Well, this is awkward.
I have a few friends in mind who’ve fallen away, and I don’t mean the kind of situational friends who land in your life for a while and then, because of circumstance — new job, new geography — contact dissipates but fond feelings remain. I mean close friends who were once ride-or-die, except we are both still very much alive but so stalled out. For reasons.
Here’s the awkward part. I decide to write their names out to jog my memory to write this column. Too many come immediately to mind. Hey, thanks, subconscious! It’s not “a few.” It’s more like half a dozen, it’s an actual list. Each name holds complicated feelings — mine, and, undoubtedly, theirs. I give myself a teeny, tiny pass because I’m counting over six decades, so maybe that’s not so terrible? Maybe I’m not so terrible?
Lost friendship is lost love, right? I mean, I loved these people. I pine for them from time to time. As I’ve said, getting older only seems bearable if we’re at least trying to get wiser, and that means taking a look at our patterns and traps, at our hearts! Mine has sustained cracks when I’ve parted ways with a dear one, if not full-on heartbreak. Also — another getting-older thing — more and more, I am aware, deeply, that loss is coming for us well before it arrives, loss is on the way, it’s inevitable, and you sure don’t have to invite it.
So where did the love go?
There’s the friend from college who asks for help with a memoir, which I can’t make time for, and yet, I never say a definitive no. What the friend doesn’t realize, what I don’t tell the friend, is that their work is fraught with challenges for me — detailed dives into health issues (I’ve got my own and have a hard time reading the gory details of someone else’s); this person’s nearly lifelong addiction narrative (the disease has hijacked this friend); and honestly, even the request itself gets under my skin. I write and edit for a living, and the expectation of work for free brings up a lot for Little Miss Helpmate Me, who toiled with partners over their work while neglecting my own for years. Every Sunday night, I resolve to read the friend’s work. Every Monday morning, eh, maybe not today.
I’m sorry to not be there for this friend and yet, I wish my friend were considering what my reasons might be.
There is my long-ago best friend with whom I shared years of fun. We tore up the town, we danced until dawn and laughed our heads off. I think she stopped liking me when I got the husband-kids-house package as she continued to live in our old apartment. Not because my friend didn’t have the package (it all happened, I’ve heard) but because I was too blind to see then, and certainly do see now, I fell hard into all this other love. I was protective of it and insulated by it and too proud of it, all to my heedless treatment of this friend. I think. Maybe. I honestly don’t know. She dropped out and I let life carry me away.
I tried to apologize in an email a few years later, in the wrong way with the wrong words, and got silence in return. I wish this friend had given me the opportunity to be sorry.
Then there’s the person who started out as a professional connection and became a dear friend. In fact, when, in my mid-forties, fortune frowned on me and I lost parents, health, money, house and a marriage in five fast years, with little kids to protect, this friend helped me get back up. I worked hard to stabilize on all fronts, and it seemed like the better I felt, the less my friend prioritized our friendship.
I couldn’t help but suspect that my friend was invested in the friendship only when I was at a cosmic disadvantage. There was cutting commentary and tone of voice with contempt and derision. There was talk behind my back. I thought of this friend as a best friend, and I have a long fuse, comically so, stupidly so. But to put it in the most basic terms: The friend was too mean to me and I couldn’t take it anymore! The friend waved me off as “too sensitive,” and that, at least, is totally true.
We did talk a few times, we tried, we tried again, nothing changed. That door is partly open, I think, and maybe it’s time for me to cautiously knock.
And then there are the other friends…
I’ll stop here, mostly because I’m a little bit fragile right now. The world is too much for me and I’ll venture to say, maybe you, too, these days. The cracks in my heart, places where love fell through, threaten to widen. I will undoubtedly explore this territory again because I am sorry — I am — but also, maybe not quite sorry enough or too hurt or just tired, at least today. Next column, I’m going to try and lighten up!
How many friendships have you let go over the years? Are there any old friends you’d like to apologize to or still want an apology from? Share with us in the comments below.
About Stephanie Gangi
Stephanie Gangi is a poet, essayist and fiction writer. Carry the Dog is her second novel. Her acclaimed debut, The Next, was published by St. Martin’s Press. Gangi’s shorter work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Catapult, Dame, LitHub, Hippocrates Poetry Anthology, McSweeney’s, New Ohio Review, Next Tribe, The Woolfer. She lives in New York City, where she is at work on The Good Provider, her third novel.
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