She Ghosts Part One

We met freshman year of high school. I had transferred to a Catholic school because if I’d stayed in public school I would have hurt myself. I’m not Catholic, I was raised Agnostic/Buddhist and I’m pretty sure even back then I knew I was an Atheist. But I was desperate. I had to get away from the toxic, abusive, cycle that had become my life.

It was the first time in years I’d ridden a bus. It was also the first time I’d experienced any kind of really rigid dress code and I fussed with my new clothes a lot. I was very self-conscious, not being thin had been a major source of the problems at my old school and I didn’t want that again. We didn’t have uniforms but there were a lot more do’s and don’ts. This kind of shirt had to be tucked in, this long a skirt, this kind of neckline, etc. I really just didn’t want anyone to notice me for any reason, I wanted to blend in.

I didn’t know anyone else attending the school, which for me was the biggest plus. Being able to start over, or at least just be ignored, was all I could think about.

I don’t remember when I noticed her, whether it was that first day or something that first week or month, but at some time I noticed the girl who would get on the bus, sit alone in the middle, put on her headphones, and read or look out the window.

I remember her hair was waist length and light to medium brown. She was slim and pretty, with very large blue eyes. She looked…sad.

At school I noticed she didn’t talk to anyone either. We had a few classes together, the one I remember clearly is choir.

I honestly don’t know why I noticed her or why I decided to talk to her one day. I don’t even remember if it was on the bus or in school. Maybe at lunch or during choir. It’s been well over 20 years, so, memory fades for some things.

I do remember we started sitting together on the bus eventually. And also eventually she told me that she knew quite a lot of people at the school, from her previous Catholic school in town. And she told me what they’d done to her and how they’d treated her.

At some point I discovered that someone was spreading the same rumors about her at this place that they had at the last one.

I remember becoming enraged.

I confronted one of the girls, who was on our bus, about it. I just turned to her one morning and laid into her. I told her that bullying people was horrible and wrong and that someone of her religious background should know better. That she had no right to say those things about someone who had never done anything to her. That she was old enough to know better (at 15, I guess I felt pretty “mature” for some reason. And self-righteous). The other girl kept this tense smile on her face the whole time. I finished by telling her she should ashamed of herself.

We didn’t really talk about it after. But we became pretty inseparable for the next 3 years or so. Sleepovers most weekends. Talking on the phone whenever we weren’t together. I stayed at her upstate grandparents place one weekend and we shared a bed. I remember waking up to her huddled up to my back because she was always cold.

She was the first “best friend” I’d had in several years, the first person I really trusted after a long and painfully awful few years of nearly incessant bullying by my peers. Which at one point resulted in the friends I did have telling me I had to stop eating lunch with them because they were getting bullied for being my friend.

We had this pain in common. We both knew what it was like to have people turn on you, for no reason, and just…hate who you were. And all you were doing was growing up and being yourself. You weren’t hurting anyone or mean or doing bad things. You were just a little different, maybe, and that was enough. That made us targets.

So we were different together. We discovered new music, like Tori Amos together. Also NIN and we both already loved grunge and Pearl Jam. We’d sit up late talking about everything.

I thought she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever met. She played soccer and her hair would stream out behind her when she ran. She wasn’t really fast or a super good player, but I remember it being one of the few times she looked unselfconscious. At school she was very still and very quiet, and at home she was mostly tense due to her father being…well…a shit and her mom being distant. It was mostly around me, I think, that she let her guard down.

It was the mid-90’s and although at my house we had a basic computer, I’d never heard of the internet. She was very interested in programming and “hacking” and had taught herself a lot. She also spent time in chat rooms on Prodigy, something I found fascinating. I had no idea there were people getting together virtually and talking about books or movies. It sounded really appealing because no one knew what you looked like so you could just be yourself and talk about things you liked.

She showed me some groups, mostly music and books, and told me about two guys she’d met who seemed really nice. They lived in CT (we were in NY) and she was thinking about meeting them sometime.

I remember her sitting in her desk chair with one leg flung over the armrest the way she liked. Her foot made this shape I always thought was elegant when she did that and she was bopping it gently in the air. Her hair was up and away from her face and she was smiling, her ridiculously thick lashes touching her cheeks.

In retrospect, I think I was a little in love with her. Not in a romantic/sexual way, exactly, although I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t in there somewhere. Somehow it was more about how she was so many things I wanted to be and wasn’t. She was slim and pretty, with thick hair and large, arresting eyes. She had elegant, confident hands, that absolutely flew over her keyboard when she typed. She was extremely intelligent and knew it. And she always had this air of slight mystery, no matter how close we got. Some part of her was always closed off, just out of reach. Something a bit dark and mercurial that I couldn’t figure out.

I didn’t feel at all like I was worthy of being her friend. And I never really understood why she liked me. Nor was I ever really sure, like really, really, sure, that she truly did.

The only thing I was sure of was that I loved her a lot.

I didn’t really get at the time that this dynamic would, eventually, define us for over 20 years.

End of Part One