Goodbyes are hard. But sometimes they don’t happen at all. And with you, Someone, I don’t think there will ever be one true goodbye. There will be a de-escalation. Longer gaps between text messages, fewer phone calls, less friends and events and places to have in common at all. And one day, it will stop. And by then, Someone, I don’t think I will even care anymore.
You see, Someone, we met at a time of transition in our lives. It was a time of firsts for both of us: new schools, new independence, new dabbles into romance, new concepts of grace, and this new experience of deep friendship. It was a beautiful uncomfortable awkward time as we both shed our ill-fitting skin of childhood we’d clung to a little too tightly for a little too long, and took up the mantle of young adult-ing. We laughed together, broke bread together, cried together, went on spontaneous adventures together. We did all the things that good friends do.
Once, I saw these times through the rosy lens of nostalgia. I took them at face value since they were the kinds of things that point to a deep, meaningful connection between two people, and that was something new to me. But now I also peer back through hindsight’s loupe, and its close scrutiny reveals cracks and blemishes I did not want to see before. The faults and fissures in our history fractal into a shape, a thoroughline, a story, and that story is this: we may have shared lives together, but we were always still alone, together.
I look back at those deep talks we had sitting in your car, the ones where it felt like we were probably the only people who understood the other person’s misery, that other people didn’t get it. At the time, it felt cathartic to talk like that, to be heard like that. Now, it feels like something more toxic. Sitting in the reclined seats of that car, we didn’t try to speak truth or shed light into those dark places in our lives. We enabled. I would bemoan my problems, how the drama and conflict I stirred up from my entrenched selfish behavior was mostly not my fault. When I did admit my own character flaws, it was never a move of humility for a friend to correct. It was a bid for you to make me feel justified, and not turn from a path of self-sabotage. When you did speak up, it was to render my pain through your own filter of social martyrdom. You would talk about your own woes and troubles. I did not always agree with your standpoint, but it felt better to agree. Because when I agreed that your pain was permissive to poor decision-making, I was giving myself permission as well.
For better or for worse, Someone, you taught me the difference between closeness and friendship, and that is what the foundation of the relationship is built from. True friendship is rooted in openness to honesty, an earnest yearning to improve two lives in the midst of pain. The dressing and garnishes do not matter if this healthy vulnerability remains intact. Our friendship was one of closeness–pop culture interests, life direction, emotional state, friend circles–but its core was built in commiseration and not correction. As closeness has slackened and distance set in, this core has bent and cracked, brittle and fragile from its superficiality.
But perhaps even now I am practicing that selfishness we permitted of each other by only deeming the ugly things significant, so it will make cutting this tie a little easier. Someone, I don’t think all the times were bad. I am thankful for the times we did share, when you drove me to the market so I could pick up some strange material I needed for an art project, or when you brought me food just because you were in the neighborhood and thought of me, or the special cards I made you for your birthdays that you cherished so. I hope you continue to be fiercely and defiantly unique, that plucky double-edged confidence that also makes you quick to call your suffering ‘martyrdom’ the minute you feel misunderstood by others.
But Someone, if we’re both like that, we can’t both be martyrs, precisely because we understand each other. And if we were true friends, we could lead each other out of our self-indulgent monologuing and isolation. But we were not. Most times, we were just two strangers alone together, shouting into a vacuum of ear-tickling self-congratulation. So Someone, I hope you can find friends who you can trust to call you out on your bullshit, because it’s toxic and destructive and it hurts other people when you let it fester. Trust me, I’ve seen it. I just never tried to tell you.
So Someone, my hope is that you can start being the friend to other people that we couldn’t be to each other.
More long-winded navel-gazing at Mopey Optimist