Whenever I hear someone talk about a friend, or friends, that they’ve had for two or more decades, I’m forced to reconcile the fact that I have never kept a friend that long. There’s a picture I had of me and my best friend through junior high and high school. We’re standing on a beach at Lake Taconic the summer of 1991, both wearing sincere smiles in the midday light, our arms around each other, jackets and soggy pants over our swimsuits, squinting and happy. She and I were best friends through so much tumult. She didn’t have an easy home life. The way she persevered despite the shitty hand she’d been dealt always astounded me–getting straight As, holding at least one part-time job throughout the school year, a full-time job in the summer, every summer, always there for her friends and family, including two younger siblings that she essentially mothered. I can say easily that she was one of the best people I’ve ever known, and even to this day, I’m in awe of all she endured and overcame.
The last time I spoke to her was seventeen years ago. And that was a one-time deal. We got in touch after not speaking since sophomore year in high school. I was newly married, she was raising her preschool-age daughter while attending nursing school. She never had luck with men. She might have been on her second husband at that time. Anyway, we had dinner one evening in my husband’s and my apartment. We talked about old times. She’d kept in touch with a lot of our crowd from high school. I hadn’t. So she gave me the skinny on where they were. It was awkward. We’d become so different. She’d had her daughter when she was a teenager. I’d gone to college to major in English. We just couldn’t re-establish the connection we’d had as kids. Maybe if we’d continued to talk, we would have, but we didn’t.
When I think about all of the close friends I’ve had and lost over the years, I wonder if in some ways, I’m serial friendogamist. It was always that I’d have one person to whom I was inseparably close … for a while … and then something would happen, I’m not always sure what, and I would slowly push them away, further and further until they were so alienated by my standoffishness that they left altogether. What was it? I ask myself. Did they become too demanding? Did the friendship reach a level of intimacy where parts of me were being revealed that I wasn’t comfortable acknowledging? Did I just feel too obligated, like I couldn’t escape? There are at least ten people, just right off the top of head, that I can think of with whom I’ve committed this sinful act of abandonment as soon as things became too serious. As soon as I felt vulnerable, like there was something at stake. Was it simply a case of “leave them before they leave me?”
There was a girl in college I was friends with named Jennifer. We weren’t too close, but we hung in a crowd of four, one of whom was my best friend at the time. We would go clubbing and drinking. Those were some fun times. At one point, I started to drift away from my best friend in the group. She and I had been inseparable. I would spend days at her parents’ house, worked at her parents’ gas station, we’d done everything together almost all the time. We’d laughed until our ribs hurt, shared copious amounts of pizza and ice cream when we hated boys. But at some unclear point, I started to feel as though she *expected* my attention every day. I stopped going to her house, stopped agreeing to work at the gas station, stopped going clubbing with the group. She would call me every day to chat. She wanted me to come over. Could I work at the gas station? Eventually, I stopped taking her calls. How dare she demand my attention all the time? I didn’t belong to her. I was my own person and I could do whatever I pleased. What was she, my mother for god’s sake? Besides, I had a new boyfriend (who would become my husband) who was taking up a lot of my time.
Well she was hurt, of course. It was a shitty thing to do. So one day, the other girl from the group, Jennifer, called me sounding rather irate. She told me that I’d really hurt my now ex-best friend’s feelings, ignoring her like I was. I defended myself, saying she was too demanding and wanted too much of my time. I explained that I had a boyfriend now and I couldn’t be available all the time anymore. Jennifer sighed loudly (she was sort of a drama girl) and said, “Diana, it’s like you just like people for a while, and they’re your best friend, and then you ditch them when you get bored and find a new best friend. This boyfriend is your new best friend, and you’ll do the same to him.” We hung up unhappy with one another. I was deeply offended by what she’d said.
But of course, she’d kind of nailed it. It’s exactly what I did. I don’t know if being in a relationship with the guy who was my boyfriend then for thirteen years (married for almost eleven) before splitting necessarily proves Jennifer’s theory, but still, she was onto something. She saw a pattern in my behavior and called it.
Unfortunately, I don’t have that picture of me and my best friend on the beach at Lake Taconic anymore. It’s been lost through too many moves and accidentally forfeited possessions, but I kept it on my desk up until only a few years ago, and I always have wondered what it would be like to still talk to her. To be able to tell people, “I’m going up to New York to visit my friend of twenty-five years next week!” or some such thing. It makes me realize how important are the choices we make to have, keep, or sever ties from people in our lives. And also accepting those choices when they’re irrevocable. It would be nice to be able to reminisce about old times with my old best friend, the girl who knew me then. But I can’t anymore. We’re completely lost to each other. Maybe that’s why my memories are so important to me, why I’m writing a memoir, and why I need to keep a constant record of the distant past. Because at some point, who else is going to remember but me?