The picture-taking portion of the evening was a serious affair. We allotted at least an hour for it, as if we were working with professional photographers and not our parents. Parents, who were dutifully snapping pictures of their daughters. Daughters, who at 16 had faces that were beginning to lose their youthful roundness. My dress that night was dark gray and tight, with zippers cutting across the front. I had on black faux-leather pumps that would become so painful as the night went on that I’d end up taking them off and hobbling around the dance floor. In my purse, I had stashed a water bottle filled with vodka that we would all pour into our sodas during dinner.
It was our junior year in high school, and by this point, we had become pros at taking the pre-dance pictures. We didn’t always take pictures at Audrey’s house, like we had done that year, but the four of us always stuck to the same portfolio of poses. The first: a classic smiling picture, then, one with robot arms, one silly one, and one with us standing totally still and expressionless (aka. The Stepford Wives).
We spent hours getting ready for those dances. Huddled around a large bathroom mirror, singing songs off Hazel’s iPod and practicing our skills with liquid eyeliner. We had both the vanity and the insecurity that only high school girls possess.
During the 11 years of friendship the four of us girls shared, Audrey had always acted as our leader. Bringing us together, making plans, making rules. She had always been beautiful and there was never a short supply of men who would work for Audrey’s attention. But before Sam, she had never fully given her attention away; as her girlfriends, we always held onto a piece of it.
At the dance, I remember standing alone in my own slightly intoxicated haze, watching clearly intoxicated kids grinding up against each other in the sweaty cafeteria. The windows had fogged up and uncomfortable chaperones stood at the edges of the room. I wondered why they let these teenagers do what they were doing. I realize now that they were just letting us make our own mistakes.
I don’t remember spending much time with Audrey at that dance. But, there is a picture of us, sitting together on the party bus, with neon glasses on our faces. We are smiling, but we aren’t holding each other close like we used to. The distance was already beginning to form.
At Winter Ball the next year, Audrey wouldn’t be in our pictures. Three now, instead of four. And yet, we still struck all the same poses.
Ten years later and Audrey shows up in my dreams. A ghost. An unresolved piece of my teenage years that refuses to fade away. In those dreams, I flash back in time. Back to the night when the three of us sat in a bedroom and told her we didn’t want to be her friend anymore.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that we were young. That we had our own scars and hurt and we had begun to question our leadership, as teenagers are wont to do. I try to remind myself that we couldn’t have been more adult about it, because we were still just kids.
But, If I could go back and tell my teenage-self one thing, I would tell her that one day I would understand the balance between having a strong relationship and holding onto friendships. I would tell her that it isn’t an easy balance to strike.
Even now, I can’t wrap my head around whether things could have been different. Because ten years later, and sometimes I see pictures of Audrey and Sam together and it feels like the whole thing happened for a reason. Ten years later and I’m proud of where I am. Even still, my heart hurts when I imagine what Audrey must’ve thought, looking at those pictures of the three of us at Winter Ball, striking the same poses. Three of us, instead of four.
Izzy Martens lives and writes in Washington, DC. Izzy is the creator of the online journal, Joke Life, where she publishes stories about the beautiful contradictions and hard lessons this life provides. Izzy studied Creative Nonfiction at Colorado State University and her work has appeared in The Metaworker, Rooster Magazine, Thought Catalog, and Elite Daily. You can find her hanging out at coffee shops and finding green spaces to explore. Read her stories at www.jokelife.com.
Izzy believes in the power of creativity and mindfulness to help spark positive change. She would love you to consider donating to One Common Unity. A nonprofit organization in D.C. that breaks cycles of violence and builds compassionate, healthy communities through the transformative power of music, arts, and peace education. Donate here: onecommonunity.org/.