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.