My Girls

[You] are the . . . women who are tied to my heart by a cord which can never be broken and which really pulls me continually.  My love for you rests on a past which no future can reverse, and offensive as the words seem to have been to you, I must repeat, that I can feel no bitterness towards you, however you may act towards me.  If you remain to me what you have ever been, my life will be all the happier, and I will try not to be unworthy of your love so far as faithfulness to my own conscience can make me worthy of it . . . . Interpret my whole letter so as to make it accord with this plain statement — I love [you] with unchanged and unchangeable affection, and while I retain your friendship, I retain the best that life has given me.
— excerpted from a letter by Marian Evans (aka George Eliot) in Friend to Friend, by Lois Wise

In college, I met two women who became my very best friends.  They had grown up together and came to my small east coast college the year after me; they were roommates.  I met them through music: LH had auditioned to be in the a cappella group I was in, and one night shortly thereafter, she and LB were sitting outside their dorm smoking.  I went over to LH and said quietly, “Be in your room tomorrow night around 7.”  Our group had a tradition of “singing in” the new members – knocking on their doors and singing our theme song to welcome them to our group.  I had been out of my room the night they came for me the year before, and I always regretted it, so I didn’t want LH to miss out.

She and I became friends because most of the others in our group were too staid for our tastes – lovely girls, and fun in their own ways, but the two of us were decidedly different.  LB was too.  After a rocky beginning (LB says she didn’t like me right away because she was scared of me – I get that a lot, which I think is weird), we were pretty soon inseparable.  We laughed all the time – we had the same crazy sense of humor, we said things everyone else thought but wouldn’t say, we judged EVeryone from our little misfit tower, we could finish each others’ sentences and knew what each other were thinking with just a look; we even had our own language.  And we drank.  Lord, how we drank.  And smoked cigarettes.  And talked about boys, constantly.  Occasionally, as groups of three are wont to do, two would get angry at one, or two would fight and the third would have to take a side or try desperately to stay neutral.  The fights never lasted long – you need your friends, man.  Above all else, though, we were fiercely loyal to each other.

I wish I had the words to tell you what these two women were to me.  I wish I could explain all the crazy antics we got up to and have you get it – the karaoke nights,the road trips to their homes in Westchester, the gyroscope, the gazebo, GIG, Lobster Luau, Phi Delta Sexy.  I wish you could have seen us back then: the three of us against the world, living our lives balls-out, making mistakes, learning about life and love and heartbreak all together.  We were really something.

It would take too long to get into details, but suffice it to say, we are not the same kind of friends now that we were back then, and even for several years after college.  There’s a lot to blame for that – geography, jobs, life changes – but much of it is my fault, though I didn’t know it when it was happening.  In the years between college and losing my hearing, I was really a very unhappy person.  I took that unhappiness out in a variety of ways, none of them very healthy, and the people closest to me took the brunt of  it – ask Aimee.  What I thought at the time was me telling LH honestly what I thought about the decision she had made several years earlier to drop out of school was really me, drunk in the Sheraton parking lot in the middle of the night, judging her and yelling at her (in front of LB) for making decisions that I thought were wrong for her, without once considering where she was coming from.  And that, I learned later, was the beginning of the end.  I didn’t know it then because I apologized in a hungover haze the next morning, she accepted, we laughed over breakfast, and she and LB headed back to NY and I went back to Richmond.  When I look back at my life, that night is my single biggest regret.

It wasn’t until after I lost my hearing and LB promised and promised to come down and never did and never called that I discovered what I had really done.  I wrote her a long letter lamenting the state of our friendship and telling her how let down I was that she wasn’t there when I needed her.  In return I got a letter that broke my heart and opened my eyes.  LB said she was sorry for not coming down and not calling (“I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.”) but that my letter made her realize she needed to be honest with me, too.  She told me that ever since the scene with LH in the parking lot (which was probably two years earlier), she hadn’t thought of me the same way.  She told me that on the way home that day, LH was not herself, was clearly still so upset over the night before.  LB said she knew that I judged her for not finishing school, either (she dropped out after her junior year), and that what I had  done to LH made her wonder when I would turn on her, too.  There was more, but the gist was that I had done serious damage to my friendships with them and LB didn’t know how to get past it.

Call me naive, but I’d had no idea that either of them felt that way.  We’d talked on the phone plenty since then, and even visited, and things had seemed fine.  I was devastated to hear how badly I’d hurt them.  I cried for a long time after finishing LB’s letter.  I took the letter with me to my next counseling appointment and read it to my counselor and cried some more.  I just could not stand that these women who I adored, these amazing, beautiful women, had been so hurt by something I’d done.  Thinking about it even now makes my heart ache.

I wrote to LH.  I told her all of this – that LB had told me how hurt they both were, that I’d had no idea, and that above all, I was sorry beyond words for what I’d done.  I told her that, though it was no excuse, I was angry at the world back then, and that I took it out in all the wrong ways.  I said, “The person I am now can see what the person I was then couldn’t: that you were struggling with your own demons, too, and I was wildly out of line to assume that I knew what was best for you.”  I asked her to forgive me, even though I knew I didn’t deserve it.  She called me as soon as she got the letter.

Things were great after that.  The two of them road-tripped down for my cochlear implant surgery in August 2003 and brought me a bag full of silly stuff from the dollar store and one of those gigantic greeting cards.  On the inside of the card, LH had written the crazy narrative of their trip, and on the outside of the envelope, LB had illustrated the story for me.  To this day, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever received.

I don’t think I saw either of them after that until my third year of law school almost 4 years later.  In between, we’d kept in touch by email and MySpace (before we discovered Facebook).  Mostly it was LB and me; LH kind of went off the grid for a bit. I made plans to visit LB in Connecticut where she was now living and working, and when I got there, LH was there as a surprise to me!  We had so much fun that weekend; if you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought we’d never been apart.

I don’t want to go into explicit detail about the rest, really, and I don’t know that it’s necessary.  I should tell you though, that at least twice since I moved down to DC, I’ve innocently commented on something LB posted on MySpace or Facebook and gotten responses along the lines of “I guess I never was good enough for you.”  The first time it happened, I got mad and emailed her, asking what in the world she was talking about, explaining that I hadn’t intended to hurt her feelings, and saying that I didn’t think I’d done anything to make her feel she wasn’t good enough, at least not in a very long time, like years.  She responded, “You’re right.  My problem, not yours.”  Later it came out that she was going through a rough time personally, which she had opted not to share with me, and was very unhappy generally.  The second time it happened, about a year and a half later, I cried, telling David I didn’t know how many more ways I could apologize, or how else to show her that I’m a different person now. I hate that I ever did anything that made her feel less than, but I can’t change the past, and I don’t know how long I’m supposed to be punished for that.  I didn’t tell her she hurt my feelings; I let it go because I didn’t want another email like she’d sent before.  Now, I always hesitate to comment on anything she posts on Facebook, and when I do, I re-read it before I post it, trying to see any way that she might take it the wrong way, trying to avoid a repeat of the other incidents.  I hate that.

LH up and moved to Texas a while ago.  We are in touch through Facebook, but that’s it.  Her leaving school when she did – after her and LB’s sophomore year – meant LB and I were always closer, since we had a year together when it was just us.  I think she’s always been a little sad about that, and our relationship is really mostly superficial.

I’ve heard it said that some friendships have an expiration date.  Maybe that’s true, and maybe these friendships have run their course, but that makes me terribly sad.  I don’t know much of anything that’s going on in their lives, except what they post online.  They’ve both got other best friends now – they aren’t even each others best friend anymore – and we’re scattered across the country.  Losing them – and that’s really how I look at it, although it only just occurred to me that that’s what’s really happened – is heartbreaking for me.  I never had a sister; the two of them (and Aimee, of course) were the closest I ever came. I don’t even have the words to adequately explain how the change in our relationship makes me feel; I can only tell you that I’ve written nearly this entire post with tears running down my face.  I miss them more than I can say.

Selfishly, one of the hardest things for me is wondering if we’d have ended up this far apart even if that night had never happened.  I don’t know, but I can’t help but think things would be different.  And knowing that I’m mostly to blame for my estrangement from the two women I felt connected to on a level I’ve never felt before is a hard thing to take.  I can’t fix it.  I tried my best and it only put a band-aid on it.  I can’t unring the bell, and I will forever be sorry.

I read the book the opening quote comes from about a year after I lost my hearing, probably right around the time I sent LB that letter.  It’s perfect, and perfectly heartbreaking:

[You] are the . . . women who are tied to my heart by a cord which can never be broken and which really pulls me continually.  My love for you rests on a past which no future can reverse, and offensive as the words seem to have been to you, I must repeat, that I can feel no bitterness towards you, however you may act towards me.  If you remain to me what you have ever been, my life will be all the happier, and I will try not to be unworthy of your love so far as faithfulness to my own conscience can make me worthy of it . . . . Interpret my whole letter so as to make it accord with this plain statement — I love [you] with unchanged and unchangeable affection, and while I retain your friendship, I retain the best that life has given me.

My life is better and funnier and happier for having had them in it.  My love for them rests on our past; I love them still, whatever their feelings towards me; and whatever happens in the future, I will love them always.

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One thought on “My Girls

  1. That was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. Friendships are hard work and require steadfastness on the part of all within them. It’s especially hard to know how to keep friendships alive when circumstances change, and I think it’s something that happens to a lot of people at our age.

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