Unlearn Everything

There’s a reason we’re not close with former high school friends

 Ned Fulmer, the wife guy, loves bad ideas.

More stories from Sabrina Ftouhi

For those readers that are blissfully unaware, I’m from Wausau. Ah yes, the 715, “the dirty ‘Sau”, Whiteyville, whatever you prefer to call it, that’s where I was born and raised.

Wausau was not only a sheltering mainly white environment, but it is also a place where some of our worst qualities were left to fester.

Almost every one of my friends had an unspoken goal to get out of there as soon as possible.

Well, almost everyone. 

Now, I can be the first to admit, I was not a saint in high school.  I’ve done my fair share of questionable and slightly problematic things.

The hope is that we all change after high school, and I genuinely believe we all do. 

That doesn’t mean I can’t still hold a grudge though.

I definitely lived out the best and worst times of my teen years with my friends. We filled each other’s teenage dirtbag eras with plenty of drama and spontaneity.  

I really thought our friendships would last forever after graduation. I know, I’m laughing too. 

Anyone can agree that emotional distance from situations serves as a catalyst for growth. In the paraphrased words of Jennifer Lewis, “If you sit in feces too long, it stops smelling”. 

Nothing could be more factual for what I’m about to unpack here. 

As a reader, if any of my experiences ring some alarm bells about a person in your life, I have one word of advice for you: run.

Like I said before, I wasn’t my most evolved self back then, but at least I wasn’t a monster. 

I had this one friend, I genuinely thought she was my twin flame for a time. We did everything together and went everywhere.

Let’s call this friend Patricia.

Patricia had a crab-like mentality for as long as I knew her. If she can’t have something, no one can. 

She would always remind me and another friend that we were likely never going to be successful in getting out of Wausau. 

Five years later I realized that I was clearly projecting.

When other friends and classmates would tell me their concerns about the way Patricia was treating me, I brushed them off. The thought of having any kind of confrontation with her made me spiral.

If only I’d known that I was experiencing a toxic level of codependency. 

Anytime I would come to her with an issue, I would always end up apologizing, I hated the idea of her being mad at me and she knew it.

Patricia was a diamond- level manipulator who made me believe that voicing my concerns was inconsiderate and that my feelings were an inconvenience for her.

That was just a regular Tuesday though. 

Being a manipulative friend is one thing, throw in raging jealousy and unchecked control issues and you have the ultimate problematic parasite.

Speaking of problematic, internalized misogyny was admittedly a very present theme in our friend group.

I’m not proud to say that I participated in the slut shaming of one of my friends for a time. Patricia, however, made it a point to turn the slut shaming into a crusade against all of us.

Patricia was the type of person who knew how to set boundaries but couldn’t respect when others set them.

She said that she couldn’t trust our friend to not be promiscuous, so she felt the need to look through all of our phones. 

“Give me your phone, I need to see your photos and texts,” became a routine conversation during our lunch period.

If we said no, Patricia might as well have taken a gas can and threw it in a fire pit. We must have had something to hide if we didn’t want to let her snoop. 

What horrible friends we must have been to refuse her. 

It was almost expected that she would hit, scratch or pull hair to get her way. 

I didn’t realize this was abusive behavior at all. All friends were supposed to get physical at some point. That’s why I didn’t feel bad when I had shut a car door on Patricia’s leg.

It wasn’t just our phones she felt entitled to. She adored taking our personal belongings just because she thought it was funny when we got mad; then she got mad at us for being mad.

For our senior year, Patricia’s family decided to host a foreign exchange student from Tunisia. Being that I’m a first-generation Tunisian American, I was beyond excited. 

But once again, Patricia wasn’t having it. She told me that I shouldn’t get excited. This was going to be her foreign exchange student and hers alone.

“Don’t think you can just be friends with her. You can hang out with her whenever I say you can”.

The possessive, controlling jealousy of it all created wounds that still run deep to this day. So much so, I have only recently become aware of potentially mimicking some of her patterns on a much smaller scale.

Being in a tightly knotted codependent friendship for over a decade made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to have self-esteem.

All beef and drama aside, I find time to be unequivocally hilarious. As the years went by, everyone in my old friend group successfully made it out of Wausau, except Patricia.

I’m not here to shame any college grads for staying at home with parents because the financial struggle is very much existent.

It’s just not surprising to see her there because she was so convinced the rest of us would fail.

If my old friend Patricia happens to stumble across this I just want her to know that I truly am grateful for the good times and the important lessons that I’ve experienced with you.

The best thing I could conclude with is that people do change and evolve, for the most part, hopefully, Patricia meets the criteria.

Ftouhi can be reached at [email protected].