Have you ever had to break-up with a friend? From experience, it’s not as emotionally jarring as a relationship break-up, but there are residual feelings of hurt and such that last much longer than post-relationship parting. Over time, we all have friends that fade into the back of our minds, instigated by distance, time, or the general growing-apart that comes with growing up. Consciously ending a friendship, however, is another beast. It’s the decision to delete the person who shares your good news and bad, the one who calls you out on poor decisions and then makes a few of her own. It’s telling the person you swapped clothes and secrets with, survived high school with, learned to drive with, that you won’t be there anymore, not in the present, not in the future. It’s hoping that time and the distance of multiple states will ensure you never run into each other again.
So what happens when your ex-best friend moves to your city?
It all started with a bit of casual Facebook stalking while immobile on my couch last weekend with what felt like strep (again), but was apparently just my larynx being an asshole. She and I haven’t been connected on social media since our break-up (friendship break? burnt yearbook? There should be a specific phrase for this), and I stopped checking in on her years ago, but I heard the phrase “Awkward Turtle” on whatever sitcom was providing the soundtrack to my exciting night in, and she immediately popped into my head. Memories of casually wandering through our hometown, linked arms, Frappuccino in hand, laughing at the absurdity of ourselves, came flooding back like a tidal wave. I can still smell her shampoo (bumble&bumble), hear her voice shrieking “AWKWARD TURTLE” as we teased each other in the back of the music room, the devious double-reeds, at it again. We used to stay up late at my house, planning our weddings, planning our prom, planning how we’d survive college when she was going Very North and I was going Very South, taking pictures of everything with disposable cameras, preserving those moments of carefree abandon like precious jewels, promising Best Friends Forever.
The details of this break-up are as personal to me as those from my relationship break-up. For such a long time, those details were tinged with red, seething with feelings of betrayal, abandon, apathy and myriad other emotions I never thought I’d associate with her. Our last correspondence was mine, a scathing message almost 7 years ago, where I told her that if I ever saw her in the future I’d turn away, like she was a bug on the sidewalk instead of someone I’d loved as a sister for all those years. As the months and years passed, rage became anger became nothing, and the hole she left in my life slowly scabbed over and healed, leaving a tiny scar that stopped twinging in time. I never thought I’d have to see her again, never imagined she’d be in my city, living close to my office and working close to a neighborhood I frequent.
She looks different these days, her long hair chopped to her shoulders, the curls straight as the grid lines of the city. I’m sure I look different as well, though I can’t see the changes. I find myself wondering if I’ll actually run into her someday, if we’d even recognize each other amidst the strangers lining the sidewalks, heads down, walking fast. I’ve tried to summon the same rage I felt all those years ago, but mistakes we make at 19 are inconsequential by 25, and all I can feel is the deep sting of nostalgia and curiosity. I wonder if she thinks about her part in our break-up, the nasty words she sent by snail mail and the apathy she conveyed when I tried to reconcile one day, crying into the phone, in need of her friendship one last time. I wonder if she remembers my terrible words, written as I was blinded by anger, so much that I hardly remember what they were, just that they were awful on purpose, playing on every insecurity I knew, a grenade of “FUCK YOUs” written in colored Sharpies, her favorite. I wonder what kind of adult she is, and if she lost the dreamy quality I desperately tried to emulate for so many years. I wonder if she would still abandon me for a boy. I wonder so much.
She inspired me to write; she inspired me to be amazing. She made me into someone that distrusts easily and deeply fears another friend abandoning me when I need one the most. We were more than children but less than adults, stuck in a limbo that tore us apart. She might still hate me, or she might be as curious as I am to catch up one last time, to see if we grew into the adults we planned as children. Maybe I’ll reach out to her with a simple apology, and see if she wants to get a glass of wine. Maybe I’ll just keep hoping to run into her in the street one day, just to prove 19-year-old LB wrong. I wouldn’t turn away, I wouldn’t cross. I’d probably just stare, let the memories take hold of me and see if she does the same.