The inspiration for this topic was all the thinking about friendship that has taken place during this project that Ginny and I have been doing. Not just about the friendship between us, but with others, the way they have come and gone or stayed, in what forms and for how long. The why of it all as well as how thankful I am for all of them.
But as with so many things, there is always that one that didn’t work, that is hanging out there with a sort of defiance to it all. And as I tried to talk about friendship, I just couldn’t get past that one. So here it is. Not the first time I have considered it, but the first time I have decided to look at it for the last time. I can’t change it and so it is time to just sit in it for a minute and then let it go.
Around 1990, no later than 1991 but maybe as early as 1989, I met a woman who I will call Mary. I have no friends named Mary or anything even near, so there is no way that anyone will be able to point to anyone because of the name and say they know who it is. It’s not that anyone who knows me won’t know who it is, I just feel better doing it that way.
Okay, so Mary moved in next door to me. We got to know each other gradually. We had some surface and obvious things in common. We were both single moms to sons who were bi-racial, working hard at jobs we loved but were completely stressed by, no longer drinking because of excessive drinking patterns in the past, financially always on the edge, had jerks for boyfriends, just to name a few. Over time we became more than just friends in the way that neighbors who have much in common are friends, and when we both eventually moved from that building, we remained in contact. That is kind of how friendships shift and either begin to grow to another level or simply fade away. Moments like that where the initial reason for the friendship changes. In the case of neighbors, when you are no longer neighbors, you then have to make the effort to see each other. And we did that.
Over the years, and really, years, we became better friends. I won’t say “best friends,” because that wasn’t exactly right. She had someone she referred to as her “best friend,” and I don’t much use the phrase, but there were others I might have, had I had to, used it to describe. But a certain kind of “best friend” would be an apt description. We learned to use cell phones together, drove each others cars when our own was in the shop, went to neighborhood meetings, went to do laundry and out to eat. I always took care of her cats when she went away, and we both had each others keys in case of emergency. That kind of friendship.
It started to erode very slowly in about 2007. Like I said, it was not a short or meaningless friendship that could just be overlooked when thinking about what creates a friendship, what they mean, why they last. The reasons for the slow end were important. Many of the things that were the things we had in common changed very quickly and in a big way. For me, it gradually began to expose the fact that, and this is just the way I saw the real bottom line, I can’t say for sure what she thought because we never discussed it, she had always thought that she was better than the life she had been living, and by extrapolation, the life that I was still living. That is, it was not that life was a challenge and things were annoying but it was all really okay, but it was really that she felt that she didn’t belong in the life she had been leading, and once she got the opportunity to do so, she could apply the standards she had always believed in, associate with things and people that fit those standards, and leave the others she no longer had any use for to a past. Subtle, but really important. We all would surely like to do better, have a little more choice in life, have a little more money and financial security. We all want that, and no doubt want it for our friends, and I was happy for her, absolutely. But the view of others if we are lucky enough to have that change in our life, that’s what it’s about.
I slowly started to look back at some of the times, some of the situations, when she had called on me rather than someone else and compare them to those when she called on others. What I realized was that many of them were things that, though she had told other friends about as time went by, she had changed a little, making them less of what they were, molding them just enough into things that would be acceptable to a different group, a different point of view, to people who lived in a just slightly and yet distinct different way in a not so slightly and more distinct different class. And it occurred to me that there had been times when she had shared these things with me not because she trusted my opinion or valued my help or because she knew that I would always keep the confidence, yes, these may all have certainly played a part, but maybe equally or more important than all of these, she did not have to worry about any judgement from me, ours was not a relationship in which she considered whether her reputation would be tarnished.
I know what she would say to that, I know what she would argue. I know this because although we never spoke about it in terms of our friendship directly, we did cover the general topic ad nauseum on a variety of other subjects. In the end, we quietly became not friends, barely even acquaintances. She did her best to not see me on the street before she moved to the suburbs. When forced to acknowledge me, she did so in a way that meant she never wanted to be a friend of mine again. That’s something you know when you have been in close contact for that long, you know because you have seen it or they have told you , or both. Smile and nod and look straight at the person and make sure to say something and include the person’s name, that meant she was in a period of “not being an active friend,” more than likely thinking over a disagreement, but not done with the friendship. Look away and just nod meant she had no plans of ever speaking to you again. Like I said, this is the kind of thing you know, you aren’t guessing at, after years and years.
I owe her a substantial amount of money. Well, for me it is substantial, enough that I can’t just write a check or make a withdrawal and be done. And so I send her a check every month. And that means that we have to know where each other is, that however impersonal, we are still in some kind of contact. I would like to be able to just end that. I don’t like having anything to do with her in any way. It doesn’t matter whose interpretation of what happened or why this or that would be judged more right than the other. For me, it is a reminder that I made a mistake and trusted someone I shouldn’t have.
I know, one could surely say that is a harsh way to see it, that she and I had some great fun together, supported each other through some hard times, all of that good stuff. And that’s true. But it doesn’t change the fact that in the end, the very things we had talked about as being fundamentally wrong in the world at large were actually things she wanted but just couldn’t have at that time and that makes her a fraud and someone I wish I had seen for who she was from the beginning. I might have still been friends with her, but on a whole different level, and it wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much when things turned out the way they did.
So among that things that “yes, friends can” is that sometimes they can turn out to be someone much different than you thought they were, and sometimes that can really, really hurt your feelings.