By Phoebe Neilson
I have two best friends; one of them is my soulmate, and the other is my shadow.
The soulmate, on the other hand, hated me at the beginning. I loved him for reasons I couldn’t discern at age six, and he didn’t learn to reciprocate until later. The soulmate lived farther away, so even once we became friends, our relationship required more effort from all parties involved. But he knew the shadow, so by second grade, the three of us agreed that it was a good idea to be best friends.
Things were solid in Elementary school and we were a happy, if pretentious, trio. The Three Musketeers, many said; that was me, my soulmate, and my soon-to-be shadow. The three of us spent hours discussing Star Wars, American history, and why our parents wouldn’t let us read The Hunger Games. We had lavish sleepovers after birthday parties, staying up into ungodly hours of the night. We were astonished when adults would lament the brevity of their childhood friendships, because we were never, never, going to grow apart.
In middle school, the shadow began to wilt.
The soulmate left to go to private school and work on his own self-discovery. I, without the glue holding together our tweenage threesome, was shunted around for three years, bouncing between looser relationships, with my shadow silently following me wherever I leaned. She was always there, but her maturity had stagnated. She still let her dad trim her hair. When I wanted to talk about politics or kissing, she acted disinterested and would change the subject to Tolkien’s The Hobbit or her favorite ski resorts. As I battled the growing pains of those middle years, she stayed stolid, plain, and small. And at age twelve, when I fell in love for the first time, with another girl, she was the only person who didn’t understand.
Luckily, in high school, the soulmate returned. He had changed even more than I had, but with his differences came connection. Freshman year, my soulmate and I were a unit, spending hours at an abandoned beach near his house, shirts off, discussing masturbation, gender, and philosophy. Instead of spilling my thoughts into a void, as I had done with the shadow, I could launch them into an echo chamber, where they were built upon the more we discussed them. I felt as if I could die satisfied after all of our conversations since I had nothing in my heart to work through when we were done.
The drawback to this was that the shadow faded even more. She was still our best friend on paper; we still had special sleepovers after birthday parties. But at those sleepovers, all my soulmate and I could think of was when we could be alone so that we could hold each other without interruptions. Our parents noticed the fading, and they tried multiple times to recruit me into wheeling some semblance of an honest thought out of the shadow. But the truth was, in the years since fifth grade, she had lost her substance.
I have two best friends; one is my soulmate and the other is my shadow. I’m trying every day to revive the latter, but I’m losing hope that I’ll be the catalyst that saves her. I shouldn’t feel such personal responsibility for making her whole, but I do because part of me knows that I watched her as she faded, and stood idly by. For years, I’ve fed the shadow with my run-on sentences and my impulsive obsessions without realizing how little she could offer me. I love the shadow, probably more than I love the soulmate. I can only hope that one day when she finds her substance, I can know her as much as she knows me.
a note from the artist-
"I wanted to examine the healthiness of change and the danger of stagnation while also cathartically writing about my relationship with two of my best friends."
Follow Phoebe on Instagram @phoebe.neilson