It’s the official week to be thankful (although, really, we should be living in gratitude all the time, yes?), and I’ve been thinking a lot about the past few years. I’ve gone through many changes, personal, professional, emotional, familial. And in general, life is getting a little easier day by day as I learn to live my new normal.
But there is one lost relationship that haunts me. A friendship I thought would never end. The old adage is that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, and I thought she was a lifetimer. Turns out, she was only a season. The expectation was set, and the reality did not align. Sometimes that’s the most difficult lesson of all. I’m sure my former husband felt it when I said forever and only lasted for 30 years. I felt it when his marital vows were also not what we’d agreed to in our wild youth.
I reached out to my old friend a couple of years ago, when the silence between us had become deafening. I wrote this to her, “I don’t know what went wrong between us. Maybe I never will. But it’s apparent that you’re done with me and our friendship—a friendship I thought was pretty indestructible. I won’t say I thought we were ‘forever,’ because if I’ve learned anything in the past six months, it’s how tenuous that word is. But I thought for sure we were something more than what we have become. I want you to know how grateful I am for everything we shared. Our friendship changed and strengthened and bettered me in so many ways. I wish you nothing but happiness and joy and love.” Her response was that she “hadn’t died,” and I needed to stop acting like she had. She said friendships ebbed and flowed, and that’s what we were experiencing. But I knew better. It wasn’t an ebb. It was a death.
It was the death of us.
Perhaps I did something egregious and unforgivable to her, but I’ll never know because she chose silence instead of conversation. I’m left with my assumptions, and the greatest one is this: she never really loved me for me, she loved me in the white-picket-fence version of the life I’d created. When that was gone, for her, so was I.
During my last move, I was sorting through old notes and cards from friends and family. I found these words recorded inside $4 Hallmark cards in her loopy handwriting:
“I am so, so fortunate to have you so close in my life. Who would I be without you? I’m glad to never, ever have to know.”
“Thank you for being so real. Your authenticity is so fresh and so honest and so rare.”
“Thank you for your friendship. You feel like such a kindred spirit, I’d not be surprised if we were long lost sisters! I look forward to a lifetime of memories with you.”
“Happy, happy day to one of the most important friends I’ll ever have. I celebrate your birth 365 days a year, not only on March 20.”
We all say things, I suppose, that in the light of future days might not hold true. But to look back and see them in print is a heartbreak like no other. She used to tell me she hated the condescending and patronizing way my ex talked to and treated me. That it raised her hackles. That it was hard for her to stay silent. But perhaps, in the end, I raised my voice too loudly when I claimed my own space in this world. Perhaps my retort, in her mind, should have been more of a polite whisper and less of an earth-shattering battle cry.
Before the pandemic started, I was out to dinner with another dear friend. My former friend walked by our table to join her table of dinner companions, and although she saw me, she walked right by without so much as a nod of recognition. As tears rolled down my face, my dinner friend asked if I wanted to leave. “No,” I said. “No. I want to enjoy my time with you. That’s why we’re here. This is our night.”
But let me assure you that it is not nothing to be reduced to a non-entity by one who used to hold your heart. To not even be acknowledged as worthy of taking up air in the same room when your friendship once filled the room to overflowing.
I’m trying to be grateful for the time that we shared together, the memories made, the season she was mine. After all, I have lost many relationships since I came out. That is not a secret, nor was it entirely unexpected.
But this one.
This one continues to gut me. Perhaps it was because I loved her so wholly, so completely. The deep resonance of her laugh. Her larger-than-life personality. Her hugs that were a homecoming.