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It was obvious that it was I who had locked her up. No, I hadn’t tied her down to a stretcher; I hadn’t removed all the strings from her sweatshirts or the staples from her magazines. I didn’t place her in a room with only a bed and preach to her daily about the value of living.
But it was I who had gotten inside her head; put the thoughts there, the crazy ones. Should I have asked for help, when she whispered what she did at Saturday night sleepovers? I stand outside the discreetly tan building as visiting hour ticks by. I wonder if she glances, anxious, at the clock, wanting to know why I'm so late. But I can’t bring myself to buzz the door. It would make it too real to see her there.
I wanted to feel OK about it- to grieve for my best friend’s hospitalization, but not feel guilty- but I’ve never been good at lying, especially to myself. I didn’t want to be here, with the monster I’d created. I wanted to go home, to wallow in a kiddie pool of self-loathing and slowly let her forget about me.
But I know that it’s only I who can make her feel better about being here, however narcissistic that may seem. Perhaps that’s what hurts me the most: she still loves me, in spite of what I’ve done to her. She wants me to come see her here, though without me she wouldn’t be here to visit. I want her to hate me for what I've done to her, to stop calling from the pay phone in the hall.
Of course I want to hear her voice; I want it desperately. I want her to know how sorry I am, and to know that she’s OK; that the girls there, significantly tougher and stronger and scarier, hadn’t tried to hurt her, my pacifist of a best friend.
She calls often, and each call rips my heart in half; I ask how she’s doing and she assures me, in her demure voice, that she’s fine. That I need to stop worrying.
Each phone call, she asks again and again- always sweetly, easily, never pushing- if I’ll come visit her. I put it off- blame weather or sickness or anything else, anything else than to see her and admit the mistakes I have made. She’s almost a full year my senior and yet we’ve always slipped easily, her and I, into the role of vulnerable child and protective mother. And now, I was abandoning my baby. When she needed me most.
I shut my eyes tight, because I don’t want to see the truth. I don’t want to see this building, with the taunting words “Hospital” painted misshapen on the sides- and yet with certainty I know I will go in. I know I will go and I will see her and I will pull myself together with a sympathetic smile and say, How are you? because that’s what’s easy. I know when I get home it will tear me apart and I’ll wish perhaps I had been more real- had grabbed her hands and looked in her eyes and tried to find the carefree girl I once treasured. Had told her I loved her more than a sister has ever loved a sister, more than a mother loves a daughter, and that if she were gone I don’t know what I would do.
I know that these things will happen, and I feel it rise within me- the desperate urge to see her, however phony our interaction may be. And so I choke down emotion and put on my most detached smile.
My hand pauses, and I wonder painfully if, after her “time away”, we’ll talk again like we did before. If we’ll still take each others clothes and brush each others hair and answer each others email- all without the others consent. If we’ll still fool subs into thinking we’re sisters, and finish each others sentences, and all the other typical Hollywood-ish best friend things we do so often. Will we still bike over to each others houses and, upon finding that the other is gone, let ourselves in with the keys on our key chains, have a bowl of cereal, and go home?
Being with her is wonderful because it’s like being with myself. Awkward pauses, stupid questions, they’re all non-existent when it’s the two of us.
Why did you do it? I demand silently, because we always did joke that we're telepathic. I get no response. And so I shake away my silly little tears and buzz the doorbell.
It’s in that split second before my finger touches it that it hits me, and bile rises in my throat.
It was I who had locked her up.
Hackettstown, New Jersey
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"The unexamined life is not worth living." ~Socrates
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"the greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return." -MOULIN ROUGE (song lyrics)