Friendship LoveLetters: Throwback edition

This second edition is a throwback. As always the objective is clear: platonic friendships can be formative and meaningful and deserve more than the secondary (or placeholder) position that they tend to occupy. Every other week I attempt to undo this injustice one anonymous letter at a time.

This friend might never read this. We’re not technically friends anymore, we were friends before cellphones and public access to the Internet. Regardless, you were once so important to me once that a letter is all I have to hold the memories (literally I have a box of childhood letters and you feature prominently). I’ve had 3 Best Friends Forever in this life. 3, In that innocent childhood way before you learn that people can be important to you in different, meaningful ways. When you still think friendship is being bound at the hip and life has taught you no different. Well, life taught us! And for the record, 2/3 left the country (England and Australia respectively) before I put an end to that lovely silly BFF model in grade 8. So that’s enough demographic data for now.

I CANNOT remember how we met, all I remember is that you definitely weren’t supposed to be my bestie. That was a bonus and not at all a part of the plan. I think I’d grown tired of translating my SeSotho and contending with the SeTswana corrections (marapo is shoelaces I’d contest, met always with the almost deafening chorus insisting that it actually meant bones). I grew tired of making impassioned arguments that I liked old school house (it’s funny that I was calling it that circa 2004 when the albums I was referrencing were still literally coming out!) but couldn’t really throw my weight behind “taxi rank house” (with the occasional dj Cleo exceptions) and it was becoming clear that I was never going to qualify as black enough, at least not on my terms. Loving words as I did, I’d looked up coconut understanding instinctively that it was an insult and having difficulty reconciling the definition with how I viewed myself as a proudly Sotho girl. My Avril Lavigne obsession really wasn’t helping my chances either. And though I knew it wasn’t true, I was tired of trying to prove I wasn’t a coconut. I had things to do and it was proving a full time job. So I think I was drifting solo for a while. Friendly with everyone, bookish and wandering (often with one in hand) never lonely but never really belonging. I was talkative when prompted but mostly content to scrawl lyrics, daydream and read. It was my version of angst sans black eye makeup that I knew my mom wouldn’t allow (and featuring more Sweet Valley University than I care to admit). Besides, I wouldn’t have known how to wear it anyway.

We’re in a gorgeous boarding school in the middle of nowhere (Magaliesburg being the beautiful nowhere), the mountainous setting literally encouraging childhood. Think running (shoes optional), climbing trees, expansive grounds, mud slinging contests and even thickets to hide behind once hormones announced their arrival. I don’t remember you being a part of this however. Wait, I just realised why I didn’t know you existed: you arrived late. Grade 5 to be exact.
Anyway, I vaguely remember the fuss around the new girl and I know I bonded with your only good friend Stefani (she had spiky hair that was decidedly rebellious and we bonded over Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway in the wake of your departure). I remember you were tall and beautiful. And the interest that your arrival sparked in the boys, who were just realising that there were girls amongst them, seemed to annoy you more than anything. Steff adopted me; I think we had shockingly bonded over books (I judged a book by its cover and I’m so glad I was wrong) and the next thing I knew the 3 of us were walking between periods together and hanging out at break, sharing sandwiches. A note to my readers: you and Steff were Day Girls (not in hostel) and if you’ve ever been in hostel, you know how bomb and significant that sandwich sharing was.

I forget the rest, we’re now fully fledged besties and I love you to death. We’re sleeping over at each others houses, taking trips to Westgate (the mall), swapping shoes and pants and CD’s. Hilary Duff is still a thing and we’ve convinced ourselves that Coming Clean is a JAM (We’re only moderately successful at this but A Cinderella Story has us hype so we manage). We can’t wrangle black nail polish but we get the genius idea to use black marker instead. We’re inseparable as we navigate boys, school and life. The boyfriend you’ve reluctantly taken on has already named your 3 children and you’re having reservations about being a farmers wife. It’s all hilarious considering that my long time crush is still pretending to hate me almost as much as I’m pretending to hate him.
I’m reading WITH people now. You and Stefani are the only friends who’ve ever bought me books for my birthday and we’re all singing the Avril Lavingne lyrics I’ve beeeeeeeeeen scrawling at the top of our lungs. You tell me there’s a NEW album and gift me the original and my head practically exploded. You don’t mind when I play Definition of House (1) on your bedroom radio, it’s a part of me and I never feel like I have to prove anything or like anything I don’t like.We’re going to do this forever, we’re gonna make grade 7 our b*#ch. Or at least that’s what we thought.

When we come back from the September break you come back to school with red rimmed eyes. Despite your best efforts, your parents are moving to Australia and apparently you have to go with them. Like, where even is that? And why? You’re not sure either. You can stay with me if they’re so hell bent on going. We’re helpless and distraught. You watch me take the stage a few weeks later as the new prefects are announced, your name conspicuously absent. You sit out all grade 7 camp preparations. It’s awful. We write letters obsessively from that day on so we have memories in print. We aren’t trading clothes or books anymore, we’re giving them away: desperate for ways to ensure that we never forget each other. We spend a lot of time crying to Nelly Futardo’s ‘Try’ which we discovered right around the time we knew for sure that you were leaving.

We aren’t going out without a fight. We decided to plan one last sleepover and it’s going to be epic. A movie marathon, no sleep and all the sweets and popcorn we can hold. The weekend mercifully coincides with the the dvd release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which your parents buy without complaint. We realise that despite putting us in this position, the adults are being very nice. We sense that we can take advantage, and we do: loading our own trolley with nothing but junk to no protest. We hire several movies for the weekend as well. I learn how to play Uno that weekend. We watch Honey and immediately obsessively learn the dance choreograohy on the dvd bonus features (“one and two, three, four!) much to the entertainment of the adults we didn’t know were watching. We fight to stay up through the movies but drop off like flies, waking to the noise of the Dvd homescreen music for New York Minute.

I don’t remember where the rest of the year went but next thing I know you’re dropping me off at my house afterwards. This is it. We’ve held hands the whole way from Magaliesburg in silence. We refuse to say goodbye, believing naively that this couldn’t be the end of something so epic. Our mantra: “true friends never part, maybe in distance but never by heart” ringing in our ears as I hop off with your shoes on my feet (I later wore them into the ground with every conceivable outfit much to my mother’s chagrin). You hand me one last letter and, as prearranged, we say: see you later.

If you’re reading this, I want you to know how meaningful and monumental our short friendship was. How incredible it was to feel like I didn’t have to be anyone but myself. To have someone I didn’t mind having in my mother’s house. Someone who got close enough to know that I speak my home language freely and often and have it have nothing to do with my love of books or Avril or other things “black things aren’t supposed to do”. I could be all these things. I didn’t have to prove that I was “down. Ours was a mutual celebration. You thought I was as cool as I thought you were and there are few things better than that. Wherever you are, I hope you’re happy and healthy. I’m so glad I met you.

10/07/2019: we have ourselves a response! She’s on Facebook and sent me this message which I kept forgetting to ask her if I could publish. Her response went as follows (I’m not crying you are):

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