by Julie Respress
I’ve heard it said that sometimes your closest friend can be your greatest enemy. I had no idea how close to home this was until a recent series of events taught me that sometimes the only person you can trust is yourself.
These events were related to my relationships, which I will admit have not always reflected my best judgment. I dated Craig throughout high school. He was one of my best friends. When my father became ill, he was my strength. Maybe we got too close; I don’t know what happened. All I know is that things started spiraling downhill my senior year. After my dad passed away, I could feel the pity when I walked into any room. It amplified my pain. I was sick of it.
One night at a party Craig and I got into a fight. He said I’d had enough to drink, and I disagreed. It seemed like the first time someone had felt an emotion towards me besides compassion. I liked the anger; it gave me a rush. I grabbed another beer. Craig grasped my arm, and I covered him in Bud Light. He did exactly what I wanted — walked away. Instead oftreating me like a fragile ornament, he left me standing there a drunken mess.
My best friend April showed up to the party after Craig texted her what had happened. I decided not to alienate everyone, so I agreed to go to McDonald’s with her to sober up before she took me home.
My mom didn’t waste much time dating after my dad passed away, and her new husband was much younger than she, which meant that his friends were always in and out of our house and constantly flirting with me. I usually ignored it, but something in me reacted when Chuck’s new friend Daniel came around.
“Morning, sleeping beauty,” he said to me one Sunday when I decided to show my face hung-over from yet another party.
He and Craig just went on with their coffee and cigarettes, but there was a look that he gave me that sent my stomach into a whirlwind.
The next week he was at our house every day. We didn’t talk much, but the look was still there. One afternoon I came home early from school, and he was sitting in the driveway. I knocked on the window, and he explained that he was waiting on Chuck. As I went to walk away, he grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to the car.
“He won’t be home for a while, why don’t you invite me in?” He asked.
“Sure. I’ll make you some coffee.”
I felt Daniel walk up behind me as I was unlocking the front door. As soon as we got through the threshold he was pulling me towards him. The next thing I knew, we were upstairs. I didn’t even think about his age until afterwards, and then it was a fleeting thought. We got dressed and went to the kitchen just in time for Chuck to pull up. The danger thrilled me.
After that day, Daniel and I met at least three times a week. The challenge was addicting. However, I still wanted to get caught. The thought of being the target of anger again enticed me into foolishness. I started making it obvious to Craig that something was going on. If we were supposed to do something together, I’d be late and arrive with my hair disheveled and my clothes a mess. Finally, he caught on and started checking my phone.
“Who the hell is Daniel?” he asked one night.
“Chuck’s friend.” I answered nonchalantly.
“Why are you texting him?”
“We’re just friends, Craig. You know I love you.”
Mine and Daniel’s affair became a scandal in this small town within seconds of Craig’s discovery. He of course didn’t buy my ‘we’re just friends’ speech, and he followed me straight into Daniel’s arms. He went to my mom first, and then he went to April. All of them responded perfectly. They set up an intervention so they could all scold me.
All that anger in the same room coming at me at once was almost better than the sneaky sex. I didn’t cry; I didn’t flinch. This made them furious. It fed my soul. Craig said it was over. April said I’d broken his heart. My mother called me a slut, and told me how disappointed she was. I couldn’t have been more elated.
Unfortunately the emotion subsided, and it took my unhealthy bliss with it. But, the memory of the thrills just pushed me forward. I continued these types of ventures for months, always making sure that I got caught and reprimanded properly. My mom grounded me continuously, which only gave me another rule to break. The only person who wouldn’t remain mad at me was April. She was still by my side, so I accepted her alliance and tried not to hurt her or let her get caught in the middle of my foolish endeavors.
When I turned 18 in May, I moved into an apartment with my friend Mandy. Luckily my mom refused to cut me off from my college fund, so I enrolled in the junior college for the fall and started working as a waitress at Denver’s Bar and Grill. While I was having fun finding my thrills in my sexual partners, I decided to separate business from pleasure and at least remain intact with my future.
Craig came to Denver’s one night as I was getting off.
“I want to talk to you,” he said as I brought him a drink.
“There’s nothing to talk about. I cheated on you. I can’t even say that I’m sorry. You had become a big brother to me, not a boyfriend. I was bored, so I moved on.”
“You moved on?” he asked sarcastically. “I’m sorry if no one informed you, but you don’t normally move on until you’ve broken it off with your boyfriend first.”
Suddenly I became extremely confused. I know I said that I wasn’t sorry, but I felt sorry. I loved Craig, and I didn’t want to hurt him. I decided to talk to him; I owed him that much.
“You want to get some ice cream at Sandy’s?”
Sandy’s was our old spot. When he’d finished helping his grandfather on the farm in the summer, we’d always go to Sandy’s and split a banana split.
“That’d be nice.”
I don’t really know how it happened, but while we were at Sandy’s, the new me concealed herself. Before I knew it, we were holding hands, and I felt sixteen again.
I wish this was the part where the story ends, and I say that we lived happily ever after, but we all know that’s not what happens in reality.
My doppelganger showed up about a month after Craig and I reunited. Craig’s friend Damien started texting me, and before I knew it, we were having a full-fledged affair right up under Craig’s nose. This time I didn’t want to get caught. I knew the only person that had stood by me was April, so I invited her over.
“You’re doing what? Oh, no. I’m not helping you do this again. You stop it right now, and tell Craig the truth. You need to stop hurting that boy. “
“I may have meant it before, but this time was an accident.”
“Let me guess, you fell down and he fell into you? I may have thought that you were going through a phase before, but this is enough.”
“You’re right. I will end it.”
I texted Damien as soon as April left. Unfortunately my timing was off. Craig and Damien were on their way to a friend’s, and Damien was in the store. Craig picked up his phone and saw the text. We know that betrayal begins with trust, which makes it hurt that much more.
Before Damien could get in the truck, Craig was yelling, “What the hell, man? Now you’re banging Liz too? I could’ve expected her to betray me, but not you. Take me to my house now.”
The truck was silent after that. Damien had no explanation for what he’d done other than I was an easy lay.
When Craig got to me I was also unaware of what was coming.
“I don’t know why I thought you could’ve changed. There’s nothing for you to change. This is who you are — a whore. I never want to see or hear from you again.”
I knew I deserved what he was saying to me, but I didn’t want to accept it.
“I’m sorry, Craig. I didn’t mean for it to go as far as it did.”
“I don’t want to hear it, Liz. You sicken me. You’ve been sleeping with my best friend. It doesn’t get much worse than that.”
You’d think that this episode would’ve been the last in my drama series, but it only made me worse. I started sleeping with more and more guys, until I couldn’t even remember their names. I think I even slept with a married man, but I didn’t care.
After a few months, April finally came around. She asked me to go to Fizolli’s for lunch.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” I answered.
“Short and sweet, hmmm … I know you well enough to know that’s a lie. You may not know it, or you may not be ready to admit it, but this is not who you are.”
“That’s not what everyone else thinks, so I’m just proving them right.”
“Well, just remember that for every ‘right’ that you prove, that’s one more you’ll have to live down when you’re done. What you’re doing is not very classy.”
“I don’t care about being classy, and besides, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, right?”
“That’s disgusting, Liz. I don’t even feel like I know you anymore. I miss my friend.”
“I miss you too. I may be having fun, but it’s not the same without you. Can we just agree to be friends if I keep my sex life separate?”
“Sure. That actually sounds good, and maybe you’ll come back from the dark side if you hang around me.”
“Don’t push it.”
Having a girlfriend back slowed me down a little, but Fate has a way of pushing you in his direction. As I was leaving class one night, I dropped all my books. This cute guy with glasses (as a little girl I had a thing for guys with glasses) stopped to help me pick them up. His name was Jeremy. He walked me to my car, and he was a complete gentleman, opening my door and all.
The next week after the same class, Jeremy was waiting on me. He asked if we could get some coffee. We really hit it off, and it occurred to me that this was the first real date that I’d had as an official adult. The other guys that I’d been with didn’t even bother to take me out. We’d get some beer and hit the back roads. Jeremy asked me if he could take me out to dinner that weekend.
When I got home that night, I got a weird text from a strange number — “You need to leave the nice ones alone, slut.”
The only person I could think of would be Craig, but I certainly wasn’t calling him, so I ignored it.
That Friday night, Jeremy picked me up from my apartment at 7:30, and we went to my favorite Mexican restaurant. The date was perfect. We talked and talked. At the end of the night he even walked me to my door like in the movies. I wanted him to come in, but I decided to take it slow. He propped his arm up on the wall and leaned in to kiss me, and I turned so that he could only kiss my cheek. I didn’t want to give him any idea of how fast I could be.
As soon as I got inside, I got another text — “I’m warning you, slut, stay away from Jeremy.”
I called my mom and told her what was going on. Time paused as I waited for her. It felt like a Lifetime movie.
She showed up with one of her police friends. She grabbed my phone and practically shoved it in his face.
“This crap will not be taken lightly by me,” she said as he perused the texts.
“Have you tried calling the number?” he asked.
“Yes, but it just goes straight to a recording that says the voicemail has not been set up,” I answered.
He took a little flip notebook out of his shirt pocket just like they do in the movies and started writing the number and the texts down.
“I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, you don’t need to be staying here alone.”
“Mandy will be back tomorrow. She went to visit her aunt in Gulf Shores. Mom, can I stay with you tonight?”
“Sure you can, honey. Grab some clothes.”
Jeremy and I were getting along so well, that I should’ve known something would happen to mess it up. One afternoon while I was at work, “Sharon Secrets” got on my Facebook wall and wrote this: “Sleezy Leezy, everyone should know that you’re dating Jeremy Jones, but what Jeremy doesn’t know is that while he’s away, this cat is out to play. I saw your little rendezvous with you know who.”
This post tagged Jeremy and stayed on my Facebook until my shift was over at 8:00. April was the one who called me to warn me about it so I’d be prepared for Jeremy’s reaction. I called Jeremy as soon as April hung up.
“What, Liz? Are you calling to deny the post? I knew you had a past, but I’d hoped, just like Craig, that you’d actually changed. This is a small town, and I should’ve known you’d get bored with me since I wanted to take it slow. And to think, I actually liked you and thought you liked me.”
“Stop, Jeremy. I know I’ve done some shady stuff, but I promise you this isn’t true.”
“I wish I believed you.”
“Have I ever given you a reason not too?”
“Well, you don’t really have to. This is enough. Even if this isn’t true, I was kidding myself to think that I could trust someone like you. Apparently you did something pretty bad to this person for them to be airing your business like this. I’m sorry, Liz, I’ve got to go.”
I stared at the phone for a while. I wanted to text that number back, but Officer Pitts had told me not to respond. I felt helpless. This was torture.
I called April and told her I needed a girl’s night. She said she’d bring the popcorn and our favorite movie, Pretty Woman. When I hung up with her I had another text.
It was my mystery stalker — “How does it feel, bitch?”
I shut my phone off.
April hugged me when she walked through the door. “Wow, whoever that was really has it out for you.”
“I don’t really want to think about it right now. Can we just chill out and watch the movie?”
The movie didn’t distract me like I thought it would. Half way through the movie, the tears started streaming down my face. I really did like Jeremy, and I didn’t want him to hate me, but there was nothing I could do about it. This person was sabotaging my life, and I didn’t even know why.
The next morning I woke up before the sun rose with ideas beaming through my mind. I jumped out of bed, made myself some OJ and didn’t even bother with brushing my teeth before I grabbed my dry erase board and a marker and went to work. I was always good at making flow charts and deducting, so I decided to do some detective work and figure out who my stalker was. The problem was that this person had to be connected to someone I’d slept with, and that list had gotten way too long.
Luckily, I had made all of them my Facebook friends, so I consulted my computer. 16. That was my count. I hadn’t really even thought about it until then. Facebook made it easy for me to see if any of the guys had girlfriends, which wasn’t something I was too concerned about before.
Two hours later, I was exhausted, and I felt like I’d gotten nowhere. Then my message alert went off.
Stalker — “How’s the poor little slut doing today?”
I couldn’t take it anymore.
Me — “Fine. How’s the psycho stalker doing today?”
Stalker — “Just peachy.”
Me — “Why are you doing this?”
Stalker — “Just having a little fun.”
Me — “I’m not amused. If I’ve done something to you, why don’t you stop being a coward and come face me?”
Stalker — “Because, unlike you, I’ve got a little class.”
Me — “Nope. You’re just crazy.”
Stalker — “That’s it, bitch. I’m coming for your throat now. Beware.”
I knew this was only making matters worse, so I left it at that. I called my mom and told her. She was pretty mad at me for responding after I’d been told not to, but she said she understood.
I went back to my charts and tried to take a different perspective. I got out my phone and wrote down all the texts. I went to Facebook and got the message from my wall. Then it hit me. “Classy.” I’d heard that somewhere recently.
I texted her to see if she’d meet me for lunch. She agreed.
She was waiting on me when I pulled up to Fazolli’s.
“So, how are you feeling?” she asked.
“I’m just peachy.”
“Well, good. Someone else will come along, and hopefully they’ll trust you.”
“I’m not sure about that if my best friend keeps lying on me.”
“What are you talking about, Liz?”
“Don’t play dumb with me, April. I know you’ve been the one stalking me.”
“I have no idea what you mean. Why would I stalk you?”
“I don’t know, you tell me. It certainly wasn’t as classy as you thought it was.”
She twirled her straw around in her Pepsi for a few moments.
“Well?” I insisted.
“I’m not sorry. You didn’t deserve Jeremy. What you did to Craig was horrible. What you did to me was horrible. This is a small town, Liz, and when your best friend goes rogue whore on you, people look at you the same way. I wanted your past to haunt you because you don’t even have any regrets.”
I fumbled for a couple of dollars to pay for my drink and laid it on the table. I needed to get my thoughts together.
What’s that old saying? With friends like these, who needs enemies?
The weeks after that were good for me. I didn’t have any distractions, so I studied more and got ahead in school, and I picked up some extra shifts at work. I transferred my loneliness into activity. I saw April a few times in passing, but we both just looked the other way.
On January 3, 2010, I packed my bags and unloaded my savings account to move away. I’d rented an apartment in Montgomery, and I started school January 9. When I went to my car, Jeremy was standing there with a single red rose, my favorite.
“April told me everything.”
“Yes, even how she didn’t really understand what you were going through, but that she knew it wasn’t you.”
“Well, she’s still crazy.”
He looked handsome standing there in his button down shirt with the sun shining in his face.
“I’m leaving, Jeremy.”
“Your mom told me. I wish you wouldn’t.”
I wondered why he’d come at this very moment. Maybe it was fate.
“Do you still want me after everything I’ve done?” I asked.
“Yes. Everyone has a past. It’s the present that counts.”
I actually think I felt butterflies in my stomach as he smiled down at me. I stood there contemplating the paths before me. I’d never really had that overbearing desire that most people have to escape small towns. I was pretty content with being close to my mom. Jeremy was sweet and gorgeous with his wavy brown hair and dimple in his chin. But something wouldn’t let me stay.
“I’m sorry. I can’t, Jeremy.”
I watched him standing there with that rose still in his hand as I drove away. The sun might have been beautiful on his face, but it was even more appealing to me suddenly on the open road.
Julie Respress is a graduate student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. She has lived in Atmore, Alabama, all of her life, so is well versed in all things Southern. She likes to spend her time curled up with a good novel, especially Virginia Woolf. She currently teaches Developmental English part-time at Jefferson Davis Community College in Brewton and, as a member of Sigma Tau Delta National Honor Society, has helped orchestrate writing outreach programs for students at the university.