Home Australia LIZ JONES: We were inseparable until she stole the boy I fancied, but when I tracked down my friend Karen 33 years later here’s why it made me question my whole life…

LIZ JONES: We were inseparable until she stole the boy I fancied, but when I tracked down my friend Karen 33 years later here’s why it made me question my whole life…

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Liz and Karen in Hong Kong in 2010, after Karen moved there; They met again in a hotel restaurant and Liz says it was like they were in a

As they say, it was love at first sight. Dark hair, huge brown eyes, long legs, tall, flat chested and super, super shiny. On my first day at Brentwood County High School, in September 1970, in grade 3B, Karen was the girl I aspired to be.

She was confident when I was painfully shy, with acne and braces on my snagged teeth. In fact, at 11 years old she already suffered from anorexia and hated my body. She was a great athlete and swimmer, while I always faked a virulent wart to avoid the locker room.

Against all odds, we soon became inseparable: united by our love of horses and David Cassidy.

We laughed together behind the backs of our teachers, all of them “spinsters” and one who was missing fingers on one hand (I only discovered years later that they had all lost their fiancés in the war; the fingers had been lost rescuing people in war). Blitz).

I especially loved Karen’s 1960s semi in Billericay, Essex, where she sometimes spent the night. It was so hot! I grew up in an old vicarage with no central heating.

Liz and Karen in Hong Kong in 2010, after Karen moved there; They met again in a hotel restaurant and Liz says it was like they were in a “world apart.”

We were away together. She corrected my math, I helped her with her English. She even smuggled us into the cinema through a back door to see Enter The Dragon, certified 18 (we were obsessed with Bruce Lee). The boys adored her and I thought some of her beauty might rub off on me.

Karen wanted to avoid the sixth form and take her A-level exams at a college in Southend. I was heartbroken and couldn’t stand being abandoned, so I left school too. My parents were furious.

We were studying very different topics, but we still went to all the local clubs together.

Southend at this time, around 1975, was inundated with male students from Iran, who had fled their country to avoid conscription. And my goodness, to two Essex girls, more used to the local horny boys in their loons and cheesecloth shirts, they were the most beautiful creatures we had ever seen.

I was especially captivated by a boy named Ali, with snake hips and a huge afro. I met him at a nightclub and called my mother to let her know I would be home late.

‘Dear, your grandfather fell off his bicycle and died. Come home!’ she screamed.

I went home. Karen went to the club and got out with Ali. She would spy on them on the college campus, arm in arm, like Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal from Love Story. I never spoke to her again.

But I often thought about her, my first best friend with a charmed life (athletic, successful, catnip for the children) and I wondered what had become of her. I missed her.

As the decades passed, I was never brave enough to try to find her. I was still too shy, but I was also worried that she might be unhappy, that she might have forgotten me or died.

This is apparently a common answer. New research has found that reaching out to a friend you’ve lost touch with is just as scary as making a new friend. The team, from the University of Sussex and Simon Fraser University in Canada, carried out seven different studies involving almost 2,500 participants.

The analysis revealed that 90 percent of people had lost contact with someone they still cared about, yet 70 percent said they felt neutral or even negative about contacting them again.

Which is a shame, since research also suggests that by rekindling old relationships, we can find a deep connection, something often missing in our fast-paced lives.

That’s so true. Karen is the only person I can think of, other than my surviving siblings, who knew me intimately when I was 11, who listened to my hopes and dreams, who knew my mom and dad.

Karen and Liz as schoolgirls at Brentwood County High School in Essex

Karen and Liz as schoolgirls at Brentwood County High School in Essex

When I think of Karen, there is a smell of school dinners and sneakers, the sound of hockey sticks clashing, and an image of navy aprons, straw hats on akimbos as we ran toward the train, falling off our platforms Freeman Hardy Willis, drinking nut whips. .

In 2010 I attended a school reunion. Just as I thought, I, the shy anorexic with spots, was the only one in my class who didn’t have children. He had been nervous, almost as if she were on a first date, in case Karen would be there. It wasn’t, but one of the girls gave me her email address and told me that she had moved to Hong Kong. Wow! I always knew she would be adventurous.

And then I flew to Hong Kong.

Desperately wanting to impress, I stayed at the luxurious Peninsula Hotel, with bay views and Rolls-Royces on tap. I realized that I had spent my life trying to be better than I really am. When I told Karen where she was staying, she emailed me: ‘I live in flip flops and a sarong. I have a simple life.’

She came to meet me at the hotel restaurant and it was like we were worlds apart. She seemed charming, like a satisfied mother, but she raised her eyebrows at my champagne.

I realized what I must look like having pursued a career on Fleet Street, edited a fashion magazine and spent decades holding a glass of champagne instead of a baby in nappies.

We were both 51 years old. His parents died. We both felt old, but I occasionally caught glimpses of the 13-year-old in her when I remembered how I once choreographed us in a Pan’s People dance to Sweet Talkin’ Guy from The Chiffons.

It turns out that the Persian Ali was a failure! Yeah! I almost smiled. “He was very handsome, but when I went to study accountancy at Plymouth, he got jealous, so I left him,” he said.

She then married Brian, her first husband, and lasted three years. She worked in management at a pub, where she met her second-in-command, Phil. They had three children; In 2010 they were 18, 16 and 15 years old. Despite the flip flops and simple life, I felt deflated when she talked about them.

I felt like a failure: sterile. Nothing to show in the decades since we last saw each other, at 18 years old. I think that’s where the fear of rekindling friendships comes from: your life has come to nothing. I realized I’m exactly the same when I was 11: obsessed with dogs and ponies, dressed in jodhpurs most days.

Liz, third from back, at her school reunion in 2010, where she met old friends.

Liz, third from back, at her school reunion in 2010, where she met old friends.

Karen and Phil separated shortly after moving to Hong Kong, when the children were young. She then had a relationship with a police officer for 13 years.

When we met, she was working as a teacher. Recalling our school days, she said: ‘You and I were a bit separated from everyone. There were the pretty girls, the nerds, and us: dark and brooding. The harassment was terrible.”

‘Was I a bully?’

‘God no. Competitive, when it comes to writing. I still remember a poem you wrote about starving children in India and another about a lion. You were remote, a real thinker and I was your best friend. I knew you would be a writer.

You see, that’s the wonderful thing about a childhood friend: they know the years and years of work you put into your passion.

The next day I took two ferries to the island where he lives. I was waiting at the port.

We walked to his little house, but it was awkward between us. Our bond was a long time ago. What did we talk about when we were 11, 13 years old? ‘Movies.’ Did she want to meet someone new? “I’ve been alone for a while,” she said. ‘Maybe.’ I told her I was divorced and she didn’t seem surprised, given that I had always been so successful with men. Guys, so fearful, so body dysmorphic.

His house and his life seemed like a paradise. His seemed stress-free, while I was, and am, always working at top speed. Her daughters looked like Keira Knightley, and then I realized that the search for perfection, success, men, is meaningless. I had wasted my life on material things.

That’s a hard lesson; she was a hard mirror. Meeting my ex best friend made me realize that I never grew up.

When I asked her why we lost contact, she blamed her own laziness, moving around so much.

We emailed several times after we met. But as my life fell apart (I became bankrupt), I felt too embarrassed to tell him. I felt that I would rather leave her with the image of a successful and happy person by staying at the Peninsula.

I also, if I’m honest, felt like we had nothing in common. If she came to stay with me she had no family to show off. I think she saw me as the great writer and maybe she felt a little inferior.

It is sad what ends a relationship that was once so close. However, she still made me laugh when I told her about a movie star who had sued me for a slight: “Well,” she wrote, “take it on the chin.” At least unlike me, you only have one!’

Above all, meeting Karen made me realize that life is short and that our happiness and destiny are forged when we are very young.

I was shy but ambitious. No wonder the big job and the empty bed. Karen was beautiful but that did not lead to a lasting marriage. She admits that she was lazy, but her life seems infinitely preferable to mine.

I’m still not sure if rekindling an old friendship is a good idea: it can lead to a lot of disappointment and highlight your own decisions. But there was one thing he told me, before he disappeared again, that encouraged me greatly.

I asked him what I had told him I wanted when I was 11, why I was striving. “It was always the ponies, who wanted to be writers, and Paul Newman.”

Two out of three is not bad.

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