The garden looked lush. The trees were showing off their mid-summer splendor with their deep green leaves creating a shadowy canopy over the asters that would bloom in the fall and whose fern-like leaves looked like the perfect hiding place for fairies and gnomes. I had always loved summer gardens in the rural villages where I grew up, in the very center of Germany. They invited my imagination to run wild, and I always called my parents’ garden an island of clean air and calm, green happiness. Paul’s parents had done a wonderful job in their garden as well. I could take in a great deal of its beauty when I made my way through the garage into the garden.
They had filled the green lawn with two small canvas pavilions, a precaution against possible summer rain, and a few of Paul’s relatives were sitting in their shade. The relatives would disappear from the garden and the party after a while, leaving the younger generation to its partying. For now, however, Paul wasn’t only saying goodbye to his friends but also to his aunts and uncles and his many cousins who were close to him in age. He had made this night a party for everyone; a celebration to say goodbye before he left for college in the U.S.
I was happy that I had arrived before sunset. Paul’s family had only moved into this house a few months ago. I had wanted to see as much of the family’s new home as I could before he left, and that included the beauty of their garden. Another magical backyard in the center of Germany.
Paul walked up to me as soon as I passed through the garage. He smiled at me and leaned down for a hug. I rose to the tips of my toes so I could reach for his shoulders.
“You look good,” he said. He never used a lot of words to speak his mind. He didn’t enjoy small talk and mindless chatter. But the words that he did speak always held meaning.
Anna was my first friend. Our parents knew each other, but to this day I still don’t know how exactly they met. Maybe it was because we both had older brothers; maybe it was because both her parents and mine were teachers; or maybe they had simply met by chance, moving into our small town right around the same time. Whatever the connection might have been, they definitely thought it would be a good idea to introduce their little girls to each other. We had been friends ever since.
Anna and I were best friends in kindergarten, playing with dolls and climbing the trees in our backyards. On a class picture, shot on my first day of elementary school, she is standing next to me. She is wearing red corduroys, and I am wearing blue jeans. Even then, there were the popular kids and those who were just a little too smart, too dorky, or too strange. I guess Anna and I fell into the dorky category. Slightly chubby girls who wore sweaters passed down to them by their brothers and who enjoyed reading almost as much as running around in the fields surrounding our town.
In middle school, we started spending less time playing with dolls and more time talking about boys, but in the end we were still the smart, dorky, and somewhat chubby girls from elementary school. We both got good grades. After school Anna would help me get over my fear of dogs by letting me play with hers, and I would listen to her when she told me about her dad moving out, into the next town, and her eldest brother moving away for college.
I was never afraid of starting high school because I knew Anna would be right by my side. And she was. Still slightly chubby and still wearing corduroys while I was wearing jeans. We each set our sights on a different boy. They were popular and good-looking, and so far out of our leagues. We hung out with a few other girls, laughing and giggling. We went shopping together, wondering what it would be like to be skinny and pretty, like the popular girls.
I don’t remember the last time we were this happy together. I think it was sometime before we finished school. We were so young still and the world was ours to conquer. Back then, we dreamed of staying friends forever and sticking together against all odds. But then life happened. And all that happiness and optimism and hope fell away. You went off to fight dragons and you returned bruised and broken and entirely unconvinced that life was still worth living. And I did what everyone expected me to do. And I hurt. And I nearly broke. And only the thought of you and the future we had imagined together kept me going when the going got tough. Now we are both damaged goods, bruised and battered and irrevocably changed by life. We are different from the happy children we once were and it makes me so sad to see us slowly give up hope. Even though we are standing shoulder to shoulder again, ready to take the next step together, we are insecure and indecisive. I caught myself wishing for the girl I used to be and the boy you used to be. I wished for their strength and their optimism. I wished they could come back from the past and help us navigate the future we are about to embark upon. I love you, but I am not sure if we are strong enough to make the future as bright and beautiful as we dreamed it would be when we were eighteen.
We go foreign places
Whenever we can
Together we travel
Where we’ve never been
You’re a good companion
Because you’re a trusted friend
And I know you’ve got me
Like I’ve got your back
I’m glad that we go
Every now and then
To stretch our wings
And escape the plans
I would grow restless
If I didn’t have you
To come with me
And then return anew
Thank you for all the laughter.
Thank you for your friendship and loyalty.
Thank you for all the hours of just being girls.
Thank you for growing up alongside me.
Thank you for sharing your opinions.
Thank you for walking with me.
Thank you for being my friends.
You will never be good enough for her. I hope you know that. She will never have you if you continue living like this. She won’t look at you twice. You will have to change, drastically, to fit her needs and to meet her expectations. You will have to become someone you never wanted to be. Maybe then, maybe after some time, she will reconsider. Maybe, if you prove your worth, she might give it a try. She will make you change everything you are and everything you ever were to suit her wishes. If you are willing to leave your past behind, and if you are willing to accept a future you were never destined to live, she will look at you and find what she wants. But you will have to turn it all around if you want to appeal to her. And I wonder, as I sit here and watch you struggle and fail, if she is really worth giving up any chance of true happiness you might have had before she entered your life. I can see you giving up the person you were destined to be to make her happy, and it is killing me deep inside. If you had looked my way, I would have taken you before you twisted yourself around.
Her wishes for freedom and independence made her go too far. This morning after, she has to deal with the guilt of having hurt a friend.
The morning light claimed Helena’s room earlier than she would have liked it to. The sun pushed through the curtains. The heavy cloth was no obstacle for its power, and Helena woke reluctantly with the light intruding on her sleep even as she kept her eyes closed against the world. There was a wooly and thick feeling on her tongue and she tried to swallow it down. Her eyes felt heavy and her eyelashes stuck together. Her whole body felt heavy. She ached. With her eyes still shut tight, she stretched one leg out under the covers. When her foot came into contact with a thick, hairy leg underneath her blanket, she jerked it back. Startled, she opened her eyes despite how much it hurt and held her breath. She blinked against the sunlight that was suddenly blinding her. She had forgotten to draw the curtains the night before, she noticed, and cursed herself for her lack of forethought. No wonder the light had woken her. Remembering the unknown and unexpected leg her foot had encountered, she tried to focus her gaze on the other side of her bed and felt the breath she had been holding rush out of her.
She would recognize that head of tousled dark hair anywhere even if the pillow next to hers was an unlikely place to spot it this early in the day, when she had just woken up. Helena tried to calm her nerves a little. Her heart was still racing against time, but she knew there was no reason to panic. The leg she had touched earlier and the tousled hair on her pillow belonged to her long-time friend Paul. They had fallen asleep in the same bed before. Usually after nights of heavy drinking or all-night study sessions. There was no need to get upset about it, especially not now that a pounding headache and a crick in her neck were making themselves known to her.
She groaned quietly and felt for the edge of the mattress. With slow and careful motions, she maneuvered her body towards the edge of the bed and put her naked feet on the cold wood-floor of her bedroom. She shifted on the bed and moved to the edge, trying not to upset her balance too much in case she would get sick. It was only when she let the blanket fall from her body that she realized her state of undress. She was completely naked underneath the blankets. That was when she felt the panic of earlier return with full force. She was naked in bed with one of her best friends. She could feel the beginning of a major hangover making itself known to her, and she was naked in bed with her friend Paul.
With her back to the still sleeping form of her friend, she sat at the edge of her bed with her feet planted on the solid wood at her feet. Her heartbeat pounded a fast staccato rhythm and her hands had begun to tremble. She chanced a glance over her shoulder and found that the blanket had shifted just enough to reveal Paul’s broad back. The blanket had fallen enough for her to see that her friend was equally as naked as she was, the blanket no longer covering his naked lower back. Her heartbeat sped up even further. She tried desperately to remember how the night before had ended, but the pounding in her head was getting in the way of her memories. She could not concentrate.
Taking a deep and soundless breath, Helena once again turned her back to the man sleeping through her mild panic attack and glanced at the alarm clock on her bedside table. It read sixteen minutes past ten in bright red digits and next to it, there was the colorful, and more importantly, ripped condom wrapper. She felt all hope leave her at the sight, and her shoulders sagged in defeat. If what she was dreading would prove to be true once she could think straight again, she would have to recognize that she had finally committed a mistake during her drunken escapades that was not as easy to erase as the others that had happened before. She allowed herself a moment of weakness and let the despair she was feeling overwhelm her. The room seemed darker, despite the bright sunshine, and her insides drew together with emotions she usually managed to suppress. If she was honest with herself these emotions oftentimes did not even come up anymore. Her breath came in short bursts but it disturbed the complete silence only very little. She dropped her head in her hands and her eyes stung even more.
Before the tears could come, though, she straightened up. She took a deep and steadying breath while looking around her room for a piece of clothing to cover up her nudity. She spotted the oversized t-shirt she usually slept in crumpled up in a heap at the bottom of her bed. Balancing underneath the blanket while trying not to disturb the mattress, she reached for the t-shirt and pulled it over her head. She then slowly rose from the bed and took her time with the first few steps, allowing the world to right itself at its own pace, holding on to the dresser next to her bed. When she no longer felt like she would keel over or stumble from the pain that threatened to split her head in two, she opened a drawer and pulled out a fresh pair of panties and sweat pants. With the clothing in hand, she tip-toed across the wooden floor to her bedroom door and opened it as quietly as she could.
She slipped out of her room and into the bathroom at the end of the hallway. There were no sounds in the apartment yet. Neither one of her two roommates seemed to be awake just yet. She considered it a blessing. She could not have faced either of them this early in the morning, after the night she had had and the shock she had received upon waking up. Helena locked herself into the bathroom to attempt some semblance of her morning ablutions. Only after she had brushed her teeth and washed her face, she chanced a glance in the mirror. The person looking back at her did not look like the young woman she usually found staring back.
We were good for each other in the way friends always are
You were popular and I was nice to everyone just to stay alive
Then they came along with their demands and their ideas
And made us drift apart because when they looked at us they saw fire and ice
I remember the day we met when you were just a nerd
And I was that dorky girl who could not give voice to her thoughts
We became friends on the sly and no one knew for a while
That we met and talked and laughed and did not care at all
But then they noticed and questioned our motives
They took our talks and our laughter and created a rumor
And I became awkward and you turned cold
So we gave up what we had because they stole its soul
It’s causing you distress
I get it now
It took some time to understand
Why you seem so far away all the time
You cannot have me
And you don’t know why
I’m the exception to the rule
Someone unnatural to you
Because I don’t fall all over myself
When I’m with you
And I don’t fawn
Or trip or fall for you
You don’t understand
Both me and the friendship I crave
I won’t ever be yours
And you don’t know if you’ll ever be mine
You cannot have me
Not even for a little while
Move on, my friend
I know she’s been on your mind
But can’t you see
You don’t need her to unwind
Move on, let go
Give my friendship a chance
Let’s make it grow
And break you out of this trance
I’ll guide you through the dark
Hand in hand, we can find a way
To ignite again that long-lost spark
With which you chose to pay
She made your pain and stole your light
And still you’d take the blame
You never chose to tell her why
She should drown in shame
So take my hand and let me take a stand
I want you back to who you were
Let me be your friend
And guide you back to the You that I prefer
Recently, I have been thinking about moments, events, and people that have had an impact on who I am today. There was a question on an application form for an academic scholarship where I was supposed to write down what I believe that has turned me into who I am today and what my strengths today might be. I wrote something I felt people would expect me to write, what they wanted to hear. I wrote about college and my classes and my interests. I wrote about the character traits I like most in myself and that I believe will help me get to where I want to go. But even as I wrote the words, they didn’t feel right.
So I have been thinking about the moments that have really, truly, irrevocably had an impact on my life, that have changed my mind and my soul’s ambitions, and that have defined me more than any other moments ever have. I kept thinking about how moments change people all the time.
The glances, the touches, and the whispers that carry more meaning than we are truly comfortable with. The lost opportunities, the hesitations, and the almost-but-not-quite decisions that we think back on years later and wish we had met differently. They all show and tell and, sometimes even, scream what we cannot and will not express. If we consciously chose to deal with their meaning in the moment, whenever they’re happening and threatening to overwhelm us, they might never turn into those defining moments. They are the moments that define us because we don’t define them. We don’t act and we don’t manipulate. We live them, these moments. We live them and we let them happen, sometimes we even let them pass us by. And years later, we realize that they defined us. They defined who we were then and who we became after.
There is one moment I’m sure I will carry with me for a very long time to come. A while ago, years ago even, I was standing on a staircase, waiting for a girl to leave the bathroom at my friend’s house so I could go in. We were at a farewell party of a mutual friend who was leaving the country to go study abroad. It was summer and I felt warm and I just wanted to use the bathroom. I was alone, and then my friend, the one we had all come to say goodbye to, came ambling down the stairs. He was drunk, clutching the banister a little too tightly underneath his hands. He stopped in front of me. We talked for a bit. He brushed my hair out of my face. He said my name in a way that, to this day, I cannot describe because of how it made me feel. And then two other girls came around the corner to join me in waiting for the bathroom to be free. I’m pretty sure he would have kissed me if they hadn’t interrupted. Our long-standing friendship would have changed because I had a crush on him even before that day and he was leaving the country.
It was one of those moments that defined who I became, and I never had any control over the moment itself. First, it had been him who initiated the contact. Then, it had been the girls who interrupted us. I had no control. I had no way to grab it and hold on. It simply happened, passed me by, and forever changed who I was. We remained friends as we were before. We never had another moment where liquid courage could have made us retake that step, retrace that moment, and finally take that leap of faith.
It was only one moment. It was only one lost opportunity. It was only one might-have-been, but it had an impact on the way I look at men today and on the way I think about romance. It’s a moment that defined me, without me ever wanting it to become so important. It’s exactly the kind of moment I could never write about in an application form. And yet, it’s one of those moments that defined who I am.
She’s that girl you wish you knew
The one with eyes so very blue
Like the deepest ocean
Filled with tears
And so much love to cover up her fears
Sometimes I hear her cry at night
For all she lost that fateful day
And then she steps into the light
As if nothing’s changed
As if everything’s alright
I want to take away her pain
Make her laugh and smile again
She’s my friend
And she deserves for this pain to have a happy end
I sometimes think she’s doing just fine
That her wounds are finally healed
But then I catch her eyes
And for a tiny little moment I can see…
What you show to the world
Is only a part of who you are
A light in a world that isn’t so bright
Covering up the truth to be kind
I want to take away your pain
Make you laugh and smile again
‘Cause you could be happy
And I promise
I’d be by your side
I’d even guard your dreams at night