Frenemy: Rochelle

I moved to Buda in the middle of seventh grade. I joined the Treble Select choir at school. And I felt confident that I was the best singer there. Plus, I could read music. Most of my peers couldn’t even read rhythms.

Sing it

Then, in eighth grade, we were warming up in the Treble Select choir, and there was a loud vibrato from the middle of the back row. Long, wavy hair, black shirt, platform boots, flared jeans, and a gorgeous, angular face.


The girl next to me whispered, “When you got here, we all thought you were good. But Rochelle is so good that we hate her.”

I tried to take it as a compliment.

I asked Rochelle one day what voice part she was. “Lyric soprano,” she said. Thirty-four-year-old-Sarah has a lot of feedback for an 8th grader who calls herself a “lyric soprano.” But all I could say was . . . what does that mean? I knew soprano, but I hadn’t heard that there were different kinds of sopranos.

Rochelle said, “it’s the highest.”

If you care to know, lyric sopranos have big voices that sound best on long, legato lines, and they sound best singing from about G4-C5. But there are types of soprano voices that sit higher.

Rochelle’s clothes were cool. She had a different look every day. She didn’t fit into a stylistic stereotype: not a jock, not a prep, not a banger (something like a goth). She had a belt of bottle caps that she wore with flared jeans. She had knee-high boots. And bold colorful jewelry like feathered earrings or beaded chokers.

Rochelle was everything I wanted to be. She had uniquely fashionable clothes. She had long, wavy hair. She sang really well.

I also sang really well, but no one cared that I could sight-read and harmonize. She had a big, loud voice with lots of vibrato.

It was hard for me to like her. When we got to high school, she didn’t continue choir, and I thought I was in the clear. I did choir, which I was good at, and cross-country, which I was not so good at. We had gone our separate ways.

But, then,

She joined cross country.

One day we were talking about singing in the locker room after cross country and I said I might want to study voice at NYU.

Rochelle said, “I thought that, too, but you have to be 22 to get into their opera program.”

Oh. Okay.

A fringe benefit of cross country was hanging out with the boys’ soccer team. Same coach, and he made them run cross country. I have lots of stories about my crush Matt who was a tenor in choir and forced to run at cross country practice because hw was on the soccer team. I loosely based a character, also named Matt, on him in my book, remember?

One day he told me that Rochelle was “so cool.” My heart broke a little.

So, Rochelle was not my frenemy. I was her frenemy. I acted like a friend, but I saw her as a rival. She never did anything mean to me. But she was good at everything I wanted to be good at. She got attention from the boys I wanted attention from. And she kept joining all my things!


Her family started attending my church. So, my church friends, the friends who understood me better than anyone else, were now also Rochelle’s friends.

One Christmas, us church girls went caroling. We met at the church and one of the youth leaders chauffeured us to neighborhoods and senior homes. Clearly listening to Rochelle sing all night was difficult for me. When she asked our youth leader where we were going, the answer came back, “The chapel.”

“What chapel?” Rochelle asked.

The chapel?” I sniped at her, “As in our church.”

And she was effectively shut down for the night. Later, my best friend Amy said she could tell I’d hurt Rochelle’s feelings.

Wasn’t it Rochelle’s fault that she’d made me feel inferior for years? Shouldn’t I feel good that I finally put her down?

I bet you can guess.


Then, our senior year, we auditioned for The Wizard of Oz. And the show was double cast. We were both Dorothy.

I know that sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it was actually terrific. We saw each other right after checking the cast list and she whispered what I’d been thinking, “I’m so glad it’s you. I couldn’t share it with anyone else.”

Because even though I was jealous of her, I knew that we were both the best singers in the school. I felt soothed that we were essentially marked the same. We were a team, and I couldn’t wait. Who else could I share a leading role with? No one but the girl who sings as-well-as-and-maybe-better-than me.

Over the Rainbow

Then, she dropped out of the play. Because she was moving. When I asked her where, she smiled, “Over the rainbow.”

On her last day, I gave her a letter that I–for some reason–had written in red ink. In that letter I told her the truth. I confessed my admiration and jealousy and asked forgiveness for any meanness that my insecurity had manifested.

Rochelle left. But I noticed something weird. Her sister stayed.

And my mom asked me what I knew about Rochelle leaving. Because Rochelle’s mom didn’t know about her move. Rochelle had run away.

Rochelle had moved in with her estranged father. This baffled me. Rochelle hated her dad. She shared about how he’d abandoned her. Once she even read me a poem she wrote about him, it ended with “You don’t give a f*ck if I live or die.”

I want to dig into the choice she made to run away and live with her dad. But, I don’t really know enough about Rochelle to analyze it. And it feels disrespectful to speculate. My intuition tells me that even though I was jealous of her, maybe I had some things in my life that she didn’t have.

Not Over Yet

Before graduation, Rochelle came back. I never actually talked to her about where she went or why. We weren’t close after that.

I went to NYU. I studied classical voice (also known as opera) there from ages 18-21.

And a year after I got to the city, Rochelle moved to New York, too. I never ran into her. But when I would hear people mention her or when I would see her FB photos, I would think to myself, she does everything I do.

And I told myself that she was the one jealous of me. That she followed me to cross country, to church, and even to New York City.

Am I fooling you? Am I fooling myself?


Have you ever acted poorly out of insecurity?

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