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It was a rather tough time for everyone, to put things optimistically. Yasmin has not returned to work, but is now able, many months of intensive therapy that continues on a less rigorous level today, to live at home unassisted. Her right hand has not regained full strength, so computer work is tiring and problematic. She is able to converse for around ten or so minutes before her words start slurring and her face slackens: then it's time to lie down and recuperate.
Despite having family scattered in all corners of the globe and an only child, Yasmin had a lot of very close friends who stayed with her, offered support and did everything they could to help her with cleaning, groceries, taking her to rehabilitation sessions and her daughter Nafeesa to school.
Throughout that time, my daughter Sapphire was Nafeesa's constant companion in the flesh and online. Hours and hours of Minecraft and Skype happened after school and in the evenings; both girls nourished by fun, private conversations and shared creativity. Despite not being in the same class (or year level) at school, they met up for lunch when they could; got to know each others' classmates and hung out together nearly every weekend. Everyone knew that they were besties.
Despite this, Nafeesa was still unable to stay overnight at our - or anyone else's - house. The only time she had ever successfully managed to stay away from home was when her mother was hospitalised for eight weeks, with most of them spent at our place. Sapphire's hurt was palpable when, during a sleepover she'd arranged for Nafeesa and her three other girlfriends a few months later, Nafeesa begged to be driven home at 2am. "But she'd stayed with us before," Saph wailed in puzzlement.
"I know love, but that was an exceptional situation and she hasn't really figured out how to deal with homesickness." Sapphire nodded, trying to understand. Nafeesa had confessed to me that she was now terrified of leaving her mother home alone at nights in case something awful happened again (the stroke occurred after midnight). "I'm all she's got," she whispered to me in the car.
Summer holidays for the two girls involved phone calls and arrangements for picnics in the local park, movies, shopping trips and meeting mutual friends at the Ferney swimming centre. They looked a comical pair: one pale and blonde; the other skinny with frizzy black hair: Dakota Fanning and Olive Oyl and laughter always surrounding them.
The new school year started in September. Sapphire was naturally apprehensive but also looking forward to it. After all, she was no longer the 'new kid' in a place that hosted UN offspring from all over the world and she had friends she trusted.
At the end of day one, she came home, closed the door and burst into tears. "Nafeesa walked straight by me and when I thought she hadn't seen me and I said 'Hi' she deliberately ignored me," she sobbed.
Over a diet coke, we sat on the balcony with Milly enjoying the late afternoon sun and tried to figure out what Saph might have done to annoy Nafeesa. After all, no child is perfect and there's two sides to every situation......
The snubbing continued for four weeks. Sapphire emailed her, sent her texts and left messages on her phone but all were ignored. One night, she decided to call her home number (a rarity for kids these days as it's so public: hell, a parent might answer). "How about I sit in and listen," I suggested, "just to see if there's something you're not picking up on." To my surprise, she readily agreed.
Sapphire's phone call was impressive in its politeness, concern and open need to restore a valued friendship. Nafeesa sounded disinterested and hung up. "Nafeesa made me happy. I hated being here at first, but she made the year so great for me. Why is she doing this? Why do my friends only last a year?" The shadow of J's bullying tactics in 2010 were not a faint memory for either of us.
The dreaded sentence: "What's wrong with me?"
With the brain and body of a sixteen year old but the blind trust of a child, my heart ached for her. Was I guilty of bias in my reliance on quick pop psychology; in reasoning that Nafeesa might be jealous of Sapphire? Was she pushing Saph out because envy for her life was an additional stressor in her own life?
Sapphire drafted a carefully worded email. She asked me to check it before she sent it, and, again I was impressed with the admission that Nafeesa's friendship was incredibly important and she wanted to talk things through with her so that they could patch things up again.
Through more tears, diet coke and cuddles, I reassured Saph that she had truly tried her best but, sometimes, girls 'dropped' each other for a variety of reasons; not all of them mature, sensible or fair. "Be proud of how you tried to fix things and remember that you have other friends who really do love being with you."
A week later, the tears started again the moment she'd closed our front door behind her. "Now she's making a huge fake show of waltzing up to my classroom friends at lunchtimes, hugging them all and asking them questions when before she hardly knew them. I've just got over the fact that she doesn't like me any more and to give up, but why does she still want to keep hurting me?"
Hugs and empty platitudes were all I could offer and it wasn't enough. So, I did what parents always want to do, but know they shouldn't do. I contacted Nafeesa's mother. She was distracted and tired, and asked me to put it in an email. Fair enough.
'This is a tough email to write, but LC and I are now becoming rather concerned about Nafeesa’s treatment of Sapphire.
From what we understand, Nafeesa has decided to ‘drop’ Sapphire since the new school year started (September). Despite some emails and phone calls (some I sat in on to ensure that Sapphire was being reasonable and personable), Nafeesa has not given Sapphire a reason why she is no longer her friend, or any apology for snubbing her repeatedly at school.
Naturally, there are always two sides to every story – teenage girls especially – but Sapphire is utterly miserable, very hurt and puzzled. After several weeks of trying, she decided to give up, realising that some friendships end. She is still very sad, but now rather stoic. It seems disappointing that, although their friendship has ended, that Nafeesa doesn’t even want to greet her when they pass by each other at school.
However, it seems as though instead of just ‘dropping’ Sapphire, Nafeesa is now being more active in trying to exclude her. Nafeesa has got to know a few girls through Sapphire – namely A, J and K– and is, on most evenings, overusing Facebook with links and conversations with these girls. Sapphire is torn between wanting her friends to stick with her and between not being called a bully or unfairly demanding for asking them to avoid Nafeesa.
Nafeesa appears to have plenty of friends in her own class and Sapphire, right now, really needs the ones she has in her class. Is it possible to have a chat with Nafeesa to find out what Sapphire did to make this all occur and, to get her to tone down the active seeking out of Sapphire’s friends? I ask this because Sapphire is going through a tough time personally right now with lingering issues of fitting in and self esteem and we just want her to be happy and settled.
Feel free to ring me any time to discuss this – I’m around all next week for coffee/chocolate if you’re free.'
No reply or phone call was received, and a week later Sapphire asked if she could try calling Nafeesa one final time. Yasmin answered the phone and was lucid enough to make it very clear to my child that "Nafeesa has fights with her friends all the time and if I wasted my time sorting them all out, I'd never get anything else done." I heard Sapphire trying to say, "But Yasmin, surely you know that she falls out with C, never me..."
"Sapphire, I really don't care. Nafeesa says that she doesn't know what you're talking about, and I believe my daughter." Click.
I steeled myself for the tears. Surprisingly, none came. "Mum, I tried, I really did. And Nafeesa once told me that she never tells her Mum anything so that's it." She folded herself into my arms with a sigh. "I miss her so much though."
Yeah, me too. Another surprise. "But I do feel sorry for her, Mum. She hasn't got a father and her mother is still really sick. It must be really hard."
Too right. Poor Nafeesa; poor Yasmin and poor Sapphire; all forming a curious blend of fierce pride and regret in the pit of my stomach.