Lucy and I had been friends for years. Why did we let something come between us? Why don’t I know what it was, exactly, that did come between us? The first part of this friend breakup story explains that we were both struggling with our own mental health issues as well as difficult relationships with our parents. We were both lonely, living in nearly empty dorms, working during the summer, while many of our classmates enjoyed vacations or summer programs. I remember calling, and I remember that she didn’t return my calls. Do keep this in mind, though: depression, and probably, the unbearable heat in my dorm room make that whole time a bit of a blur, and I have also never heard Lucy’s side to this story. One night seems to define that summer, and it’s what got me to call the twice weekly therapy program.
I went out on the fire escape outside my dorm room window in an attempt to escape the heat; it seemed romantic, especially because I could see a slice of the Hudson river just to the left of the building down the block. It was early evening. A noise below me caught my attention, and I looked down maybe ten stories at the men working below, moving heavy boxes and crates. (Only in New York City would you find a dorm above a Chinese restaurant.) The moment I looked down, the ground was suddenly so close and just far enough. The railing on the fire escape was so easy to climb over. In that moment, I simultaneously sat there, watching the boxes and crates, the tops of heads, the tiny arms, and I climbed over the railing and just… let go. It happened in my mind. And that put the fear of God into me.
Somehow, I got back through that window. I sat on my bed and called everyone who might possibly be able to come over. I was crying hysterically. No one picked up. I left messages. I don’t know how long the list actually was, but it felt like I made 10,000 calls. I ended up talking to my mother, who was low on the list because she lives far away. Everyone called me back, eventually. Except Lucy. She never called to check on me. It hurt.
It. Hurt. So. Much.
I don’t remember how much interaction Lucy and I had over the next few months. The hurt in my heart festered. I didn’t bring it up. She had sent my things back to me in boxes, through campus mail, when we were living just minutes from each other.
The months passed. My father got worse. I finished a senior thesis on a difficult Virginia Woolf novel, a thesis that involved reading and understanding Derrida and Plato, among others. I applied to thirteen graduate schools, each with a different deadline and different requirements for a writing sample; this meant, essentially, editing my thesis, thirteen times. I was going to therapy twice a week, but I wasn’t taking medication, yet.
But I do remember a lot. Have I blocked out interactions with Lucy? Or did they just not happen? At any rate, she sent out an email to a list of friends, and it asked that we support her, because she was having a difficult time. The hurt I had let fester in my heart exploded into rage. I was so angry. I had reached out to her, personally, and she hadn’t even returned my call. That was probably around June. By December, she was including me in a group email about supporting her?
I didn’t trust myself to respond.
I never responded. In my defense, I was spiraling down into a depression that would land me in the psych ward by spring break. But why didn’t I ever respond?
Because I didn’t want the friendship. It was heavy. It was hard. It was a relief to be free from it. My hurt over the phone call and the email was my excuse. I felt manipulated. I felt like we had been locked in a competition, for years, over theater and music and talent, and I had never wanted to compete in the first place. I felt like we were in a competition over who our friends liked more. The friendship had begun to feel like something out of middle school, maintained so that we wouldn’t rock the boat of The Group for fear that one of us would be left out in the cold. I didn’t respond to the email, because I didn’t have the energy to support Lucy.
I never got in touch with Lucy again, because I didn’t want to be asked to support her ever again. I’m sure that she has felt pain and rejection. I am the one who got to make a choice about that friendship.
We still have two friends in common, and it’s still awkward. The last time I saw Lucy, we were both bridesmaids in our friend’s wedding. We made conversation. It was fine. In the meantime, I had a baby. She sent a card, through the same friend. She got engaged. I sent a congratulatory message through LinkedIN (really). She got married. The second mutual friend had been fighting with her and spent the weekend with me, instead of going to the wedding. Their disagreements have nothing to do with me. But it is awkward that I saw our friend on the trip that was supposed to be for Lucy’s wedding.
I am alright with the awkwardness, because the alternatives are, at best, bizarre and, at worst, petty. Asking friends not to mention her name? It’s something my father would do, which means I know it wouldn’t work, even if the idea were not totally gross. Pretending that I don’t know that she got married, or that I didn’t get the card? Weird and kind of creepy.
I can’t figure out why my heart still hurts, or why my feelings are still hurt. I call this a breakup, because that is what it is. Ex-boyfriends: I don’t invite them over, but if pictures come across my newsfeed on Facebook, I click. Sometimes, I feel smug about my baby and my husband, if it looks like they’re still single. It’s less harsh with Lucy. I wish her joy, and with my whole heart. I do feel jealousy, when a friend is with her, and not me. Is that petty?
Breakups are messy. Often petty. If there’s actual love in a relationship, it never really goes away. The same is true of friendship. But it’s hard to call for a girls’ night out and a tear-fest when “the girls” are stuck in the middle and no one ever said the words, “It’s over.” The end of a romantic relationship has a script built into it.
When a long friendship ends, it’s just people in a mess with no script to follow and too much in common. There is nothing to say, except maybe, “This sucks.”