Thursday, February 12, 2004

All the Good People I've Left Behind

When I first met Eva she was fifteen years old, and I thought she was the most eccentric hippie I'd ever seen. She wore a metallic Harley-Davidson shirt with a skirt she sewed herself out of an old Charlie Brown bed sheet, and boasted a near-encyclopedic knowledge of art, beat poetry, and 1960’s music. We met on a road trip to Los Angeles with our youth group, during which she detailed to me her lifelong dream of starting a combination organic subsistence farm and donut shop. I was enchanted - by the time we arrived home we were best friends. Over the next few years we spent countless hours gorging on garlicky homemade guacamole or chocolate tapioca pudding, scribbling in our journals, listening to scratchy Bob Dylan 45s, collecting Bay City Rollers memorobilia and obsessing over our unrequited high school romances. Our friendship continued through college and beyond; she held up the huppah when Chef and I got married and wrote me letters of encouragement when I found out I was pregnant with Bug. And then I stopped talking to her for five years.

There is no good reason why. I certainly wasn’t mad at her, in fact I missed her intensely much of the time and desperately wanted to get back in touch – but I was too embarrassed at how badly I had dropped the ball of friendship once again. She moved to Houston for graduate school, I gave birth to my first child, and before long a few months went by, and then a few years, and I figured she had lost patience and given up on me – and I was too scared to find out for sure.

It wouldn’t be the first time I have lost a good friend due to a shameful lack of effort on my part. At almost any given time in my life, I seem to be in the process of picking up the pieces, sending tentative exploratory emails or leaving long apologetic phone messages trying to explain my mysterious disappearances. So many people have been unbelievably forgiving – having two young kids seems to be a plausible excuse for falling out of touch for long stretches – but some friendships are sadly damaged beyond repair.

It’s way too late to patch things up with Ashlyn, my confidante through high school and college - that is until I abruptly stopped calling her weeks before she took off for a whirlwind trip to England with some friends from her dorm at USF. She sent me an angry letter from abroad, rebuking me for my behavior and effectively ending our friendship. I was shocked, not by the contents of her letter, which I richly deserved, but that she actually cared enough to write it. From my perspective she was living such a glamorous life, with her dates and boyfriends and sorority parties and rich beautiful friends, that I had to be nothing more than an albatross around her neck - a boring plain Jane plodding through junior college and still moping moodily over the boy who dumped me years earlier. I truly believed she’d be relieved to be rid of me, and was surprised and sorry to find that I actually hurt her deeply.

In a way it was probably best that I pulled away, because I was so in thrall to her – her confidence, her beauty, her intelligence, her knowledge of all things cool, the most exclusive dance clubs and clothing boutiques and underground punk bands – that, from politics to perfumes, I happily adopted her every opinion and never established an identity of my own. Similarly, for my own self-protection, I NEEDED to cut ties with Stefanie, a wonderful and incredibly loyal friend, who after all couldn’t help the fact that she had the sophistication and beauty of a young Vanessa Williams, with an exclusive European wardrobe to match. Already mired in a crippling cesspool of insecurity, I was becoming utterly destroyed by the fact that I was absolutely invisible to everyone, male and female, when I was with her. I started to dangerously internalize my feelings of low self-worth, leading to a series of dreadful and degrading non-relationships from which it took me years to recover.

Still, I’d love to know how they both are doing today, along with the other friends I have left by the wayside: Marisa, who introduced me to camping and reggae and vegetarian cooking and played an amazing original keyboard composition for our wedding; Joel, who patiently put up with all my immature shenanigans during high school and continued to value our friendship even after a most disastrous romantic setup I arranged for him; Monique, who always made me laugh so hard I cried; and Susan, my roommate and fellow radical feminist and Barry Manilow fan, who made my years at Humboldt the most fun time of my life. Heck I even wish I had left the door open to a friendship with Elon, my first love, because I am sure he has grown into a remarkable person who I’d like to know.

Mercifully I am getting a second chance with Eva, who wrote me a long letter out of the blue and is coming to town this weekend. There is no way I can get back the time we lost, during which she received her MFA in Creative Writing and had several pieces published, and I started a new career and bought a house and had two children. Our lives have changed so much, I can only hope that our shared past will be enough to re-establish the bond between us – and that I don’t let it break again.


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