October 2, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Best Friends, Cheska

Friendship is one of the most important things I think in a well lived life. I love my friends fiercely. I especially cherish the women in my life. They help define me and are all reflections of where I have been and where I am. Now I’ve just finished a book that has caused me to look into my rear view mirror and remember. The Friend Who Got Away is a book about the break up of women’s friendships. These are the stories we seldom tell, because the pain is deep and the confusion over the loss sometimes lasts forever. This little book exhausted me.

Because you see I once had a lifelong best friend. If we had been young during these days of the Internet we would have been BFFs. We met at fourteen and I loved her on and off, mostly on, for about 27 years. We broke up once when men and circumstance caused the irreconcilable differences to reveal themselves faster than we were able to count. There were a couple of hard conversations and then Bam! it was over. Eight years of close confidence and intense contact ended in a rush of pain and recrimination. Eventually the men passed through and we found each other on the other side of them. We blamed them of course and then we put away the irreconcilable stuff for another 12 years or so.

Cheska can make you laugh when you nose is stuffed up and you have been crying for hours. She can listen to unending woe and then prescribe a pizza and maybe a manicure and before long her magic works. This woman stood by me through my crazy years and watched as I grew
s l o w l y to accept that my relationships with my mom and sister had been mostly the stuff of family myth. She was gentle as I waded slowly, as if in deep sand, through therapy. She watched uncritically as my moral compass shifted and my values finally became clear and worthy. She accepted me back in the days of our broke dollar nights at the movies and loved me just the same when success turned into big houses, private schools, and holidays several times a year. She loved my husband and my kids and they loved her right back. For the last fourteen years of our friendship she was an intrinsic part of our family. She was more family than family…or so it seemed…only then we broke up again.

This time it started a couple of years before the end really got going. It was not the bandaid ripped off the way it had been the first time around. Like the first time we have kept in occasional contact, but unlike that time I doubt that either of us craves the old relationship back much anymore. This time the irreconcilable differences revealed themselves slowly and brilliantly over many years. We ignored the first one that happened back in 2001. We tried to talk about it and I think we both decided that we loved each other and we would just somehow get past it. Only we never really did. We even tried to celebrate our 25th anniversary that year with a weekend trip to Chicago, but we didn’t have much fun.

There were lots of signs. She probably thinks it all ended one Easter Sunday when we went for a walk and she remembers my comments as hostile and mean. She remembers them that way because they were. But as far as I am concerned it ended on an autumn afternoon a couple of years before. She wasn’t even there for it. I was in Vermont. I was walking on the side of a mountain and I remember thinking that if we moved here I wouldn’t have to break up with her. She would just be far away and we could pretend we were still close and separated only by miles. I caught myself thinking that word…pretend. And finally I knew. We were pretending. We loved each other. I love her still. But we weren’t content with each other much anymore. We were uneasy. It took me a while to admit out loud what I knew on that mountain.

I could tell you why. Or I could tell why things changed for me. But like every memory it would be a little bit true and a little bit false. Then you throw her memories into the mix and the permutations are too many to know. As always when October comes I remember her. I miss her. I am so sorry not to have been able to fix the broken bits. But I couldn’t. Neither could she. The broken parts hurt like paper cuts. You never saw them coming but felt the burn from something you could barely even see for hours after.

Losing a BFF is sad no matter when or how. I will always be grateful I had her in my life. And some part of me is also a little bit grateful she is not here now. We used to wonder what we would be like together as old women. We probably won’t ever know, but still I wish her well across the miles and through the years.


  • beesknees

    this essay made me cry

  • Kate

    I left a wake of hurting people behind me in my sorry drinking career, leaving people who loved me dearly through the worst of time for some imagined slight. Today sober, I have come to rely on my other sober friends to get me through the moments that I am not able to get through on my own and I grieve those people I left behind when I was too sick to see what I was doing to them. Today, I cherish the people in my life and if our lives take us separate ways, then it will, but just for today, I love them.

  • Anonymous

    I lost a close friend and I don’t even really know why. I tried to talk about a problem and she just never responded…nothing. I’d discovered she’d slept with my ex husband. I was traveling at the time so I wrote to her to explain what I’d learned. And that was it.
    The End. T
    he ending was a worse betrayal than her sleeping with my ex ever could have been. We live in the same city where we used to have coffee every few days. Now I don’t even drive by the coffee shop much less go in. I am going to read that book

  • TheCynicalOptimist

    Great post and so true about women!

  • ILX

    ILX back online after a brush with death…but in any event ILX is so sorry to hear about the final rupture with Francesca. We have all left good, and old, friends, behind when our values changed or our outlook or philosophies on life changed. I know I have several people in my past whose paths have diverged from mine because our lives were just different and the lives we lead were simply not compatible; there was nothing really left in common so people drift apart. It is a natural part of the cycle of life. People move on. I do recall the writer being somewhat surprised years ago when this happened….

  • library lady

    If I ever see one of these essays with my name on it, I’m not going to wait until I’ve finished it to start crying. We don’t go waaaay back, but I have to say that we were friends for months before I realized that we had slipped very painlessly from customer and vendor into friendship, and I was just slightly envious of Cheska, whom I had never met. Nothing can take away the joy of remembering your relationship when it was good, and sometimes that’s the best we can do.

  • jamie

    This is such a great post. I think it is so true…and its amazing that your girlfriends can break ur heart just as terribly as any man. Great post-loved it.

    I have again started anna karenina–i hope to get thru it this time :). Oh and I hope this comes thru– I can’t get logged in thru my phone!! 🙂 have a lovely weekend!!

  • molls

    Breaking up with a girlfriend of long duration is almost like getting a divorce only you don’t get all the social sympathy. This was kindly and gently told. beautiful and with real introspection just like always

  • Anonymous

    i have a girlfriend with whom i will probably break up. i can’t see how to stop it. we went to the movies last night and we were both mad off and on the whole livelong night, but we have been friends for most of our grown up lives. if we were married we’d get therapy. maybe we should anyway. only I just know the therapist would say this relationship is unhealthy and has been for years. shit…
    this was a great post
    (i am going to go anon here this time…)

  • Anonymous

    Me too. Because this bloggy world is incestuous and this one is too close. I have read this one at least five times now.
    I am living this same situation now with a friend who blogs and comments here and at my place. I wonder if we could bring it up by talking about your blog
    You were nicer than I can be about my friend if I were writing. I know it’s probably my fault too. We have grown apart, as they say. Well one of us has stayed the same is how it seems to me and the other of us has evolved with grown up values. I don’t want this woman whom I have loved for two decades around my kids anymore. She is a horrible role model.
    Of course she doesn’t want to be anybody’s role model, but by virtue of being my best friend my kids look to her to see if I mean all the things I say. And her life, with men and drama flowing in and out and booze every weekend is not the world I want my kids to know.
    Now I am getting meaner and more judgmental every time we are together. This is breaking my heart

  • starrlife

    Appreciate this post. I was just talking to a someone who I’m trying to be friends with about this issue of friendship, changes- some tend to blow hot and cold, back and forth over years. Some are friendships where people just change. A big sigh since I have such a difficult time with friendships. Having a friend just cut you off is very painful. Why is it that women who are so communicative and would talk it over with a boufriend have trouble doing that with a female friend? I don’t mean that directed to you and how you handled it Ellen, just thinking about myself.

  • Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge

    Just wanted to say thank you so much for the comment over on “on the flipside”. I really agree with it 100% but you did a much better job putting it into words. What you said is really how I feel, but of course I would never tell “Pig” that because I wouldn’t want to make her feel like she had made a terrible choice for her family. But isn’t it funny how she doesn’t mind making me feel that way about my choices? It’s one of those things… when the time comes that all of my kids are grown and on to school, if I decide to stay home, will she judge me? Part of me says, “Who cares. Judge away. I’m confident about what I’m doing!” But the other part of me says “Please don’t judge me because you are my good friend and I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to tell you you’re wrong.” Stuck. Guess I’ll just keep having babies every 4 years!

  • Scary Mommy

    Texan Mama sent me a link to you. I just suffered through a friend break-up too, and it sucks. Friendships are so exhausting, huh? I feel for you, and you aren’t alone!

  • Caylee

    My friend JayJay sent me over here. This is an incredibly moving post for m. It is just like a divorce. I lost an old friend this year. We tried to save the relationship, but we had outgrown each other. She has become very religious since marrying a very controlling man and I couldn’t stand him. As it turned out I got so I couldn’t stand her either and vice versa. She stands in judgement of everyone and everything. And he even tells her who she has to vote for and it surely won’t be Obama.
    But we spent years together in our twenties and I miss her like crazy. I want to get to a place of peace like you seem to be with Cheska. But I don’t seem to know how

  • Nellie

    I’m sorry you lost your friend, but I am glad you had her. Nothing will ever replace that long connection forged so early in your life. But then perhaps you won’t ever need that kind of connection with people outside your family now that you have but such a strong one. I think those early friendships compensated for a lot of us who had unhappy homes and when they pass through our lives it is some kind of marker.
    But, just like real grown up love as opposed to infatuations, the friendships you will make as an adult will last longer and be even sweeter in other ways.

  • laurwilk

    I think I’m too young to have had this happen in an ‘unnatural’ way. I’ve never had a friendship ‘end’, just be put on hold for a later date. (Typically when we are geographically closer together.)

    I do sometimes wonder if I will ever truly experience this though. The people who are closest to me in my life are my family; specifically my siblings. They are plentiful! And at this point, those are relationships that I don’t see ever ending.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out in my life as I grow.

  • painted maypole

    oh. just… oh….

  • Jennifer

    Oh goodness, this is beautiful and difficult. As I was reading, I was thinking of my BFF — the one who has been my best friend, sometimes across many miles, for 20+ years. I cannot imagine anything coming between us. But then…no one can imagine it in advance, can they? I would be devastated to lose her. I also think of a certain friend where a falling out ended, rather abruptly, a very close friendship…it still stings.

    You write so beautifully.

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