Derek Fisher was standing outside the door to Sandy Price’s ballet classroom. As much as he wanted to go in and see her, watching her through a filtered lens of reality removed from their relationship was far more interesting. Outside of their context, she was a beautiful, graceful, compassionate, intelligent woman who, had they never been friends before, would’ve become friends with him now. He knew that for a fact. But watching her here, through the pane of glass on the door, she in her leotard and tutu, helping teach young girls to express themselves through the joy of ballet, he couldn’t help but feel like he already didn’t know her.
And he didn’t know that she wouldn’t be his friend through a hunch, he knew because she’d told him. Over the years, especially when a substance like alcohol was present, they’d said some rather nasty things to one another, but never something that would break their friendship. Just something vague enough to leave faint scars on the inside nobody but them would ever notice. One New Years for instance, the two of them at a party at a mutual friends place, and both a little, Sandy had said it to him:
You know, if I wasn’t so sentimentally attached to you, I doubt I’d ever give you a chance to even have a conversation with me. You really kinda of suck.
And that wasn’t just on her. He’d done some shitty things to her. In more ways than one, he’d broken her heart numerous times, in various ways. Once, when they were just out of high school and looking for some sort of direction, Sandy had gone to her uncle’s in Maine to see him in the hospital, and while gone, Derek turned to her friend Erica for attention. Erica was a girl she’d known for years, a friend of hers since elementary school, and she decided to throw that all away and sleep with Derek simply because he couldn’t handle being alone for a few measly days. When Sandy returned, she cut ties with Erica and kept on being with Derek. They weren’t even a couple, and she still chose him over her.
Erica could never figure out why but Derek knew why. Her new years eve statement years later made it all clear. Sentimentality. She clung to him for nostalgia, like a scared teenager hugs their favorite stuffed animal from their childhood for comfort. She followed him around, despite being the more level headed one, the more sophisticated one, the more generally successful one. Why? Because change is too scary, and she needed something, anything, from the somewhat tolerable past to hold onto, to remind her of a time when things were okay. When she was okay. Because things, and she, were no longer okay. After a few minutes of thinking about this, he noticed the girls were getting ready to leave, and so he stepped aside so they could flood out through the doors and into the halls past him.
After they’d done so, Derek stepped into the room and saw Sandy standing at the wall, looking at herself in the mirror, preening her bangs. She didn’t smile when he entered. She barely responded. They’d become such fixtures in one anothers lives, like a favorite lamp that moves from apartment to apartment with you across the years, that their presence didn’t even elicit responses anymore. He just stood there in his beige slacks and green button down shirt, hands in his pants pockets, watching her preen and primp. After a few minutes, she finally turned around and looked at him.
“You done for the day?” he asked, and she nodded.
“Yeah, do you want to go get Sushi or something?” she asked, pulling her tutu off, pulling some jeans up over the bottom half of her leotard and tossing on a flannel over the top half before pulling her purse over her shoulder.
“Sushi sounds good,” Derek said, “You have a good day?”
“Does anyone really have a good day anymore?” Sandy asked, “People claim they hate Mondays, but let’s be honest, there’s not a single day of the week people truly enjoy. I’d rather work than have time off.”
“You want an excuse to be away from me?” Derek asked.
“Don’t start. I don’t have the energy left to become the governing body of your pity party. Let’s just get Sushi and go watch TV or something. I need to destress and relax my body.”
“Let me ask you something, when you’re younger, you have a moral conscience and causes you believe in and shit, so do you lose your moral conscience as you get older and realize it really is ‘look out for number one’?” Derek asked, and Sandy shook her head.
“I don’t know, Derek,” she said, sounding exhausted, “Probably. Does that make you a less moral person? Were you ever actually moral or just putting on a facade of morality for your peers? Who knows, honestly, dude. Everyone is fake. Everyone is an actor. Nobody really knows eachother.”
“That’s a vague, depressing response,” Derek said.
“What else did you expect from our conversations?” Sandy asked, pulling the purse strap up on her shoulder.
Derek stopped in the hallway and watched her continue walking for a few minutes, until she stopped and looked back at him.
“What?” she asked.
“I’m bad for you,” Derek said flatly, “I drag you down. I keep you at my level. It’s not fair to you.”
“Just shut the fuck up and drive us to the Sushi place, Derek,” Sandy said, and they continued on their way.
Sitting in the car, driving through the light city rain, Sandys face resting firmly on her fist as she stared out her window at the wet tree leaves dripping, she couldn’t help but internally acknowledge what he had said to her in the halls. Yeah, she’d said what she’d said at that new years eve party, but he’d said worst at her last birthday the previous year, after they both got drunk and marathoned awful sports accidents reality shows.
You are so fake, you pretend to be this, this big…god damn, like, big strong independent person but you’re so fucking scared of everything, and you refuse to admit it, and everyone fucking knows it. You’re just as scared as the rest of us, but you have to appear ‘strong’, so you refuse to admit it. You’re a fucking coward. I cannot believe you put up with me.
Sandy looked away from the window back at Derek, one elbow on the window, the other hand clenching the wheel tightly. He glanced at her and smiled. She smiled back.
Dysfunction and toxicity are two very different things. Both things said to one another by one another were very true, and forced one another to look at themselves in a new, better light. It doesn’t mean what was said didn’t hurt. It did. But when you’re dysfunctional, nothing doesn’t hurt, and you need all the help that you can get. Sandy knew Derek wasn’t perfect, and she knew she wasn’t perfect, but as she snuggled up and grabbed his arm, hugging it, in the car while driving, she knew they could both be doing a hell of a lot worse.
Misery loves company.