The Best Friend Question

By Blanche Li, age 13, Diablo Vista Middle School, Danville, Calif.

Credit...Illustration by Melinda Josie

“All right, class, settle down! Your last Spanish essays were the worst I’ve read in my 22 years of teaching. So today, I’m requiring you to be specific. You must use new vocabulary to write about your best friend. I don’t want to hear that your best friend is nice. I want to know how. Begin, and no talking!” my Spanish teacher, Señora Morales, shouted at the class.

I sat with my pencil hovering over my paper and then slowly began to write in Spanish: My best friend is Hayley. She’s a soccer champion who colored a red streak in her hair to support her team. She plays cello, like I do, and we car pool to our orchestra every Saturday. She uses funny English words like “shenanigans” and “bamboozle,” and describes angry people as “ballistic.” We’ve been best friends since fourth grade.

This is my standard response to the “best friend” question, no matter who asks. The problem is, Hayley isn’t real. I had to come up with a fictional best friend because there have been too many writing prompts asking me to describe this person, too many moments when I’ve replied, “I don’t have one,” and too many times I’ve heard, “Why not? Are you just not the type of person who wants a best friend?” It’s as if people think I’m too introverted and gloomy to even bother. Truth is, during school, I’ve watched with envy the best friends who ice skate together and the best friends who call each other nicknames like “Homeskillet” and “Key Chain.”

Of course, I have plenty of acquaintances — those who I talk to at lunch about conspiracy theories: that the school’s macaroni and cheese has neither macaroni nor cheese and that our beloved janitor is actually God. But the friend who I can depend on when my bully calls me “Bleach” doesn’t exist.

I’ve often wondered, does not having a best friend make me defective? Should I be embarrassed that the only people I hang out with at the farmer’s market are my parents? Should I be worried that my primary cure for loneliness is my cats? Will I have to face heartbreak and failure alone?

Not having a best friend means I have no one to text late at night when I can’t fall asleep and no shoulder to cry on when I fail my orchestra audition. Sometimes I tell myself, “You’re such a baby; just toughen up. There’s no way you’ll ever succeed because you can’t deal with the smallest issues in life.” Considering these thoughts makes me lock myself in my room, sit against the door, and take psychology tests on my phone to prove why I am defective.

But as I scroll through my phone, I ask myself, what would Hayley say to me right now? As an imagined character, Hayley can say what my mind tells her to. So Hayley sits down and puts her arm around me. Her lips curl slightly upward, and her brown eyes zoom in on my face. She tells me, “You can only do so much, and bringing yourself down uses most of the ‘so much’ you can really do.”

When Señora Morales hands back my paper describing Hayley, she tells me, “She seems like a great friend!”

“Yeah,” I grin. “She’s the best friend I’ve ever had.”