It was a warm day in late spring. I was walking home from school with a few of my close friends. We were eight, I think, third grade. We all walked home together every day, that day being no different. Until it was.
At some point, each of the girls I was walking with crossed the street. I crossed, too, to catch up. As soon as I did this, they crossed back. I followed, like a puppy, thinking it was a game I was just not clued into. And like that puppy I followed back and forth across that street until I realized this was not a game. This was a change in the known social order. I was out and the last to know it.
Just like that, my friends were gone.
I remember crying when I got home, and feeling lost, abandoned. When I went to school the next day, it was confirmed. I was no longer included, no longer one of them, no longer cool. These kids I had grown up with, played with, ran around with for all of my years moved forward and I stayed put. It was what it was. Kids can be freaking brutal to one another. Some of these girls, all grown up, are my Facebook friends now. It's cool -- no harm, ho foul.
In the third grade, though, it hurt like hell. I didn't find a new best friend until the fifth grade when this amazing, silly, hilarious girl moved down the block. We were inseparable for years, she and I. Frick and Frack. I loved everything about her and she loved everything about me. She made me braver and more confident. My childhood was so much richer for having found her. But in high school, we too, drifted apart. Different interests, different paths, different social circles. She, too, is my Facebook friend and I just adore seeing the family she has created and knowing that her mischievous smile is duplicated in her two young children.
Friendships end, and that is never easy.
When my daughter was going through her cancer treatment, I isolated myself much of the time. There was never that BFF that came along to visit every hospital stay. Family was always there, but I kept friends at a bit of a distance, I think. I don't know why I did that, but I did. Maybe it was the intensity of my feelings or the true discomfort felt at always being the person who has it worst. It's hard to have a true and mutual friendship when just one of you is struggling so completely and in such totality all of the freaking time.
Being that person is a burden and an exhaustion and I had so very much on my plate with Donna and my constant heavy fear that I just drifted away on my little patch of ice with Donna and Mary Tyler Dad, the three of us lost in the sea of cancer.
Two friends stuck with me. They didn't let me ever get too far away on that ice patch. They would watch from a distance and when I drifted beyond reach, they would reel me back in. Good God above am I grateful for these two women and for all that they did for me during those years. It is a hard thing, I know, to see someone you care for be so completely lost and know there is nothing, not a thing, you can do to help them in the way they need it most -- bring their gravely ill child back to health.
But those two gals did the next best thing -- they stayed with me. They sat with me in my moments of deepest terror and did not shrink away. They witnessed that fear and nausea and panic and kept coming back for more, when I would let them. They were the mothers of Donna's closest playmates -- we all became mothers together, within six months of one another -- and I relied on them more than they could ever possibly know.
Today, only one of them is still my friend. The other is another lost friendship that I mourn often. And just like when those little girls crossed the street without me, I am alone in wondering what caused our friendship to end. I can wonder and assign reason, but at best, those things are guesses.
As a child, I think, I simply wasn't athletic enough. When you go to Catholic school on the south side of Chicago, athletics and team play are valued above most other things. I sucked at sports and that was becoming pretty damn clear by the third grade. I tried, sure, but it was never my bag and the friends I had all excelled in those things. Eight year old me was too bookish and too introspective, I think. Ha! A lot like I am today as a grown woman. Go figure.
As an adult, trying to figure out the end of a friendship, well, it's a lot more complicated to assign reason. On some level, I am certain I did something wrong, but don't know what that might be. My worst fear is that I simply was too much of a bother in my grief, but that doesn't square with the woman I knew my friend to be. I look for clues, try to recreate conversations we had, or didn't have. Full disclosure, I have been too much of a chicken to address it head on with this gal. That is on me, I know, but something prevents me from taking that risk. The last time I saw my friend was at a wake and it was patently clear, obvious to both me and my husband, that something had changed. And, I suppose, I am more willing to accept that than to address it, which might give me every answer I need.
But still, I miss my friend, and while more complicated than in the third grade, when friendships end, it always sucks. What I remain grateful for, so very thankful for, are those many moments she witnessed my fear, kept me company, didn't step away from the deep, deep pain that was my constant companion in those years. I treasure what she gave me, even when it is no longer mine to have.
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