In Her Shell
Sunday, April 01, 2007
In 10th grade I had a friend named Kate.

It was one of those intense girl friendship in which we did everything together. She tried out for the play because I was going to, and we regularly slept over at each other's houses. I was fascinated by her huge house on a new development, with a big foyer and a special tap for boiling water. She loved the way my 100-year old house was tucked into the forest, and the fact that I got along so well with my parents.

Kate told me that her dad hit her. She also said that she coughed up blood, and that she was going to kill herself. She told me this over curly fries in the food court of the mall. She said it would be better that way, that she just wanted to say goodbye, and of course, I wasn't to tell anyone any of it.

I was a good girl and a good student. I didn't cheat in school and I pretty much told my mother everything. But the good girl persona came with the conviction that I could handle anything, and so I didn't tell. I spent hours on the phone with Kate each night, making her promise that I would see her the next morning in school. And every morning, I was glad--and relieved--to see her.

I don't remember how I first became friends with Kate. My best friend Jenny had died earlier that year, and somewhere in the grieving process Kate became the one who held my hand.

Kate had "heroes." She wrote their names on her bedroom mirror with Wite-Out. They were all girls, and Kate talked about them incessantly. When we were in the same room as one--the lead in the school play--Kate got red-faced, breathed hard, and couldn't talk.

At the end of that year Kate started hanging out more with another girl: Cate with a C. With Cate she did drugs and scratched her wrists, showing me later in health class, proudly, after we weren't really friends anymore. The year before it had been our friend Shannon and the year after a girl named Rebecca; the two of them dated basketball players and got tattoos.

A few years ago someone told me that they had seen Kate at the mall. She looked "more like a lesbian than ever." I'm not sure quite what that means, but I think I can picture it. During senior year, Diane told me that I had been one of Kate's "heroes." I remembered a breathless note Kate wrote me once about how I was "beautiful, breathtaking." I felt naive.

This week at school we had a mandatory staff meeting about suicide prevention. We watched an inane video aimed at students about what you should do if someone tells you that they are considering suicide. In reenactments, concerned actors way too old for their roles confessed to adults they trusted.

I remembered my innocent 10th-grade self, so trusting of adults but completely unwilling to confide this to them. I thought of how manipulative Kate was, how lonely, and how isolated I became in her crises, real or not. It's so easy to tell them they can trust us, so easy to imagine that their pain is less complex, somehow, because they are young.
Are you glad you didn't tell an adult, or do you regret it? -snix
I think we all had a friend like that in high school. Anyone who had a certain sensitivity attracted at least one troubled kid who was torn between serious trouble and wanting attention. I did the opposite and did tell an adult, a school counselor. He called her parents and she suddenly claimed she'd made it all up...we weren't all that close after that.
Oh dear. I'm sorry.
jag is right,I have a story like that too. Mine was a pathological lier.
I've watched my own girls go through this over the years.

I'll bet you're always able to pull up those memories of what it was like to be a kid, and you won't be one of the adults who acts like they never went through any of that. Which is to your credit.
CP: I regret it. If she were lying, it would come out, and if she weren't, she might have gotten some help.

Snix: Yeah man.

JAG: I wish I could've done what you did. You said it well; she definitely needed attention, badly.

GM: Hey, thanks.

Lu: I think mine may have been a liar too. It was a way to keep me bound to her.

Bubs: Thanks. I hope so. When I first started teaching, I wanted to tell them, "None of this will matter in 3 years!" But then I thought, shit, if someone said that to me right now, about something that was really bugging me, I'd say Screw You! It matters now!
The best advice I can come up with for my sons when they hit this age, which was a terrible time for me, is 'It gets worse before it gets better, but it does get better.'

I hope that helps them. It's the best I got.

If they are lucky they will also have a teacher like yourself.
Oh man, I hope so. Thanks.
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