Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Notes from old friends

When I was an undergraduate at university, many years ago now, I had a group of friends that I was pretty tight with. We shared a hobby / activity that brought us together, but, particularly with some of them, the connection went deeper than that.

These people were my closest and dearest in the achingly critical years of 17 to 21; we holidayed together, studied together, did our activity together, shared the soap operas of bed-hopping and high drama that also characterised the early twenties for many.

It was a group that also had to process a shared loss, as one of the best of us died aged just 21 of cystic fibrosis-related illnesses in the middle of my third year. He was am amazing, brilliant person, and his loss was processed differently by everyone in the group, but there's no doubt that, among other things, it forced some growing up to take place.

I drifted away from the activity once I moved into my Honours, and later Masters, programs, which coincided with the beginning of my relationship with my now-husband, as well as my entry into professional work world. As a result, the more tenuous of my connections with the people in that group faded away, with little regret on both sides - those were situational relationships, rather than deep friendships. My core friends from that activity, though, remained my close friends, even as I moved into forming new bonds with people in my graduate program and in various workplaces.

Time passed, as time has a habit of doing, and my connections with most of the group became occasional and attentuated. My two best friends from that time, though, remained, steadfastly, two of my best friends in the world. We all attended each other's weddings (two of us were bridesmaids for the third); they were among the first visitors when my elder two children were born; we saw each other regularly and they were both vital supports for me when my close-aged elder two were babies and toddlers, and I was living in a fog of hormones and happiness and utter exhaustion.

Despite one of the two travelling back and forth to the UK with her husband for extended trips (1-2 years in length) throughout the decade from my marriage to the birth of my youngest child, the three of us never failed to keep in touch, stay connected, and stay close. The UK traveller, indeed, used to come and stay with me and the kids when my husband had to travel for work when my secondborn was small and sleep was at a premium. The kids absolutely adored her, and she was so wonderful with them, and to me. I really thought we would be friends forever.

Then, things changed. It wasn't that there was a break or rupture of any kind between us - any of us. It was a matter of long-suppressed personal demons taking the helm for my traveller friend, and slamming down the gate hard between her and the world. Over a six-month period, she became less and less responsive and social, culminating in her withdrawal, almost totally, from the world. To our sorrow, "the world" included my other friend and I. For a while, we still received and enthusiastically reciprocated emails, cards and gifts on birthdays and at Christmas, but about 4 years ago those mostly stopped too, although I did get an out-of-the-blue best-wishes email for my 40th in 2013, and my other friend got a card on the birth of her daughter a year before that.

Even though it's been five years since I saw my friend, and four years since any kind of meaningful regular contact, I still miss her, and I still think about her. Maybe more suprisingly, so too do my two older children. They were only 7 and 5 the last time they saw her, but she made such an impact on their early lives that they have never forgotten. I often wish that things could be different, and that we could see her again, if only to tell her how much she meant to all of us and how much we still love her.

Today, I had an email from my other friend, with whom I am still in regular touch, although the busyness of our lives means we only see each other in person a couple of times a year. My friend had dropped her six-monthly "hope balloon" email to our withdrawn friend, not expecting any reply (we usually don't get as response now). To our mutual amazement, this time she did reply, briefly, saying that she is working through some difficult things and wishing my other friend well in her life.

Although it made us happy at first to hear something from her, on reflection, the email made me feel profoundly sad. Its phrasing was perfectly clear and unambiguous. There was not only no invitation to resume contact, even in writing as a first step - there was a definite closing of the door, a not-very-veiled suggestion that ongoing contact should not take place.

That this is my friend's right, I do not dispute for one moment. Any relationship, including friendship, must exist by the full consent of both parties, or it is no relationship at all. My feelings of hurt and sadness and rejection and, yes, injustice (We did nothing wrong! Why have we been cast off? whines the ego) are mine to deal with; they are not her problems and nor should they be.

But even so, even so. I miss my friend. I wish I could help her and be part of her life again. I think I'll always feel a sense of loss, when I look at her smiling face in my photos of my babies.

This is post 25 in NaBloPoMo. 25 down, 5 to go!

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