I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN

I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

I Know Exactly What You Mean

Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.

Muhammad Ali

I was waiting anxiously by the phone when it rang, but still it startled me and I jumped. For a moment I was suddenly unable to move, and I stared at the phone as it rang again. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my little sister enter the room and stop to gawk at me. I guessed that I must have looked like an idiot, standing there staring at the phone as if I didn’t know what to do with it when it made noise. As it rang again I broke from my trance and quickly snatched the receiver up from the cradle.

“Hello?”

“Hi,” a shaking, choked voice said. “It’s me.” I wasn’t used to hearing Annie’s voice, but now it sounded as familiar as it had a couple of years ago.

Annie and I had been friends since we were little. All through elementary school we were the pair that everyone knew. Where one of us went, the other was sure to be right behind. But as we entered junior high, things began to change. Mainly, Annie began to change. Her social life became the most important thing to her, and being popular was what she strived for. She broke off from our circle of friends and joined a different, more popular crowd. I saw less and less of her, and when I did see her I felt uncomfortable and awkward, like we were strangers. Whether she tried to or not, Annie made me feel like I was inferior to her, not cool enough to hang around her, which hurt like nothing else I had known before.

I knew she didn’t feel that way; she told me often how good a friend I was. And I knew she was going through a lot of confusion about herself, trying to find where she fit into the scheme of junior high. So I gave her some leeway and let her do some soul searching. Even though we were not as tight as we were when we were younger, we were still friends, even if I cared more about the relationship than she did at times. Often, though, I wished for the closeness, the sisterhood we had a couple of years ago. Things had been so simple then. They were easily defined: Annie and I were best friends, and we could talk to each other about anything. Now, everything was complicated. I was closer to other friends than I was to Annie, and there were things I told them that I never would tell her. It just wasn’t like it was when we were younger, and I wondered if we would even be able to achieve the kind of relationship we had before things started changing.

“Hi,” I said again, unable to think of any other reply. It had been so long since I had actually talked to Annie, not counting the brief moment before school today when she told me with worry in her eyes, “I think he’s going to dump me.”

I hadn’t had time to answer her then, or when she came to me during lunch and said, “I have to call you today.” The buzz going around school was that Annie and her boyfriend Cory were having problems, and at first I didn’t believe it. They had been together for almost eight months, and even at the last dance a couple of weeks ago I had seen them sneaking a kiss between songs. But then when she had said to me early that morning, her face taut with nervousness and sadness, that she was afraid Cory was going to break up with her, I knew that everything going around school was probably true.

I pulled myself from my thoughts as the silence grew longer, and I was trying to think of something intelligent to say when I realized that there was not silence from the end of the line but muffled sobs.

“Oh, God,” I sighed, and I felt so horrible for not noticing at first that she was in pain. “How are you doing?”

“Not good, not good at all,” Annie managed to reply, her voice thick with tears. “Cory just broke up with me.”

I couldn’t speak for a minute. I knew that it was coming, deep inside my subconscious had told me that it was inevitable, but it just seemed like Annie and Cory would somehow survive anything. They had been together so long, it was hard to imagine them apart.

Finally, my voice returned to me. “Oh Annie, I’m so sorry,” I breathed, hoping my words sounded as sincere as they were meant to be. I didn’t know what else to say, so I just kept repeating my apology.

“I know, I know,” Annie mumbled, and I heard her blow her nose.

“You must be so upset. I know how much you liked him.”

“No, I didn’t like him,” Annie coughed, and I was confused until she added in a low and unwavering voice, “I loved him.”

I was overwhelmed into silence. Annie had spoken those last three words with such honesty and intensity that it had thrown me into shocked silence. I hadn’t known she had such strong feelings for Cory. I knew that they went to the movies and talked on the phone and stuff like that, but I had never known just how much Cory had meant to Annie. She had really cared about him with a love that I had yet to truly experience myself. It made me sad to realize that the only time Annie had really talked to me about her relationship was to tell me it was over.

“I never knew you felt that way about him,” I admitted. “I mean, I knew you liked him, but I never knew you loved him.”

“I did,” Annie cried, and I heard her wipe her nose. “I really did.”

“So, why’d he break up with you?” I asked, hoping I wasn’t treading on unstable ground. “Did he give you a reason?”

Now Annie’s tone held more contempt than sorrow. “Well, he said, ‘I’m getting bored. I need some variety in my life.’ Can you believe him? He just got sick of me,” she wailed, her voice her own again, and full of anguish. “What did I do wrong?”

“You didn’t do anything,” I made sure to tell her quickly and firmly. “It wasn’t your fault. He’s the one who broke up with you. It’s his problem. This breakup doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. You’re perfectly lovable just the way you are.” I was full of words of wisdom, and I hadn’t been able to share that with Annie in a while.

“I guess you’re right,” Annie murmured, but I could tell she wasn’t totally convinced. There was nothing I could do about that. I couldn’t change how she felt about herself; all I could do was make sure to be there for her when she needed some encouraging words.

Through the phone I could hear Annie starting to cry again, and the sound made me hurt inside. It reminded me of the time when another boy Annie had liked dumped her, and I remember hugging her as she cried on my window seat. I had told her then that she would get through it, and she had, which meant that she could get over this, too. When I spoke, I made sure to keep my voice gentle and calm. “You two had such a long, wonderful time together, though, right?”

I thought maybe I detected a hint of a smile in Annie’s voice when she replied. “Oh, yeah, definitely. The best.”

“I never heard a lot about the relationship,” I pointed out. “Tell me about it.”

And suddenly she was talking to me. Serious, just-like-old-times talking. Remembering brought painful memories up to the surface, but also pleasant ones, and she started to laugh more often than she cried. As we talked, I could almost feel the gap of two years starting to close, and even though I knew it wouldn’t stay closed long, I was just happy that we could regain our old friendship, even just for a little bit. Things felt back to normal again, almost perfect. But even though I tried to tell myself otherwise, I knew this wouldn’t last. The next time Annie and a guy break up, we will have this conversation again, and things will feel normal. Yet, in between the start of a new relationship and the end of it, I will be second to Annie’s new boyfriend, her new friends, her new clothes, her new schedule, her new personality. We will revert back to what we had been only last week—acquaintances. Distant friends.

I didn’t care. I had other friends, other activities, other ideas to explore. Our lives would continue on separately, mine going one way, hers the other. I understood that. We were two different people now, with different views, attitudes, personalities, lives. We weren’t as close as before, but we were still friends, and I wasn’t the kind of person to drop old friends for new. Maybe Annie didn’t care as much about our friendship as I did, maybe sometimes I was there for her more than she was there for me, and maybe sometimes I came second on Annie’s list. I knew this, and I didn’t care. I would always be there for Annie. We had been friends for so long, and I wasn’t about to give that up.

“I have to go soon. I promised Bailey I’d call her tonight. But first, I want to thank you,” Annie said, and her voice, I knew, was sincere. “You’ve always been such a good friend, Melinda. I know I must bore you to death with all this, but you still listen. Thanks.” Annie knew what a good friend was; she just couldn’t find it in herself to apply the knowledge. She was too confused, too unsure of herself, too caught up in the rush of teenage life. I understood that, too.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” I said sincerely. The conversation was coming to a close.

Annie thought for a minute. “It’s going to take a long time to heal. I’m just going to miss him for a while.” Annie grew more reflective, and her voice softer, more thoughtful, as she struggled to put her feelings into words. “We were so close. . . . It almost feels . . . It almost feels like a part of me has been taken away, a part I can’t get back.” She struggled for words. “Like . . . things feel different, like they won’t ever be the same again.” Annie sighed, frustrated. “Do you get what I’m trying to say?”

My voice was wobbly, and my cheeks were wet. “I know exactly what you mean,” I told her. And I did understand—every word she said.

Melinda Favreau

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