In sixth grade, my identical twin sister and I had to ride the bus to school for the first time. Bigger kids–seventh and eighth graders–rode the bus with us. No one ever really outwardly teased us, but we both knew that they were laughing at us behind our backs, about what I’m still not really sure. I guess we weren’t cool in the ways that mattered at that age–we didn’t wear Guess jeans, and we were smart and good at school. We carried our violin and viola to school every day, and we weren’t involved in all the gossip even though we all lived in the same neighborhood.
V rode the bus with us. She’d been our friend through elementary school, as she lived on the street behind us. She also carried her viola, and she also wasn’t particularly cool–she had buck teeth and was skinny and gawky, but somehow she seemed a lot more confident with the older kids, who were her immediate neighbors.
One day, my twin and I stopped at the drinking fountain on our way out of school to catch the bus. V caught up with us and said, “Please don’t talk to me on the bus. I don’t want everyone to know I’m friends with you.”
I vaguely remember agreeing that this would be the best thing to do. It wasn’t until several minutes later, maybe even not until we got home, that it occurred to us to be wounded by this comment, but once we realized what she’d said, our friendship never quite recovered, even though we all ran in the same circles in high school.
Years passed between V’s breakup and the next significant one I remember. The summer after my first year of college, I returned to Kalamazoo to live. I still felt like Kalamazoo was more my home than Ann Arbor, and so I got a room in a filthy punk house. I worked at the Subway Sandwiches a couple miles away. I rode my bike there every weekday morning, and then after work, I spent my evenings at the local coffee shop that was started by a punk kid we all knew. I carried my Royal typewriter there in a red wagon I had found and sat and wrote letters or worked on my zine.
There I befriended M who had recently moved to town from an hour or so away. I’d known of her through the punk and zine scene, but at the Comet Café, we became close. She lived down the street at another punk house, and I was so taken with her take-no-shit toughness and the way she cried easily. She was an artist and a writer, and I loved her big laugh.
When I went back to college, an hour and a half away, we stayed in touch, mostly by writing letters. She eventually moved from Kalamazoo to Olympia, Washington, and though we never lived in the same town again, I still felt a strong connection.
The spring break of my junior year, I was stuck in a kind of a rut–I was in a shitty relationship and needed to get out of town. I found a very cheap flight to Olympia and decided to visit her and another friend I had there.
I was staying with the other friend, but M and I made plans to get together the first night I was there. She had to work at the strip joint where she danced, but she said she’d call when she got off work. Hours after she’d told me her shift ended, she still hadn’t called, so I called her instead. She didn’t call back. I tried a few more times that night and then again all the next day and the next until I had to fly home. She never called back, and I never talked to her again.
S and I were friends in college. We both volunteered with a group of folks who did arts in prisons, and she and I led a improvisational theatre workshop with incarcerated men together. This work was hugely influential in my life, and the connections I made with people who also did this work were consequently very meaningful.
After we both graduated, we went our separate ways, I to California, she to New Orleans. We kept up a bit through email. We had never been intimate enough to have a regular phone relationship, but after I lost my first teaching job and wanted some kind of change, I had a passing idea that I’d move to New Orleans.
September 11th had just happened, and plane tickets were cheap. I lived with a woman who’d just won a large settlement in a housing case, and she offered to bankroll a trip to New Orleans for the two of us and my sweetie. I wanted to visit to see if it was a cool place to live, and my housemate just wanted to travel. I asked S if we could stay with her, and she offered up a room at the big bicycle punk collective warehouse where she lived.
We hadn’t been there long when S started acting weird. She didn’t make much of an effort to be friendly or catch up. She seemed far more interested in her various projects, her job stripping, and the life of her household community. The first night we got there, as we were cleaning up dinner, she turned to a man who lived there and, flirtatiously asked, “What are you doing tonight?” completely ignoring me, my friend, and my sweetie who were all staying there.
The three of us ended up sort of fending for ourselves, as she went about her social life without us. We finally decided that, if we weren’t going to actually get to hang out with her, the cockroaches crawling all over us at night while we slept and the muggy, uncomfortable heat of our warehouse bedroom weren’t worth it, and my housemate decided to pay for a hotel room for the three of us for our remaining two nights there.
The last full day we were in New Orleans, S and I made plans to hang out alone, just the two of us. I called her from the hotel room, and she didn’t answer my call. I called several times, but she never called me back. We left New Orleans a day later.
We are now casual friends on Facebook.
The most recent girlfriend who broke up with me is the loss that sits on me most heavily. J and I were best friends through high school. We’d started out as enemies in sixth grade, but, by eighth grade, we were close. Though we had very different social circles, my intimacy with her was the most important friendship besides my twin. We spent long hours at our favorite café together, where we shared the stories of our lives as we were figuring out the kind of adults we wanted to become, and we took various road trips together before we went away to separate colleges. We promised each other that we would not become the kind of “best friends” her mother had–women who exchanged Christmas cards yearly but never really saw each other besides that. We imagined living together, raising our children together, having the kind of extended family that we felt was lacking in our suburban childhood.
When we separated for college, we still talked on the phone regularly. We also tried to get together whenever we could, which wasn’t often: She was in New York and then India and then Colorado, and I was in Michigan.
We had the kind of intense relationship where, every couple years, we’d have a major falling out, but we always managed to work it out to become close again. After the last falling out, once we decided we wanted to make our friendship work, we went through a counseling process that a therapist friend of mine had given me, and it seemed like, once we’d aired all our old wounds and given voice to all the shit we’d been through in our twenty years as friends, our friendship was stronger than ever, especially when we eventually became new mothers around the same time.
This is why her breaking up with me just a few months ago seems that much more hurtful–it came out of nowhere and caught me completely by surprise.
Like most new moms, I’d been struggling with my baby’s sleep. My sweetie and I had discussed various methods for getting him to sleep, including “crying it out,” which I felt–and feel–firmly opposed to. I happened to mention this to J while talking to her on the phone one afternoon. The conversation was equal parts asking for advice and venting how tired I was and how frustrating sleep was, especially given that my sweetie and I were in minor disagreement.
Later that evening, J sent me email after email about why I shouldn’t allow my baby to cry himself to sleep despite the fact that I’d repeatedly told her that I was also opposed to this methodology. Somewhere in the course of this email back and forth, I’d expressed that we hope our son grows up to be independent and self-sufficient. J told me that she thinks “independence is bullshit,” and I expressed to her that this felt like an unfairly harsh condemnation of a value that we hold for our child.
Her response to this was to write me a long email telling me that she can’t be the kind of friend I need her to be, that she can’t spend so much time engaging with me, that her energy needs to go into her own family. She said I could write her back if I needed to for closure, but she would not respond; we were done as friends.
This was four months ago. We haven’t spoken, and I am still not entirely sure what happened between us.
I think about these women now. I’m getting older, and it seems like it gets harder and harder to find the kinds of friendships with women I had growing up. Though I am thankful for the women I am deeply close with, I still feel sad about how hard it seems to develop the kind of intimacy I want in female friendships, and I mourn the loss of some of these relationships. Many of my best friends live far away, and I still worry about becoming the kind of friends I once promised myself not to become–the Christmas card exchangers. Raising a child and working full time is a challenge, but, for this reason, I feel like I want the groundedness that comes with friendships; I want the mothers who are going through it too to be able to share their experiences with me, and I want to feel like I have women who will listen to me and be there for me.