I've known Maggie since we were freshmen in high school. We're now both married moms who don't get to see much of each other because she lives in a different state. But occasionally she comes back to California to visit her parents who still live here.
When I first met Maggie she really bugged me. She was so freaking chipper all the time, especially first thing in the morning. I'd arrive on-campus at 8:00 a.m. still half-dead, being a night owl who stayed up late to watch horny Benny Hill reruns, and there Maggie would be in homeroom, bouncing cheerfully off-the-walls wanting to instantly talk really really really fast! And did she mention she was sooo excited to just greet the sunrise and all of the possibilities before her for that one so very special day?
One time, in first period wood shop, I told her if she didn't lower the decibels of her morning greeting I was going to put her head in one of the C-clamps on the lathing table and tighten the screws. Somehow she put up with my early morning homicidal tendencies and we've been friends ever since.
Then recently, on her last visit to California sans family, we went out for lobsters and beers at Shutters in Santa Monica and she confessed she was struggling in her marriage. This surprised me because the last time we'd seen them all they'd seemed so in sync and happy.
Then she added the kicker. She told me she was beginning to wonder if she might be gay. There was a girlfriend in her life back home she found herself attracted to.
I was completely blindsided. Maggie looked and sounded exactly the same, but it was as though she'd shape-shifted into something unfamiliar. And worse still, this admission suddenly colored the unfurling pageant of memories I had of our friendship. All of those nights we lay side-by-side in one of our beds giving each other massages and tickles as we shared confidences about our lame love lives took on new meaning.
My mind went into hyper drive. Had she known she was gay then and did she just make those crushes up? Did she feel attracted to me? Which was followed swiftly by, What's wrong with you for thinking this way? Aren't you a proponent for gay rights? Aren't you thrilled that gays can now get legally married in California if they really want to jump in the crucible with the rest of us? Yes and yes. Then what the hell is wrong with you? Are you suddenly an anti-gay born-again bigot? No, no and no.
Months earlier my gay friend Mark, who came out in his early twenties, told me he wasn't ashamed anymore of being gay, but he was still ashamed of keeping it a secret from his family and closest friends for so long. He said the feeling of being a fraud and of feeling he had lied by omission was devastating. At the time I didn't get it. What did his being gay have to do with his parents and friends? Why was it any of their business? But now, sitting across from Maggie, I got it.
I couldn't help feeling that Maggie had betrayed me. That our friendship, if not a lie, had somehow not been entirely true. That our trust was breached.
Since Maggie's gone home our history together passes before my eyes in dreams at night, as though my subconscious brain is knitting together the rupture in things as I thought they were and things as they really are. In waking moments I rewind the tapes of our friendship again and again, looking for something.
I don't even know exactly what I'm looking for. The truth? I suspect I won't find it in the past. I'll have to find the right time and place to talk to Maggie about my feelings in the future. Which seems narcissistic and self-involved when I consider that she's grappling with the more serious problem of the future of her marriage.
But I think being willing to have awkward conversations with the people you love is a sure sign of how committed you are to the relationship. And that sometimes these awkward conversations can lead to more honest and closer friendships.
Has a friend ever divulged information you didn't quite know how to handle? And what did you finally do?
(Names and some facts have been altered to protect identity.)