I’ve had friendships explode before, while others have drifted away. But nothing hurt like the death of my oldest friendship.
Twelve years ago, I visited my hometown and we had dinner together. I had hoped to see her again afterward, since I was in town for two weeks, but she didn’t return my calls. I left her another message, and she called back the day I was leaving, saying she thought I’d be in town longer. I returned home feeling stung and confused.
A few days later, my grandmother died. My friend still didn’t reach out to me, though I knew that in our small hometown, she’d have heard the news.
A seed of hurt bloomed in the center of my chest.
We’d known each other since kindergarten and been friends since middle school. We’d ridden the waves of high school together. Later, we rented a small blue house on a mountainside together. We’d shared crushes and homes, road trips and secrets.
After my brother died, she sat with my family for hours. She brought me creamy mochas from the coffee shop where she worked. It was the type of simple, kind gesture that I’ll never forget, in a time when I’d needed sweetness and warmth more than ever.
I couldn’t understand why she’d blown me off. Had I said or done something during my visit home? Did her husband not like me? I wracked my brain for clues about what had marred our friendship.
As time went on, that seed of hurt thickened. It turned into resentment, though underneath it was raw sadness.
I missed her.
When we grow up with someone, we accumulate piles of stories, inside jokes, even our own language. I have lovely friends in my life today, but none who knew me when I was 13 years old. My friends now know me as the woman I’ve become—a creative, messy, funny, anxious, middle-aged mom. They don’t know the other layers just beneath—the chain-smoking poet, the insatiable hiker, the quiet girl in the corner whose mind was humming faster than anyone could imagine. They didn’t know me when I had hair-spray hardened 80s bangs, and they never glimpsed my childhood bedroom, the floor strewn wall-to-wall with books, CDs and scraps of poetry-scrawled paper.
Last winter, I found out that a member of my friend’s family had died unexpectedly. For days, my friend floated through my mind, memories of our friendship cresting. I got her email address from a mutual friend and sent her a short note. I said a prayer, asking for my heart to be strong and open. Then I held my breath, wondering if she’d respond.
She wrote back.
When I read her words, which were flecked with her familiar sense of humor as well as apologies for letting our friendship wilt, my heart swelled. I knew I’d missed her. I knew I’d held hurt and resentment in my chest, where I store all my aches and burdens. But it wasn’t until she came back into my life that I realized how much of my heart she held.
Last week we spoke for the first time in over a decade. Her voice sounded the same—something I’d loved but forgotten, and was thrilled to remember.
All those years gone by—thick, ripe years of babies and divorce and moving and career changes. Years we missed but are slowly catching up on, swirling in and out of time as we fill each other in on our lives.
She knew me when I was more wild and crazy, when I was lonelier but full of freedom. When in some ways, without all the trappings of family life, I was more me.
After we spoke, my mind raced with ideas of travelling together, hiking mountains I’ve never seen, her meeting my kids. Slow down, I tell myself. But there is so much time to make up for, and an open heart doesn’t know how to take things slow.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Editor: Catherine Monkman