I’m sure I had a frightened look on my face. I wanted to curl up in a little ball and protect myself from those mean kids who picked on me. But thankfully I didn’t need to this time.
“HI! I’m Claire,” she said enthusiastically.
“Hi….” I answered confusingly.
“What’s your name?” For once, someone actually seemed interested in getting to know me! W-O-W.
“Scottie,” I responded pensively.
“I saw you sitting on the bench over here and you seemed lonely, so I thought I would come over and see what was going on. It made me sad to see that you were sitting alone.”
“Oh, I see...”
“Do you mind if I join you?” she asked me.
“Sure,” I answered.
“So, Scottie, why ARE you sitting by yourself?”
I told her I was scared of the other kids and that they hated me for a reason I was unsure of. I told her that this special place calmed me down. The fresh wind would dry the sweat off of my face. The air would rejuvenate my senses. I expected her to laugh, because, after all, this was what I had become used to. But to my surprise, she didn’t. She seemed sad about what I was going through, while, at the same time, she seemed to understand.
“I’m so sorry to hear this. I don’t know why those kids would treat you so badly—you seem like such a nice person. Don’t feel alone. I haven’t really had the best year either, so far. We should have a play date sometime…”
“Yeah, that would be cool.”
A few days later, on Saturday, I went to Claire’s house for a play date. As it turned out, it wasn’t too far from my house. I was really excited to have a play date with someone who seemed to like me. I was glad to get out of my tiny house for a while because things were just so chaotic a lot of the time. My parents seemed to be fighting constantly and I didn’t know why. I was never around to see what would prompt the yelling and screaming. I would try so hard to believe that my parents weren’t truly what they sounded like with each other. I would hear them say things like “F*** you!” but I didn’t really know what that meant. It was like a foreign language to me…
When I went to Claire’s house, it looked beautiful. It seemed like she had a good life. I walked up the concrete steps to her big white doors, where I then rang the doorbell. Claire’s dad answered the door. He was a tall handsome man wearing jeans and a nice shirt. He was quite friendly.
“Hi, I’m Claire’s dad. It’s nice to meet you.”
“I’m Scottie. It’s nice to meet you too.”
“Hold on, I’ll get Claire.”
“Claire, your friend Scottie is here!”
Then her dad walked away. He probably had something to do. As I was waiting for Claire, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful her house was on the inside. Everything seemed perfect. Everything was tidy and perfectly arranged, just how I loved things to be. I looked around at the perfectly white walls and high ceilings, noticing that there was not one nick on them. Why couldn’t my house be like this?
Claire came down the stairs.
“Hi Claire. It’s nice to see you. You have a really nice house.”
“Thank you. Let’s go up to my room.”
We walked up the stairs and went into her room, which was big and beautiful.
“Your dad seemed really nice,” I told her, “At least he seems more together than my parents, at times.”
I didn’t really understand her response. It seemed like she was hiding something but I didn’t really know what. I wanted to ask more, but something told me I shouldn’t.
I heard some glass shatter on the floor downstairs. Her dad must have dropped a dish or something. My mind wandered back to our play date.
“So, what do you want to do?” Claire asked me.
“I want to hear you play your guitar.” I answered.
“Okay, fine. I’ll do it for you, but I promise, I’m really not that great.”
I knew she would be wrong, and boy was I right. The sound of the guitar strings rung across the room and it was so pretty. I felt like I was in heaven and I never wanted to leave. But then the phone rang. It was my mom, telling me I’d have to be home in 10 minutes. I hated how she always ruined the good moments. I didn’t want to go back to my chaotic house. I didn’t want to escape the fantasy world I thought I was in. I just wanted to be with Claire.
“This was fun, Claire. We should get together more often.”
“Yes, we should. Thanks for coming over, Scottie.”
“Thanks for having me.”
Throughout 3rd grade, we had many play dates at both of our houses. Sometimes we would walk to the park nearby as well, since it was about two minutes away. While things were still not the best at school, they were definitely better now that Claire and I had become friends.
And life continued. We stayed friends all throughout elementary school. It was clear that nothing could break us apart. Thankfully, we found some other friends, so it wasn’t just the two of us sitting alone in an isolated area that no one knew existed. The two of us still frequently got together on our own. I kept going to her house because I just didn’t feel comfortable inviting her over to mine. I knew my house would never compare to hers…
But then in 5th grade things got weird. Things just weren’t the same. Claire just wasn’t herself—the lively girl with the wavy brown hair and hazel eyes. I just knew something was wrong and I couldn’t let my best friend deteriorate. But it was clear that she was already starting to on the outside. Her face had this dull coloring, like the color inside of her drained from the canvas. It was as if she had lost her vibrancy and liveliness. She started looking kind of like a zombie, and it really freaked me out. I couldn’t make sense of what was going on. I tried to deny that she was changing because I just didn’t want to believe it. But how could I not believe something when it was right in front of my eyes? I told myself to just pretend that nothing was happening and that things would be fine.
But they weren’t. It was clear that she was suffering. I would ask her what was wrong and she would tell me it was nothing. But I knew something was wrong and I had to do something. Lunchtime would come and I would notice that she would keep eating less and less with each passing day. I was confused because I was always hungry at lunchtime. How could someone not be?
I finally tapped her on the shoulder one day and asked her to come with me. We took a little walk around the yard. I asked her why she seemed and looked so sad.
“It’s nothing, Scottie, I promise,” she said sort of defensively.
“No, Claire, it’s obvious that you’re hiding something. Seriously, what’s going on?”
The tears started streaming down her light olive-colored face.
“It’s my dad.”
“Your dad? But he seems like such a nice guy…”
“If you only knew…that’s not who he really is.”
“What do you mean, Claire?”
She told me that her dad always acted nice to her friends, but that he was out of control a majority of the time. He would drink, smoke, and abuse Claire, both physically and verbally, and be very critical of her.
It all made sense as to why she approached me that one day at school a couple of years ago: she couldn’t deal with the fact that I was lonely, since she, too, had experienced rejection. Although she experienced so much, what saved her was her guitar and her voice. Her guitar was her life jacket because it saved her from drowning in her dad’s abusive behavior, and her music was her drug because it helped her escape the threats of her everyday life. What saved me was my sketchbook—it was my shield from the destructive outside world, and when I began to draw, it was as if I entered a world of fantasy.
I began to realize how fortunate I was to have a friend like Claire. I knew that our friendship was meant to be—that we were meant to find each other. But I was in shock when I heard about the way Claire’s dad treated her. I couldn’t understand why he would do that. I thought my parents were evil, but compared to her dad, I guess they weren’t so bad. My parents bothered me, but at least I still ate my lunch.
It seemed as if my life was falling apart again. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. I wanted Claire back. The old Claire, that is. She seemed like a sister to me. She was always there and she always cared. I felt like I could express myself freely, sometimes even without talking! So that’s what being telepathic means. It was as if she was the missing color of my painting and I was the missing string to her guitar. But now she was like a ghost. She was visually here, but mentally elsewhere—caught up in her self-destruction. The fear I had for Claire’s life never left me. Of course I never wanted to lose her, but the realistic part of me was afraid that I could. The hopeful part of me kept telling myself to never lose hope because Claire would not be going anywhere. I guess I had to go with that second part of me because I knew we were meant to be lifelong friends and sisters.
And the years went on, but it was a constant battle for Claire. She never left my mind. Some days were better than others and at one point it even seemed like she was becoming her old self again. She began eating and laughing more. But then things got worse again.
It wasn’t until seventh grade that I realized what was really going on. She had an eating disorder that was called anorexia nervosa. I realized that she felt a lack of control of her father’s feelings and impulses. But the only thing she felt she could control was herself—her appearance. All the dots began to connect: If she started demolishing herself, maybe her father would stop demolishing her. This really became true when she began to cut herself. Everyday she would come to school with cuts all along the inside of her left arm. It tortured me to see those cuts on her arm—clearly fresh and just beginning to scab. This made my hatred for Claire’s dad even stronger. I just couldn’t believe he was destroying my best friend. I constantly wished I could tranquilize him. I wished that I could prevent him from acting so ruthlessly towards her. But it was too hard to stop him. I just couldn’t suppress the force he exerted on my best friend, even though I desperately wanted to and tried my best to do so. He was too strong for my tiny, meek, little body that could barely defend myself from the kids who picked on me back in elementary school.
Though we were not biological sisters, I felt this sisterly devotion towards Claire. After all, she had reached out to me back in 3rd grade when she saw I was so sad and lonely. So what was the least I could do now, 7.5 years later? I just couldn’t take this anymore. I thought I had experienced hardship with the conflicts that existed and the constant fighting that took place between my parents. I knew I would do whatever I could, even if my parents were against my doing so. Sacrifice came with those you truly cared about.
But as the years went by, I constantly wondered if I had done enough. I couldn’t stop thinking: “was there more that I could’ve done?” By the end of the first semester of 10th grade, I felt like I had done a lot. I talked to the school counselor but she denied the problems. I talked to the dean and he said Claire missed too much school. I talked to the principal and she seemed to think that education was more important than health. So then I ultimately talked to a treatment center and they said Claire definitely needed help. But her dad was a rolling stone and lost a lot of their money so he couldn’t pay for treatment. And it’s not like I was a billionaire. So I held a fundraiser for my best friend, but I could only raise so much money.
It seemed like I never could do enough. Despite all that I did, Claire’s dad continued to abuse her, as if she was some stranger who was trying to destroy his life. But she was his daughter, for God’s sake. If Claire endured this pain and anguish for so many years, I just couldn’t see why she would lose hope now, especially since we had each other. Why would she want to leave me all alone? Didn’t she care? Yes she did care, I told myself, but she could not stop the force that was trying to defeat her all along: her father. It wasn’t about me, I told myself, it was about the way her father made her feel—disgusting, hideous, worthless—despite the fact that she was a wonderful person and friend that I was so thankful to have in my life.
I could see she was drifting away. I would try to revive her spirits, but it seemed as if that was not possible. I tried not to lose hope, but at times it was hard. And then the day came where my life seemed to truly fall apart.
The date was Wednesday January 1, 2009—two days before the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year in high school. January 1st was the day my best friend died of anorexia nervosa. January 1st was the date that changed my whole life forever. It was the day I realized my best friend and sister was now physically gone and that I could not bring her back to life.
* * *
As she sat on the bench, these thoughts and memories ran through her head and she began to cry. The tears streamed down Scottie’s pale-colored face except this time she was alone on the bench without Claire by her side to comfort her.