As you are reading this, I am sitting in a cafe with someone who I haven't spoken to in over 12 years (okay, perhaps you are reading it after the fact but regardless, I wrote this right before I left for the afternoon/evening). We broke off our friendship about 14 years ago, around this time of year. For the first six or seven years after we ended our friendship, I wrote her letters. I sent her emails and left messages on her answering machine. I passed messages through mutual friends and her sister. She never once responded. For the first few years, I tried every few weeks and then it became every few months and finally, I would let a year or so pass between tries. I haven't written her since 2002. Josh and I were in the middle of our first round of trying.
Because isn't that when you write those sorts of notes? When you're in an emotionally fragile space so you return to whatever the largest hurt has been up until that point and try to fix that since you can't fix the thing in front of you. I tried to connect with her after boyfriend break-ups, when I was considering leaving graduate school, when I miscarried. Something would be unfixable in front of me and I would return to this large broken relationship and pick at it again because it always seemed like it should be repairable. It has been this huge pile of shards in the middle of my life and I can't help but go back and kick the pile around a bit to figure out how it got broken in the first place.
Because I still don't understand.
I write this knowing full well that she will possibly read this. That people who knew us in the past are probably reading this. I can say without hesitation that it still hurts 14 years later. That it was worse than any break-up with a boy. She was my best friend from age 12 until age 20.
My experience has been that a break-up with a friend is so much worse than a break-up with a boy.
When we stopped speaking, she took with her the sole space I had to say anything. Of course I found it again in other people, but you know that safe space where you can lay your words? She owned that space. And she took it. So whenever I went through something difficult after that point--a break-up, leaving grad school, a miscarriage--I thought about that space in physical terms. I wanted to just rest inside for a moment; feel protected, feel like I could vent. And she took that with her.
There was no fight, no sense that things were wrong. One morning I woke up and was getting ready for class. She was sitting in the living room, speaking with a mutual friend of ours who was going to walk with me to the campus. We lived together back then; we shared a room. I came into the living room half in a shirt that I could not get on properly. She stood up and helped me get my head through the proper hole and then turned as if she were speaking to an invisible camera.
Real World had just started to air and we often pretended that we were in the Confessional Room, staring at a camera. She said, "when I moved into the house, I didn't realize that I was going to have to dress one of my roommates."
We both started laughing and I remember hugging her tightly, our heads pressed together while we both spoke to our mutual friend. And I remember the other person saying, "you two are so lucky that you have each other. I wish I had a friendship like that." And my friend agreed, "we are so lucky."
And then I came home from classes and she told me that she was going to move and that she wanted to end our friendship.
So you can understand why I kick the shards from time to time.
I'm sure she has a very different memory of that day--after all, she knew what she was going to say when I got home. I remember her telling me in the few minutes I had between classes and play rehearsal. I grabbed my things and ran to the theater, crying all the way down Langdon Street and hiding in the back of the theater whenever I wasn't needed on stage. I couldn't tell anyone what was wrong. She literally took my word space that night; the receptacle where I could say anything.
We connected via Facebook a few weeks ago and exchanged emails for the first time in 12 years. There was no explanation of why now and not then. Six years ago, she didn't return my notes. Now she was setting up a coffee date. Of course I am curious--even 14 years later, I want an explanation. I may not get one or it may not be satisfying or understandable. My mother asked why I couldn't just speak to her over the phone; why I needed to use my evening and meet her at the cafe. It is not just so she could see my face as we spoke but because I want to visit that space where I placed all of my words so many years ago. Revisit them. She will never understand how important she was to me because it's just not the sort of thing you can sum up with words and explain the enormity of a person's impact on your life.
Lindsay asked if I thought it was a good idea to meet. What if her reason was something terrible, she asked, playing Devil's Advocate. And it's true--she could tell me tonight that she left because I'm a horrible person. Because I made her uncomfortable or grated on her. The reality is that I've already mourned so I'm sure I can hear whatever reason she wants to give. After Lindsay and I hung up the phone, I considered one last thing--something that would shatter me if she said it tonight. That perhaps, these 14 years, as I have been mourning and missing her; wondering how she is and wishing her well from afar, that she hasn't considered me at all. That my emails were unanswered because I'm inconsequential in her world. The possibility of that would have been the reason to stay home.