By Yael Goldstein Love
T was my Best Friend in the Whole Wide World. “Best Friend in the Whole Wide World” was a category for me entirely distinct from “best friend”, of which I had at least three at any given time. Best Friend in the Whole Wide World was a title with heft and permanence. There was only one. It had only ever been T.
The great thing for me about T, what made her so special in my tyrannical little eyes, was that she had almost no will of her own. I directed every minute of our playtime, announcing activities like the cruise director of a ship. We would now pretend that I was the teacher and she the student. We would now pretend that we wore bras. We would now pretend that we were pretending that we were going to a ball. (I had something bordering on an imagination addiction; when the jonesing got bad enough, play needed to get meta.)
Whenever T tossed in a suggestion of her own, it was perfectly concocted to please me. Mostly she requested that I play Barbies “for her”, which meant that I would play Barbies and she would watch. This struck me as a reasonable request because I had a complicated ongoing plotline I was always hashing out, which involved persecution of religious heretics in Münster, Germany in the 15th century. (Some cages hanging from a cathedral, where heretics had once been starved to death for the edification of the congregation, had very much caught my imagination on a family trip). Initially, back when T and I would play Barbies together like normal human children, T was always trying to get my heretics to flirt with Ken, so I invented the idea of playing Barbies “for” her and she did a very good impression of a person who thought this was a change for the better.
I had been BFITWWW with T since I was three and she was four. It was soon after my sixth birthday that my mother began to intervene on T’s behalf. I don’t know why intervention hadn’t come sooner. Maybe I had only become a tyrant gradually. Maybe adults had tried to intervene before and their efforts didn’t make much impression. But it made an impression when my mother pulled me aside after watching me play Barbies for T and asked, “Do you think it’s fun for her to just sit and watch?” The impression it made was of a very stupid question. The next time, my mother’s question struck me as even stupider: “Do you think she likes always being told what to do?” It seemed to me obvious that, yes, T did like always being told what to do and, yes, it was fun for her to just sit and watch. Why else would she never object? Why else would she request that I play Barbies for her? We had a good thing going here. But my mother began to ask questions like this with irritating regularity.
Then one rainy Sunday afternoon, feeling cooped and bored and ill-tempered, I struck on the idea that T should take a bite out of the decorative shell of soap that was always waiting, strangely unmutilated, in her family’s guest bathroom. It didn’t really sound fun or interesting, it was just something that popped into my head. And, of course, she went for it with little prodding. I remember sitting on the blue bath mat watching her wide-spaced front teeth bite down into the pink scalloping of the soap. I remember feeling chilled. Horror movie chilled. It was probably the first time in my life I was ever chilled like that, chilled in a vaguely moral way. I knew, I absolutely knew, as I sat there watching her eat soap for no other reason than that I’d told her to, that I had proposed the idea simply to see if she would.
Soon after that I stopped hanging out with T. I told my mother it was because we were no longer in the same class, and this was at least partly true—she was in first grade now and had first grade friends—but really it was because I was scared of who she allowed me to be.
I have never had another Best Friend in the Whole Wide World. I hope I never do.