Black Girl Sisterhood
*Anaya was my best friend in my late teens and early twenties.
Not my best best friend like the girl I’ve known since I was two, but the one I grew to love and cherish throughout that rough transition period into early adulthood. We’d often say that we didn’t know what we’d do without one another.
Anaya grew up in a rough neighborhood, and was the first generation daughter of West African immigrants, the second oldest child among three brothers. Her parents were conservative Christians, so much so that her Mom tried to convince her to get circumcised — which has since been banned as of this May — and learn not to be such an unorthdox child so she could marry a nice African boy from their village back in the motherland.
Every time Anaya wanted to spend the night at a friend’s house she was chastised.
“Only prostitutes spend the night away from home,” her mother would say. “If you sleep somewhere else, make sure to bring your bed.”
Her mother didn’t understand our meaning of modern sisterhood — smoking weed, frequenting house parties, chilling in nature, rocking out to Andre Nickatina, raiding each other’s closets, and digging for late-night snacks inside that one friend’s well-stocked freezer when we had the munchies. We talked about good sex and bad relationships, shady politicians and colonization, colorism and abnormal psychology, poetry, philosophy, and books.
But most of all, we confided in one another about the weight of young, Black womanhood in a world that didn’t seem to value us — in a world that often seemed hopeless. And how we could better ourselves despite the trauma in our lives.
But Anaya’s home life had been turbulent from the beginning.
The chaos in her childhood left scars, and with the familial expectation of being the perfect female child when everything around her was so imperfect, she was under immense pressure. She was also a two-time cancer survivor by the time she was 15. I admired how the guns, drugs, and violence in her hood didn’t dissuade her from her goals; she was a good kid and a brilliant mind. She seemed to shine in the face of adversity so somehow, I thought she could do no wrong.
One evening I was reviewing recent purchases on my credit card bill and discovered some bogus charges.
I immediately called my bank, and luckily, they were quickly dismissed. After being instructed to report the fraud to the police, my father walked me to the local station. As the cop and I read through my bank statement, I stared hard at the recipient address under one of the charges.
“Do you have any idea who this person could be or who the person living at this address is?”
“Have you ever let any friends or family members use your card?”
“Never. And no one I know would do this.”
And then it hit me — it was Anaya’s home address, and the recipient’s name was hers with the letters switched around. A chill went down my spine and my stomach began to ache.
“Oh, my God, this is my friend.”
“Well would you like to bring her in or for us to go and arrest her?”
“She needs to be arrested,” my father said.
“Dad, I have to call her.”
“No! Anaya did this? She’s responsible.”
“But she’s my friend!”
I couldn’t bear the thought of having her arrested for a felony, especially after all those conversations about Blackness and the police. So I ran out of the station and called her.
“Was this you?” I screamed.
“Yes,” she responded after a long sigh.
We both began to cry.
“How could you do this to me? I’m your best friend. We need to talk about this right now.”
She agreed to meet me. It was a Saturday evening around 6 or 7PM, and the buses from her side of town were few and far between. When she arrived on her bike I was shaking.
We sat on the sidewalk, as she cried with her head in her hands.
“Why? I just don’t understand. Why did you do this?”
“Dude, I’m broke, and if Nicole or Victoria had the money, I would’ve taken it from them.”
“But why couldn’t you just ask me for help?”
“I don’t know. Shame. Embarrassment. I saw an opportunity and I took it.”
My bank statement had been lying on the kitchen counter in plain view one day, and that’s how Anaya saw it. She wrote my information down and purchased clothes from Forever 21 and paid a few bills.
“If it had been cash, I would’ve bought food for the house. But I don’t know, I’m a girl, so I guess I bought clothes.”
To this day, it’s still difficult to know the truth, but that was the first time I knew betrayal.
Anaya and I didn’t speak for several months, but I continued to sit behind her in our Introduction to Psychology class that summer. I stared at the back of her head, watching her take notes, wondering who she was.
She opted to make a donation to an African charity in the amount she stole. But the money wasn’t the issue. This was about betrayal. And I toyed with turning her in. Periodically she’d text begging me for forgiveness and not to report her. Anaya also sent my father a hand-written apology, but she was no longer allowed in the house. Despite her circumstances, I knew she had a bright future ahead of her, and I wanted her to be a part of mine. So I didn’t turn her in.
A year or so later, we eventually patched things up.
It seemed like the rocky turn in our relationship had fostered a certain resilience between us — we were like sisters. Anaya often talked about the pros of keeping someone in your life trumping the cons of cutting them off. And that’s the way I saw her. She was my sister and I loved her.
As time went on, I’d get these random eerie messages from her telling me how glad she was that I was still in her life, how humbled she was at my capacity for forgiveness, how much she admired and respected my resilience, compassion and understanding nature.
I still loved Anaya — probably even more — but a certain cautiousness eventually began to linger.
My real best friend, the one who’s been down since the baby years, sat in shock at her mother’s dinner table when I told her family what happened.
Her father and mother and sister just stared at me, unable to finish the dinner on their plates.
“You’re so fucking forgiving, Angela. Damn, I don’t think I could ever do that.”
I still don’t know how I did, but I knew why.
Anaya’s tolerance, support, love, understanding, and friendship meant so much more to me than her deceit. And her Blackness too — it was important for me to know Black sisterhood. She helped me feel comfortable when I felt Black people would never accept me, and all the white folks in my life just did not understand.
I could confide in her like no one else and she often understood like no one else. Even when she didn’t, she wanted to, and she was there.
But I began to reconsider our sisterhood, especially after she repeatedly told me how she was a triflin’ ass person and an opportunist for regularly cheating on her boyfriend and other nearly-unforgivable shit I won’t name.
Then that Maya Angelou quote entered my mind:
“When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.”
And I began to wonder if I should take heed.
Over the years I’d become increasingly skeptical of her trustworthiness. I saw her do terrible things to people she loved and didn’t want to give her another opportunity to hurt me. I constantly asked myself if she was a good person, and I couldn’t answer the question because I didn’t know. But I didn’t like who she was showing me.
So I decided to let Anaya go — peacefully with little harm done. No malice. All love. Just moving on.
Maybe it was a long time coming. Either way, it hurt to know she could never be replaced. I’m guessing she too felt the same after posting a timely Facebook status after we last spoke.
“How do you you let go of someone so thoroughly woven through your soul?” - Nancy G. Brinker
I can’t be certain it was about me, but I’m pretty sure it was.
Several months later, I found a quote by Audrey Lorde in my Facebook inbox.
It was from Anaya, and she’d switched the I, for you. It read:
“You have a duty to speak the truth as you see it and share not just your triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigated pain. It is important to share how you know survival is survival and not just a walk through the rain.”
I had shared with her all those things — everything — but I wondered how anything could be sacred after such a terrible violation. I wondered how I could feel so close to someone yet be in constant fear of their betrayal — after Anaya had not only showed me, but told me she couldn’t be trusted.
I’d known this all along, but I never wanted to act on it. Now the benefits Anaya always talked about were finally outweighed by the disadvantages. I will always love Anaya, but trust eventually became more important to me than confiding in the irreplaceable Black girl I loved.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the subjects.