Monday, May 24, 2010

Frenemies

The word "frenemies" has entered our ergot to illustrate the expression "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer." There was one such girl I knew in both high school and college who fits the description, and for the sake of anonymity, I will refer to her as Nemesis, a mythological reference that is both appropriate and accurate. We were civil to one another, had one really close friend in common, and hated each other's guts.

Nemesis was in Hopkins' class, that is to say she was a year older than yours truly. We had never gotten along, since she viewed anyone of a relative IQ as competition, whether we were interested in competing or not. She especially loathed Hopkins because they were the same age and directly competing for teachers' attention, praise, and acknowledgement- not to mention awards and scholarships.

If you had any weakness she could exploit, she'd zero in on you and that would be the end of it.

Hopkins spoke with a slight lisp that became increasingly pronounced as his level of anxiety elevated (one particularly vicious English teacher exploited it during his senior year, resulting in the release of a small snake in her classroom by some of our friends). Nemesis would often sidle up at random moments and start baiting him, just to see how much she could embarrass him. I quickly got in the habit of sliding in between them, backing her down, and demanding, "Don't you have anything better to do?"

Since they were a year older, after she graduated I never gave her a second thought. It was a tactical error I came to deeply regret my sophomore year in college.

Through a series of unfortunate events, 1988-89 was a pretty bad year in my world. It began with my stupendously humiliating washout of sorority rush at SFU (both my parents were Greek), followed two weeks later by my younger sister's near-fatal car accident. The boy to whom I was engaged was angry that I spent all of my time in class or attempting to run my family's household from a hundred miles away, decreeing that I'd be dropping out to marry him that summer- so add to the litany of woe the end of my first engagement.

Oh, and Hopkins was back home. I'm not revisiting it right now, but that was another self-encapsulated disaster on-the-hoof. Timing is everything and by gum, we do not, nor have we ever, had it...

One Friday night, I schlepped over to the campus grill to get something to eat and visit my roommate, who'd taken a job there. We talked for a minute and I left, noticing that the other girl on-shift was a sorority sister of Nemesis's who dated a boy in my cousin's fraternity. I said hello to her to be polite. I thought nothing of it until the next day.

Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., I called home. While I was talking to my mother, my roommate rolled over in bed and said, "Oh, hey, the funniest thing...you should tell your mom...that sorority girl I work with, the brunette? She wanted to know why I spoke to you last night. When I said you were my roommate, she goes, 'Oh, wow, everybody knows she's a huge whore! One of my sorority sisters went to high school with her and she was the town tramp!'"

Nothing could've been further from the truth. I burst into tears. My Achilles' heel had always been my reputation, and although no one back home would've believed any of it, I felt a paralyzing fear that this lie would somehow reach Smalltownland, and God forbid, Hopkins. I had walked into it blindly and I couldn't see a way out.

The only sister from my hometown in that house was Nemesis, and it suddenly became clear why even my good friend Ashley, for all her pull in a much better sorority, couldn't finagle a bid for me. I was even rejected by my mother's sorority, and on closer inspection after learning of the rumor, I found out that they'd ditched me because of my "bad reputation"- Nemesis roomed with their rush chairperson.

Nemesis had bided her time for two years in order to inflict maximum damage. SFU might be huge, but it's an SEC school and has all the bells and whistles of a small Southern town- she had damned me with an outright lie. For the rest of my undergraduate career at SFU, I endured pointing and whispering from students who did not otherwise know me, all because I had dared challenge her in high school.

In each class, there's someone who keeps folks from coming to the reunion. In Hopkins' class, that's Nemesis. I wonder how many people will avoid their 25th next year because of her- but I will be there...you'd better believe I'm not backing down from her ever again. I paid too much for it many years ago to let it slide that easily.

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