Category Archives: Loss

Day 4: Writing Retreat Reflection

Earlier this month, I confided to my mother that I was disappointed when my former best friend didn’t show up for my 31st birthday. I’m not sure why, maybe it was because the last time we “spoke” (texted) was on her 30th birthday — six months prior, but I had some expectation that I would (at least) receive a generic “happy birthday” text. Even worse, I had some small hope she’d show up at the finish line of my half marathon that day. Obviously, she didn’t. She didn’t text. She didn’t call. And she sure as hell didn’t show up. My mom’s reaction to my disappointment?

“Fuck her.”

A few months ago my husband told me that he’d considered reaching out to J to help me reconcile things. I had two reactions to this:

  1. Why didn’t you?????
  2. I’m so glad you didn’t.

In the months since October, I’ve been sorting through a lot of emotions and trying to figure things out. The first is I’ve been shocked at how much a friendship ending can hurt. The gut-wrenching pain and constant reminders of someone who was once such an influential part of your life is outstanding. In all honesty, it’s worse than almost any breakup I’ve been through.

I’ve lost friends over the years, but never like this. In college, my high school best friend replied to an email telling me she “didn’t have time” for our friendship anymore now that she had a boyfriend. Despite our closeness, the fact that we went to different universities and I was consumed with a boyfriend (the only breakup that, in memory, seems worse than this friendship ending) and other friends made moving on a lot easier than this. I think I can contribute a lot of that to the fact that my high school best friend and I didn’t go through nearly the shit I did with J.

So, I’ve been trying to figure it out: Am I better off without her? Should I listen to my mom’s advice and say “Fuck her” after all? She was the maid of honor in my wedding just two months prior to this breakup.

J and I met working at Starbucks sometime in late summer, early fall of 2010 – I actually didn’t realize until now how far back we go. I was 24 and had just been fired from my first and only waitressing job in Chicago. I’d been living in the city for three years working as a freelance writer, which meant I was also a dog walker, waitress and barista.

If my memory serves me right, we became fast friends as two young adults trying to accomplish our dreams in a big city. She’d gone to college in Chicago, and I moved there immediately upon graduating from college.

We were exactly the same and completely different. She was a quiet theater girl who was ready to marry her abusive boyfriend she was living with at the time. I was an outgoing writer who had no idea what the future held and prided myself on my independence. She was from Kentucky. I was from Detroit. She was a runner. I was a smoker. She had bunnies. I was the proud owner of a hound dog. And yet, a powerful bond was formed.

Over the next six years, a lot happened. And I mean a lot:

  • I left Starbucks to finally kick off my career at the Chicago Tribune.
  • J left Starbucks not far behind me. She was in an off-Broadway play, Pinkalicious, and started working at a children’s gym.
  • I was in a near-death accident when riding my bike to work at the Tribune.
  • J visited me almost every single day during my month-long hospital stay at Northwestern hospital.
  • I spent three months back at my mom’s recovering from my accident (yeah, it was that bad – you can read more about it in my post We’re Goin’ to Better Places).
  • I moved back to Chicago.
  • I started dating my husband.
  • J’s boyfriend came out as transgender and decided to make the transition to become female. J supported her and stayed with her.
  • J left her girlfriend, because she’s heterosexual, and moved out – living alone for the first time in her life.
  • J’s apartment building burnt down. (She didn’t call me. I only found out because she posted it on Facebook.)
  • J started dating a psychopath who eventually told her she was “too damaged to be loved.”
  • J texted me threatening suicide; when I reached out to that psychopath boyfriend, he informed me they had broken up (at least) a week before. I had no idea.
  • My boyfriend moved in with me.
  • I got engaged. (J didn’t respond to my call/voicemail celebrating the good news. It took several months for her to actually — reluctantly — congratulate me.)
  • I asked J to be my maid of honor.
  • J started dating the “male version” of me (her words) via Tinder.
  • J’s six-month old nephew died unexpectedly.
  • I got married.

And then, our friendship ended. The event that triggered the breakup deserves more than just a bullet point. And I’ve been reading about “how to deal” with these types of breakups. A lot of articles say that the author realizes at a later date how they made themselves out to be the victim. So I hope one day, once I’ve actually mourned this loss and moved on, I can see it that way too; I think it would make it hurt less. However, for now, I’m still bitter as hell.

My near-death accident (mentioned above) involved me (on my bicycle) being hit and partially run over by a delivery truck — think FedEx truck, but smaller than a semi and bigger than a van. In the years since, I’ve been traumatized by stories of and actual encounters seeing other cyclists hit by cars and trucks. My reaction is the same every time: I freak the fuck out. And I usually freak out to my mom, my husband and J.

One of these events is that catalyst for mine and J’s demise. I had recently started a new job and was having an issue with my contacts, so I went home early. (If it hadn’t been for my early departure, J and I would probably still be friends.) On my walk home from the train, I came across a motorcyclist who had been hit by a minivan. He was on the ground, unconscious. There was blood. Good Samaritans had stopped and were at the biker’s side. I heard sirens coming. I knew help was on the way. I kept walking.

I was rattled. I think the first thing I did was call my mom and sob, “Why do I always see horrible things?” Earlier that summer I’d seen a bicyclist get thrown into the air by a car when crossing the onramp near my house while out for a run. He was OK, I’d called 9-1-1 and he’d walked away.

I texted J, in need of a friend. In need of support. And I got shut down.

What happened next was a series of text messages (still on my phone) that I refuse to look at. I know it will make me mad and sad and a lot of other emotions to revisit the exact words. But, overall, the conversation went something like this:

I asked J why she hadn’t responded when I’d reached out the day before. Her response? She was talking to her mom. Apparently some things were going on back in Kentucky that I don’t know about to this day. But somehow, I was supposed to recognize that she was “going through something” even though I’d never been looped in. (If I had to guess, it was something to do with her brother and sister-in-law who were still dealing with the effects of losing their son a year and a half prior.)

My confrontation regarding her lack of support resulted in J asking if I was drunk. This only fueled my fire. The texting ended with one request. I said something along the lines of, “Don’t bother talking to me until you can admit you’re wrong.” She responded with, “I mean, likewise.”

Her 30th birthday was a few weeks later, so I shot a HBD text her way. It was greeted with a simple thank you. That’s the last time we spoke. And I’ve been devastated ever since.

I’ve thought about reaching out, trying to mend the fences. Maybe it’s my pride, but I’ve chosen not to. I’ve also gotten more and more angry the longer she’s gone without reaching out.

Sometimes I think it might be better for my personal well-being to get some sort of closure with this. But in the end:

Image result for i want to forgive you and forget you the hills gif

I’m completely hesitant to even post this, because it means putting how I feel out in the world. It means the possibility that J will see it. Which means the end. But, I need to move on, and I’m not really sure how else to do that.

Multiple articles say writing a letter you’ll never send is one of the steps to closure of a friendship that’s ended, and, I’ve done that. It’s in the drafts folder of my Gmail account, and it’s mean. It says things that I don’t even feel or think. And I think that’s because I’m still in the anger stage of grief.

I don’t know where I was hoping to go with this or what I was hoping to get out of it. I think it just needed to get my thoughts on the page, and vent. So, I’m really no further along than I was at the start. Somehow, though, I’m OK with that.

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When was the last time you did something for the first time?

It has been a long time since I read a book I enjoyed as much as “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed. For the last year or so, I’ve been on a non-fiction kick, reading about economics, exploring the science of food and diving into the senses of a dog. But even before that, I really don’t recall the last time I connected to a novel as much as I did “Wild”—maybe in high school when I read Megan McCafferty’s series following my sweet Jessica Darling through her teenage trials and triumphs.

wild

Not only is “Wild” well written, but I found many points of connection with Cheryl (the novel’s author and main character). That’s not to say we’ve shared all the same experiences:

  • She struggled with drug addiction
  • She lost her mother at the young age of 23
  • She divorced her sweetheart and best friend
  • She hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, solo no less

But, then there are the similarities:

  • We’re both writers
  • We both grew up without a fathers
  • We were both raised by a magnificent mother
  • We’ve both accomplished things we’d never thought ourselves possible of

But beyond the obvious, easy-to-point-out aspects of our lives that make us similar, there’s just something about Cheryl that makes me feel a connection to her. Maybe that’s what makes her such a talented writer, being able to invoke such an overwhelming emotional connection as I absorb the pages of her writing.

There’s no doubt that Cheryl’s and my life are far from parallel. Our struggles that led us to similar places differ greatly: Physical versus emotional. However, I think we’ve both fought with the other’s struggle. But I’ve found that pain, no matter how inflicted, tends to evoke similar responses in people. There’s the fight or flight response, both on impact and after the pain has struck, once it’s time to actually deal with it.

So, let me get to the point of all this. The reason why I’m bothering to draw all of these comparisons. For the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve been embarking on physical feats I never thought possible of myself. And along the way, I’ve had many people ask me why. A lot of friends and family have given me quizzical looks when I explained to them what my next obstacle to overcome would be. And I’ve come to the realization that most don’t understand. Well, there’s one section in “Wild” that, for me, perfectly explained what I’d been wanting to say:

This—the hardest thing I’d ever done.

I stopped in my tracks when that thought came into my mind, that hiking the PCT was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Immediately, I amended the thought. Watching my mother die and having to live without her, that was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Leaving Paul and destroying our marriage and life as I knew it for the simple and inexplicable reason that I felt I had to—that had been hard as well. But hiking the PCT was hard in a different way. In a way that made the other hardest things the tiniest bit less hard. It was strange but true. And perhaps I’d known it in some way from the very beginning. Perhaps the impulse to purchase the PCT guidebook months before had been a primal grab for a cure, for the thread of my life that had been severed.

I could feel it unspooling behind me—the old thread I’d lost, the new one I was spinning—while I hiked that morning, the snowy peaks of the High Sierras coming into occasional view.

 

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Today was a Sad Day

I’m not sure just why, but today was a sad day. It loomed over me on my morning walk. The air was crisp, not as humid as it had been. The sky was fresh blue, but there was something lurking in the distance.

As the day went on, these suspicions were confirmed. A reminder of a court hearing appeared on my Newsfeed – I wished them well (this has been left intentionally vague). Later, the follow up for that hearing’s sentencing was delivered to me via text, and my eyes welled. I was left with so many questions. But there was one thing that mattered the most:

I feel more at peace.

In this life, we are touched by so many. Those who are close to us, related by blood. Those who we pick up along the way, the ones who feel like they were meant to be in your bloodline. But then there are the ones we never meet, the ones whose stories we read, the ones whose lives never directly cross our paths. And yet, somehow, our lives can still be touched by theirs.

To the family who lost their sister, their mother, their daughter too soon: You are in my thoughts.