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A Letter to My Best Friend's Voices

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You know me well, but I hardly know anything about you.

When you first arrived, I didn’t notice you at all. I didn’t know you were seeing everything she saw and hearing everything she heard. I thought there were two of us, but now I know there are more. Had she not told me you were there, I still might not even know. Please understand: this is unsettling.

I’m not upset you’re with my friend at work. When we hang out, either invigorated or agitated at the end of the day, she’s usually still talking to you when she walks in the door. Sometimes she’s chuckling, like you made a joke that really hit the mark. You must know her co-workers as well as she does and exactly what she thinks of them. It’s been a long time since I had a work friend like that. It must be a nice thing to have.

Other times, I catch my friend repeating something I can’t make out – but insistently. I imagine she’s practicing an argument on you; a complex idea that needs to be explored, trying to fix some highly specialized issue. Honestly, if her internal monologue is as intense as her arguments with real people, better you than me.

I’m not upset she has conversations with you, that you know her family better than I do or that you’ve witnessed all her mistakes and achievements. I’m sometimes glad you’re there for her.

Other times I’m less impressed by you. It’s like when I call a friend, and our call is cut short by a child’s sudden and urgent need. You start to hear noises in the background, my friend says she have to go and you briefly hear a youngster’s screaming before the line cuts out. I imagine a similar scene when my best friend hears you. I can’t hear your insistent shouts over the conversation, but I notice the drifting attention and the sudden change of mood. My friend can’t ignore your presence any more than a parent can ignore their screaming 2-year-old. Two-year-olds, however, eventually grow up. No one can babysit you so my friend can have a weekend’s peace. Whenever it suits you, you interrupt, and leave only when you’re satisfied. You, the voice of anxiety and doubt, hold her hostage.

These hostage situations upset me. As a teenager, I felt like a hostage on car rides with my parents. We’d get in the car, the radio would get turned off and there I was – in the hot seat until we reached our destination. The car ride was uncomfortable, but short-lived, and I choose to believe my parents did this with good intentions. You offer no such assurance. There’s no predicting when or where you’ll show up, or how long you’ll batter her with unwelcome opinions. Worst of all, one of you has, at times, suggested for her to act wholly out of character, to take decidedly malicious and harmful action. You have invaded safe places and terrorized her when she was most vulnerable.

Yet, she protects you. She pretends, to everyone else, you’re not there. She mutters to herself, and when I – thinking she was talking to me – ask, “What?” I’m answered dismissively. “Nothing,” she’ll say. “You know I hate it when you point out I’m talking to myself.” In those moments when I suddenly become a third wheel, I have to remind myself you are part of her. It’s strange and sometimes hurtful, but it seems counterproductive to try to broach the subject.

To her, you are ever-present and nearly tangible. An impetuous creature, sometimes soothing, sometimes harmful, helpless and incapable of changing. To me, you are nondescript — a mere shadow of a fly on the wall. I originally — mistakenly — thought you were the “self” in “talking to oneself.” Now I understand you are an impatient editor, hovering over the rough draft of my friend’s thoughts as they’re being written, ready with a broad red marker.

Editor, Friend, Terrorist, Wallflower, Infant – I don’t know what you call yourselves. Would it even help to name or count you? Despite your manners, I accept my best friend comes with an entourage. A close circle I can’t see, talk to, hear, thank, tell off or joke with. It’s OK – just know I’m blaming all the stolen lighters on you.

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Originally published: October 14, 2015
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