Eventually it becomes necessary, when you’ve had the same best friends for nearly 25 years, to write an email apologizing for everything.
One day in 1996 I asked Britt whom she considered among her best friends.
“Well, you,” she said, “and Jennie…” I’m sure there were some others, because she had a lot of friends, but I wasn’t really listening, instead waiting for her inevitable, “How about you?”
“Oh,” I said, hesitating as though my response wasn’t totally scripted, like I had to think about it. “Probably Andrew.” My boyfriend. The very word a talisman, because I finally had one, something I’d conjured after years of yearning to be like people I watched on TV. I wrote songs about him, which I sung to a C-F-G chord progression on my acoustic guitar. We’d been dating for seven months by then. “Yeah,” I told her. “I’d probably say that Andrew is my very best friend.”
I am sorry about how I pretended to be bulimic, and about the time I tried to kiss your boyfriend, and the time we both got in trouble because we’d planned to stay out all night. I’m sorry for every boy I ever had a crush on whose locker I made us walk past at lunchtime. Also for throwing your cigarettes out the window, for inspiring you to wear plaid flannel pants, and for everything I wore in 1997.
Just as you are sorry about the time you tried to give me the Rachel haircut, and for the New Years Eve I slept under my coat while you were getting some in the other room.
I am sorry about my prom date peeing on your wicker loveseat.
And yes, I am very sorry about the time you had listen to me tell you that my best friend was anybody but you.
Our geometry is essential to our story: there are three of us. We are a triangle. A trinity. We have six legs to stand on. Like the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker; or the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Except that we are girls, or we were; and now we’re women, and when I think about three women, it’s the witches from Macbeth, which is fitting. There is something rather wicked about a group of three best friends.
First, because it allowed us to be so awful to one another. Having an extra best friend is like an outlet. It means that when one friend goes ahead and tells you that her best friend is Andrew that you’re going to telephone the other friend as soon as you get home and report the conversation.
Three best friends mean that somebody is always going to be left out, have to sit in the backseat, or sleep on the floor. It means two ganging up on the other, and all kinds of other unnecessary cruelties. It means you can’t do something idiotic without two people calling you out on that, though sometimes this is useful, particularly when you’re a teenager and being an idiot half the time.
It made us an unstoppable force too, being three. Walking down the halls at school with linked arms, nobody could get by us. Double double toil and trouble. We had our photos taken, arms slung around each other’s shoulders. We dreamed up charms and spells, and sometimes they worked. We got in trouble, got angry, made up, and grew up. We stayed up late at night creating extensive biographies of the imaginary boys we would marry.
In 1997, we embrace The Spice Girls. This is not a casual flirtation, but something serious. We don’t go see them in concert, because we don’t have any money and Britt’s dad would have to drive us all the way to Toronto, but we become partial to dressing up like them and performing “Wannabe” and “2 Become 1” at parties. When the Spice World movie debuts in our town, we’re there opening night in our spice costumes.
Of course, there were five Spice Girls, not three, so we have other friends be Sporty and Posh. Britt is Scary Spice, because she has curly hair, and Jennie is Baby, because she’s blonde. I am Ginger Spice, probably because I come across as shrill, and I’ve large breasts, though you wouldn’t have known it, because this was the tail end of Grunge and we still bought our clothes at the army surplus store, one size fits all.
We stand up on a table in our school cafeteria, and perform “Wannabe”, a song for which seven writers got together to come up with the lyric, “I really really really wanna zigazig-ha.” But The Spice Girls’ manufactured “Girl Power” movement does manage to articulate something we already know.
We sing, “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends. Make it last forever, friendship never ends.”
We even think we mean it, although we’ve none of us have had enough lovers yet to know if it’s actually true.
“It would have been so easy to count the ways I’d been betrayed by girls… It was not that way with men.” This was the line in Sheila Heti’s novel, How Should a Person Be, where she totally lost me. I read that book 13 years after dancing on cafeteria tables to the Spice Girls, and wondered if Sheila Heti and I had grown up on different planets.
Maybe she too had had a friend who’d sat in the car one night and confessed that her best friend was Andrew, which might constitute a betrayal of some kind, but my friendships with girls have lasted because we’ve been willing to forgive such transgressions. And now that we’re women, and not girls, there are far fewer of these.
Girls have always been my people, my native land, my mother tongue. Boys were a foreign language I had no hope of grasping, a series of verbs that refused to conjugate—or at least to conjugate with me. But with girls, I knew what to expect, I instinctively knew how a person should be. And there were a wide range of options, Sporty, Posh, Baby, Scary and Ginger among them. The labels didn’t matter. The point was the links of our arms, how those links could be impenetrable.
Picture a parade of photographs, the three of us over the years, standing side-by-side with various boys and men—prom dates, boyfriends and spouses. The line in which The Spice Girls and their co-writers rhymed “friends” with “friendship never ends” seems less trite when you consider that we’ve been taking these photos for twenty years, and the boys were utterly expendable. These boys we wore on our arms the way we wore the wrist corsages they presented us with. Our memories of them now are just as wilted. Some have been vilified, others turned into well-worn comedy routines, and there are a few whose names we have forgotten.
We could snip them from each photograph and the result would be the same—the three of us gazing merrily into the future, laughing about something a bit stupid that would be difficult to explain.
The most amazing thing about our friendship, which has lasted for more than two thirds of my life, is that at the age of 13, when I was thoroughly undeveloped in all the fundamental ways, I was smart enough to choose these girls. Or it might be luck, I guess, that the same people whose company delighted me then, who nourished my mind and spirit in the days when I’d not been touched by so much as a tampon, would prove to be equally up to the task when we were 37.
I’ve loved them longer than I lived with my parents, longer than I’ve known my husband. There have been times that we’ve been on the outs, but we’ve always found our ways back. We’ve been there for each other through life’s ups and downs, and when we haven’t been, we’ve forgiven one another, gotten over it. Steps that are necessary for the perpetuation of a friendship conducted between actual people.
There are twelve of us now, where there once were just those three girls with arms thrown over the shoulders. We’ve got husbands, whom we never even had to instruct that if they wanted to be our lovers, they had to get with our friends, which is probably why we married them. They’re uncannily similar to the imaginary boys we dreamed up for ourselves so long ago, and yet utterly apart from our imaginings—which is usually the way that reality goes. We’ve got a son and so many daughters. Houses, cars, jobs, degrees. All the trappings of adulthood. We know the answers to so many of things we used to wonder about, have been delivered so much that we longed for. We know now that life is more complicated than all that.
And here we are, still so much the same—few things in this world have ever been so constant. I marvel at how my children grow with a force that seems shot from the earth, the way green chutes explode from the ground deep in summer, and yet my two best friends have never ever changed.
But yet they must have changed, because they were just as dumb as I was when we were 13 years old, but they are brilliant now, funny and wise, and our friendship is one of the great loves of my life.
Kerry Clare writes about books and other things at Pickle Me This. She is the editor of The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood, which we spent a wonderful week discussing right here. Her first novel, Mitzi Bytes, “a grown-up Harriet the Spy for the digital age,” will be published by HarperCollins Canada in early 2017.