A few weeks later, I got another message from Bri*. I’d finally started feeling better about everything, and she just had to let me know, yet again, how sorry she was? Oh, and this time, she told me that she missed me, and that Josh and I were cute together.Great, thanks a lot.The problem was that I missed her too. I wanted to believe that her apology was sincere. It was far more believable than the last attempt a couple of months earlier. She wanted to talk in person. I did not. Well, I did, but I also got that terrible gnawing feeling in my stomach when I thought about it.Ultimately, I decided not to. I didn’t trust her, and I didn’t want to be friends with her. There was no point in meeting in person. Her apology was enough; we had some sort of truce, however precarious it was. That was that, and it was fine.Besides, I had made a new friend. Her name was Kari. We’d actually met years prior and had run into each other ever since. She had been at the Drag Show, and we got to talking. Turned out that her birthday was the day after mine, we were both lefties, and we’d actually mistaken each other for ourselves in photos on Facebook. We were written in the stars.We met up for a drink. I told her all about what happened with Bri and Joshua. She and Bri shared a lot of friends, so I was slightly paranoid that she would immediately go back to their lair and tell everyone exactly what I’d said. She returned the favor and told me what she’d heard about Bri’s version of the story. I had, naturally, been painted in a not-so-great light.What we really bonded over was our relationships. We resembled each other to a freaky extent, and our relationships were not excluded from that. She told me all about this guy, how much she loved him and the problems they were having. I was so glad that I had found someone who finally understood.Sure, I’d talked to my other friends about Joshua. They listened to me go on and on and discuss and dissect any problems we had. Kari was different though. Kari was in love the same way I was. She got it.As I listened to her talk about her boyfriend though, I realized it wasn’t quite right. As in, ugh, this guy kind of sounds like a jerk, but I can’t judge because I’m on the outside and don’t know the whole picture. I reminded myself that my relationship was similar. It probably sounded not-so-great to others not involved. But I was on the inside, and we may have had problems, but it was ok. I wasn’t in a bad relationship.That, my friends, is what denial looks like. This was the first time, though, that I had the slightest inkling that maybe things weren’t as ok as I was convincing myself they were.There was nothing particularly wrong or bad about my relationship with Joshua at that point. We didn’t get to see each other as much as I would have liked; mainly on weekends. He had to work at a ridiculous hour in the morning, so sometimes I would drive up on weeknights just to spend some extra time with him. He occasionally returned the favor.We would Skype almost every night and talk about our days. I would do or say something that he liked, and he would just look at me with those wistful eyes and tell me he missed me. That always made everything ok. That look at those words. Nothing else mattered, because I knew how he felt.He wouldn’t say it, though. Those three words. I couldn’t understand why. There were so many times when he wanted to say it. The time we were out with Ryan at dinner and I just couldn’t see the appeal of the bacon dusted fries. Josh is the only other person I know who feels that way.“Yes! Thank you! God I – “ and stop. We all knew what he was going to say. God I love you. But he wouldn’t.I could see that he wanted to. Lying in bed, we always talked about our secrets. When we couldn’t talk, we’d just look at each other. He loved me, and he wanted to tell me, but he couldn’t, and he was sorry.But I needed him to say it.It was different this time. So much had happened. Too often Bri popped up in my mind. Certain things didn’t quite add up, and I tried to ignore them. I’d rather not know the answer than get one that I didn’t like. It was hard to move past it. He was having trouble in a different way, but we didn’t talk about that. The difficulties that I had only made it worse, because he was the subject of them.As we continued trying, it progressively got more difficult. I didn’t quite trust him, with good reason. On top of that, he was going out more with some other friends, some of whom may or may not have been girls.(They were.)This one girl, oh she was hilarious. He tried re-telling me this joke she’d told, something vulgar and just so funny. But no, they were just friends. She wasn’t the one I worried about, anyway. She wasn’t interested in him, and that was cool. But he was sure as hell interested in her. How did I know? Because he liked to talk to me about her. He was always friends with girls though. Always had been. I understood, although I was starting to just a bit less. I was glad he was making new friends. But couldn’t I go out with them sometime? No, no. He wanted his own separate life. He didn’t want to share everything with me.Well Joshua, that’s the point of being in a relationship. We both knew he didn’t really want to be in one. But he was trying so hard, in his own way. We both were. Why? I don’t know. We were both unhappy.The difficulties didn’t matter though. One night I was joking about how my presence was an intrusion on his video game playing. Except I was serious and we both knew it. He looked at me, completely earnest, and said no. No, you’re presence is never an intrusion. That look was enough. It was always enough.All the other signs that I chose to ignore, because hey, what was I going to do, break up with him?*Some names have been changed. If you know what happened, you know who I’m talking about, and if you don’t, then it doesn’t matter anyway.
In my quest to become more social and outgoing, I agreed to go to USM’s annual Drag Show with Talia*, a girl I’d had some classes with and had meant to see more all summer. That’s not exactly a typical weekend activity for me, but I had filmed the show the year before with Bri and a few other people, and it was fun.Oh yes, it crossed my mind that she would be there this year. She was friends with a lot of people involved. Did I want to see her? Oh hell no. No way. Ugh. No.The feeling that I got when I imagined seeing her can only be described as what it would be like if my insides were putty and being stretched to their breaking point. My heart pounded like my diet consisted entirely of McDonald’s.I was curious, though. What would happen when we finally saw each other again? It was inevitable that we would. For some reason I thought it might give me some sort of closure. Realistically, I knew it probably wouldn’t be good. Still, the almost paralyzing anxiety I had at the thought of seeing her wasn’t as strong as my addiction to the drama.I knew she would be there that night, and I didn’t want her presence to prevent me from going out. I may have hated the idea of being in the same room as her, but I wanted to prove that I didn’t care, that I was totally ok with it.Prove to whom? To myself, maybe. To her, definitely.Joshua thought that I was crazy for going. I tried to get him to come with me, reasoning that Ryan would be forced to hang out with him. Despite my constant attempts to reconcile them, Ryan wasn’t very interested. Progress was being made, but I would have hardly called them friends.That may have been my argument, but the real reason was for Bri to see us there together. I was angry at her and it was still a competition. I wanted to remind her that I had won.Right, because being obsessed with a girl who you hate is definitely winning.Josh isn’t an idiot though, and he knew what I was doing. He told me I shouldn’t go. As much as he wanted to be in Ryan’s good graces once again, he refused to play that game. He wanted nothing to do with Bri, and he wouldn’t go.Ok, fine. I’d get the next best thing. I asked Ryan who he was going with. No one. I invited him to go with Talia and me. Apparently he hadn’t talked to Bri for a while, so it would be an interesting night for him as well. He agreed, and we met up with him at the show.Since he and Bri had broken up, I would check up on him once in a while. We had talked a lot about what had happened. We had gone out with a bunch of my friends for Halloween, when Josh was stuck house sitting. Turned out that Single Ryan was really awesome. I did like him, and I wanted to be friends. But I was still using him, and that’s just no bueno on my part.I was with Talia, her girlfriend, her sister, and Ryan. I felt safe enough, though it was admittedly uncomfortable. That whole gay community? Yeah, that was definitely Bri's territory. I had a couple of friends, but I wasn't part of it, and I imagined that I was not very popular. That was her scene, and she knew it.I pretended that I wasn't scouring the crowd and constantly check the doors for her. My heart definitely did not stop when I saw her. I certainly did not notice how wonderfully pissed she was that Ryan was sitting with me.I won.Initially, she had dated Ryan and was friends with Josh. Then the four of us were all a fun little group. Then I was cut out of that group, and she was dating Ryan while pursuing Josh. Then I was back in the picture. Now I was dating Josh and was friends with Ryan, while she was finally on the outside.Karma’s a bitch, and I was glad.We weren’t sitting anywhere near each other during the show, but the event was hosted at a hotel, and there was a bar. Naturally we all slowly trickled over there. Still early in the night, I was having a drink with Ryan. He went to the bathroom, and Bri appeared with a friend, literally inches away from me. Just like she’d promised, she acted like she didn’t know me. More accurately, like I didn’t exist. I returned the favor.She was with some tall, funny looking dude with not so luxurious locks of hair. The guy she was apparently sleeping with/dating/whatever. A guy that Ryan also just happened to hate. He played it off well. He said it didn’t bother him. Maybe it didn’t. He was always a rock, the calm one who knew how to exist. He was better than all of this.With the “invisible girl” act, the night was uneventful. It was fun, if not slightly weird. The most dramatic moment was when I almost ripped Bri's hair out of her head after she flipped it in my face. But that was it.Josh thought I was insane for going out that night. I think it was masochism. This was the first taste of drama I’d ever gotten in my silly little life. It was miserable, but it was also exciting. For once, I wasn’t watching events pan out in a TV show or reading about them in a book. When I decided to date Josh that spring, my life changed. I was dumped. My friend had stabbed me in the back. In less than a year, I had felt passionate love and extreme hate. I was dealing with the consequences of my own actions, as well as others'. I was finally experiencing what it was like to live.Before this, I was doing what I was supposed to do, how I was supposed to live life. Straightforward. Graduate from school, move to a big city, get a good job, find a nice boyfriend. Be successful. Get married. There's nothing wrong with that life, and I still want all of those things. I was going about it the wrong way though. I was on autopilot.Finally, I wasn't anymore.I cannot fathom how some girls live like that, constantly creating that kind of drama. It is wholly arresting and just utterly exhausting. Yet I completely understand. It’s intoxicating. It’s even exhilarating. It’s a fascinating game of manipulation.I played this game well. I was the one who had been wronged. I was a good girl. Anything I did was only as a result of being betrayed, of getting sucked into Bri’s web of lies. I even had myself fooled.I was very good at pretending to be an innocent little darling.*Some names have been changed. If you know what happened, you know who I’m talking about, and if you don’t, then it doesn’t matter anyway