I don’t know the pain of becoming a divorcee or a widow. I’ve never dealt with custody issues, dividing up a household, or burying my spouse, and I can’t fathom that sort of pain. The only noteworthy break-up I’ve ever experienced was with my high school sweetheart, and I think that’s something most everyone goes through. In fact, I think that break-up was a rite of passage, and now I can look back on that drama and laugh.
Oddly, when I hear heartbreaking songs about missing someone and regrets, I think about my best friend. Technically, she’s my ex best friend, although I’ve always thought that sounds like an unnecessarily catty label to use. In the years that have passed since our relationship ended, I’ve realized that best friend break-ups are quite possibly the worst. That gnawing stomach ache that I got when I found out my ex boyfriend was no longer in love with me doesn’t even compare to the sickness I feel every time I observe my old friend from afar, celebrating milestones that I don’t get to share with her.
Paige (name changed, duh.) was the kind of friend that you dream of having in your life. She would show up to my house unannounced, and help herself to some of my mom’s cookies while chatting up my dad. I’m a worrier and a planner, yet she constantly convinced me to do wild, spontaneous things that I never would’ve done alone. She was a friend that would hug me when I cried, but demand that I “Perk up, A-cup,” if I wallowed.
My parents called her their second daughter. While I got a stern lecture if I broke curfew or mouthed off, my parents laughed like banshees when Paige recounted stories of coming home drunk after a party or getting into brawls with her siblings.
My mom always said, “I love Paige and she’s a second daughter to me, but God, I’m so happy I’m not in charge of disciplining her.”
No one could discipline her though, not really. She was a force of nature, and it seemed like she knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. You certainly couldn’t beat her, so you joined her. It was always an adventure, to say the least.
When my dad died and I texted my best friends to let them know, everyone sent their condolences. We were only seniors in high school, and no one had dealt with a death before. No one knew quite what to say or what to do. Except Paige.
Paige showed up at my house and got to work. She went straight to my mom.
“What do you need? What can I do to help?” she asked.
My mom, in a daze, responded, “Well, we need dog food.”
Paige was back in ten minutes with a 50-pound bag of dog food draped over her tiny frame. She also picked up a tub of ice cream, toppings, and had invited over my core group of girlfriends. I hadn’t lost a parent before, and I didn’t know what I needed, but apparently she did.
When it was time for my dad’s funeral one week later, Paige was the first one to arrive. Again, she asked, “What do you need?” Nothing, because she was already there. She sat in one of the front pews and said her goodbyes with us. When the service was over, I had the exhausting duty of greeting a never-ending line of people. When the line was finally gone and the church was empty, only Paige and a few other friends remained.
When my mom remarried in that same church in 2012, Paige was my date. We went to different universities in different states, but our friendship was unchanged. We didn’t talk everyday, and we didn’t need to. She sat in the same chapel, in one of the front pews, and watched as my family took a new form.
We graduated from college in 2013 and we both relocated to the same city. Finally, we’d be in the same city again. We tried to hang on to our friendship as we navigated the “real” world and the difficulties of finding ourselves in a strange city.
My transition to adulthood didn’t go smoothly. I drank too much, I lashed out, and I lived in a constant state of chaos. It was Paige who finally called my mom and said, “We need to do something to help Caroline.” Paige was there when my mom arrived in Chicago and Paige gave me a bear hug when I got in my mom’s car to go home and figure things out.
It was only when I returned to Chicago that our friendship deteriorated. A misunderstanding over text messages led to a flurry of harsh words and scathing declarations, each of us vowing that our friendship was over– broken and not worth fixing. We had experienced the growing pains of middle school and high school together, we experienced death together, we celebrated new beginnings together, and our friendship ended abruptly over a text message. I didn’t cry at the time, because I didn’t think for one moment it was real. Honestly, how could it possibly be real?
We both launched into a stubborn silent treatment. I was, to put it simply, getting my sh*t together, and Paige had her own stuff going on. We were both so focused on our own health, our own futures, and our own problems that we pushed our friendship to the side. I don’t know what was going through Paige’s mind, but I personally believed our friendship had survived much more difficult things. I could neglect it for a bit, because I assumed it wasn’t going anywhere.
I was wrong. A few days without communication turned into a few weeks, and it was eight months before another word was spoken.
“Thinking of you today,” she texted, on the anniversary of my dad’s death.
I told her thanks, and we talked a bit. And for the past two years, we’ve continued to talk, a bit. We send the obligatory “Happy Birthdays” and the occasional life updates, but we aren’t friends. I don’t know her anymore, and she doesn’t know me.
We aren’t friends anymore because we were too stubborn and too proud to fix it when it should’ve been fixed. We took our friendship for granted, assuming that it would always be there when we had the time and emotional strength to deal with our issues. We’ve moved states, changed as people, and lost that unfiltered vulnerability that made us so close.
The lessons I’ve learned are these: Don’t take your friendships for granted. Don’t wait to say sorry. Don’t be too proud to reach out, and don’t be too obstinate to admit when you’re wrong. I know these clichés about friendship are corny, but I also now know the clichés about regret and heartbreak are painfully true.