Thursday, May 23, 2013

(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard

One of my closest friends as an adult is a girl who used to bully me at school. Badly.

A lot has happened in the years since we were at the same school. I did my last four years at another place, but because our mothers have known each other since they were at school and are sort of friends, we kept seeing each other around, not least because she lived close by. Our first year of uni she started dating a man who became one of my closest friends, and she took classes with my ex, but we still had this awkward, difficult thing going on. They eventually broke up, and I figured that was it. Surely we wouldn’t have contact any more, our lives were too different.

Then, almost six years ago, her older brother killed himself, in one of the worst ways possible.

My mother called me at work to tell me. There was a message waiting on my voicemail that I found at the end of my waitressing shift that night, and I knew something was wrong because my mother never calls me. This left L. as the oldest child of the remaining six children, four of whom were still in school, at the most Catholic of Catholic schools that exist in this country.

In the haze of months that followed I tried to reach out to her; I made an effort to invite her to gatherings of my friends, if only so she could be with people who didn’t know the story. She never came, and as I was falling down the rabbit hole of mental illness in earnest myself there wasn’t much I could do. Again, I figured, we wouldn’t see each other anymore.

Not quite two years ago I had just started my final class of my B.A. and had one foot out the door, planning on a law degree in Canberra in 2012. It was my first morning tutorial with the mentor (little did I know what was coming) and I was yet to meet my closest girlfriend who was also in that class. I was at uni very early working, racing through the readings, when there was a tap on my shoulder. It was L., she was smiling, and suddenly – SNAP! – we were friends. After 23 years of knowing each other, and avoiding each other at parties and gatherings, the friendship was just there. Said friendship has been one of the greatest joys of the last few years of my life. We’re both on the academic track (she just finished her advanced Masters in a complementary discipline), we’re both living in the same area again, and the mental illness that has ravaged both our lives seems to have formed this bond between us that’s unshakeable. Plus, we’re both single. Hilariously we have the same psychiatrist, a discovery we made only a few months ago. It’s a bizarre experience to become friends with someone and be so close after almost a lifetime of enmity, as you have this history, but most of isn’t good. Yet it’s amazing how trauma can bring you together, hers and mine.* We have no curiosity about the dreadful things that have scarred each other, it’s just understood.

On Saturday night I dressed up a little and headed out to a bar, an unusual occurrence, for L.'s birthday drinks. I was nervous because I knew there was a good chance of other school people being there, as well as most of her siblings who I hadn’t seen in years. I’ve discovered if you’re trying to avoid people it’s best to go early to these things, as most people don’t turn up for drinks until two hours after the start time, and the trick worked well. I was coping with chatting with new people, and caught up with an old friend from last year’s Honours cohort who’s about to get married, I drank a few glasses of cheap yet good red wine and laughed at two guys wearing slankets. It was nice. Ultimately I only had to speak with one old classmate, and it was actually really great. It was friendly, and there was even a little acknowledgement that yeah, maybe we gave you a rough time way back when. To my great surprise, I had a good time (it helped I left before the scary people got there). It seemed to mean a lot to L. that I was there. I’m proud that we’ve done one better than our mothers, and actually managed to be friends for real.

As I got myself home, reeking of cigarette smoke from the bar, it occurred to me that when I host my 30th birthday party in a few months’ time, L. will be there. She will also be the only person attending who was at my rather pathetic 21st birthday lunch almost 9 years ago. She came late, and I only invited her because she was still with that guy who used to be one of my closest friends. I’m planning a very small dinner for September, with just the people who really matter to me. Putting her name on a very short list was a no brainer, I’m so lucky to have her. I also find it comforting that you can be wrong about people, and that sometimes even the most difficult of relationships can change on you. It’s one of the nicest surprises of growing up.

*I still think this space is better off without me being too explicit about my trauma (and I count myself lucky I didn't lose a sibling to suicide). I think most of you can put the pieces together anyway. 


  1. you know it's odd every time I read one of these longer posts of yours it immediately resonates with specific things from my life - I have such a person, & I've also got a bit of crazy in my blood.

    1. Aw, I like to hear that.

      She and I both have mental illness in our families, and both on our mother's side - mine undiagnosed, hers acknowledged.

  2. Wine is the perfect antidote ;)

    Slankets!!!! I can't believe I know the word for 'batamanta' in English!!! What were they doing with a slanket on????

    You never know when you're going to find a good friend and that's great :)

  3. Moz. What is a slanket?

    ... I have a friend like that too. She was god-awful to me in high school and then I married her exboyfriend. Whoops! But now we are friends. Funny.

    1. I was actually wrong. A slanket is like this, as styled by Liz:

      The guys in the bar were actually wearing onesies more in this vein, as sharks:

    2. Love that you take a 30Rock scene to show us a batamanta :)

      I went to the second link and looked for onesie, were they actually wearing a shark onesie??? Oh dear!!! haha They are more like pyjamas (I was looking for the word Josh says to CJ meaning pyjamas, but I couldn't remember, it was something like jammies...)

    3. IT WAS JAMMIES!!!!! (Hope this link works well).

    4. Yeah, I was just coming to tell you. It's an abbreviation, but not used muhc by Australians.

      Did I forget to say that the guy had s shark on it? There's a reason I linked to that of them had a shark and I think the other on was a tiger.

  4. Sweet story :)

    I had to google slanket to find out what it was... i suppose that's a good thing?

  5. An engaging tale. Friendship is such a glorious thing.


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