Listening to iTunes yesterday on random mode, this song came up more than once in the shuffle. I think we all have strong sense memories associated with music, and this particular album (Beth Hart's "Singing for my Supper") reminded me of a road trip with a friend to visit another friend more than 10 years ago. The memory was so vivid...I could picture the CD I burned (it was pre-iPod), that my hair was platinum blonde, my vintage pink suitcase, the misty rain on the windshield, and singing along to the album at the top of our lungs. And I had one of those "what ever happened to?" moments.
I don't know where this person is or what she's doing now, because we're no longer friends, for a variety of reasons, most of which I cannot remember. It wasn't sudden; it happened over a long period of time of change in my life during which I decided I could no longer devote so much energy spending time around people who emotionally drained me. I remember several conversations and the difficulty I had confronting this person, her anger, her refusal to accept my wanting out of the friendship, and finally falling away gradually. As far as the friend we were going to visit, we had a very different falling out that lasted many years and only recently reconnected as acquaintances, which I think we're both more comfortable with, particularly since our falling out centered around boundaries.
A few years ago, I read a book called The Friend Who Got Away, a collection of stories about the end of friendships. There was one story in particular (I can't remember the author's name offhand) about "breaking up" with a friend. It made me wish I had the book a few years earlier. I knew I had toxic relationships in my life; I was just very bad at ending them. I let some go on much longer than they should have, until it was so bad I started avoiding phone calls or just blew up. It would have been a lot easier to sit down face-to-face and have the "it's not you, it's me" conversation and be honest about it. I have since learned that this conflict isn't a bad thing, but have also gotten a lot better about choosing the friends I do have. In my 20s, I picked friends who were as self-absorbed as I was. When I began to grow out of it, I couldn't maintain those friendships.
I've also been on the other side. In hindsight, I was the toxic one. In hindsight, the friendship was one sided, the effort to maintain it was all mine, and the friend was too kind or too cowardly to sever our bond. They died their slow deaths and I'm a lot more careful now to pay attention to the signs and signals. And then there are the friendships I may have overestimated, but didn't realize it until I was no longer in a position to "do" for them, turned around, and they were gone.
There are so many different variations and levels of friendship. I am so grateful for the friends I have in my life and lucky that these friendships have survived ups and downs and distances. I'm grateful for the opposite of falling away.
Case 1: The best friend. I met my current best friend during our first year of college and we were inseparable. About six years into our friendship, we had an awful falling out, an argument that escalated via email (never do this), and didn't speak for four years. And after that four years, it was she that reached out to me. I was hesitant at first, still feeling the burn of what had been said - despite the fact that four years had passed - but she persisted. And I'm eternally grateful that she did. More than 10 years later, we are still as close as ever. Closer, in fact, and we both agree that our four-year "separation" made us so. I know she'll always be in my life, that she's the first person I call when I have a good day or a bad one, and has picked me up off of the floor more times than I can count over the past decade. I was the "best woman" in her wedding and it was the only time I had ever agreed to be a member of any wedding party, including my own sister's. She wears her heart on her sleeve and it's really big. I call this one "Mary Kathryn" and I love her.
Case 2: The instant connection. I met one of my dear friends when she walked into the newspaper where I worked and asked for an internship. In a very short period of time (and after bonding over margaritas and a game of "never have I ever"), I knew we'd always be friends. She's the kind of friend who is supportive, but also doesn't put up with my bullshit. She tells me the truth. She loves to shop as much as I do. We once went to New York together and treated the entire city like a giant mall. She squealed like a little girl when we stumbled upon a two-story TJ Maxx. I drove to Asheville for her wedding. She drove three hours to spend four days with me after surgery in early 2008, knowing that I probably wasn't going to be the easiest patient (because I CAN DO IT MYSELF and DON'T LIKE TO ASK FOR HELP). On the second day, high on Demerol, when I told her she could leave and I could take it from here, she told me to shut up and go back to sleep. I call this one "Aleigh" and I know no matter how many miles separate us, we'll always pick up right where we left off.
Case 3: The drive by. I met another dear friend when she moved to Charleston to work at the magazine I was managing. We actually became friends after her interview and before she'd officially moved. I helped her find an apartment, which was right around the corner from my house. She could see my back door from her back door. And while she only lived around the corner for two years before moving to New York for another job, we've stayed in touch and I miss her every day. She could make me laugh like no-one else. We had adventures. We could turn a shopping trip into a day of hilarity. And she's the most no-bullshit, honest, forthright person I've ever met. I'm amazed that we only spent two years in the same city and she still wants to be my friend. I call this one "Erin" and I look forward to her late night phone calls after she's had a few cocktails when we spend an hour and a half on the phone giggling our asses off. And like the "Aleigh," months can go by and we'll always pick up right where we left off.
Cases 4-25: The supportive sistergirlfriend, or the "Doretha"; the writer friend who always knows the right thing to say, or the "Angie"; the straight-talking charmer who has a pep talk for just about any occasion and who picked me up from a fetal position on the floor and gave me the kick in the pants that I needed at the time, also known as the "Charlie"; the mentor and woman whose strength I aspire to, or the "Linda"; and the rest who know who they are and what they mean to me.
I'm a lucky, lucky girl.