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When a Friend’s Not Worthy
Anonymous
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Names and some other details have been changed.

Charlotte was the first friend I made after I moved here from Guangzhou, China two years ago. I started high school the third day after I landed. She stood at the entrance and smiled at me, her hair shining in the sunlight. It didn’t take long for us to become close friends.

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When Charlotte started a romantic relationship with Helen, a girl from Brazil who wasn’t very good to her, she’d confide in me about her problems. Helen constantly played games with her feelings. I let her hang up the phone before I did just in case she had anything more to add. “I’m glad I talked to you. Your words are helpful for me,” she’d often say.

I wanted to protect her from Helen, but there was nothing I could do.

Although Charlotte and I have a lot in common, the way we express our emotions is different. When she’s angry, she punches a wall. Once she had to go to the hospital. Another time, she punched the mirror in the school bathroom and cut her hand. In contrast, I seldom let my tears out in front of others. If I feel like I’m going to cry, I look up at the sky to keep my tears from falling onto my cheeks. And I don’t cause self-harm by punching things.

Every Saturday, we went to College Now, a college readiness program and after, we’d hang out in the park on the swings. There were no phone calls, no tears, and no worries. “I really treasure our friendship, you know,” Charlotte said one day. From that moment I decided I would protect her from anything and love her like a sister.

I Can Protect You

I remember the first time I wanted to protect someone who was hurting. I used to have a beautiful family. My mom and dad were deeply in love with each other. After I was born, my dad got cancer. He died when I was about to turn 3. That was the darkest time for my mom. Even though I didn’t know what death meant, I remember trying to comfort her when she was crying. “Don’t worry, Daddy is going to come back soon. Why are you crying, Mommy? Did somebody do something bad to you? It’s OK, I can protect you.” But I couldn’t protect her. I was too young. I just remember wishing I could do something to make her stop crying.

Later, when I was in 5th grade, I started protecting girls who were getting bullied by a few of the boys. Even though I got good grades, my teacher disliked me because I’d punch these boys and then she had to deal with their parents.

Since my father died, I have often felt like it is my responsibility to protect those who are wounded, even though sometimes I feel like I need protection too. Maybe that’s because my mom has always worked hard to earn money for my education and so I seldom see her. But she is there for me. No matter how busy she is, when she is around, she listens to my worries and gives me good advice.

Sometimes I think I choose the wrong people to try to protect. Charlotte always said, “I got your back. You can always call me when you’re sad. I will be there for you.” I believed her, even though whenever I tried to call her, it went straight to voicemail.

Goodbye, As You Said

A few months later, Helen broke up with Charlotte but then decided she wanted her back. “So what do you think?” I asked Charlotte on Facebook.

“I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I hate her so much for what she did to me, but when she talks to me, it reminds me of the old times that were good,” she answered.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Do you want to take the risk that the same thing might happen again? Everyone else sees that she was just dallying with you. If she really cares about you as much as she says, she wouldn’t have left you.”

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The next day I was tired when I got home from school, but I saw a few messages from Charlotte so I decided to check them before I took a nap. “Helen and I are back together now, so I’m choosing her over my friendship with you. Goodbye.”

I was shocked. I couldn’t believe Charlotte would ever say this to me.

I sank into the sofa, and tears ran down my cheeks, burning my face and blurring my sight. When I texted her back asking why, she replied: “Because you forced me to choose between you and her.”

“What did I say that made you feel this way?” I asked her. She didn’t reply.

I felt thrown away like an old toy she didn’t want anymore. I was so easy to cast off. I meant so little to her. So I wiped my tears and texted back, “Alright, goodbye, as you said.”

I Miss You

A week after Charlotte ended our friendship, she tried to fix it again. She texted me and said she missed me. But she couldn’t have been that miserable: I saw a picture of her on Facebook smiling at a party.

I was upset and even though I tried not to show it, friends kept asking me if I was OK. One day in class, my friend Janice tried to convince me to make up with Charlotte. “I need time,” I said.

Then suddenly, someone hugged me from the back and put her head on my shoulder. I could tell without turning around that it was Charlotte because she always greeted me like that. I loosened her hands and moved away from her. “I miss you,” she said. Then she gave me a note and left. In the note, she asked me if we could be friends again and she promised she would change. I didn’t believe what she said. Part of me wanted to trust her again but the stronger part of me knew that was just wishful dreaming. I didn’t reply to her note.

Enough, Unworthy

About a week later, some of my Chinese classmates and I were waiting on line outside of the school before we started our Regents exam. We were quizzing each other while the freezing wind brushed against our faces. I put my hands in my pocket to keep them warm and flexible so I could write easily during the exam. Everyone was moving around so they didn’t freeze.

Charlotte and Helen were in front of us. When Helen heard us speaking Chinese, she laughed and made fun of us. Charlotte laughed too, instead of defending me. I felt disrespected and foolish.

It was a good day, though. It made me realize that I don’t want to be friends with Charlotte, not the other way around. I was the one who was there for her, not Helen. I was the one who skipped half of my class to check if she was alright when she punched the mirror and cut herself, not Helen. I was the one who defended her when anyone insulted her, not Helen. However, she wouldn’t answer when I call her and she proved she didn’t care about my feelings when she laughed at me with Helen. I don’t think I deserve that.

Now I sleep better because she’s not waking me up to talk on the phone. I no longer worry about her hurting herself with her rage. Of course sometimes I miss our friendship and I do cry. But deep down I know she is the type of person who wants what she can’t have and then once she has it she doesn’t want it anymore. I just didn’t want to see it. Charlotte still tries to make up with me. But I say to myself, it is enough. She’s unworthy.

Charlotte got used to me being nice to her all the time. She thought no matter how badly she treated me, I would still stick with her. But friends are supposed to take care of each other. With us, I felt like I was doing all the giving and getting nothing back in return.

Being a protector is a hard job, but I feel like there have to be people that stand up for those who need it and it makes me feel good to be one of those people. So I think this experience was a good lesson for me: I just need to work on making sure the people I choose to protect appreciate me. And rather than doing all the giving, I choose friends that are there for me as much as I’m there for them.

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(NYC-2015-09-09)