When I was six years old, my parents decided to move from Newcastle to Kirkby Lonsdale, meaning I had to change schools once again. I had already done that several times and as a result, always found it difficult to make friends. I ended up going to a school on the outskirts of Kirkby, called St Johns, it was so small that each year had no more than seven pupils in it and after I joined the school, only two pupils in my year were girls. The other girl in my year, Kenna Robertson, somehow, became my best friend. At first, I didn’t get along with Kenna. I was a kid from a council estate in Gateshead and she was the daughter of a posh, neat-freak mother, who drove around in a convertible and wore heels when she wasn’t drunk. I had only ever seen women wear heels when they were drunk. We came from different worlds and at first, the ass kisser that she was, used to get me sent to the headteacher a lot.
I can’t recall when it was, or what happened that made us become so close, we were so young. However, I do remember when we were ten years old, we went on a school trip to the Lake District and since then, we were inseparable. People came to know us only as a duo and one name was never said without the other. Even our own parents couldn’t tell us apart on the phone. Back then, our differences seemingly meant nothing – “Kenna and Zelda” had become all we knew and that bond remained strong when we first went to high school and suddenly had to learn to be a member of a classroom with more pupils than the whole of our old school.
Over the years, Kenna adapted to it all with much more ease than I did. I found being around so many people overwhelming and with the school being in an area of mostly upper-middle-classes, I found it very difficult to fit in. I became the artsy gothic type, who spent her lunch breaks as a student librarian, reading Hemmingway and Kenna, became the girlie fashionista, who spent her free time talking about boys and clothes with the most gorgeous girls in the school. Eventually, Kenna and I drifted apart. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t be more “normal” so I could hang out with her and her mates at school, but I never wanted to be the friends of people who have always laughed at me and most importantly, who’s personalities simply irritated me.
We stayed friends of sorts. Still hung out sometimes after school, but she started to turn into one of those girls. “Ben said that if your nose wasn’t so big, you would be really hot. Maybe you should get a nose job?” That was the day that I learned I had a big nose. “OMG, your bras are so padded!” A cleverly worded way of saying, “OMG, your tits are so small!”. “You have got really broad shoulders for someone so skinny.” AKA, “You have the figure of a teenage boy.” Why would anyone turn to their brunette “best friend” and say, “Did you know that men prefer blondes because brunette haired girls are boring?” – I am still trying to work that one out. It ended up becoming a rarity where I could have fun with her. We were never silly together anymore, we didn’t laugh all of the time and I stopped looking forward to seeing her because every time I did, I would leave feeling like my ego had gone ten rounds with Tyson Fury. She had a unique ability to be able to criticise everything that you are, whilst making it sound like she is only doing it because she cares about you. Although we were no longer known as “Kenna and Zelda”, there was still love there for each other. She was like the sister that I never had, she irritated the hell out of me, I didn’t like her most of the time, but I still love her because she is my sister.
I was fifteen years old when she told me that she would be permanently moving to New York with her family. I was devastated. Since the age of six, Kenna had been by my side in one way or another and I couldn’t remember what life was like without having her in it. She was excited about her new beginning and I was heartbroken that my only friend was leaving. She organised a meal with her closest friends and amongst all of the girls who had made my life hell for the past four years at school was myself, wearing a ridiculous dress and pair of shoes that I had to borrow from Kenna because she didn’t want me to arrive “dressed like a freak”. The evening went by with me sitting at the corner of the table furthest away from Kenna, surrounded by girls talking out shoes and how big they thought the waiter’s penis was, which was, funnily enough, the most interesting conversation that was spoken all night. I strategically got nice and underage tipsy so I could tolerate their nonsensical ramblings and cope with the grief that Kenna was getting on her plane tomorrow morning and I had not been able to speak a single word to her yet.
As the night came to a close, Kenna’s mum arrived in her Mercedes, with the roof down, to pick up Kenna, her two bitchy friends and myself and take us back to hers for one last sleepover. I was dreading it from the first time it was mentioned. We all went to get changed into our pyjamas which I thought would be the one time with these guys that fashion shouldn’t be an issue, but of course, I was wrong. I walked into Kenna’s room, a place that used to feel as comfortable as my own but now I suddenly felt unwelcome. I glowed bright red as the other girls laughed at my Winne the Pooh pyjamas, whilst they were all dressed in silk night dresses. I genuinely didn’t think people actually did that. Once the animalistic laughing subsided, I handed Kenna back her dress and shoes. She unfolded the dress and held it up to inspect it and shouted, “You have stretched it with your fat, man shoulders!” The other two girls jumped up off the floor, rushing to her rescue, agreeing that it is forever ruined, like brain-dead Yorkshire Terriers trying to impress their master. I stood there and simply said, “I am done.” and for a moment, Kenna and I held a gaze which said more than we could ever have put into words. We had become two girls clinging onto the memory of how close we used to be and now, one of them is ready to let go.
Kenna left to go to New York and my life went from bad to worse. I was on a downhill spiral, two loved ones passed away, I started making friends with the wrong people, taking drugs and dropping out of college; whereas Kenna’s life was only getting better. She was the new Queen Bee at her school, she looked like a model on facebook and her grades were better than ever. I knew she was okay and doing well, so I stopped looking after that. For fourteen years I hadn’t seen a single picture of her and hadn’t spoken to her, yet not a day went by where I didn’t think about her or miss having a friend as close as she was. So at the age of twenty-nine, I reached out to her. I sent her a message on Facebook, telling her that she was always in my thoughts and that I would like to be able to get in touch with her, ending the message saying, “I will always love you like a sister.” I believed that too many years had passed with us not talking, we were once so close and knew one another better than we knew ourselves and now we are in different parts of the world without a single clue on how the other is doing. To my surprise, Kenna replied. She told me she too, had missed me and wanted to get in touch but didn’t know how to find me (in a world of social media and her seemingly being a pro at this, I found that very difficult to believe, but it did serve as the first indication that Kenna had not changed one bit). She told me she would be visiting the UK to see family in the New Year, around the time of my Birthday and that she would love to meet and “catch-up”.
The only picture I had seen of her as an adult was her display picture on Facebook, she had made her Instagram hidden and hadn’t accepted me as a friend . . . so I wasn’t sure what to expect or if we would recognise each other straightaway. However, as soon as we saw one another we knew. Kenna approached me smiling awkwardly with her arms outstretched and we hugged for the first time in fifteen years. I began to cry because no matter how toxic our friendship had become, she was my sister and I still loved her. To my surprise, she began to cry too then, as if she had suddenly realised that the moment was too nice, uttered, “OMG, You are actually kind of pretty now”, in the same backhanded compliment way she had always said things, but with an American accent now.
We spoke about the years that had passed between us and what different paths our live’s had taken and with every one of her judgemental eye-rolls and verbal jabs, I thanked my bad luck for giving me the experiences that I have had, because Kenna may have explored the world, but she was so lost that she still felt the need to put other people down. She hasn’t been through anything to understand the value of life and what is important. She simply doesn’t understand me. No amount of designer clothes and holidays will turn you into a person you can be proud of. This was the day that I got closure. I realised I didn’t need to listen to Kenna. Every nasty word she had ever said to me had made me stronger and I am proud of who I am. Cut toxic people out of your life.