In my childhood bedroom that is still festooned with the vestiges of a female teenager (poems, magazine clippings, flowers tacked to the wall), there’s an old chest of drawers. In the top drawer sits an intricately carved wooden box. Taped to the inside of the box’s lid are four school photographs of my three best friends and me at age 14. A and O have mushroom-y bobs, B has the long natural blonde hair of a surfer chick, and mine is pulled back in an ill-conceived bun that when, coupled with my un-plucked and out of control eyebrows, makes for a rather unflattering picture.
Also in the box is a piece of white printer paper, several times folded and now over a decade old. This is our blood pact.
That certain day during our freshman year, we watched reluctantly and repulsed as B cut open a wart on her finger with one of my parents’ cheap steak knives. O couldn’t do it herself, so I volunteered to slice a small cut on her ankle using a disposable razor. Today, rust colored evidence beside each of our printed names bears the only testament to that moment so long ago. B’s name, since she had the most blood to give to the cause, sports a wide circle beside it. A’s appears to be chicken scratches, exact prints of the thin slice on her leg. O’s is a meager strip, formed only after several tentative, ineffective swipes of the razor blade. My own contribution was a neat, nearly perfect circle.
Below the blood and our names are the promises. The promise to be friends for life. The promise to never let a guy come between us (which, to be fair, was serious stuff back in those boy-crazy days). The promise that when one of us was happy, that we would all be happy. And the promise that when one of us was sad, that we would all be sad. It’s clearly something you create at 14 after watching My Girl, The Craft, or Now and Then too many times. But back then, we had really meant it.
Over the following several years, we proved it to each other. The day I went into foster care at 15, the necklace B took off her neck and put around mine was the thing that I clung to while drowning in the myriad that is social services. I lived with A’s family off and on for most of my senior year of high school, curling up like sister puppies on her bottom bunk when my family life was unbearable. O and I moved to Orange County, CA together at 18, slept side by side on cheap air mattresses when we couldn’t afford real furniture. When her sister died and O moved back home, it felt like I had also lost a sister.
But that was all a long time ago. It is now 13 years since we made ourselves bleed for a promise, and I no longer speak to any of them. It’s easy to place blame or feel bitter. Having falling outs, growing apart, living on separate continents, one-sided communications, so forth. They’re all excuses, trying to squeeze reason into the bizarre beauty that are the ups and downs of female friendship.
Those three women are no longer in my life. But I so deeply appreciate the space in time when they were like my sisters. When I feel that I will never have that trust and unconditional love with another female friend, I remember that I once loved someone enough to bleed for them. I possess that capability. And it means something. That’s something no one else will ever share.