Kim had planned a trip to the beach so that we could get away and reconnect, Kim the buffer between Gretchen and I after an impassioned conversation on ethics in education when we found out that a professor was accused of inflating grades for female students. It was a conversation that ended with her going her way and me going mine. Two months had passed without a phone call, a message, an apology.
“It’s starting to feel normal…not having her around,” I admitted to Kim.
“That’s not okay,” she scolded. “You’re friends…long before I met either one of you,” she cut her burrito in half, wrapping one end for later. “Why can’t you call her?”
“I’ve had a lot of time to rethink our friendship, and I’m just not sure it’s even worth it.”
“This isn’t the first time we’ve had a disagreement…”
“But why does a disagreement have to end a friendship?”
“It’s not just about the disagreement.”
“You brought it up though as a reason for not talking to her.”
“It’s more than that,” I defended.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know if I like who she is anymore,” I sunk in my seat as the words came out of my mouth.
“Why not?” Kim pressed.
“She’s competitive, insulting, pompous…”
“Uncaring, braggy, dismissive, doesn’t listen, thinks everything is about her, punitive…”
“She’s punitive?” Kim laughed.
“Gossipy, lazy but wants everything to go her way…”
“I get it,” she held out her hand, insisting I stop. “Dang, I’d hate to hear how you describe me.”
“I wouldn’t say those things about you,” I insisted. “I’m not trying to be mean.”
“Well, you are,” she took a bite of her burrito. “I have to say I’m surprised. I thought you were different,” she shrugged.
“What do you mean?”
“I thought you were her friend…” she sipped her Dr. Pepper. “Maybe you should spend some time thinking about what that word means,” she said and then finished her burrito in silence.
When she was done, she stood up, gave me a one-armed hug, and left. I followed behind her, but it was clear we were not together. By the time I got home, my roommates were in the kitchen making samosas, laughing as they chopped potatoes and measured ingredients as if the entire process was funny.
“Hey,” I nodded and went straight to my room, plopping on my bed.
I fell asleep for about an hour, and when I awoke I had two missed calls from my mother and a text from Kim.
“We’re all going to the beach tomorrow at 8am. Be ready. No getting out of this,” she wrote.
Before texting back, I called my mother, folded a pile of clothes on the chair, and stared at an episode of Tiny House Nation, unimpressed with 500sq. foot house a man, his, wife, and dog would share.
“Fine,” I texted.
The next text from Kim came the following morning at 7:55am.
I grabbed my backpack and walked outside. Kim sat in the driver’s seat rocking back and forth to Lauryn Hill.
“Look at you,” I hopped in and she sped away.
The music blared, windows rolled down, all green lights as we headed to Gretchen’s house. I felt my neck muscles tense, my jaws clench. The plan was to be cordial, but I was open to other options. When she got in the car, she let out a long, complicated sigh, and I rolled my eyes.
“Hey, Kim,” Gretchen cheered. “How’ve you been?”
“Busy,” Kim complained. “Stats. If you don’t have to take it, DON’T.”
Kim glanced my way, but I stayed quiet, staring out the window while they swapped stories.
“Professor Hurst is back,” Gretchen informed, “I guess he was innocent after all,” she gloated.
“Doesn’t mean he’s innocent,” I bit back. “Just that they didn’t have enough evidence to prove he’s disgusting.”
“I really don’t see what the big deal is,” she reminded. “It’s not like he’s teaching a class that matters, anyway.”
“That’s not the point, Gretchen,” I turned in my seat to face her. “He’s bound to standards…”
“Yeah, yeah,” she interrupted.
“Don’t interrupt me,” I sassed.
“Ladies,” Kim said. “We’re going to the beach. Be happy.”
“I am happy,” Gretchen said, her arms folded at her chest. “Can’t even have a civil conversation though.”
Kim turned up the music and waited for the bad energy to clear. She drove another thirty minutes stuck in her own world. Unbothered by us, she took a call from her boyfriend, told him how much she wished he was there, that it was no problem she was talking to him and not us. At the beach, she told us to get out of her car, go take a walk and figure things out.
“Are you serious?” I protested. “You said we were all going to hang out.”
“I’ll catch up.”
Gretchen took the lead, walking a few paces ahead of me. The morning sun was still soft, the wind cool. She pulled her hair away from her face, each time a breeze returning the strands like a curtain covering her eyes.
“Here,” I reached into my pocket and pulled out a scrunchie.
“Thanks,” she wound the white band around her hair.
We kept walking, runners from both directions passing us, their breaths heavy, loud enough for us to hear and find humorous. Gretchen mimicked a man running shirtless.
“I hope everyone sees my hairy chest,” she teased, huffing and puffing, motioning like she was running.
I hadn’t forgotten about the disagreement, but we laughed like the teenagers we were, fresh out of our parents’ homes, adults legally, still child-like as we navigated the layers of friendship outside of the spaces they were created, redefined boundaries as we defined ourselves, and discovered that beliefs were sometimes like tornados; they’d destroy us if weren’t prepared.