Most of you probably aren’t aware of how I met my best friend, Lauren. I mean, really aware. You all likely know the superficial details of how we met in gym class midway through sixth grade and became as glued to the hip as school would allow almost immediately. A lot of you were even there to witness it, but few people actually know how significant everything that went down was. Definitely a lot of people have called the nature of our relationship into question ever since our lame attempt at skipping gym class. But I feel like that’s largely due to the fact that most of you are not aware of the role she played in my continued existence. To fully explain everything, let me start at the very beginning.
For pretty much the entirety of my childhood, I was bullied relentlessly. I was never manhandled or beaten up or anything, but verbal bullying can be just as, if not more, detrimental to a victim. In short, I was dragged through the mud, and emerged on the other side with trust issues and no real idea how to have prolonged social interactions or even how to have one friend, let alone the many I have today—some of whom were once unkind to me, and whom I’m now glad to still be in contact with. Everything about my life currently was as foreign to ten-year-old me as the person I was then is to me now.
By the time sixth grade rolled around, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. I had had a very small group of friends in fourth and fifth grade, and transitioning to middle school broke that group up entirely. I was completely alone, and I hit rock bottom. Twelve years old and just…over life. Very few joys were had for the first half of the year. I was so deep into the shadows of depression that I can recall very little of this period in my life, so a lot of what I do know of who I was has been explained to me by those who knew me at the time.
What I do remember of pre-Lauren middle school is mostly unpleasant. Due to a lack of education in mental health, I didn’t realize that what I was struggling with was a legitimate experience shared by billions of the world population. I thought I was completely alone, and lacked the ability to express these feelings. No one even knew what I was suffering, because I put up such a convincing front. Knowing what I know now, I can look back and say that I was severely depressed and suicidal. I had always had a fascination with death, especially cultural customs regarding all aspects of it. But this morbid interest was at an all-time high, at a personal, nearly interactive, level. I was living day to day, and didn’t see a real reason to continue living. I thought about dying often. I would write suicide notes in my head, and I thought about ways I could kill myself. I was somehow convinced this was entirely hypothetical, that I was too weak and cowardly to ever carry it out, that I was never in a position in which I was unsupervised for long enough to do the deed, and that any arrangements following a death would be inconvenient. So, while I felt like a waste of space and indeed longed to just be put out of my misery, I continued on.
I never thought of any of this in so many words, and my recollections of that dark time are a summation of my thoughts then and my ability to put it into writing now. I didn’t even really consciously realize how far gone I was until I was pulled back from that metaphorical ledge.
One of the few moments I remember vividly was the day that I actually met Lauren. I knew of her, in the sense that I had seen her around and quietly judged her for who she hung out with, but I didn’t even know her name, and she didn’t know me, either. We’d judged each other on a superficial basis. We were both convinced the other was stuck up, and neither of us realized how alone the other was until a common interest drew us together. I think we’re both indebted to Erin Hunter, because if Lauren hadn’t caught sight of the copy of a Warriors book I was carrying at the time, we may have never interacted at all. Then again, fate has a funny way of working things out.
I was tying my shoe in the locker room, getting ready for gym class, when someone approached me. I could feel them standing next to me, but I didn’t bother looking up, because I figured they were just waiting for the teacher. No one ever noticed me, and when they did, it was because I initiated the (usually very brief) interaction. So when Lauren did talk to me, I’m sure I looked at her like she was crazy.
“You read that series, too?”
Conversation followed this, and by the end of gym class, I had loosened up significantly. We may not have said it, but I think we were both less than pleased that we had to wait a whole other day to see each other again, since third period was the one day that alternated between two classes. So when we realized the next day that we band class together, we just about lost our damn minds.
Maybe I didn’t realize it then, but that first meeting marked the end of the excruciating period of loneliness, isolation, and suicidal ideation. I was in a sucking hole that I didn’t know how to escape, and couldn’t escape by myself. And then comes this girl who was a literal godsend to pull me out, dust me off, and show me how much life I still had in me. I was no longer viewing life as a chore to be completed, but as something to enjoy. And maybe for a little while, I was living just because of Lauren, but she somehow singlehandedly wrenched open the door that led me back to living for myself. For the first time in a long while, I reveled in life.
Seventh grade was probably the best year of my life. That was the year when I finally began standing up for myself, my confidence bolstered by Lauren, the year that I was finally happy for a while. I had Lauren and I felt like my life was under control. And whenever my life spins out of control now, I always have Lauren and some other very wonderful friends who love and support me unconditionally.
Throughout the years, Lauren has continued being a lifesaver, always supporting me and my endeavors. We’ve seen each other through a lot, and she’s been one of the few constants in my life since we were twelve. I can easily say that she’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Even without knowing at the time, she helped me up and showed me that this was not a prison sentence, that there was a reason to keep living. That reason was her, and then…it was everything.