You’ve Got a Fri-END In Me- Part One

“I need your friendship more than you need mine,” I said. I could barely get the words out of my mouth and I felt them choke in my throat as I was speaking.

His back stiffened. I could see the hairs on the back of his neck rise and he wouldn’t meet my gaze. His head was down as he continued to process his work, trying not to show a reaction. I of course continued to ramble, trying to explain myself.

“That is to say, I don’t mean like, I have to have your friendship or need it to survive,” I paused, waiting to see if he would make eye contact with me. After a moment he did. “I can,” I continued. “I would be just fine if we decided to not be friends or ever speak again it’s just…”

I trailed off not knowing how to finish my thought. “I don’t know how to explain it.

That wasn’t entirely true. I sort of knew. Because Knucklehead, the guy in the conversation, and I had had our first fight. It had gone pretty badly and had been over extremely dumb reason. He was the first “in person” friend (as opposed to my online friends) I had made in years whom I had felt what I can only describe as an instant bond with. The former being a man named Spike which was a loaded minefield of a friendship that of within of itself, you’ll read later on in this entry, that I finally put an end to in the summer of 2021. Before Spike it had been years upon years, when I was in my mid-twenties when I had last attempted to make actual real life friends.

It’s like this.

I meet people everyday that I can get along with just fine in friendly conversation. I even like these people I have this casual conversations with. But it’s rare for me to do anything further than that such as venture outside whatever social context that we know each other in. For instance, my work friends generally stay as just work friends, rarely getting as much as a text from me. While I am in whatever social situation that I’m in, using the continued example of work, I don’t mind opening up about my personal life with people such as my coworkers, even occasionally sharing some very intimate details about myself. That being said of course, I get to control the narrative of what I share. How much. To whom. Why. It’s my story whom I get to share it with. At the end of the day, despite of what personal information I’ve freely given out, they still don’t know me.

They don’t know me, the core of me. What makes me who I am, almost no one ever gets to see. Knucklehead had been different. I’ll explain.

Before I start writing more about Knucklehead, I think it’s more important to talk about why I don’t open up to others and my history not only with friends but all my real life relationships. Most people have someone in their life they consider their best friend, and I don’t mean your significant other or spouse. What I mean is that from my experience, most people have at least one platonic person that they would die for and are the instant person you are thinking of right now when I say best friend. Maybe you are lucky and have more than one of those. I do not.

My early childhood is really awkward for me to write about because the people I’m about to mention I’ve not only known since I was five years old but, in their own interpretative loose way am still relative in contact with. From the ages of five to twelve years old, my elementary school was small close knit community so at the off chance even one or two people from those days reads this blog, there is the possibility of one of this journal entry being passed around. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon and all that.

I’m long past the days of caring of what people at my elementary school think of me but on that same note, there a few that are decent people and I don’t want to hurt with my words so for that, in advance I am truly sorry. For full transparency I am using real names as often as I can, not to hurt anyone, but simply because there are just so many people that to give everyone a false identity and name, I just couldn’t keep up with such a list.

My first friends that I can remember growing up were Rori and Shay. I met them both in Kindergarten at five years old although, I don’t remember the specific way we met. I more or less just remember waking up one day to them being friends and I considered both to be my closest best friends for life. Rori and I shared our love with the color red, or more specifically, the red crayon. If you had asked me what my favorite color was, I’d adamantly say rainbow. I was obsessed with drawing rainbows at any given opportunity but with Rori, I had to compete over the red crayon. Not just any shade of red, specifically the one that said the plain o’l red on it. Why? I have no idea. But I loved using that color specifically the most and watching the way the crayon deteriorated as I used it. Shay liked to keep the tip of her crayons as sharp and barely used as possible where as my goal was not to necessarily smash it but, use every bit of crayon as I could. When Rori was around, we would get competitive who could find the red crayon first. Eventually, some how the novelty of the red crayon ran out, or maybe we just used them all up, probably the later. Between my friendship between Rori and Shay, I was constantly torn who could actually be my bestest best friend because I thought in life you were only allowed to have one.

Between my friendship with Rori and Shay was a girl named Leah. Leah was a girl I didn’t have much to do with unless it involved Rori, Shay or a social event thrown by our school. Without meaning to and before there was a word to describe it, Leah was unintentionally my first frenemy. I didn’t hate her persay, I don’t think kids can truly understand what hate is, but I always found myself struggling to get along with her. It always felt like she did her best to exclude me from my own friends and at some point I always found myself upset by her actions. An example of this was on my tenth birthday my mother threw an overnight stay at Disneyland for the four of us. At one point during the party, my mom pulled Leah and Rori aside because she had caught them saying some cruel things about me behind my back that resulted with me crying on my birthday. I had been mad at both of them but I had blamed Leah.

Despite what had happened, I still have good memories associated with the party. At one point we had all gone ice skating due to me, the birthday girl’s request. Ice skating is one of those things I really loved as a kid and have wanted to get back into as an adult. I was decent enough as a kid, having just mastered the pointed twirl but what had made that night in particular so special was that Shay had wanted to skate with me over Leah. Leah had kept trying to pull her away and Shay kept insisting to stay with me, that I made her feel safe for being such a steady skater. I didn’t but, I had wanted to stick out my tongue out at her as we had yet again, tried to fight over both of Shay’s and Rori’s friendship.

It seems so silly to bring up childhood fights from over twenty years ago that all of us involved have long moved on from but it’s important to establish a beginning and timeline of events. These three people were the foundation of all the friendships that came after, especially Leah.

One day, I got into a fight with Shay, as kids usually do, over something really stupid. I decided right then and there as an eleven year old that she would be my first enemy. It was probably the first time I felt any real anger towards a person and decided then and there that we’d never be friends again. I didn’t mean for it to turn out to be a two decade old grudge although I wouldn’t call it that for a very long time. Rori and I slowly drifted apart over the following years. We still hung out in grade school up until middle but it was less and less. I was a happy kid playing by myself at home most of the time living in the magical world I had created for myself.

I did meet two other people over the course of grade school with whom at the time, I considered to be close friends. They weren’t in the same social group as the others and they were short lived friendships but they are still important to note.

The first was a girl named Candace. Candace and I loved playing with the toy Power Rangers from McDonalds and playing at the Westwood Rec park together. Like almost all of my friends mothers, they were single parents but Candace’s mother worked in Hollywood. Some how that made her a lot cooler by association. Candace also had a loft style bed that connected to her rooftop similar to how mine was and we spent a lot of time sitting on them. She moved a year or two later to Colorado or Florida, maybe both, and we fell out of touch as almost always long distance friendships do when you are kids. She visited once and we spent our time together in the emergency room where I had broken my wrist trying to roller blade together. It was the first and only time I’ve ever broken a bone.

After Candace came Ariel. She had long natural platinum blonde hair with a fringe and at eleven was significantly taller than most of our classmates. She had a take charge attitude which is a nice way of saying she was a bossy pants. Like Rori, Shay and Candace, I have no memory of how our friendship started. She loved wearing long spaghetti strap black dresses over white polo shirts with black Mary-Jane shoes and some how this made her edgier in my eyes. I barely remember our friendship other than sleepovers at her house where she did my makeup. I wanted bright flashy eye shadow and couldn’t appreciate my first ever smokey eye makeover she gave. Our friendship ended when I had loaned her something expensive that she broke and refused to replace it. Or at least our mothers got mad at each other and we both looked at the situation as our mothers being in the right.

Then there was middle school.

Middle school for me was roughly around the ages of 13 to 15, a very short time period all things considered. And I was terrified of it.

It didn’t help that before I even stepped through the doors that contained twenty-two hundred other preteens, I was constantly bombarded with the facts that this would be the worst time period of my life. This came not only from my mother but my grandparents, aunts, cousins, you name it. Great, I couldn’t help but sarcastically think. Could you give a kid with high functioning anxiety any more anxiety?

In truth, it wasn’t as bad as everyone said it would be. It was bad but, I wouldn’t have called it the worst time period of my life. Going in, I only knew two people, Leah and Rori. Everything was different, instead of one classroom I had six. I bounced around from room to room and over the months I got used to it. I made friends, sort of, but at the same time not really. I joined band where I learned how to play the flute and the student counsel the following year at 14.

During this time I only hung out with again, three people. Instead of Shay it was a girl named Andra but the other two were the familiar faces of Rori and Leah. That first year, Andra and I grew close fast as did our families. There was still this mild dynamic of tension for myself as I see history mildly repeating itself with Leah taking over my friendship with Andra but this time, I didn’t fight it. I hung onto what bits of friendship I could to Andra till the summer I went into eighth grade. We had had one final phone call where it had been like trying to pull teeth trying to talk to her. I hadn’t exactly known what I had done wrong but it was clear that she didn’t want to be my friend anymore.

I was under no illusion of being cool, in fact I let myself revel in parading around my freak flag. I didn’t want to be normal. I was happy that I stood out and was well… me! But it didn’t make it hurt any less to hear that she didn’t want to hangout with me anymore.

Oddly enough, during this time, Leah did and I couldn’t understand why.

From the day we had entered middle school, our mother’s had made us hangout after school a couple times a week. At first her mother would come pick me up, we’d go to the library to “study” (we never studied once) and eat dinner at Souplaination after. Sometimes she, Rori and Andra would come over to my house and as the years went on, it was more Leah than anyone else. I more or less followed her around like a lost puppy, confused at what I was doing there but not putting up any resistance. Or at the least, the bare minimum.

Between that time period Leah did many things that had confused me. She always kept a seat open for me with the cool popular kids area at lunch. She introduced me to candy like Mambo’s and dragged me to the candy van – yes I realize how that sounds – after school where I tried things like my first ring pop. By the time we were 14 she was taking me to 3rd Street Promenade to meet dozens of random strangers she was calling her friends. Sometimes we stayed on my part of town in the Westwood Village where she knew I felt more comfortable at. She also knew I was less likely to ditch her on my own turf. Yes, you read that right. Often times when I became extremely uncomfortable, I made myself escape plans where she always knew she could find me huddled in the corner, sounded by a pile of books, of the closest bookstore.

That being said, I just didn’t get it. I was the lamest person she knew and it was like the less I went out of my way to be her friend, the harder she tried.

That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate her friendship or always had a horrible time. It was more or less I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, like past life experiences had taught me. We didn’t really talk. I followed her around while she tried to show me life. It was at this point I had discovered chat rooms and message boards and without Leah, I doubt I would have hardly ever left my house.

A smidge detour from talking about Leah.

In August of 2002, I was fifteen and my mother moved us to Portland, Oregon. We moved into a cramped two-bedroom apartment complex with my godmother just outside of Portland called Gladstone. My godmother Joanie was my mother’s best friend that she had known for twenty-plus years.

The first friend I made was within the first of living there was a woman named Dawn. Dawn was twenty-eight or twenty-nine and roughly around 500lbs. She was married to a toxic short black man who online gambled their fiances and cheated on her with other online women. She and I bonded over ghosts and “the other side.” This wasn’t exactly in a gothic or morbid way and I was both obsessively fascinated and terrified, always wanting to know more. She said she could see spirits and ghosts and one day she said there was a dark evil spirit who followed me home after I had gone out from a walk. It has pun intended, haunted me everyday since. I’ve always wondered if the spirit ever left or is still there. Before she left, she never said.

We only knew each other roughly for about a month but it was one of those summers I never forgotten. I remember an afternoon spent laying on the grass outside her apartment looking at the clouds while she smoked cigarettes from her porch. We listened to music as I played her The Calling, Matchbox 20 and Dexter Freebish. I also introduced Dawn to fan fiction, a recent obsession of mine that had developed over the previous year. We didn’t have a lot of time together but it meant everything to me. My godmother and mother helped her move out literally one night where she “vanished.”

In 2003 I submitted a handful of poems I had written to and they published the one I wrote about her.


Smile, don’t you know how beautiful
you are to me?
And the magic that I see when you smile
And the laughter that you spread

Smile because you have a full life ahead of you
the life to live
To bring beauty into my world
And the innocence tied onto a single thread.

You still have a long and happy life waiting for you
So smile.
For me.

I often wonder from time to time what happened to her, no one knows, not even my godmother. For awhile they kept in touch. She lost a lot of weight and became a nurse I think or was in school to become one somewhere in Kansas.

After Dawn, I entered high school.

I started school late in the sense of I had been held back a year from my peers. I completely skipped my original freshman year of high school due to to depression (that can possibly be another topic to talk about for another day). So where I should have been a sophomore I was going in as a freshman and I was very self conscious about this. My high school was similar in size to my elementary school and I felt more comfortable and very much at home for the first time in years. The vibe of the school itself spoke to me. It was an art school whose mascot was the peace sign and school anthem “Imagine” by John Lennon. Yeah. It was the right school for me in every possible way. There were no grades and in some of the classrooms, barely any desks. I could take any class I wanted no matter the grade level which helped with my anxiety.

The first class I ever took was a twelfth grade English course where we read nothing but plays and poetry. It was heaven. That same semester I took a class on how board games were developed with a teacher named Bob who only wore tied-dyed tee shirts and I oddly remember as an older Zach Galifianakis. In fact, I can’t be positive that it wasn’t Zach Galifianakis. History and government were taught by Larry, his long wavy brown hair and beard roaming the halls more than he was in the classroom. Math was by Lewis, a skinny tall black man with thick googles and always walked to school everyday in his socks and sandals no matter the weather. Science was taught by Paula and English and French by Craig, who threw chalk at people who annoyed him.To pass, we had to build portfolio pieces from each class we took and present them to a panel at the end of the year who would then decided if we were allowed to come back the following year.

During this time I did meet people and made people I considered my friends but, on that same note, I would never invite them over to my house. In school, my main friends ended up being Veronica, Maxie and Julie. When I would hang out with one of them outside of school, it was usually Veronica and I skipping class to go get coffee or books. Real rebels, I know. Once we got caught by Paula and she literally dragged us by our ears to the assembly we were trying to avoid. During my actual sophomore and junior year in high school, I went with Maxie to a couple of auditions for moral support as she tried out to be cast as an extra in whatever movie they were filming at the time but as far as I was concerned, the door to my heart, who I really was, was locked.

Reenter Leah.

If I’m remembering correctly, Leah came to visit for the Christmas holidays of 2003 and ended up staying until the end of the following summer. She had been fighting with her parents, wanting to party and rebel as teenagers usually do and my mom was offering to let her do so secretly under her roof. Me not being a trouble maker made me the ideal friend to her parents at least on a surface level. I was the “good” friend after all. Leah was enrolled to a local high school although not the same as mine. Quickly she made a dozen friends who were over at our house every other day.

I stayed in my room probably around eighty percent of the time. The other twenty percent was to go eat, baby sit the kids next door and whenever Leah could gently nudge me out of my shell. At this point, she was the only one who could do so. She never pushed or made me feel less than, although again I repeat myself, I never knew what it was she saw in me that she wanted to be friends with.

I understood that I wasn’t going to be the daughter my mother wanted me to be. I wasn’t cool nor was I interested in partying or doing drugs. Leah on the hand, was exactly the daughter my mother wanted. For her sixteenth birthday in 2004, my mother threw two birthday parties for her. One was in our back yard with a pinata full of sex toys and lube (the lube turned out to be a very bad idea). The other at a beach house where she rented a keg and invited half a dozen of Leah’s closest new friends. What did I get for my sixteenth birthday from my mother? Or Seventeenth? Eighteenth? Nineteenth? Twentieth? Dinner at whatever restaurant she chose because The Cheesecake Factory was usually too long of a wait and she couldn’t be bothered to make reservations. If I sound bitter at my mother about it, it’s because I am.

My mother had moved on from caring anything about me, not even trying to get to know who I was friends with at school. She knew Veronica’s name because my freshman year, I had begged her to take me to an art supply store before school closed for the winter holidays as a Christmas present. Other than that I would very much eat my words if she could name five people I from high school that I haven’t already mentioned. But I digress.

To be fair, Leah couldn’t name most if any of the people I went to school with but she did know little things like, my crush on Ben Cowly. Often times we sat on the front porch together as she smoked and watched the sunset. During the first of the two birthday party event, she would get me to laugh as she would dorkily dance around the backyard, usually beer in hand to In Da Club. I don’t think she even stopped playing that song the entire summer.

When one of the girls Leah had enrolled to high school with, asked the question I had been asking my whole life, “Why are you friends with that loser?” did I fully understand how Leah really felt about me.

Let me preference that Leah does not know that I know this. Or at least as far as I’m aware, she has no knowledge of me knowing what had happened. At the very least, I never mentioned it to her and she and I have never had a conversation about it.

To summarize an already very long blog post, Leah cursed her out and never spoke to the her again. To take it one step further she ostracized her from the circle of friends Leah had founded within that short period of time.

It might sound ridiculous to those reading it but it was the turning point in how I felt about her. We had gone in a six year period from her being the one talking about me to now her being the one to defend me when she didn’t have to be. No one would have been the wiser if she had let the crack or any others slide through but, she didn’t. It was enough to make me cry and honestly, still does to this day. Again, I never told her any of this. I never said how much it meant to me and how it still does to this day. It was then, and only then was I able to let my guard down around her. It was only then did I ever really feel like Leah had become my best friend.

Sad to say but, Leah couldn’t live in my parents home forever. She did need to go back to Los Angeles with her own family. I wished so much that she could have spent the next two years of high school living together but, it wasn’t realistic and deep down, I did know that.

I went down to visit her once but we haven’t seen each other since and over the years, we simply just lost touch and our conversations were just never what they had been.

She did try inviting me to her wedding several years ago but I became too self conscious of my body once I realized how many of our old classmates and acquiescence’s from school were going to be there. I was too insecure to let any one of them see how morbidly obese I had grown. Sure, I have photos online but it’s one thing to see someone in a photo and another in person.

This portion only covers a fraction of my experiences. I hadn’t planned on making another multi-part series and yet, here we are. I hope you enjoyed this series and have in your own way, found it relatable. Please keep in mind that the next parts of the series will involve some trigger warnings to those who need them and I understand if they are too heavy of topics to talk about and cover.

Until Next Time


Sarah Smiles

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