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Paired Up

KHTraceyFSPic“Katie is my best friend,” says Georgie on the phone. “But you’re only like 1% behind.”

I am ten years old and everyone in my friend group has paired up. I’m the odd one out. Katie assures me I am just as much her best friend as Georgie is, but I can tell that even if there’s an official tie, there’s an unofficial 1% favorite. I don’t know what units we’re using to measure Friendness, but it’s very clear they can be scientifically calibrated and then compared, like an inch or a pound.

Being someone’s best friend is like having a birthday all the time that just one person knows about. On your birthday everyone fights to sit next to you at the dinner table. Everyone pays attention to you. When you have a best friend, you’re always the special one, at least to one person. Everyone likes me almost as much as she likes her best friend, but no one cares if I pick the seat next to her at lunch.

Well, so here’s me and Katie and Georgie and our friends Anne and Cassie and we are all together all the time. We dance to the Spice Girls together. We pretend to write books together. We sign onto AIM for the first time and chat with people who claim to be boys our age. Then Georgie moves away and Katie starts calling me a whole lot more. Katie is warm and kind and funny and I love her. We’re really best friends now.

Some days I go over to Katie’s fancy house with the red carpets and the giant paintings and the shiny baby grand and her mother says, “Katie why aren’t you skinny like your sister.” She says, “Katie why aren’t you smart like Kristen.” I tell Katie she is beautiful and smart. I don’t think she ever believes me. She flirts with more boys. She starts talking back to her parents. She gets prettier and more charming each day. She is never skinnier, however, than her sister.

I do love Katie. But I hate having to spend hours a day trying on clothes from everyone’s closet and flirting with boys from our class on AIM. I’m so bored when my friends visit, I start pulling out books to read right in front of them.

Finally they all stop inviting me over and (being somewhat less intelligent than I think I am) I’m shocked. Didn’t we say we were best friends? Didn’t that moniker have a “forever” attached to it? Didn’t we get each other’s initials monogrammed on our backpacks?

Bitterly, I watch from the sidelines as they trade different-colored Gelly Roll pens in class and choreograph sexy dances to Smashmouth songs for talent shows. They don’t even remember me, I realize. They’re not even trying to be mean.

Comparisons are odious, but we all live by them, all the girls I know. Am I prettier than that one? Skinnier than that one? More popular than that other one? It comes from ourselves, but not just from ourselves—it comes from our friends, our magazines, our movies, sometimes even our parents. Right now, newly lonely, I’m convinced that if I were thinner or prettier or knew more songs from the radio, I wouldn’t have been too boring for my friends. It will take me many years to realize that Katie was probably unhappy in her own way, just like I was; that I would probably have drifted apart from my middle-school friends even if I’d looked like Gisele Bundchen; and that I was probably better off not being in the popular, Cosmo-reading crowd that I so wanted to join, because it gave me more time to grow into the writer I would one day be.

And even after I figure all that out, getting dumped by boyfriends will still always remind me of that first tweenaged heartache. Who cares if the person who dumped you wasn’t right for you? You loved him or her anyway.

Kristen Hamelin Tracey is pursuing her MFA at City College of New York and is working on her first novel. Check out her oft-neglected Tumblr.


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