There was only one year during high school that I had a group of friends whom I felt I belonged. This was Year 8, and their names were Grace, Fran and Jess.

Fran, who floated about during Year 7, was an outspoken girl with short, curley hair. I am not quite sure what drew us together other than the fact we were both misfits. Fran was a bright student who excelled at maths, science and languages, though when she stole one of my ideas in art class and claimed it as her own, I took it her creative abilities lagged behind. She came from a German family, her father a gruff, disciplinary man who scolded Fran’s sister. Our families went to the beach together one weekend, and I spent a night at Fran’s house. Her bedroom was on the second storey of her house and we shared her double bed. Under the moonlit sky which seeped through her bedroom window, we talked about what made us scared. Fran called me her adorable little munchican, and when other girls at school had a go at me, she had a smartass come back to swing at them.

Jess was a tall girl with long blond hair and brown eyes. She was pleasant but reserved, a cat lover, and the most girly of us all. She lived in a comfortable house on the edge of a steep hill, a house I only visited briefly once. I never really knew much about Jess’s world and I didn’t understand why she didn’t give people presents for their birthdays, but the group was not complete without her.

Grace was an attractive, fit, olive-skinned girl who liked to tease. When I first met her, she kept asking me why I said “oh yeah” all the time. “Oh yeah” was my attempt to succeed at the socialising game. I learnt that if I could acknowledge what a person had said and keep them talking, they might stop paying attention to me and the fact I had no idea what I was doing. It looked like I could never win, but instead of reacting to Grace picking apart my mannerisms, I asked her in return why she kept asking me this question. Grace and Jess were already friends when Fran and I met them. This, perhaps, is why Fran became my best friend. Yet it is Grace who I remember the fondest, a joyous friendship developing out of our mockery. A friendship as unpredictable as Grace’s favourite colour: brown. We played badminton together, and that summer we went to Adventure Park, a theme park an hour’s drive out of town, with our families.

Having a group of friends sheltered me from the storm lurking beyond: teenage girls trying to assert their place in the high school pecking order.  As long as we have others around us, we are safe. Until our very tribe turn on us, that is. Year 8 was the honeymoon period, the calm before a storm.

It was Year 9 when the storm hit, ripping apart everything. First I lost my mental health. I could not sit my AMEB piano exams or get into the school badminton team as I could not perform in front of people. Then I lost my group of friends. I had signed up for the school debating team with Fran, but I didn’t have her wit, nor her confidence. I dreaded the night when I would have to stand in front of our parents and our opposition’s parents and come up with a quick response to their arguments. My mother spoke to the teacher in charge of the debating for me and said I needed to pull out. While my teacher understood, Fran wasn’t so sympathetic. She stopped speaking with me, unless it was to insult me for changing our plans. She wrote nasty notes about me in class. And during class dodgeball, she erupted in ecstasy when she got me out. Our group was not the same after this, but in all honesty I had been feeling on the outside of the group all year.

Over time, the fire of Fran’s anger started to settle down. But the devastation left in its wake was unrepairable. While Fran came around to forgiving me, I could not forgive her, and I abandoned my friends for abandoning me. Fran caught me on MSN and asked me to come back to the group, that they were the best friends I would ever have. But I would not. That is something that haunts me to this day. Throughout my six years of high school, they were the closest I had to friends.

All I wanted was to be supported, to have people see the inner demons that were taking hold in me, instead of seeing me as the demon. Where were my friends when I needed them the most? Why couldn’t anyone ask me whether I was ok, or why I left the debating team? I feel as though a part of me is stuck in time, still searching for my old friends. Even though we have gone our separate ways and we are adults now I still search for Grace on Facebook and dream about her. I still hang onto the lovely rose quartz necklace she gave me. I want to pick up where we left fourteen years ago. If I were to say something to her, I would tell her that it was a silly fight we had back then.