I’d known her for 30 years — we grew up together in a tiny town and would daydream about a bigger life as we flipped through the pages of Vogue and tried on her mother’s Chanel lipstick. We both hated school and were distracted by boys. Our love notes to them, as well as the secrets we kept between us, were dramatic and raw. The time I got a horrible haircut in Junior High, she told me I looked like Princess Diana and that I was beautiful as she outlined my eyes in black eyeliner.
She was the person I was never ashamed to tell anything to. I asked her if she had cellulite on her ass like I did. I told her about the time I kissed my best girlfriend in 2nd grade. We were the same height, had the same color hair, and though I thought she was so much prettier than I was, she often said she felt the same envy towards me.
She veered off from “our crowd” in high school and started spending time with kids who drank, smoked, and skipped school while I stayed tight with the preppy, goody-goody crowd. “I can’t breathe when I’m around them,” she said. Which was funny because I was petrified of her new friends.
We still met up, talked on the phone, and went shopping together. There was no judgment, and we were still each other’s safe place. Our parents divorced around the same time, and there were many conversations about how we hated our mothers and we would never be like them.
We had a shared history and stayed friends throughout all the changes that were to come. We went off to college and graduated. We both lived alone in our apartments and would get together to smoke cigarettes and sip chardonnay after work over a plate of nachos. We spent too much money on clothes and acrylic nails. We both went through a phase where we were slightly orange because we were obsessed with self tanner, something we laughed about while we were decorating tables for my wedding.
She was one of my bridesmaids and I was one of hers. I wouldn’t have been able to have the wedding I did without her by my side spray painting candle sticks and helping me pick out invitations.
After we were both married to the men we’d dreamed about in high school, we talked about who we used to be. We still drank chardonnay, and we still sucked back the occasional cigarette, too. We’d both made lives for ourselves and had the whole shebang — the home, the SUV, the partner, the kids.
We were so completely in sync that we even ended our marriages around the same time. While sharing a glass of chardonnay as our 41st birthdays were approaching, she said, “I think I want a divorce.” What she didn’t know was that the same thoughts had been swirling in my mind about my own marriage. That evening we broke our silence. We didn’t see each other much those days, but we both knew we were still each other’s safe space.
And then everything changed.
Something happened that twisted our relationship and eventually broke the three decade bond we’d had — just like that.
She’d started seeing someone new, and it went from glorious to scary in a matter of months. She was concerned he didn’t have a job, and she let him move in. Then she told me he had a drinking problem. As the months went by, she looked sadder and sadder until I didn’t even recognize my friend anymore, this person I’d known since puberty. Her whole family told her she needed to get rid of this guy. Some of them even stopped talking to her because of it.
“But I love him,” she’d say.
“I know you do,” I’d tell her. “I want you to be happy, but I also want you to be valued and respected.”
She told me I was the only one who supported her relationship. She constantly said no one wanted to hear about the struggles she was having with him; she felt abandoned and alone. I didn’t want my friend to feel alone, and I certainly didn’t want to abandon her. I was still her person; she needed me. I thought maybe if I was able to show her healthy love and support, it would give her enough balance and strength to pick herself up and leave him.
Then one Saturday evening, she called telling me he’d hit her. “He physically attacked me. He was drunk. He finally left and I’m going to change the locks.”
I asked her what she needed. I told her it was the best decision — she had a young daughter, she needed to get him out of her life — this was unacceptable.
“This is so hard,” she said. “I love him.”
She didn’t change the locks. A few days later he was back in her life as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t just angry at him, I was angry with her too. There was something in me that told me to leave it alone; it wasn’t my business, and I had no place saying anything to her.
But the next day, after seeing them together in Target holding hands with her daughter in tow looking not like herself at all, I realized it was my place, it was my business, and I would say something. I would say something for her daughter, and I did.
I knew that our friendship was over immediately after I said the words. “What are you doing? You need to do better for your daughter because if you think this isn’t going to affect her and the way she will feel about men, and you, for the rest of her life, you are wrong.”
Even though I didn’t tell her I wanted to end our friendship (that was not what I’d wanted), I knew I had by speaking up.
“In the 30 years I’ve known you, you’ve never spoken to me like that.”
“I’ve never had to,” I said. I think a very important part of true friendship is knowing when it’s time to be brutally honest. The time had come.
That was over 7 months ago, and I have not talked to her since. I’ve told her over text I am still always here for her, and she knows it. I would do anything to help her; I’d let her stay with me if she needed a place, I’d call the police for her, pay to have her locks changed — anything. But she also knows I don’t support her relationship, and that’s what she is choosing.
I don’t know what the future will bring. I’ve checked in with her a few times only to get crickets in return. I still want her to know that I’m here. I now know when I said the words I summoned the courage to say, the feeling I got was guttural — our friendship, as we knew it, was over.
I’m not sorry though. I had to speak up — for her daughter. Maybe I didn’t make enough of an impression on my friend by speaking to her in a way I never have before that day, but I knew if I didn’t, I’d never be able to live with myself.
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