April 6, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Old Friends. ~ Brooke Rothman


“It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.”

~ Joan Didion

15 was a good age, one of the best for me. It was the age of adventure, dreams, and above all, friendship.

When I was a teenager, I had a few close girlfriends who made up—basically—my whole world. They were slightly older than I was and in my mind they were bad asses—I tried to emulate them.

They taught me to stick up for myself and to question authority. They taught me that life wasn’t all about getting good grades and creating a resume for college applications. They brought me to my first parties and skip days.

I saw them as family, as the big sisters I’d wished for as a little girl. They were there to listen to the excitement of my first kiss, my first crush, and the stories of every hope and heartbreak a girl has at 15.

They were there for everything.

Then, in what seemed like an instant, they were gone. Each graduated high school and went off to college, leaving me alone in my small town to fend for myself and figure out my own way. This was my first real experience coping with loss.

For a long time—more than 10 years—I thought they would return. I thought that even though we’d lost touch quite quickly after they left, memories of the times we’d shared together would bring them back to me. I knew one day I would find them or they would find me.

Then over a decade after I lost them, one day the magic of the Internet brought them back to me.

Now that we were in our 20s and free to do whatever we wanted, I imagined we would relive all the crazy things we did as girls—as women—and do the things we’d always dreamed of together. I expected to feel that same connection we shared as teens.

But expectations rarely lead to happiness, and the reunion I’d hoped for did not come to pass.

My friends were not the same as I’d remembered. They each had a family, cars, and houses in the suburbs while I was single and living in New York City, still chasing my dreams and buying metro cards. My world didn’t mesh with theirs anymore. I remember thinking we didn’t have that much to say to each other.

“It was good to see you,” I told them after a few hours together.

It was good—and now it was over. Actually it had ended all those years before but I couldn’t see that. I didn’t want to see because if I saw it, I’d have to accept that those friendships had run their course. I had not been ready to let go of the past quite yet.

Saying goodbye to those friendships meant saying goodbye to 15.

Intrinsically I know goodbyes are a part of life, but I still hate to say them. More than anything else, I hate it when people go away. Even though I know it’s not the truth, it always feels like those people are leaving me. Oddly enough, I rarely think about the times I’ve left people—physically or mentally. I wonder if those people felt the same sadness at the end.

Now, I understand that this is the way it goes. The universe places people in our lives for a period of time and eventually it takes them out. I truly believe we are meant to learn from each relationship, and when we stop learning from it the relationships end.

Sometimes we actually need it to end in order to grow up and move on.

I’m grateful for the friendships I had as a teenager. They were real, powerful and in many ways unlike any I’ve had since. They helped shape the woman I would become and taught me how I wanted to show up for the friendships I’d create in my future. But I know that I don’t need them to be happy anymore. I don’t need them to be me.

Turns out the thing I was most afraid of saying goodbye to wasn’t worth worrying about after all. That 15 year-old girl never really went away. She’s still there pushing me forward, helping me find the strength to be vulnerable, and reminding me to go out in the world and have fun.

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Photo: elephant archives

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Brooke Rothman