What would you do if a guy in your class wrote you an origami card revealing a new quirky compliment under every fold? What if he did that every Valentine’s Day? What would you do if this same guy serenaded you in the library with a new song he wrote about you? What would you do if he also happened to be your friend? What if you didn’t feel the same way?
Shoulders drooping from carrying an already heavy backpack and stomach lurching from a lack of breakfast, I had never felt less prepared to take on my first day at a performing arts high school. That day was a whirlwind of people and a hurricane of information. Apparently, this was also the day that I met Ben, but the funny thing is I don’t remember that at all.
My first memory of Ben is from the second week of high school. I had been absent the previous Thursday and Friday, during which Ben had taken handwritten notes for me in all of my classes, though he had barely even met me. First period that Monday morning, Ben handed me the extremely detailed notes (which I still have to this day), and it was then that our friendship began. Or more accurately, his friendship with me began.
You see, I hadn’t attended the same middle school as everyone else and was the new girl at school. I knew nothing and no one, and I felt lost, like fish on dry land. As the new girl, my only knowledge of people came from the gossip and stories that everyone wished would disappear. People told me that Ben was a “weirdo” and a “nerd,” and so that was what I naively believed (ironic, because I was also both a “weirdo” and a “nerd”). Yet, Ben constantly treated me with nothing but kindness, and for such a long time, I ignored him. I gave into the gossip and the stories. To this day, I’m still ashamed of that.
I don’t remember the exact date, but it was sometime during the fall of my freshman year that I realized his kindness was more than just platonic: He had asked my parents for permission to date me. Oh, my goodness, he likes me… romantically? Also, are we still in the 18th century? As a freshman, I was naturally flattered. As the epitome of innocence, I was also apprehensive. But mostly, I was shocked. Stunned. Worried. All of the above and everything in between. What am I going to do? I don’t like him back. Oh, gosh, he’s in almost all of my classes… How is this going to end?
It was around November when things really started to get interesting. During a music rehearsal at our local performing center, all of the freshman singers were in the basement, waiting for our three minutes of fame on stage. We were in that basement for so long that most of it is honestly just a blur. What I do remember is this: I was sitting on the floor doing my precalculus homework when Ben walked over and sat right next to me to do his homework. Whispers fled down and across the hall, the gossip that we were a “thing” already beginning to form.
BEN: “I had been considering it for an hour, and I was mortified, terrified to do it. But I thought, I’m just going to do it. And I did, and I was so scared.”
For Ben, this moment was a feat of bravery. For me, all I could think of was shutting down those rumors. It’s not true! We’re not a thing! I know I didn’t necessarily ask him to leave me alone, but we are definitely not together. Looking back, I think that I didn’t ask him to leave because I secretly really enjoyed his friendship and company. But by not telling him that the romantic feelings were unreciprocated, I exponentially exacerbated the situation.
On Valentine’s Day, he showered me with gifts, flowers and the most intricately designed card that I have ever seen. How could I refuse? And so, I continued to unintentionally lead him on.
In our AP Human Geography class, we were assigned a project, and as an overly studious person, I wanted to work with the most reliable student: Ben. Unfortunately, he mistakenly thought that my choosing him as a partner meant that his feelings were reciprocated.
BEN: “[I felt] ecstatic. I felt like… oh my god, you should have seen the happy dance I did after class.”
As summer approached, everyone was talking about their upcoming plans, their academic programs, and their exotic family vacations. Me? I was headed to EXPLO at Yale. I was beyond excited. You can probably guess where this is going, though. By true coincidence and chance, Ben was also going to be attending the same program, but a different session. My suitemate during this program had actually met Ben during the previous session, and would not stop raving about how witty and wonderful he was. Imagine my confusion, considering all I knew about Ben was what other people had told me.
I realize now that, as much time as I had spent with Ben, I had never really bothered to get to know him as a person. I had been too caught up in his feelings towards me to appreciate how much he truly cared about me. And how much I truly cared about him. I had been taking advantage of his friendship, though I certainly never intended to.
Sophomore year, things didn’t improve much. Every day in our AP World History class, I migrated towards Ben’s desk to chat with him about calculus, music and the latest TV shows. Again, he took this as a sign that I was interested in him. On our chorus trip to Chicago, we walked around together in the science museum, but I was oblivious to how much my spending time with him both confused and pained him.
One day, he invited me to meet him in the music library, where he waited for me, guitar strap on and lyrics in hand. He had written me a song and he serenaded me right there in that library, after which he asked me to be his girlfriend. It’s hard to say whether I was more flattered or mortified. What am I going to do? How can I say “no” without breaking his heart? Doesn’t he know that I don’t feel the same way? And so, I told him, despite his beautiful song, “Let’s just be friends.” After that day, he still did not give up.
BEN: “You also have to understand, I didn’t understand social cues at that point. I didn’t understand what ‘just want to be friends’ meant. I misinterpreted it, and so that was a big mistake. I didn’t know what it meant because no one ever told me.”
By the time we reached our junior year, though, we started to become very close, mutual friends, and it seemed like this whole “he likes her, but she doesn’t like him back” part of our friendship was far behind us. The truth as to why we became good friends?
BEN: “Me giving up. One hundred percent. One thousand percent.”
That year, we took AP Calculus BC together, during which we used every spare moment to quarrel with each other, even about the most trivial things. Our friendship clearly hadn’t found its sea legs yet, considering we could only find unity in disunity.
BEN: “[I remember] us constantly arguing. That was so much fun. I just wanted to bicker with you to piss you off at that point.”
Despite our arguments, we were truly good friends. He was someone I confided in and felt completely safe being myself around. During my most stressful points, Ben was always there to cheer me up or calm me down. He sat with me when I was sick in Atlanta, and he didn’t make too much of a fuss when I took his last mint in Tampa. He was anything and everything that you could ask for in a friend. But when prom season arrived, our friendship took a perilous turn.
We agreed to go together as friends, since we didn’t have any significant others with whom to attend. That was our first mistake. I suppose I didn’t realize how incredibly uncomfortable it would be to slow dance with a friend who I was not completely sure didn’t still have feelings for me. The pre-prom pictures on the beach and post-prom party water balloon fights didn’t really help the overall awkwardness of the entire night, either. Let’s just say that the night didn’t particularly end well, and I completely blame myself for reasons unstated. It’s honestly still a touchy subject for us. It caused an immeasurable rift in our friendship, and I thought that it would be the end of our three-year journey. We spent weeks without speaking and went our separate ways over the summer.
When senior year arrived, our friendship seemed to be, strangely enough, whole once more. Maybe it was the time we spent apart over the summer or maybe I was just imagining things, but our friendship even seemed to blossom. We applied to college and read each other’s essays. We spent almost every lunch period together. We laughed together until we couldn’t breathe. We even gave each other the flu during a school trip to Tampa. We were seniors. We were on top of the world together. Everything seemed to be falling into place, and our friendship only deepened with each once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Though I’m not sure if we can ever truly forget our turbulent past, it certainly casts a light on what is truly important within a relationship. Friendships are not meant to be smooth sailing every single day. Friendships are not about those days where everything is sunshine, rainbows, and laughter, but rather the times when you just can’t stand each other and find a way to be there for each other anyways.
BEN: “Well, it’s hard to break my heart now. But seriously, our friendship means a lot to me. I don’t want to lose you even though we’re a whole country away. I want to be someone who’s in your life for the rest of your life, and not just let that die out. Because you are very important to me. I feel like we have something that not many people have in terms of history, which makes it really, really unique and pretty unorthodox, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned how to be good friends through you, how to have boundaries, and how to empathize through friendship. I feel like I’m a better man now just because of everything that we went through and everything that I learned. The fact that we turned [our friendship] around like that gives me hope for future friendships, because anything can happen. In terms of right now and what our friendship means to me, our history means a lot. I value our friendship more than I value pretty much any other friendship I can imagine. It honestly would be a disgrace not to continue our friendship and to stop caring about you because that’s not really possible at this point. Overall, our friendship means a lot to me, even if it doesn’t seem like it from far away. It does. I can’t really use adjectives to describe it. There’s not really one word in the English language that I can use to fully encompass everything.”
Ben and I? We were not destined to be friends. By this, I mean that our friendship did not fall right into our laps. We had to fight against all odds and even against each other to become the friends that we are today. We both have moments that we wish we could change. Yet, despite it all, every one of those moments led us to this very point in time. We are almost 3,000 miles away, but still as close as ever. And, from the bottom of my heart, I hope that our friendship never ends.
Jacqueline Kaskel | firstname.lastname@example.org