I Will If You Will
– Nonfiction by Lexi O’Mara –
Good friends are hard to find. Some friendships are centred around convenience; we build attachments to those around us simply because they are there. They fill a temporary void within us but are based only on shallow commonalities. Some bonds are deeper. Friends come into our lives for a period of time, serving some purpose or another, but we outgrow them and find newer, more relevant relationships. Then there are the friends that feel like they’ve been with us all along. Their familiarity is so intimate that they become a part of our very essence.
You were always a part of me.
It was fourth grade when I first became aware of you. I was sitting alone on the swing set when I was cornered by a group of sixth grade bullies that lurked around the playground during recess. Lately, I had become their favourite target.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Someone shoved me to the ground.
Suddenly, you were there.
“GET OUT OF HERE!” I heard you shout out loud.
You became my defender. Your camaraderie fueled me and soon I began to live with a new assurance that stemmed from knowing that you were always on my side. You showed me how to stand up for myself.
You were my greatest supporter. I was happier because of you.
“YOU CAN DO IT!” I heard you cheering on the field during our soccer games.
Together, we were an unstoppable force. You believed in me, and while your positivity had a contagious effect, you were always the sole source of my confidence. You needed an outlet for your ambitions, and I became your loyal follower.
In the summer before middle school, you started to change. You developed a mischievous streak, a sense of curiosity that I was only too eager to explore with you.
One afternoon you tested my allegiance to you when we were loitering around the general store in our small town. You wanted to see just how far you could make me go.
“It’s only a pack of gum,” you said.
I looked up at the store clerk; a petite Asian lady who was chattering into her phone as she restocked the cigarette shelf with her back turned to the counter. Though I couldn’t understand her words, her tone was scolding, and reminded me of my mother’s voice the time I had come home covered in grass stains. Rolling down the hills at Sherwood Park that day had been your idea, of course.
Pretending to closely examine the purple pack of Bubalicious, I peered sideways down the aisle.
“The coast is clear,” you said.
Outside in the parking lot, I pulled the loot out of my pocket. Trembling with adrenaline, we began to laugh. Our shared crime had solidified the bond between us. Together, we blew grape flavoured bubbles all the way home.
As we entered our teenage years, you grew mean, and more controlling than before.
“You look fat in that dress,” you told me as you watched me examine my reflection in the mirror. I began to diet and you monitored my every meal.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I heard you whisper every time I wanted to raise my hand in class.
You treated me like dirt, yet you refused to leave me alone. Where you had once been my champion, my consolation, you were now my tormentor, questioning my every decision and trying to establish your dominance over me. I had grown dependent on you; my own thoughts becoming extensions of your words. My very identity was intertwined with your intentions for me. You followed me everywhere, and I became your prisoner.
I wanted to be free from you. I began pursuing new friendships but you were always right there with me, hissing criticisms in my ear. No one was ever good enough to be our friend. No one would ever understand me the way that you could.
In our freshman year of high school, I was invited to the kick- off party that would end up setting the tone for the next few years of my life. You weren’t invited, but you came along anyways – you always did. You clung to my side, and your constant chattering made it difficult for me to speak to anyone. You made me stammer over my words and then you laughed at what a fool I was. You didn’t want us to be there; you wanted to keep me at home, keep me to yourself. You were smothering me with your presence. Your power made it hard for me to breathe.
Someone at the party offered me a drink and I froze. Four years earlier, I had been placed in a series of foster homes after my parents’ mounting alcoholism had finally spiraled out of control. You had been my only family during that time.
Having experienced first-hand the impact of substance abuse, and aware that I had a genetic propensity for it, I was cautious. I began to shake my head no, but you had a different idea.
“Why not,” you said, but it was my voice that spoke, my hand that reached out and picked up the bottle. You watched as I swallowed it down and, satisfied that you had gotten your way, you loosened your grip on me. I felt my shoulders relax and my chest expand. Together, we heaved a deep sigh.
When I entered treatment at age eighteen, I learned to distance myself from toxic relationships, but you were impossible to let go of. Alone in my room, I’d hear you talking to me late at night, undermining the endless hours of therapy sessions.
“Why don’t we just get out of here?”
Over time, I learned how to separate myself from you. I began to recognize your voice as a figment of my own imagination. Every fear, every doubt that you threw my way, I fought back. I knew that it was you who was dependent on me, that it was you who needed me to live.
“I don’t want this anymore,” I’d quietly mouth to my reflection in the bathroom mirror, careful not to address you directly, to acknowledge your existence in any way.
You no longer speak to me but the strength of our deep connection lingers on. I’m always aware that you are still a part of me, of my history. I feel you stirring sometimes, letting me know that you are there, somewhere in the dark reaches of my mind. Waiting to pounce on my weaknesses. I worry for the day you come back to the surface.
About the Author – Lexi O’Mara
Lexi O’Mara is a is a Canadian young adult writer who never quite grew up herself. Beyond literature, she enjoys art, travel, and exploring all things unknown. She recently moved to Manhattan, New York to pursue her creativity. Lexi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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