Friday Night Knitting Club: Best Friends Forever
I shouldn’t be so annoyed by a book, I thought moodily, flipping through the pages of The Friday Night Knitting Club. The April sun brought people out in sun dresses and droves today, and the second sleeve of my sweater was coming great. I wanted to read this book, what with all the hoopla about Julia Roberts playing her in the upcoming film about it.
Georgia annoyed me the most, I realized; she’s glad enough to get the help of wealthier friends, but she disdains anyone who doesn’t fit into her little circle. Darwin, for instance, the vocal and annoying graduate student—apparently, Georgia finds it convenient enough to extend grace and kindness only to those with a bank account larger than her own. Or, only to people who grovel at her feet. “Omg, Georgia, you’re sooooo amazing!”
Her relationship with Cathy annoyed me. It’s like, “Wah, I’m a struggling single mom with a biracial daughter, look at my evil rich friend who betrayed me!’ It was obvious to me that Cathy was trying to make up for what happened. For her betrayal. She didn’t mean it.
I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me so much until I remembered one word—a name.
I tried to think of a pseudonym to replace Elizabeth, but I could think of no other name that wraps itself around her personality so well. Perhaps it’s because we met when we were both 9-10. Perhaps it’s because…well, we were Best, Best Friends.
We attended the same church, and her quiet, slightly sardonic air both impressed and attracted me. One corner of her mouth twisted into a slight, mocking look that made her seem much older than she was. I’m not sure what she saw in me. Maybe our mutual obsession with horses. Maybe the fact that neither of us fit into the well-dressed clique that looked down on girls who tore their dresses—or who didn’t have the kind of money that they did.
For any close friendship, sleepovers are a must, and I stuffed my backpack with clothes to take to her house. I didn’t care about the fact that her brothers and sisters came to church barefoot, dirty and with filthy tangled hair. Elizabeth was my friend, and I accepted her perpetually pregnant and ineffectual mother who inevitably handed off the latest baby for her to hold. As with everything, Elizabeth took this in her stride, and I did, too.
Even when I went to their house, it didn’t really hit me. The general squalor. The little children’s bed stale with urine, dirty clothes everywhere, literal dirt—not clutter, but dirt—filling the house. No air conditioning. Flies. Many, many cats, and always kittens, usually tiny, skinny things that died because of their inbred genes. And Elizabeth, with her odd eyes; her pale blue eyes with the dark outer ring and her reddish-brown braid down her back—among it all, best friends forever.
And this made me happy.
We rode a bucking horse together and didn’t fall off. We chased a stubborn cow, and she impressed me with her fearless attitudes towards threatening chickens guarding their nests. At night, we shared the same bed giggling over shared secrets and speculations about crushes. Always, we swore that we would never, ever ever tell anyone what we said.
But then one day, I did tell.
It was a hot, hot summer day. We were 13 and 14, I think. Before, the squalor didn’t bother me so much. I felt good that I was friends with her, because I knew that a lot of people looked down on her family. Suddenly and perhaps because of my new-found maturity, it hit me. The sheer dirt that coated the children. The glass and nails littering the lawn. I remembered another summer visit, filled with the stench of a rotting dog that her parents didn’t bother to bury.
Maybe the heat got to everyone, but over lunchtime, Elizabeth’s mother roused herself enough to scold her. I think it was about…dishes. A sinkful of unwashed dishes. I shifted uncomfortably as she reprimanded her, Elizabeth making sulky replies. Then an upraised hand, and her mother slapped her on the face.
I burned with shame-for Elizabeth, for myself, for the utter callousness of a mother that would slap her daughter in front of a guest.
That day, Elizabeth did something that only the very closest, the very best friends of all would do. She pulled a shoebox from the top of her closet, and found her diary. And she opened the dollar-store lock, and she let me read it.
I flipped through the pages and read many typical entries. And I read entries that shocked my very innocent soul. She swore! She said damn. She said…she said that she hated her mother. The scrawled letters distorted with the emotion of the writer, they expressed what you never saw on her cool, collected exterior. Even now, Elizabeth simply sat and watched me, her expression unchanging, the same smile on her lips, as if she wasn’t baring her soul to her younger friend.
And when I was done, I promised that I would never tell.
In the still of night, at home, I became overwhelmed with the emotion. The dirt, the pain, the stolid mask that covered Elizabeth’s face when her mother slapped her. I started to cry. And I broke my promise. My best friend promise. My deep-down loyal promise—the fierce and giggly and yet utterly sincere loyalty that girls share. I talked to my older sister. I sobbed, not just for Elizabeth, but because I was betraying my friend. I took her trust and slapped her across the face with it. I sobbed, because it felt like I was excising a precious part of my soul and stomping on it with my foot.
The adults showed sympathy. They knew the apathy of her parents. They had tried to help. But, inevitably, nothing really happened. It didn’t help when Elizabeth’s father heaped blame on me—not directly, I wasn’t there—by saying that since I promised not to tell, then I shouldn’t have. He cared less about his daughter’s pain then he did about condemning me. I said that I knew what I did was right. Somewhere in my head, I knew that I did right. But deep inside, I nodded to what he said.
When we ran into eachother again, I waited in utter terror. Waited for a dramatic denouncement, like the movies. In one sense, I wanted her to reject me. Spurn me, tell me what a rotton person I was. It was silly of me; drama was never her style.
She said hi. I said hi. We went our ways. The same smile, the same cool expression graced her face. Inwardly, I cowered. I couldn’t surmont my own ‘betrayal’, and I did something very cowardly. I just…let it slide. We didn’t have sleepovers. We didn’t talk much. But she didn’t hate. Never did. We still go to the same church, and I see her sometimes. Logically, I know that I did right, and it doesn’t upset me so much.
But sometimes, I still wonder what she’s writing in her diary.