Category Archives: Female Friendships

Disappearances

Five years and counting. That’s how long it’s been since my friendship with E. ended. If I were to be honest, I would go back further, to the day of my mother’s funeral.

Until that day, I thought of E. as my closest friend. She had recently been dumped by her secondary girlfriend — the one she’d been cheating on her primary girlfriend with for years. She was still licking her wounds, fantasizing about throwing herself in front of the nearest bus, taking meds to numb herself so she wouldn’t do anything rash.

The day of the funeral, E. took the train out to Westchester and a cab to the Temple. She sat in one of the pews without saying anything to anyone. As soon as the service was over, she hightailed it back to the city. She didn’t go to the cemetery for the interment, or come back to the house for the bagels and lox supplied by the Temple.

We never discussed it. I never expressed my anger or disappointment. Not directly, in any case. But it was the first real red flag. Or the first that was so outsized that even I couldn’t miss it. But still I chalked off this breathtaking lack of empathy as an outlier; she was in too much pain to do more.

E.’s justification, had I asked her for one, would have been, “You didn’t even like your mother anyway. All you ever did was fight.” It would have been a grotesque distortion of the facts.

But it’s a moot point, because we didn’t discuss it.

The normal person would have backed away then. “The hell with her,” my ever-so-pragmatic mother would have said. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” my ex would have said ironically, with a wink and a nod, perverting the “get going” from its original meaning — redouble their efforts — to the new one, to flee.

“Now you know. Isn’t it better to know?” my friend P. would have asked.

But, no, it wasn’t better to know, and so I swept the evidence under the carpet, where it lay in wait.

There were other indicators over the six years between my mother’s death and the ultimate collapse of our friendship, but still I refused to take in the information in the way that any normal person with even the slightest instinct for self-preservation would.

And then the day came when I insulted E.’s daughter, her precious daughter, with a sarcastic comment about her lack of table manners, and E. ex-communicated me from her life once and for all. She told me that her therapist wondered why she would even want to remain friends with me after the heinous crime that I’d committed.

The years have slipped by.  E.’s mother has died. My father has died. Huge chunks of our respective pasts have begun to slip away.

But what happened between us is not of interest to her.

It is behind her.

She will not look back.

What will it take for me to do the same?

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The Last Amaryllis

On Monday it arrived. A medium-sized box, left outside my door beside a smaller box containing the coffee I’d just ordered from Amazon. I knew immediately what it was, and I felt simultaneously agitated and relieved.

I pushed the two boxes inside my door, turned on the lights, opened the fridge, and pulled out a beer. After a sip, I opened the box from Amazon with my new 2-lb. bag of Peruvian black gold and popped the bag into the freezer.

I pushed the other box, the bigger one, with the shipping label from White Flower Farms, into a corner beside my couch, where it would be safely out of the way.

I’d thought that maybe I would just leave the whole thing there for the month and then throw it out when the time came, or perhaps take the box to the post office with a note marked “return to sender.”

But after another sip of beer, I realized that of course I would open it. Even if I simply threw out the potted Amaryllis, with the bulb that would, if watered and tended, slowly sprout and flower over the month of December, I should at least look at the card.

The flower-to-be was from E., who every year sends an Amaryllis to a handful of people on her holiday mailing list — me her oldest friend from college, her mother, her sister, her current girlfriend, her past girlfriend, and perhaps a few others I don’t know about. I can’t imagine any of the other recipients are more pleased by the gift than I am; it is large and unwieldy, takes up half my studio apartment, and can’t in good faith be thrown out until the thing has flowered and died. But it is her way of marking the season.

This past April, E. terminated our friendship via email, after 38 years.  I’d made a sarcastic remark to her 16-year-old daughter about her piggish table manners, and she interpreted it as an “attack”; an attack so vicious that her therapist was surprised she’d even want to remain friends with me, or so she said in that email. Things quickly went from bad to worse. My apology and invitation to call elicited silence. My text to her a month later elicited more vigorous character assassination.

In the months since, I have mourned the loss of what was once life-sustaining. But I also tried, in my way, to look on the bright side. I told myself that now, at last, I would be forced to try to find a relationship. And, of course, I wouldn’t have to deal with the friggin’ Amaryllis anymore.

So when I received the box, seven months after the collapse of our friendship, I was both horrified — horrified to one more time receive this big hulking flower pot with the bulb that takes a month to bloom and several more to die — and relieved that she hadn’t written me off entirely after all.

I tried to go about my business as if the package hadn’t come. I cooked up some pasta for dinner and turned on the radio and puttered around the apartment, but of course it wasn’t as if the package hadn’t come. It had, and I felt that mixture of renewed anger (at this woman who turned on me in an instant and hasn’t yet had the wherewithal or courage or interest or whatever the relevant attribute might be to reach out to have a conversation about what happened) and growing curiosity tinged with hope. Hope that perhaps she did want to renew the friendship after all.

Finally, after the pasta was eaten and the dishes washed and put back in the cabinet, I scissored open the box and removed the greeting. Her note said this: “Some traditions live on!”

I haven’t touched the box since. Though I know that in time I will open it and water it and bring the bulb to life for this, its last season.

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Facebook: A Pantoum

The child got into Bard.
Early admission.
I know that from Facebook.
We haven’t “defriended” one another yet.

Early admission.
And paid in full.
We haven’t “defriended” one another yet.
Though that day is coming.

And paid in full.
For the heartbreak of a child’s fickleness.
Though that day is coming.
I won’t be there to see it.

For the heartbreak of a child’s fickleness.
She’ll “like” herself into oblivion.
I won’t be there to see it.
She’s denied all possibility.

She’ll “like” herself into oblivion.
I know that from Facebook.
She’s denied all possibility.
The child got into Bard.

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Boundaries

It is the night before my birthday. My 56th birthday to be precise. Not a great number. I am single. And whichever way you count — from the last real boyfriend, the last time I was in love, the last time I had sex — it’s been a long time since I have been with someone.

My oldest friend sends an email to find out which insurance company I use. She thinks that maybe her therapist can recommend a therapist for me in my network.

I tell her the name of the insurance company, but I say I’m not sure I want to be in therapy. Been there, done that.

“Hmmmmmmm,” she says. And now I need to justify myself. Or so it would seem. “I just need a new haircut and some more girlish clothes and to figure out how to socialize a bit more,” I say. It’s all I’ve got. I don’t want to tell her to back the fuck off. But that’s what I want her to do. My reply fails in its mission.

“No offense but,” she writes.  She is quoting her 16-year-old daughter. Imitating how her daughter prefaces a particularly withering comment, as if this humorous reference will lessen the sting of what is to come. “No offense but. Figuring out how to meet people isn’t hard.  I could write you a list.  So could you.  It’s actually getting yourself to do it that’s hard.  And that’s (one place) where I think a therapist could help.”

“No offense but,” I reply. “No offense but I think you’re wrong. You’re not a straight female of a certain age. And I don’t want to have to have a conversation about how fucked up I am the night before my birthday.” For emphasis, I tell her about an icky incident at work to make it clear I’ve already had a bad day and that this isn’t helping.

“Okay, nighty night,” she says.  “Talk tomorrow.”

We have plans for my birthday. Plans that have been the subject of much to-ing and fro-ing for days, because it’s not anything I would really want to do on any day, much less my birthday. Something I would have passed on on any day but my birthday. The plan is to go with her and her girlfriend to hear Andrea Bocelli singing in Central Park.

When she first mentioned that she’d gotten tickets, she asked if I’d like to go and I said sure. She then said she’d gotten four tickets and could her girlfriend come. And I said sure. But as the day of my birthday drew nearer, I began to feel that it was a bad idea. A very bad idea, in fact. I began to feel that I might very well erupt when the time came, and I tried to back out of the plan.

“Okay, let’s do something else,” she said. And I felt trapped in two different ways. I didn’t want to spend my birthday with her and her girlfriend. And I didn’t want to nix her plans to do something she’d evidently wanted to do enough to get tickets for it in the first place.

“No, let’s just do it,” I said. Changing  your mind is a no-no, in her book, and so I had to justify that change in some convincing way. And so I asked her to forgive any pre-birthday nuttiness by considering how I might be sad to still be single at this advanced stage of the game. From there it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the idea that what I should do is get back into therapy. I’d opened the door and she’d come barging through it.

The day of the Bocelli event, there was still more to-ing and fro-ing. I said I would meet them up at the park, where the concert would be held, at 6:45. Couldn’t I get there earlier? she wanted to know. What was the earliest I could leave work?  Begrudgingly, I agreed to meet her there at 6, telling myself that I should prefer to leave work on time on my birthday, than stay an extra 45 minutes just to make a little headways in all the uncompleted tasks of the day.

I raced to get to the park on time, smashing myself into a rush hour express stuffed with harried commuters. At 42nd, I jumped off for the local for the rest of the trip to 72nd. As I ran across the platform for the local, a woman running from the local to the express smacked into me. She apologized and ran to her train, doors still open. My train had clapped its little doors shut before I got there. Six minutes later, another local arrived. And I boarded it, my desperation growing.

When finally I emerged from the subway at 72nd street, I got a text from my friend saying that she was at Central Park South, which was the end of the line for the concert, and her girlfriend was on a bench at 71st. The rains that were predicted hadn’t yet come, but it was windy and cold. Unseasonably so for mid-September. I found the girlfriend on the bench and told her I was going home. Then I called my friend and told her I was going home.

“No,” she said.

“Really, it’s better,” I said.

Then I fled the scene of the concert, walked three blocks west, and bought myself a vodka and a soup and salad at a wonderful French restaurant — a restaurant I would have been happy to go to with a mate, if I had one. After the soup and salad and a pathetic confession to the waiter that it was my birthday and that I might just need a second vodka tonic, he brought me a piece of flour-less chocolate cake on a plate beautifully decorated with fleur de lis-like scrolls and the words “Happy Birthday.” On top of the cake was a mint leaf and a single candle — a candle that broadcast to everyone in the restaurant  that the bedraggled woman at the table by herself, bravely fighting back tears, was celebrating her birthday alone.

Humiliated by this public display, I blew out the candle as quickly as I could, failing to take the time to first make a wish.  But I have a wish. And with cautious optimism, I allow myself to believe that it might come true.

Only later, when I spoke  to my friend again, did I learn that she had given the original extra ticket to her therapist, who had, in turn, given it to her husband. When I bailed for the night, my friend quickly texted her therapist and reported that now she had a second extra ticket, and the therapist picked up that one as well.

My friend and her girlfriend had left the concert before it actually started, as the park was too crowded (at eight they still hadn’t made it to Sheep’s Meadow) and the girlfriend was too cold. But the therapist meandered over at nine or so, and reported back to my friend that she’d enjoyed it thoroughly.

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