I love my friends. I love the ones I talk to every day. I love the ones I talk to once a year. I even love the ones that I kind of can't stand every now and then. I consider myself a good friend. There, I said it. A brag. I just bragged that I'm a good friend, and I hope no one is reading this and thinking that just the opposite is true.
But there is at least one person who might.
Her name is Hortensia. Actually, it isn't. But it wouldn't be kind or necessary to reveal her identity.
Hortensia and I were very close. We met in an unpleasant work situation. We were both single, struggling performers who seemed to have the same take on everything. Our shared outlook grew into mutual admiration and care for each other. We each had tear-filled breakups, accomplishments, romance and family squabbles. When my first-born was in the NICU with lung problems, she was one of the first to hold my hand throughout the ordeal. I have a distinct memory of her crying when she saw tubes coming out of him.
She was an amazing friend -- until she wasn't my friend anymore.
That she had ended it didn't occur to me at first. Not sure what that says about me. But I had a new baby and she was getting married. I thought her inability to get together, the un-returned phone calls and the curt attitude might have had something to do with her busy wedding plans or her reaction to my kid.
It wasn't until I was hospitalized during my second pregnancy that I realized something was wrong. I called her. Nothing. I emailed her. Nothing. I was like a love- struck teen waiting by the phone, praying the popular guy would call her (back in the olden days when they had no cell phones, texts, Facebook or Pinterest). Nothing. Nothing Nothing.
What had I done? I emailed her. "Did I do something? Are you upset? Are you okay? " Maybe she was sick. "I'm sorry."
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
I called all of my friends on the phone. I am clinically insane so bear with me. But I called every last one of them. Am I a horrible friend? No. Is it possible I am horrible friend? Possible, but not probable. If it is possible, what could it possibly be?
She hates you
She hates your husband
She is in love with your husband
Your husband is in love with her.
She hates kids.
She wants kids.
She is jealous.
She thinks you're jealous.
She doesn't like your values.
She thinks you're self-absorbed
She thinks you complain too much
She thinks you're needy
We went through each possibility. They all seemed highly unlikely but not completely out of the question. I am in fact self-absorbed, I do complain and I am needy. But I've always been that way. That was part of our friendship.
And the confusion wasn't the worst of it. I missed my friend. She was responsible for introducing me to Cafe Bustelo, sample sales and the benefits of the word "toxic." We both were firm believers in middle-of-the-night meals, obsessive phone calling and the importance of pursuing the same conversation topics over and over again. At a time when many of my friends were way too grown up or too exhausted to live in an unstructured life, Hortencia was always game for a last-minute movie, a second dinner or a free therapy session.
I never replaced her. I couldn't.
The first time I ran into her after the "breakup" was in a professional situation. It was hard. We had a pleasant but frankly unsatisfying exchange. I wanted to ask her what she thought about the divorce of our mutual friends and how her own marriage was going. I wanted to tell her about a parenting message board that was "toxic." And I kept running into her; after all, we performed the same job. But every time that happened, the exchanges were unsatisfying. I grew accustomed to the loss, though the sadness never really ended. She would have been a fun Facebook friend, I think she would like my kids, and I wanted her to know that my dog had died. In 2008, I was dying to know what she thought of Sarah Palin. When good things happened for her professionally, I was surprised to find that I was happy for her (and believe me, I can be petty). I thought dozens of times of writing her a note of congratulations.
Cut to a few weeks ago. We were at an industry gathering. I had had one glass of wine too many. And she had probably had more than that. We were in the middle of one of our boring exchanges when she interrupted herself.
"I'm sorry for the way I treated you."
I'm not much of a hearer so I asked her to repeat herself.
"I'm sorry I was a (and then used a bad word) to you." Hortencia has a mouth like a sailor.
I stayed calm, and said, "I'm kind of over it, but I'm dying of curiosity. We all are."
I figured I owed a shout-out to those friends who had talked me through this.
"I thought you were condescending about my wedding. I was petty and couldn't get over it."
"Really? That's it?" I said, which probably confirmed her assessment of me. "I'm totally sorry. I could have been condescending. I don't remember feeling superior to you during that time. But I had a new baby, and maybe I was. "
"Anyway, I'm sorry."
That was it, my Lifetime Movie moment. ears ago I had envisioned what this conversation would sound like, but frankly I never thought it would come to pass. It would be one of those unanswerable questions, like whether Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character would find true love again on "The New Adventures of the Old Christine."
We had a nice discussion. We caught each other up on the last seven years of our lives -- even the unflattering parts. It was a satisfying one this time around. First, I had an answer to my question, and, second, I caught up with an old friend. I felt a little sad after we spoke. I remembered why we had been good friends. And I forgave Hortencia the moment she apologized. But the question that lingered, that still lingers is, could we re-forge our friendship? I don't know. She had obviously resented and hated me for some time. And, of course, I had felt kicked in the stomach for years. How do you undo it? Hearing that she missed the friendship was a relief. I was almost euphoric. But once the euphoria wore off, I was still left without this friend.
I don't exactly know what to take from this story. Maybe it's how vulnerable we all are to those we love, how a break-up doesn't have to be with a lover to knock the bejeezus out of you. Maybe it's that once something as essential and fragile as a friendship is decimated, you can't ever get it back.
But I keep remembering those moments in the NICU. And the bloody Marys we would sip as we shredded certain of our colleagues, or advised each other on how to handle some of the female-phobic employers we lived through. And the times we commiserated about how tough an audience we had faced -- never ever letting on that one of us had performed less than brilliantly.
Maybe the story isn't over.