A Smile Lost
When does a person become a friend? When do you see a person walking towards you and think to yourself “This is my friend (insert name here), coming to say hello.” There are answers to these questions sure, but the transition from acquaintance to friend is as subtle as the day you realize you can finally see over the counter at McDonald’s. That oh so enlightening moment that a change has occurred that you are only now made aware of and yet it’s clear that things have been this way for some time but the very instant it happened you were entirely oblivious.
Farah joined our school about 3 weeks in to freshmen year. I should mention that my high school was very small. My class was only about 24 students at the time and I think less than 200 students in the entire building. While not entirely devoid of social circles, the low student population meant there were no popular kids, band geeks, or drama creepers and so her appearance brought a reaction akin to giving an animal a new toy… cautious observation followed by boundless curiosity and excitement. Much like a cat with a new ball of yarn she would soon find herself being batted about by the sharp claws of high school politics.
A list of adjectives describing her would most certainly not include the word “typical”. Her hair was a dark brown like rich leather with a strike of midnight ebony through it and a shine that would make an Herbal Essence model green with envy. Eyes that blazed with a light of their own that seemed to shift between a brilliant green and a dusky hazel depending on her mood. A smile so fulfilling it could mend the fractures of any soul if it were to grace you daily and so radiant as to ignite your heart that only a snow man wouldn’t want to receive. Her clothing and makeup marked her immediately as different. Dark and ominous, a tapestry of blacks and crimsons and purples, it spoke of personality riddled with secrets.
Farah’s attitude however, was polite and proper, a stark contrast to her decidedly gothic attire. My best friend and I had chosen classes that forced us into a lunch period filled with underclassmen so when we found out that due to the classes she had taken In her previous school she would be in that same period it seemed like a perfect reason to get to know one another. With everyone bombarding her with questions and queries she likely expected the same treatment from us. But we weren’t really interested in her style of clothes or where she came from, only who she really was and if she could handle our particular brand of humor that had gained us no small amount of notoriety among the faculty. When I think back and recall that first conversation the three of us had I think I can see the very moment we three became friends.
“So… Farah is it?” I spoke as the two of us sat down directly across from her. “Yes, and you’re Greg and… I’m sorry I forget your name.” a slight frown beginning to form on her face. “Oh I see how it is. New girl remembers you but not me. Well isn’t that nice.” my friend muttered with his best façade of indignation as he rises from the table and walks away. Momentary shock flashes across her face “Oh! I’m so sorry.” She turns to face me as he disappears around a corner “It’s just hard to keep track of…” mid sentence I cut her off “I’m afraid it’s too late now. He’s already gone and you see the poor guy thought you were beautiful. Just about crushed him I would think.” Her eyelids drop into an almost condescending squint and she looks down her nose at me as she realizes our act “Well anyone who has such a fragile ego as that could never win me anyways.” At that moment my friend returns and reaches over top of her from behind placing a diet Pepsi in front and of me and a Dr Pepper in front of her then moves to retake his seat, his own drink in hand while saying “Win you? Do you fancy yourself some sort of prize? How many box tops or bottle caps do I need to turn in to get you?” Ignoring his jab with a raised eyebrow she replied “What is your name anyways?” “Kevin.” I replied for him. “Oh are you his puppet? I didn’t see a stick or strings but I suppose he might just have his hand up your ass.” she snapped back playfully. I turn to my friend and hand him a 5 in truth to pay for the drinks but instead I say “Damn. Here you go buddy. You won.” her eyes roll almost audibly and she says “Did you seriously have a bet on me? What did I do?” without missing a beat Kevin says “He thought it would take longer than five minutes to get you to actually act like yourself.” Through a grin I said “Never have I been so glad to lose 5 dollars.” She smiled.
Over the next two school years the three of us became great friends and learned each other’s secrets. When she told us she was gay there was no shocking moment or dramatic tension within our trio, though, a slight stigma towards her developed with our female classmates. She told us it was hilarious that they thought she would molest them or try to date them and rather than lament over the uncomfortable situations that arose from that, we shared many great times comparing each of our own personal romantic conquests loud enough for any to hear. Having her brutally honest opinion and her feminine point of view at our disposal taught us more than a thousand dates ever could and to this day the lessons I learned continue to pay off.
She was always happy and always smiling with us and when summer came the first year it somehow escaped our attention that she disappeared entirely except for a trip the three of us took to cedar point where we finally met her girlfriend who was to the amusement of all of us quite jealous of our friendship. Looking back on those times I also remember that we never met her mother whom she lived with. We never spent time at her home only at my house swimming in the pool that has our hand prints and name etched into the concrete foundation or at Kevin’s lounging on the couch, his mom bought specifically for us, in between games of paintball in the woods with our other friends or the mall/movies using our comedic “telepathy” trying to try impress random strangers. This was our way of life for the rest of freshmen year and the first half of the next as sophomores but sometime after Christmas that year she became very quiet and withdrawn. Sadly, our male perception of her emotions maintained all the accuracy of a New Years Eve partygoer trying to get the key card through the slot on the hotel room door at 4 am with a drink still in their hand. And so it was nearly a week before we realized something was wrong and by then she was over it enough that she didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Later I would find out that her mother had hit her and threatened much worse for telling her girlfriend she loved her over the phone. But for now we were firmly seated in our belief it was merely her time of the month and left it at that. Yes I’m fully aware of my stupidity in that situation… hind sight is always 20/20. And this seemingly minor event faded into obscurity over the remainder of the year as things resumed their worn path.
Junior year arrived and we prepared to settle back into the rhythm of high school and still once again we overlooked the fact that Farah had been mostly nonexistent over the summer except for occasional phone calls and IMs. For the first week she was absent and some claimed she had gone to the TCTC. Others said that she had been very ill. Surely, Kevin and I would know, or so everyone thought. But we were both as clueless as a cheerleader in calculus. So naturally I called her that Thursday to find out. Her mom answered her cell. “Who are you and why are you calling my daughter?!” she demanded sounding almost offended. “I’m her friend Greg. I was calling to see how she is and where she’s been.” A sigh of contempt cut short by… pain? “Oh and where were you a month ago?” she nearly yelled it. The panic you feel before you slip on ice, the alarm of terror that races through you when you’re about to receive terrible news, everyone knows the feeling and we all try to brace for it but it’s never enough. Shakily I asked “What happened Miss Spinner?” she explained to me that Farah had attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on pills but had thankfully failed. Once I was finally able to talk with Farah we talked for almost 4 hours straight and she finally unburdened herself to me about the horrible home life she had been living. Her mother was constantly at her throat about her sexuality, abusing her emotionally and at times physically. She had finally gotten the courage, now that she was old enough to have a say in the matter, to request to live with her father who was significantly more accepting. But he lived in Indiana. Though we had promised to stay in touch that phone call was the last any of us ever heard from her. No Email, no IMs, not even a Myspace or Facebook page still to this day. I don’t know her reason for self imposed exile, perhaps she just needed a fresh start, but I will never question her right to it. I’d surrender every memory I have of her, every drama rehearsal every study hall in our private library office, every homecoming dance we shared, just to know she still smiles that smile.
~ Author’s Note ~
Names have been changed to protect personal identities. This story is very near and dear to me. I could never put enough memories into writing to do the image of her justice. The event I wrote about had a profound effect on the person I am today and has shaped my perception of others greatly. My greatest revelation from all that passed between us was of an insight into the things people do for others. Sometimes, without even realizing it, we lie to our friends to protect our relationships. I know without a doubt that had she told us what was happening in her life we could not have changed a thing but would only have been able to give her sympathy which she would never have wanted. She preferred our carefree friendship over the idea of one long pity party. I wish we could have changed things and had we known we certainly would have tried too. Wherever the real Farah is, I hope she can be happy now. Love you R.