Friday, March 18, 2016

Ponyboy






Some people say women are more complicated than men. I don't know if that's true, but I do think their friendships are. To this day my most painful breakup has been the loss not of a romance but of my best high school friend.

We met when we were 14. Other girls would comment, "You two are like sisters!" and they'd say it with a tone of admiration and a tiny bit of envy. Rosalyn was blonde to my brunette and we were always together: on the bus to school and back home again, at Bell Square Mall where we'd try on clothes well out of our price range and soak in culture at the record store. As we progressed into high school we made sure to get classes together. Any bit of information we didn't share through passed notes or between classes at our shared locker we'd catch up on with long phone calls.

We lived five blocks apart and would walk and meet halfway. In the summertime we'd head off to the beach, armed with Coppertone and a transistor radio. We'd lie on our beachtowels, eyes closed, and would plan our future. We were going to go to the same college, pledge a sorority, and then after graduation would share an apartment. We were going to be each other's maid of honor and the godmother to each other's children.

The fact that no grooms existed yet was a minor detail. We didn't worry about it.

It was a great time for movies, those early '80s. We sat and watched Tom Cruise slide in his socks, lip syncing with a trophy in his hand. We watched Footloose and agreed nobody could wear mousse like Kevin Bacon. We watched The Outsiders and later rented and rerented that video until we could quote every line from the movie as it played and we lounged on her parents' couch, eating eggos with peanut butter and maple syrup.

"Stay gold, Ponyboy," she'd tell me.
"Stay gold," I'd reply.

Naturally we spent a lot of time thinking about boys but we never went for the same type. That changed the night we met Jack.

We were at a football game at our rival high school. Jack was a lanky dark haired guy, not handsome but with such an outgoing funny personality it upgraded him from goofy to cute. Roz and I were both charmed by him but she liked him a little bit more. We agreed to a plan: we'd separately slip him our phone numbers and whoever he called the next day, the loser would have no hard feelings.

It seemed like such a good plan.

The next day he called me and later, when I told her, I could tell by the tightness in her voice on the phone that Rosalyn had all kinds of hard feelings.

Jack and I started dating and my friendship with Roz began to crumble. Because we'd planned our schedules so we could be around each other constantly, I noticed her anger all day long. She'd glare at me on the bus, would eat her lunch in silence beside me and would slam our locker door shut, often as I stood there waiting to grab my books.

I dated Jack for a few months but could hardly tell what I felt about him. Every time we were together all I could think about was what he'd cost me. It was a mess.

To me, the choice was obvious. There were a million other guys. There was only one Roz. I explained this to Jack: it wasn't that I didn't like him, it was just that I didn't want to lose her.

I called her that night and told her I'd broken up with him. "No guy is worth losing our friendship," I told her. We agreed to a new plan: we'd both forget we'd ever met him. That night I slept well for the first time in weeks.

The next day my mother came home from shopping and she looked furious.

"You'll never guess who I just saw walking hand in hand with Jack at the mall. It was that little Rosalyn," she said.

I had to admit, I was surprised, but I didn't feel mad. I reminded my mother that I'd been the one who broke up with him. He had the right to date whoever he wanted.

"But the next DAY?" my mom asked me. She'd been a girl once and knew a friend violation when she heard one.

"She always liked him more than I did," I told her. "It really doesn't bother me."

And it didn't. And I repeated that same sentence over and over each time any of our friends asked me. The girls especially seemed to feel Roz had broken the friend code and they couldn't understand why I wasn't upset. But I understood, and that was good enough for me.

Roz and I were once again inseparable: finishing each other's sentences, using a word and voice shorthand understandable only to us.

I quickly found another boyfriend, which I thought would seal the rift forever. To my surprise, Roz didn't like him, and she told me so in a three page note.

Suddenly I wasn't understanding anymore.

I wrote HER a note back, telling her it was none of her business and that she had a lot of nerve. I guess I wasn't really as okay with her dating Jack as I'd tried to make myself believe.

We drifted apart then, still friends but not best friends. We stopped planning our classes together, we had different lunches, and we spent our free time with our boyfriends. It happened little by little, when we weren't paying attention.

We had always done a lot of school activities but suddenly Roz had no interest in them. All she cared about was going to class and spending all her time with Jack. The week of cheerleading tryouts at the end of junior year I tracked her down: it had been on our list.

"Nah, you go ahead," she told me. All during senior year I'd see her sitting with Jack in the stands and would wish she was yelling beside me.

College was gone too, at least for Roz. When I left she hugged me and told me to write and tell her everything and I knew that wasn't going to happen. We didn't share the same Everything anymore.

And then when I was 20, home for the weekend, I got a wedding invitation in the mail. I wondered how it could be that the maid of honor would learn of the wedding at the same time as every other guest. I called Roz and she brought it up so I didn't have to: she really wanted me there but had gotten close with a coworker at her office job. Her new friend of two months was going to be the maid of honor.

I tried to be a good sport. Roz and I met and went to the movies, just like old times. But as we sat watching La Bamba we were like strangers: we had almost nothing to talk about. It was almost physically painful to notice this.

I asked her if she'd thought any more about college. I could remember her talking about becoming an interior designer. I thought she could marry Jack and still keep that dream. Roz said Jack had enlisted in the Army.

"We're driving to Texas the day after the wedding," she told me.

That night I couldn't sleep. I was thinking about Jack and how he had highjacked my friend's future. I thought about how many times he had broken up with her and dated other girls while she waited for him to take her back. I thought about how to Roz no other guys existed. I wondered how many guys would jump at the chance to date her.

The next day I drove to her parents' house on a mission. They could not let her marry Jack. The two of them stood with patient smiles as I made my case. I told them she was giving up her future. I told them if he loved her he wouldn't let her do that. I told them I knew Jack was funny and nice but that he was an idiot. It was fine to date an idiot but you don't marry one.

"We trust him to do right by her," they said.

I told them I didn't. "He's never going to love her as much as I do," I told them.

"We know," they told me.

Two weeks later I sat and watched Roz walk down the aisle. I watched her sob through her vows, completely messing up her face. At the reception she threw her bouquet directly to me but her aim was off and it landed on the floor.

In the receiving line I shook Jack's hand. Then I leaned in and hissed a private greeting.

"You'd better not hurt her," I told him.

"I won't," he said.

"If you do, I'll find you," I told him.

"I know," he said.

But I doubted this was true. I watched them have their first dance. I ate my cake and put a smile on my face. I tried to believe my friend would be okay.

Six years later Roz called me to catch up. She had two kids by then, a boy and a girl. I could hear them screeching in the background. She told me things were okay but that she and Jack had reached that stage where they loved each other but were no longer "in love." She told me they'd considered divorce but decided it made more financial sense to stay together.

My friend was 26 years old when she told me that. I imagined her at 16, drawing her name with Jack's in a heart on her History folder and then I tried to make that image go away because it hurt too much to remember.

And then her kids were howling and she had to go.

Last year they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Roz is a grandmother now, although I can't imagine that word describing her. They live in Florida and she tells me they're "comfortable" with each other.

I've had other best friends but none of them have ever felt like a sister and I'm glad. I wouldn't have ever wanted to replace her. I think about her sometimes and in my mind's eye we're still in high school, laughing at everything, the future a grand movie in which we will star and have a happy ending.

Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay Gold.


Amie Ryan is the author of Green Shoes Mean I Love You, Starfish On Thursday, and Marilyn: Loved By You, available at www.amieryan.com

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