Some people come into our lives for a short time, others longer stretches and others seemingly meant to last for the span of a lifetime. Sometimes the category someone falls into surprises us, or we simply have no idea until they’re gone, or until twenty years later, and they’re still there. When I was younger, I had the hardest time letting go of the people I shouldn’t have held onto. As if I wanted everyone to stick around for the long haul. I wasn’t some crazy stalker person, the people I’m talking about never said, “We’re over,” or anything so direct (my on/off boyfriend of six years does not count, we were all “it’s over, I mean it this time,” like every other day, but besides him this is a true statement), but if someone wasn’t treating me right, whether it was being unreliable and untrustworthy to treating me like I was less and chipping away at my self esteem to those who simply used me for things (gifts, getting close to others I was close to, my brain, because my version of helping others with homework wasn’t doing it for them, but in retrospect, it was pretty darn close). I clung to the people in my life outside of my family.
Obviously, I have since shed these people, either because I finally saw them for who they were, or in two instances simple geography (I moved across country, not because of them, but the move took care of them once and for all). But there was one friend that did not treat me badly. She did not use me, and I did not use her. We passed notes, signed up for classes together, she was my date for junior prom (as friends), I helped her through her craziest crushes, school problems and stuff in general and she was my co-conspirator for some of my craziest antics and schemes (I am so Lucy from I Love Lucy, at least I was back then). I often stayed at her house as my home was unstable at best, but also often unsafe. Her mom was like a second mom to me. We were each other’s confidants. We were friends for over seven years… And then we weren’t.
I try to go back to trace the dissolution of our relationship. Was it a choice that either of us made? Was it just luck and circumstances? Was it for the best? Would she go back and change anything? Would I? To the last question, I really don’t know. And I guess it doesn’t matter.
There was no falling out, not really. We had the occasional argument, but when you are as close as we were, that’s normal. I mean we went to school with each other and shared a room for a third of the time for two years of high school. It was never anything major, just normal bickering. And it was always over before the end of the day, even if it was already late at night. But while there was no big fight or breakdown, there were two events that I think affected us, one even fracturing the foundation of the friendship we had built over the course of six years (at that point).
The big earthshaking moment came when my friend, we’ll call her J and I were discussing something. What we were talking about specifically I don’t remember. But somehow we veered slightly off and started talking about some homophobe and then same-sex marriage. I repeated what I heard or was said to me, which was basically how homosexuality is a sin, and gay people are all going to hell, and therefore marriage should not be allowed. I asked rhetorically, because there was no doubt in my mind that J agreed with me.
I’m gay, and I was quite the activist in my day. When our state proposed to ban same-sex marriage with a constitutional amendment, I organized rallies and city marches and wrote editorials for the city newspaper – even though I was only fifteen! I founded a Gay Straight Alliance at my school and then helped start a bunch at other schools that were receiving pushback from administrators. I worked on educational and speaker panels, going to high schools and colleges, places of work, to talk about homophobia and discrimination. I was that militant activist determined to change the world… even if I could only do it after eighth period. Surely, if J thought gay people were going to hell, no matter how kind and good they were, we would not be friends. And it would have come up by then. I mean she helped me go to prom in total drag (her mother was my hair and makeup artist) to make a statement after a transgender person was expelled for using the “wrong” bathroom. I’m not trans, nor have I ever done drag since, it was to make a statement. And she was a part of that (that’s when I took her as my date).
Anyway, she said something to the effect of not personally supporting same-sex marriage but believing in equality. And then religion came up, and before I knew it we were having this conversation:
“Is that what you think?” I asked. “That I’m going to hell, just because I’m gay.”
“Well I mean not yet. You haven’t done stuff or anything. But if you do, yeah. It doesn’t change how I feel about you, you’re still my best friend and I love you. Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
And my heart broke. She knew me. I was a good person. I fought for others. I had been through so much (forget my abusive home, I had died several times, emergency brain surgeries that began in infancy, and yet I was still there – if I was so “wrong” why didn’t her God just let me stay dead?) and yet it didn’t make me angry or bitter. I was still the same person through it all. But if I ever found love, then I would no longer be deemed “heaven-worthy”. It’s such a messed up thing to think, and I can’t imagine how she dealt with having a gay best friend, because it wasn’t just a casual friendship or anything, who she felt would burn in hell just for being who he was, while she was up in heaven… It was absurd. You can’t love the sinner, but hate the sin it is a faulty and contradictory concept. And I couldn’t’ believe it was a view that she had. But apparently she did.
Sometime after that, we changed. Not as people, but our relationship. We weren’t as close anymore. I didn’t share as much with her, and she didn’t ask. She didn’t share as much with me, and I didn’t ask. I don’t know if it was because of letting the “you’re going to hell, but I love you anyway” cat out of the bag or just where we were in our lives and with each other. We continued in this way, and then she joined a sorority (the second thing that was less life-altering). After that I maybe saw her two or three times before we were over. She was always busy. Always canceling plans, using the sorority as an excuse. Maybe the sorority did monopolize her time. Maybe she didn’t know how to balance everything. But while I kept trying, she wasn’t. And when we had plans, she bailed. But we still talked on the phone, so it wasn’t like being completely ignored. At the time I didn’t know what to think, but after this happening for over a year, I just felt frustrated.
After I graduated college, I was on my way to graduate school in California. (We lived in Nebraska.) I was having a bon voyage party two days before I was due to leave. She was going to come… and then she called me the night before to say that she couldn’t. The funny thing is as soon as she called, before I even answered, I knew what was coming. How sad is that? She made her excuses and I finally wasn’t up for letting her off the hook so easily. I had lived in an apartment I loved for eighteen months, only a few blocks from campus and she still hadn’t been by to see it. I was leaving; I would be gone for at least two years, but possibly forever. Didn’t she want to say goodbye? She reacted much more strongly than I ever would have thought she would, and yelled at me for not being understanding and then hung up. I didn’t call her back, because I was furious. She didn’t come to the party. And we never said goodbye.
Then I moved, and moving to LA was crazy, and it took two months and a few places to actually get settled. Her number had changed, and so had mine. I didn’t have her email, and she didn’t have mine. She didn’t have Facebook or any other social media page. And we just fell out of touch from there.
That was more than nine years ago, and the whole thing still makes me sad. So much has changed since we last talked. I’m less crazy, I died (yes, I actually died after having a rare illness and a fever of over 109 degrees) and then I fell in love, got married and have made a home for myself as my husband and I make plans, or hope to, of having kids of our own. I wonder what she’s like now, how she’s doing. What does she do for a career? (We were both super ambitious back then.) Does she have a family? Is she happy? I really hope she is.
And I wonder if she ever thinks of me. If she ever wishes she knew how to get in touch. I wonder if I have done enough to try and get in touch with her. I’m smart and resourceful. My grandfather was a famous private investigator (there are movies and books about him, he rescued a lot of people from cults and several kids who had been kidnapped) and those skills rubbed off on his eldest grandchild (me). When my husband proposed, another best friend (who came into my life years after she left it) relocated for a job and went through three phones a month (he still does, I am not exaggerating). Again no social media, and I had just moved with my husband to Colorado after we bought a house. Circumstances were the cause, and I powered through them to track him down, eventually getting his deadbeat dad’s phone number, and then getting his new number from his dad (who had no clue who I was and was very suspicious). And we reconnected. And he was my best man at my wedding. A few years later he even moved in for awhile while getting himself situated out here (he relocated to where we live) and I see him almost every day. But I did the work. It didn’t take long, and while it was complicated, it was worth it. Have I made the same efforts for J? No, I don’t think I have. And despite thinking she would be in my life always, one of my nearest and dearest friends, something is holding me back from doing so. And I don’t know what that is.
What I do know is that I think of J often. And I hope that wherever she is, she is doing well and she is happy. I really do miss her.