Melanie Hobbs

Dear Laura

About halfway through Year 8, my friend Laura Hoang showed me a letter from Andrea Adamson, whom we both knew from primary school. 

When I say Laura is my friend, I mean she was a girl I sat next to; she was the only person I knew from primary school in my Year 8 Maths class. A friend by proximity in the way that friends are made at that age. 

Now, I have long been out of touch with Laura. We never had any classes together after that Year 8 Maths one. I’m sure I would have said hello to her in the corridors if we passed each other, though I can’t actually recall hanging out with her outside of class. I’m not even sure if she attended the school all the way to Year 12. But every now and then I remember that Year 8 Maths class conversation vividly and I find myself thinking about Andrea’s letter to Laura a lot. 

The letter itself was folded into a heart which was very fashionable at the time, and rather ironic. Everyone wrote letters back then. Once we worked out that if it looked like you were working, teachers would leave you alone. Sometimes we’d even write letters in our own time. We wrote about how cute our crushes looked that day, arguments with our parents, who we were shipping on Dawson’s Creek. It sounds trivial but it all seemed so important at the time. 

We’d write for so-and-so’s eyes only on the front but I guess it gave us a thrill to put our words out there, to live in the danger of them possibly being read by someone it was not intended for. If there was particularly sensitive information in it, code words and such would be used. For instance, you would never write the actual name of your crush and you would sign off with a secret nickname. You might even adopt a different style of handwriting because you really did not want your parents to know these innermost thoughts and you couldn’t trust them enough to keep a diary. And of course, they were also a kind of love letter to our friend. 

We each had a collection of letters we would read and reread because I think on some level we knew that we needed those words of affirmation. You’re such a good friend. You are so fun and hilarious. Never change. We were (mostly) the children of immigrants who rarely heard a word of kindness from our families—not because they didn’t love us, but for several reasons. Firstly, to them, parental love meant discipline. Keeping your children on the right path meant enforcing a rigorous study schedule because it wasn’t easy, not for kids like us. And the idea of praising your child for being a good friend, or thinking creatively or just existing seemed like dangerous mollycoddling, an indulgent slippery slope towards, I dunno, teen pregnancy or some other awful fate an ethnic girl could never come back from. So we treasured our letters and I’m sure we each had a special place for them in a shoebox, or in a jewellery chest at the bottom of our wardrobes, or under the bed. 

Laura slipped me the heart-shaped note as Mrs Johnston droned on about the order of operations or some such. I unfolded it and was surprised to find Andrea had a wide, inelegant print, the is dotted with little circles. Andrea Adamson had always been mid-tier popular but her recent solo at the school assembly choir performance got her noticed. A Year 10 had asked her out, she was going to parties, and she was getting invited to sit with the top-tier cool kids at recess. And she looked the part. Blonde, thin, and white with a sunny disposition, she was living her best life. 

Dear Laura,

You have been such an amazing friend to me and I will always cherish the memories we’ve shared, from Year 6 camp to the time Kenny farted in string ensemble and tried to blame it on you. [Winky face with a tongue poking out. I’m not kidding. We drew emojis before they were a thing.]

For a while I’ve been feeling like we are going in different directions. I’d really like to keep getting to know some new people. What I’m trying to say is that I’m leaving the group. I won’t be sitting with you anymore and I probably won’t have much time to hang out.

Please know that I will always treasure the friendship we had and I wish you all the best for the future. See you at string ensemble!

(Love heart)


I was stunned. I’d never heard of someone breaking up with a friend before. In a letter.

I stared at Laura who was absentmindedly flicking the bands of her braces. She wasn’t even offended. But then, no one ever got mad at Andrea. The girl could do no wrong. 

I found it very interesting in the coming weeks when I saw Jenna Wright, another girl from their group, hanging out with Andrea and the popular kids, their matching blonde tresses glowing in the sun. It wasn’t as if all the popular kids looked like this but it sure helped. The letter just seemed so shameless. It was a written admission that she’d abandoned her friends to chase a life of popularity.

I thought about that letter years later. In Year 10 Linh Tran and I had struck up a friendship in CAD, being the only two girls in the class. CAD stood for Computer Assisted Drawing. It was pretty easy. Linh and I tended to finish our work early and then have long, deep chats. Linh was really easy to talk to and I looked forward to those classes so much. We told each other everything; it was like having a human diary. 

She had a deep, husky laugh that was unexpected for someone so petite. But it was infectious. If something weird or funny or infuriating happened to me I smiled to myself because I could just imagine telling Linh. 

That year my aunty passed away from a sudden arrhythmia. For the first time in my life there wasn’t an adult in the world who understood me. There was barely anyone my own age who understood me. All my friends expressed their sympathies but I could feel them growing bored with my misery, always quick to change the subject or tell me a joke to cheer me up. Not Linh, though. She looked me in the eye, gave my arm a squeeze and asked me to tell her all about my aunty. Then, she listened.

It wasn’t always deep and meaningful stuff with Linh. We also had fun just being silly together. We’d make up stories about our CAD teacher, from what he had for breakfast (a Weetbix man, we agreed) to what led to his startling choice of royal blue and maroon striped socks (A footy team? His old high school colours? It will forever remain a mystery but it kept us entertained). 

In Year 11 we didn’t have any classes together. Only three weeks into the school year, people in my form class were talking about Linh’s upcoming birthday party. I was like, You don’t even know her! 

At first I thought it had been an oversight. She’d realise and think, Shit, I can’t believe I forgot her! 

I saw Linh in the corridor that afternoon as I was walking to my locker and thought that surely she’d see me and realise the oversight before apologising profusely and inviting me to her birthday. It was going to be okay. 

I gave her a wave but she didn’t seem to notice. I kept waving for an embarrassing amount of time but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. And then I realised we’d never actually spoken outside of CAD and I wondered, was I just a CAD class friend? 

Linh was semi-popular but this was senior school and the rungs of the social ladder were getting all jumbled anyhow—at least that’s what I thought. Was she embarrassed to be seen with me? Or had I offended her somehow? I mean, I too had not bothered to talk to her outside of CAD. Did she feel ditched when I didn’t contact her over the holidays? She was never on MSN messenger and, I realised with a pang, we never exchanged phone numbers. 

I kept going in circles. Did I do something to upset Linh, or had she just never valued my friendship in the first place? Was our friendship over or could I somehow make up for whatever it was I’d done? Would we be buddies again if we happened to have a class together in Year 12?

I thought of Andrea Adamson’s letter to Laura and for the first time saw the value of it. I wished desperately that Linh would write me a letter explaining her reasons, for even if the reasons were hurtful, at least I would know. It would be such a comfort to know. 

We were never close again and I never knew why, and when we were in the same class for Geography in Year 12 and she asked if anyone had a spare pen and I said I do, here you go, and she said Thank you and nothing else, I longed for the finality of a friendship breakup letter folded into a heart.

Toward the end of Year 12 when we were all stressed about our exams and the uncertainty of where we’d be the following year, I found myself thinking about that letter again. 

I sat next to Nadia Fernandes in Maths. Our mums knew each other from work. Nadia was very generous with sharing her notes and answers to any homework I’d forgotten. She was always keen to hang out, which worked well for me because Mum was happy for me to go to her house and vice versa. It beat sitting at home pretending to study. 

She wore her thick black hair straightened in a high ponytail and I don’t know how she never had a strand out of place. We didn’t have a whole lot in common. The conversation didn’t flow easily and I just knew that our friendship had an expiration date. When she wrote stay in touch! in my yearbook, I wished I could write her an Andrea Adamson style letter. A this has been nice, I appreciate you and will remember you fondly but this won’t be continuing

It really was very direct and mature of Andrea, now that I think about it. But risky. Putting something like that in writing would have make me look like a cold bitch. There was also a chance my mother would find out about it and she definitely would not approve of such directness. So I had to be sneaky.

Year 12 ended and everyone had all this spare time. I worked out a plan to phase Nadia out as slowly and painlessly as possible. I never messaged first anyway, so every time she messaged me I just took longer and longer to reply. I still met up with her a couple of times before I got too busy with “work” and “orientation” and “uni” and eventually she stopped messaging. 

One day my mum asked me how Nadia was going and I said, Oh, I don’t know, we’ve sort of grown apart, you know how it is, she’s a lovely person and I hope she’s doing well, all the while feeling like a total coward. 

So I don’t see Nadia a lot these days. She’s studying commerce. I’m studying literature. I actually see Andrea Adamson a fair bit. She got into the performing arts program and we have a creative writing class together. I almost didn’t recognise her. Her sleek blonde hair has been replaced with chestnut brown waves. She now sports a septum piercing and spends classes twirling her pen thoughtfully and rarely making any notes. I think we’re going to be friends.

Melanie Hobbs grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth and at thirty-five years old still struggles to explain her complicated cultural heritage of Singaporean, Malaysian, Tamil Christian roots. She teaches high school English and lives in the Perth hills with her husband, two kids and dog. Her work has been published in Westerly, Portside Review, and Kindling & Sage. Melanie is currently working on a short story collection with the support of a Centre for Stories writing fellowship.

Published by swim meet lit mag

swim meet lit mag is a young online publication based in Brisbane, Australia. Swim meets bring people together; swim meet lit mag seeks to offer an accessible space to read and publish all kinds of creative work from around the world, with a particular focus on local emerging writers. Now in its third year of operation, swim meet lit mag plans to continue expanding its catalogue, which is, and will always be, free to access. Each issue is framed by a swimming-related theme, to which the responses are always wonderfully surprising and diverse. 

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