“I’m so happy for you,” I lied through my teeth. “This is just amazing.”
We were sitting in my kitchen, eating the three-day-old curry I wanted to get rid of. Clara (obviously not her real name) is one of my closest friends but she makes my life insanely hard sometimes by being better at things and having the nerve to talk about it. That day, she had just told me that she was working with a producer who was a household name in the industry, recorded a live session in some expensive studio, and was working on the release of her EP that I knew was going to knock it out of the park.
It’s not that I didn’t have accomplishments of my own – this happened pre-corona, and at the time of the conversation, I was still scheduled to do a work placement at ‘The Guardian’, I had just performed at my first spoken word open mic, and had started playing with a cellist. But all these milestones paled in comparison to Clara’s. She had a manager for fuck’s sake! And it wasn’t one of the music business students from our uni, it was a grey-haired man with glasses, the epitome of professionalism. Eating the soggy curry, I regretted not having made dinner that night. At least I could have shown off my cooking skills.
Clara and I didn’t become fast friends when we met. First, I resented her for several months because she looked more professional, sang with more confidence and better technique, and I didn’t want to admit to myself, let alone to her, that there were musicians out there who were better than me. Never mind that she was a completely different artist and that comparing yourself to anyone will almost always end badly.
Our first foray into friendship came when we both got drunk after the last day of term before Christmas. I become a nice, honest person when I’m tipsy. A couple drinks in, I blurted out: “I am really intimidated by you. I’m sorry if I’ve been a complete bitch, you actually seem quite nice.” We talked about female friendship, and how common it is for women to be competitive and jealous of each other when we should be holding each other up (which should be a blog post in itself, really). We went clubbing together that night, and we laughed so much that Clara said she’d peed her pants a little when we took the tube back to her place, and I crashed in her bed wearing her sweatpants.
We became friends after, and a lot of the bad blood between us (that was mostly in my head, anyway) disappeared. But every time she brought up her successes, it still bothered me, even though I tried to be happy for her. There was a voice in my head asking myself whether she was showing off, or telling me that stuff to make me feel incompetent. Every time I talked about my achievements or my problems, they didn’t seem to matter as much as hers. And then I started asking myself whether I was jealous, or if that feeling of discomfort at her good news came from a deeper place – a crack in our friendship.
I was thinking all that while Clara talked away, ripping off a piece of naan bread and dipping it into the curry. It all happened in my flatshare in Battersea – the perfect flat on the fifteenth floor where you could see the London Eye from the window if you squinted. I still mourn about giving up my room due to COVID. We had tea and exchanged books, and when she left, I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt like a complete loser.
I spent that weekend avoiding her texts and thinking about my life. I called my parents, who wisely said I should talk it out with Clara. Obviously, I ignored that advice. I journalled about how annoyed I was at Clara’s perfect life. I talked to my flatmates and some of my friends about it. Literally anyone but Clara herself. And then I went to one of her gigs to watch her play. And she was perfect.
She was playing with her band and the spotlight was flickering on and off, reflecting on her golden jacket with puffy sleeves. She was singing a disturbing song about death as the audience was jumping around to the beat and ignoring the lyrics. Her face was constantly assuming weird facial expressions that I inadvertently found myself copying while singing. Something about it all made my heart melt. I had seen her play so many times, but I only thought about the first time and how much she’d grown since we first got drunk together and danced to ‘Sk8ter Boi’ by Avril Lavigne. That’s how mothers felt, I thought.
A while later, we were standing by the bar after another gig of another friend, and I said I hadn’t talked to her because she was barely there when I was going through a terrible time with my ex-boyfriend, and she said: “You penis! Why didn’t you just tell me?” And I thought: she’s right, why didn’t I?
Now, when we call (because the pandemic has scattered me and my closest friends all around the world and talking by the bar at a gig of a friend is not an option anymore), she tells me her good news, and I tell her mine, and sometimes, I feel jealous. For example, now, she has a lovely boyfriend, and I have a cold sore on my lip. But I’d never want a friendship where my friend can’t tell me something that made her happy. Sometimes, it’s terrible timing. Sometimes, it makes me feel like I’m not good enough. But I’d feel even worse if she didn’t have all that good stuff to tell me. Of course, I feel jealous! But maybe that’s okay. I can be jealous and insanely proud and happy, all at the same time. It’s hard to be a woman as is, so I want to be her safe space. And I want to know everything.