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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Facing Adversity: A story of friendship and loss

Published: October 17, 2008
Section: Opinions

We used to tell people we were friends since before we were born, that we would play in our mothers’ stomachs together. To our 4-year-old minds, there were no obstacles to this inter-uterine travel.

Patsy was my best friend, mostly because our parents knew each other from synagogue and it made carpooling to birthday parties easier. But it didn’t feel that way at the time. She was wacky and crazy. We used to play games like “kids locked in a prison basement by evil bald principal.” Or “Scary witches chasing us to turn us into soup.” Looking back we seemed like pretty deranged kids, with these games of mortal danger.

She liked using accessories and putting on voices, inhabiting characters even then. She always played the batty old lady, chasing after the naughty kids. Or the overly friendly storeowner with the Midwestern accent. Even her nickname was creative- Patricia morphed into Patsy, with an S adding to the allure. Patsy would do all those crazy things to make me laugh. While she dominated our dress-up time, I was the straight-arrow five year old.

More often than not we didn’t even get to my minor role, as her larger than life personality overshadowed my timid one. I was the sidekick to her starring role. The Gabrielle to her Xena. I brought up the rear.

This setup was fine with me. I had my home life, my zoo of a family with five siblings. I was never alone, between the bullying of my two brothers and the camaraderie of my three sisters. Elementary school was classes interspersed with recess, but home was where the action was. For the most part my parents were too busy working to take a real interest. So we had to entertain ourselves.

Play-dates with friends were few and far between, but my sisters were a constant. Even the ballet lessons required by virtue of my gender were attended by both my sister and my friend. There were exceptions, but for the most part my friendships ended as I got off the school bus.

But wasn’t that normal? My 8-year-old mind thought so at the time. Your family was your life and your friends added some color, some spice. In any case, at that young age how active of a participant are you in your social life? Socializing is there, but not that core of your existence. Friendship is non-exclusive.

Everyone invites everyone to pin the tale on the donkey at their birthday parties. If anything, us girls were united by the desire to beat the boys at the cootie war. The ick factor of the opposite gender stratified the class, but us girls were together forever.

Or at least until fourth grade. When miniskirts replaced our overalls and the daily administration of cooties shots to ward ourselves from contamination ended.

Patsy was no longer interested in being my best friend, instead forming the core of a new clique. She had just gotten back from a summer camp I hadn’t attended, making friends I didn’t know. Not to mention she became fluent in the language of cool, which was certainly foreign to me. Should my parents have sent me to this summer camp? Would that have made all the difference? Perhaps I would have changed alongside Patsy, adding a fifth to their coterie of four. I would have worn their clothing, been privy to their secrets, understood their jokes. I would have learned the secret handshake, allowing me to coast until college, instead of the uphill battle that in fact characterized my social life.

“But it made me stronger,” I’m supposed to say. Or “Facing adversity has made me the person I am today.”

Maybe not. Maybe I learned nothing from the experience, and writing this was just letting repressed feelings out of their self-imposed cage.

Handling these musty emotions weighs me down. Shouldn’t talking about it be liberating, a steppingstone to moving on? Is the resentment I still feel legitimate?

The truth is I don’t know. I’d rather Patsy and the rest of girls remain dusty artifacts, buried in my subconscious. But I can’t lock them in basement of my memory and throw away the key any longer. Freud certainly wouldn’t approve. I have to let the ghosts come out and play with my psyche, no matter the consequence.