By Virginia Richard (’24)

It was three days until finals. Our school had been overcrowded for years. The only high school in Framingham, MA depended on a certain number of students to be absent each day just to stay under capacity. With 2,500 students, it wasn’t hard to have a bunch of absent students. The lunchroom was loud and crowded. Too many students shoved into one room, forced to make two lines just to handle the flow up to the food counters. Students were bustling to finish their lunches so they could study some more. Others were goofing off, happy for the little break in the day where they weren’t forced into review games and discussions to finish off the school year.

Finding anybody in the swell of students was difficult for anyone of average height. Standing on tiptoes and squinting across the room with a vaulted ceiling. The room would settle minutely after lunch was done being served, but it wouldn’t be enough. Almost everyone used the landmarks of the room to express where they were sat that day. Above our heads hung flags from many different countries, as well as a few pride flags. It was easier to say “Puerto Rican flag” instead of “center of the room” or “pride flag” instead of “against the far wall.”

She was sitting with two friends, a blond and a brunette, from the dance team a few tables over. They were laughing and smiling after they finished their lunch. The dance team was the only sports group that won awards at this high school in recent years, yet they were criminally underrated by all the other ‘real’ athletes.

She was one of the co-captains for the dance team. She had been dancing for 13 years at this point, a devoted dancer, dabbling in choreography and a little more in song writing. She lived for music, for the impracticality of devoting her life to it. It flowed through her easier than everyone else, through the strings of a cello or guitar, through the keys on the piano. Music theory was difficult, as it was forever, but she kept trying and trying because she wanted to get it right. It was her dream.

The blond girl by her side was to be a co-captain the following year. She was nice enough. She was smart and dedicated, much like the other girl. She made people smile easily, even if she was a little awkward sometimes.

The third girl, a brunette, was another member of the dance team, not anyone of authority, but she was funny and sweet. She was great to be around and was always so understanding. She was a clear favorite among the team, because she was comedic and good. No one ever had a thing to say against her.

The current co-captain though, she was something else. In her own circles, she was powerful. People loved her, the advice she gave, her presence was addictive. She was fearless, except for the thunderstorms. The storms were something that she could never conquer. It brought her back to a time where she was stuck in her family’s car with a storm overhead, lightning flashing too close for comfort. It scared the hell out of her and she never got over it fully.

Sometimes when the storms were bad, she’d text me. I would distract her the best I could. Talking about anything and everything to keep her mind off the storm that was brewing above our city. Reminding her that her family was okay, they were where they were supposed to be, not out in the storm.

Maybe it should’ve been a sign when she stopped coming to me for support when it rained. Maybe she had actually gotten over it at some point, and never told me. Maybe she found someone else to talk to. She would have to, as she abandoned our 5-year friendship.

So many things were lost between us. All our habits, our jokes, our plans, torn apart and burned. The memories pushed into corners of our minds until they were erased. I would never go to her homeroom at 7 in the morning to see her for 20 minutes. I would never go to her house again and she wouldn’t come to mine. I wouldn’t attend any more dance team events, pressing play on their audio track because I was one of the few people outside of the team that knew the cue. I wouldn’t suffer in the cold next to the band kids to watch her perform at football games. I would never sit next to her in class and get scolded by the teacher for laughing and talking too much.

We were best friends torn apart through text, because she had been ignoring me for weeks and I got tired of it. I called her out, asked her what I had done and if I could fix it, but she never told me. Instead, she said I was suffocating her, though I didn’t see how. Our interactions had been at an all-time low, but it wasn’t low enough for her I suppose. She said that she had grown annoyed of pieces of me that I couldn’t control. The things I did, the way I said things, something about me that rattled her nerves and wasn’t worth pinpointing. Something I didn’t dare to ask about. I didn’t want to know, I didn’t need the ammunition to use against myself in the years to come. She had already done enough damage.

She said she wasn’t the same person she was when we started high school, but I was. That some part of me never changed, even though I had gone through so much. I’ve never understood what she meant. I was an obnoxious 14-year-old with crippling anxiety and a few too many dark thoughts. I was a happier 17-year-old, who was managing the darkness, though sometimes quite clumsily. Was there some part of me, some piece of my soul, that screamed I was the immature one?

We didn’t talk after she sent that paragraphs long text and every time I saw her it felt like a physical ache. It’s the same ache I feel to this day when I see her posts on social media. The hardest ones are the ones where she looks happy. It’s been 3 years since I last spoke to her, but she was the most difficult loss for me to process.

There’s something more painful about losing a best friend. Losing her hurt more than I ever expected and I was so desperate for her to look at me, to see me as a friend again. I respected her wishes and never talked to her in the classes we shared. I sat alone in both, shoved off to the side. It felt like I didn’t know her anymore, because the best friend I knew wouldn’t have cut me off through text. She wouldn’t have said all those things that she hated about me, things she had been thinking about for over a month before I called her out. The best friend I knew was gone, and it never made sense to me.

Maybe that’s why I watched her in the cafeteria that day. I don’t remember who I was sitting with. Probably some almost-friends from my classes. The people who I would sit and talk with in school but wouldn’t see outside of the school building. They were good people, but they weren’t her and the ache wouldn’t disappear.

I watched as the 3 of them, who were sitting by themselves at one of the rectangular tables that bordered the cafeteria. I saw as they stood up, threw away their trash and walked towards the auditorium. The auditorium was next to the cafeteria, and the hallways that connected them housed the closest bathrooms for the lunch students. They were the only bathrooms that students were allowed to use without talking with a lunch monitor who was sat at each of the 4 corner doors.

I didn’t think much of it. I signed the whole thing off as just them going to the bathroom. It was an irrelevant detail. She didn’t care about me and I tried hard not to care about her. I still watched her, because the ache was in my chest and I missed her, even if we had been apart for months at this point.

She didn’t come back to the table and she didn’t show up to history, where we used to sit together. Her seat, two desks down (where she had moved one seat over to avoid sitting directly next to me) remained empty. Without wanting to, I worried about her. Wondered if she was at the nurse or maybe something had happened with her family?

I didn’t see her for the rest of the day.

The truth had come out before the last bell of the day rung. Passed through a friend of a friend, a one-off whisper of shock in passing. She had been suspended for vaping in the bathroom, something so stupid and childish. Once I heard that, I wondered just how far off she had gone since she said those things to me. There was even a piece of me that wondered if we had still been friends, would she have done that?

She was smart enough to know not to do it in school, where they were cracking down on vaping in the bathrooms. She was smart enough not to go to the only bathroom that was watched like a hawk during lunch for the exact reason of people vaping in there. She was smart enough, but she did it anyway.

I’ll never understand what she was thinking because the girl I knew wouldn’t have done it. I would message her a few days later, with too many thoughts and worries in my head. She would reply, a little aloof, a little disconnected. There was no feeling behind her messages and I tried to be the same. I told her if she needed anything, that I would do my best. Looking back, if she had read through the lines of my messages, she would’ve known I missed her. I don’t know if she felt the same. Probably not.

All I did know was that me and her would never be friends again, even if all she had originally asked for was space. She wanted to be a young and dumb teenager, and all I wanted was to do was go home and read.