Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cyber Launch Party Day 19: The Ballad of a High School Friendship

Welcome to Day 19 of the Ballads of Suburbia Cyber Launch Party! For all of the details on the party including guests, the daily contests and the grand prize drawing be sure to read the information at the beginning of Day 1's blog.

GCC Interviews
I'm doing my Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tour this week so there are a bunch of interviews with me and I'm sharing the links with you if you are interested in checking them out (good questions were asked, it was fun to do) and if you want to spread the word about them, you will earn extra contest entries. So here's today's:

Interview with me on Sara Hantz's blog

Interview with me on Shanna Swendson's blog

Today's Winner:

Each day I am announcing the winner of the contest that was posted one week earlier. Today's winner gets Ballads of Suburbia Taffy! And that winner is... Kristen from blogger! I will email you for your address shortly! Remember to enter last week's contests! Each contests lasts one week!

So today I'm going to reclaim my blog and tell you/sing you another little ballad...

My past two ballads, a little bit on the dark and sad side. They were Truth and they needed to be sung. They also both gave insight into some aspects of the book I wanted to speak publicly about. But there is another part to the story--to both of the stories I've written actually--that is very worthy of discussion: the friendships. In Ballads of Suburbia, Kara and her friends basically are a family. In I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Emily is nothing without her best friend Regan. So today, I want to tell you

The Ballad of a High School Friendship

All I want is you to stand by my side
We've been through everything
We'll be sisters 'til the end,
What's broken we will mend
Boys will come and boys will go,
just like street cars...
-"All I Want" by Civet

There is a picture that has hung on my wall or sat on my nightstand for fourteen years now. Since my friends may not want themselves plastered on the internet, I've opted not to scan it, but I'll describe it to you. On the far left is Katie. She is fifteen. Her hair is half black and half blond. The look on her face is the look you always get when you take a picture of her: you can't tell if she is smiling or preparing to punch you. I am beside her. My arm flung over her shoulder. I'm wearing the pink and blue striped gloves I wore all the time back then, with the fingers cut off so I can easily light cigarettes or scrawl something down in my notebook. Katie is reaching back to touch my shoulder and squeeze Polly's hand. Polly's on my other side. She's 17. She's wearing a black wool cap and has long black hair. She's smiling in that truly genuine, effusive Polly way. Smiling so wide, she will laugh any second. When I write about real smiles, I always think of hers. Thea is on the far right. She is 15. She has a brown bob and her smile is reflected in her eyes. Thea has the kindest eyes of anyone I know. You can tell she gives the best hugs on the planet just by looking at her.

I'm 16 and it is the fall of my junior year. I know this because of our hairstyles. Soon we will all cut our hair shorter. Katie will go so far as to shave everything but her bangs. Polly will cut off all the black. Sometimes her hair will be brown, sometimes blue. My hair in the photo is long and brown with a blonde streak in it. Soon it will be short and all platinum. I know it is late fall because Katie is in the picture. She got sent to boarding school briefly. But now she is back. This is probably why all of us are smiling under a bright blue sky on what looks to be the perfect fall day. When we were together, we were able to smile despite the Terrible Things that each of us was dealing with on our own.

Katie is, was, and will always be my best friend. I met her for the first time when I was in eighth grade and she was in seventh. We went to different junior highs, but had common friends. We spent one Saturday afternoon at North Riverside Mall together, shoplifting. Yes, I put that in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. One of very few real life details I fictionalized, but a friendship that starts with shoplifting is just too perfect not to use. Of course I changed a lot about it. She never stole me a necklace for example, but I never forgot her because she was this badass twelve year old Korean girl in an Anthrax t-shirt.

We didn't become close until two years later, when I would meet up with her again; she was the lone tough chick hanging out with a group of boys I'd started hanging with. I can't pinpoint the moment when we became best friends.... Wait maybe I can. Maybe it was when my abusive boyfriend decided I couldn't be friends with her anymore and to rip us apart, he made me give her a stuffed animal of hers that he'd had (they'd dated before) and he'd completely mutilated. There was this look in her eyes when I gave it to her, a look that overshadowed any anger or hurt she might feel, a look that said, "I know you're stuck and I'll back off, but I will be here. I will always be here."

And she was. I don't even remember talking about it, but after Asshole and I broke up, there she was. And she helped me put the pieces together. She was there all the way through my madness, at my absolute craziest when I was talking to fireflies in plastic playground tunnels. And I was there for all her stuff too. Which I won't go into because it's her ballad, not mine, but I'll just say it was capital B Bad. We were the kind of girls who walled off and pushed everyone away... except for each other. Left to our own devices, we probably would have self destructed, but together we put out each other's fires. We survived. More boys would try to come between us, as well as gossip and lies, but we put that bullshit aside.

"Boys will come and boys will go,
Just like street cars..."

I met Thea next. She was in my gym class the semester of the abusive relationship. She was incredibly softspoken. You had to listen closely, you had to listen hard, and that was good because Thea always had wise things to say. She was also quite the artist. She drew me a picture that semester, of a girl on a bridge and below it she wrote, "Build bridges not walls." The drawing broke my heart and pieced it back together again. I was a girl who'd spend her whole life building walls. Thea's soft voice broke through. She reached out her hand. She was my bridge out of darkness.

Last summer, I saw her for the first time in years at the funeral of a very dear friend. I was afraid to go up to the coffin and say goodbye to him. After I did, I turned around so blinded by pain I couldn't see anything. Except Thea. She hurried toward me and embraced me. She's smaller than me, but I've never felt such strength in a hug as I did in Thea's that day. That's always how her hugs were, propping me up. And she could always make me smile at even my darkest hour, like she did that day, leading me outside to the lawn of the funeral home and offering a flask. "Bourbon?" she asked in her sweet little voice and we all giggled despite our great grief. And we passed the flask and the cigarettes around.

"We'll be sisters 'til the end,
What's broken we will mend"

I don't remember how I met Polly. Most likely through Thea, since Thea and Polly were counterparts in much the same way Katie and I were. Probably at a park, but really it's not important. Once I got to know Polly, I began to fall in love with her like you do with a favorite band or someone you just admire and respect so much. She became my big sister. I'd always wanted an older sister, but never had one. She filled that void. She inspired me to write, to learn, to dream. She was often the only one who could stop me from doing something stupid. She always listened. She always had wisdom. And she was just Polly. She'd chosen her own name. She was completely her own person. In the teenage world where everyone tried to mold themselves to fit, she didn't. She exuded self-confidence (even if she didn't feel like she did).

She went away from us first because she was the oldest. And it hurt really bad. There are raw journal entries about how I miss her and how she's changing and how I just don't understand... But then six months later when I went out on my own, I totally did. Polly was the trailblazer. She still is. She's the only one of us who is a mom and she's amazing at it. In addition, she has an important and often difficult job, working to help the disenfranchised. Her devotion to books, to making the world a better place still inspires me. And when I'm feeling sorry for myself, she still has this keen ability to kick me in the butt and remind me about all the I have going for me. She's every bit the incredible woman I knew she'd grow up to be.

"All I want is you to stand by my side
We've been through everything"

Back in high school, I think we all wondered if we'd ever grow up. I know I did. We went through so much together. Broken homes. Broken hearts. We fell in and out of love. We dated each other's boyfriends (and somehow it was only a little weird). We discovered what it was to be a teenage girl together. We discovered feminism and our own voices. We did 'zines together. Polly and I were the more political ones; like what Lisa Simpson would be if they ever let her be a teenager, riot grrrl Lisa Simpson. Thea was the artist. Katie wrote poems and short pieces thick with imagery, full of hidden meaning. We drank tons of coffee at Denny's. We spent endless hours in parks or on the phone or passing notes that asked for or offered advice. We exposed each other to new music. We planned to start a band but never did. We had those moments where we were so unbelievably close, you couldn't see where one girl ended and another began.

We grew apart. The end of high school/beginning of college time brings growing pains. You don't want to be one with anyone, you want to be you, you, you. I was wild and angry. I drowned myself in the bottom of a bottle. I made mistakes, I lied even to the ones I loved most because I couldn't bear their disapproval. We grew apart, but we found our way back.

Ultimately I think this bit from a poem I wrote about my girls back when I was 16 still rings true:

Each time one of us falls, the others grasp her hand
And nurses her back to life again.
My sweet sisters, separate wounded hearts,
Together they beat loud and strong.
I am girl, I will rebuild, and I am not alone.

Good friendship will help you survive anything. So this ballad is for my girls, all of them, not just my high school girls. Thank you.

Today's Contest:
Today I'm giving out a signed copy of BALLADS OF SUBURBIA and Ballads taffy! Share the candy with your friends.

To enter just leave a comment about today's ballad, maybe talk a bit about your dearest friends.
+1 for blogging/tweeting/etc about this blog
+1 for comments on the GCC interviews
+1 for blogging/tweeting about the GCC interviews
Just note your additional entries in your comment. Winner will be chosen at random on Thursday August 13.

Tomorrow's Guest:

Tomorrow, Kay Cassidy, author of The Cinderella Society will be guest-blogging. So please come back to see what she has to say!


Melanie said...

Unfortunately, I'm not the type of person who has many friends. I do have a few, though, and I love them more than anything. They're the best.

runningforfiction said...

i have a lot of friends, but then i have my best friends. kayla, emily, and emily. and i love them so much. we just help each other through everything. our friendships aren't perfect, and we've all fought with each other (Actually, one of the emily's i've never fought with.) there's been rough times, but...the good times, they're so good.

runningforamsterdam @ hotmail . com

Kristen said...

Wow that was really moving. Reminds me of the tearing away I had from some friends in high school. How some it's still rocky waters, but how others just make things all better whenever I see them.

Great ballad, I'm looking forward to more this week. :)

Kristen said...


Tweeted :)

Bianca said...

That was a great ballad. In elementary, I always had a best friend for everything year. All the close ones, well, I actually still talk to them on facebook and such, but they they've all moved away. My best friends from middle school stayed in the district, while I moved away. I'm only a sophomore in high school and I still have my best friend from here.

infinitemusic19 at gmail dot com

What a Girl Reads said...

Great ballad! Very moving.
I wish I had such best friends. I think my best friend is my sister, actually...

* Commented on the Interview with you on Sara Hantz's blog

* Commented on the Interview with you on Shanna Swendson's blog

- Sara
sosarora_11 @ hotmail.com

marina said...

i have all of two good girl friends. one of which joined the navy and leaves in fall. me and her have more of a phone relationship than in person. we haven't seen each other in a year and a half. except for once a month or two ago. and then, there's the other girl. my dearest and oldest friend. and i see her all the time and we're like you and your friends were. we help build each other back up. we've had fights. one that lasted for the longest six months of my life so far, but we always come out together. it's always good to have friends there with you.


pepsivanilla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pepsivanilla said...

I have a group of 5 super close friends. Some of us are planing on living together when we go off to college next year. I really enjoyed reading this ballad.

forgot to say I blogged about your contests here


marina said...

i forgot to mention, other than my two girls i have all my boys. and the greatest of all my boys my boyfriend. when i didn't talk to one of my girls and the other one wasn't talking to me i had all of them to lean on. even if they couldn't tell when i was leaning and when i wasn't. they hold me together just as much as the girls. and i love all of them for it. including the girls.


WordVore Prod said...

Aww, this was such a great post! I dn't have that many friends--infact, I'm recovering from a stab I got from the best I had. Harsh.

Llehn said...

My dearest friend is my critique partner whom I found online in a chat room. We've been hanging out together for a year and we have been encouraging each other through the writing process. I can't imagine my life without her.

marina said...

i commented on the eileen cook blog interview dude.


marina said...

also, i listened to the song you quoted. it's pretty good. (and i don't like most girl singers so that means it's a high compliment.)


throuthehaze said...

Im only really close with two of my friends, Mike and Johnny. I moved out of state so I don't get to see them much and I miss them like crazy. We all went through a lot of stuff together but we made it through alive and I think that is what cemented us together.

throuthehaze at gmail dot com

Kate at Read This Book! said...

Wow that was really touching. I had some good friends in high school and they are all very nice and stuck by me through hard times.
Thanks for sharing Stephanie!

Tweeted: http://twitter.com/readingthisbook/status/3186477310

kate.readthisbook [at] gmail [dot] com

So Many Books, So Little Time said...

Friends like that are hard to come by. I'm glad you had some to help you through those years.


donnas said...

Ive never had a bunch of friends at one time, always just a couple of really close ones.

Lori T said...

Hi Stephanie~

Great ballad. I had two close friends in high school...one was my friend since the fifth grade when she moved into our neighborhood. We just clicked and while we had differences...she always was there for me and stood by me even when I was making stupid decisions. The other one...we became friends in high school and we just all meshed so well. I still am in contact with my oldest friend and at this point we are trying to locate and reconnect with our other friend.

I really only have had a small handful of people that I consider true friends and I really count myself lucky to have these people in my life!

Violet said...

Your post reminded me of my friends and the way I remember things when I look at our pictures when we were that young. Although our stories are not as colorful as shoplifting, I have a special place for each of them in my heart. Now we are all busy with our lives, most are out of the state, some out of the country and it makes me feel real bad, but thats the way life is. I'm just happy that we are still in touch and still the best of friends :)

Thanks for sharing your ballad with us :)

Please enter me

elizascott2005 at yahoo dot co dot in

Breanna said...

Another great ballad Stephanie! I liked this one. Sadly, I rarely ever see my closest friends anymore. They're all busy having actual lives while I'm stuck at home with my kids all day. But occasionally I do see them and when I do it's awesome. We always have the absolute greatest time together.

I really hope that we're all friends for the rest of our lives or at least for most of it.


Sylvia said...

I do have lots of friends, however, there are only two who are dearest to me. The three of us, well, we kinda have a love-hate relationship.. although more love than hate and I think having that kind of relationship, a love-hate one, that is, makes everything more interesting because there's not a dull moment whenever I'm with them, and I think that's what makes our friendship different and all the more special:)


Lori said...

Wow. That was an amazing blog and I am looking forward to reading your book. My friends and I have all grown apart in different directions. It makes me sad. I am the friend who will drop everything to be there for someone but most of my friends are pretty self-involved and don't give back what they take. It is what it is though and I won't change who I am just because it means getting hurt alot.

Dusty said...

I didn't have those sort of friends in high school. I had the "keep your enemies close" sort of friends. The day I had to leave the country (that is another ballad, "How I had to leave my life on the day before christmas"), I was supposed to go spend the night at one of their houses. But I just left. I didn't tell them. It was winter break, and I just never showed up for the next semester. It was months before they found out where I was.

I do have the good sort of friends, now. I found them in college. It was a big group, when we were younger. Now there is only three of us. Three girls. The rest either drifted or blatantly walked away through out the years. However, we three have managed to remain together.

Sometimes, though, I feel like we continuously drift farther away. One of us never finished college, she dropped out the last semester, and is suffering from increasingly worsened social phobia. She will dissapear for weeks, and we worry, and we talk, and we try and try to reach her, but we can't.
The other one didn't get her degree because she hasn't done her thesis. I communicate with her more, yet we don't see eachother often. We both have boyfriends (who are best friends), and and they see eachother more than we do. We are starting a bussiness together (her, her bf, and I), but sometimes I feel like on a personal level I run out of things to talk about. Sometimes.

And then there is me. I finished college and have gotten two post-grduate degrees. I left the country for 7 months to study. I just got my first job. Both of them have parents who died in the last few years. I have two parents that spoil me more than I like. Sometimes I feel like I am living a completly different life.

But I hope that I am wrong, because I really love them, because I have never had friends like them, and because I need them and I know they need me.

So, in short (I just go on and on and on... =P) what I wanted to say is: as always, THANK YOU for your entry. You reminded me of how important it is that I DON'T loose them.

P.S. I twitted about this Blog and one of your interviews =)

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

It was so interesting to read through all the comments about people's relationships with their friends. I relate to all of them in different ways. Like Melanie, I also don't have a ton of friends, but my few are the best.

Like runningforfiction, I definitely have imperfect friends, but they are certainaly still the best.

Like Bianca, I have had many friends move away.

Like Marina, I also had/have my friends that are boys and I could write a whole other blog on their impact on me. (And Marina, yes, Civet rules. They are currently my fave band!)

And Dusty, I definitely do understand what you are going through. I hope your friends become better friends.

So a toast to good friends for those of us who have them and better friendships for those who are looking to solidify them!

Alexa said...

Last year I used to have a bunch of friend, but they went off in different circles once I hit high school, but I do have one best friend now, who I wouldn't trade for anything.

I added a link to my sidebar about your blog:


Anonymous said...

This is my last year in high school, and one of the things that always comes to mind is will I still keep in touch with my friends? Hopefully, we'll stay in touch..