Let’s call her Jane. Out of respect for her feelings. Even though I haven’t spoken to her in several years, even though it has been almost seven years since we stopped being best friends.
Well, I thought we were best friends. Was I wrong? Maybe.
We met when we were both editorial assistants at a chic, smart women’s magazine. Obviously, we were both thrilled to be there. She was Ivy League Official, though. I felt intimidated by her legit status.
At first, I didn’t like her. I’m sure it was some kind of competitive pheromone exchange that made me instantly bristle and want to turn away from her. But she would pop over from her aisle to mine, plopping down in my visitor chair to chat with me and the other assistant across the aisle.
I remember that I always made her laugh, which warmed me up to her. I remember that she was really smart. And wore way too much brown for my taste. I remember a few months later when I told her that I hadn’t liked her at first, which became some sort of weird touchstone that would come up once a year or so. It was a funny anecdote later because we became so close. And a not-so-funny anecdote now because, I guess in the end, she didn’t like me.
But back then, when we were 22, 23, 24 years old, everything in New York City was new and an adventure. First, we’d go out and get our eat-at-our-desk lunches together. Then we started heading to the gym together during lunch or right after work. And one night, we went to a local restaurant afterward and had two glasses of Pouilly-Fumé. I remember the wine specifically because I was editing a wine column at the time and learning from the writer and because it was French and fancy and I loved saying its name, fluent in French as I am.
She spoke French, too, naturally. And she was fancy in a way that I definitely wasn’t. But I had gone to an elite college filled with children of famous bankers and entrepreneurs, so her fancy didn’t faze me. In fact, it was in college that I had best learned how to imitate the habits of entitlement, understanding immediately that it would grease all the tracks that mattered to me: social, intellectual, career. And I liked studying her entitlement. She was both mildly embarrassed about it and hopelessly steeped in it: She played polo in high school, for crying out loud. She lived in a gorgeous, huge apartment in Tribeca and shared it with two other girls. I thought I did a good job of not being overly impressed when we went into it for the first time.
As for me, I lived downtown in the East Village, when it was still ultra-gnarly and Tompkins Square Park was still a giant, seething tent village for the homeless. But it was affordable-ish. And had its ramshackle cool, as these were the years of grunge.
Jane started in the literary department, which had been her true interest and passion like the Ivy girl she was, but then she got pulled into the fashion features department with the huge, glorious personalities and all the shiny clothes and jewelry and accessories coming in and out all day. She scoffed at writing fashion at first, but then she came to love it with just a small, lingering bit of shame that disappeared as she met the big minds and creative talents in the fashion world.
[pullquote]And one night at dinner in the Lower East Side, after my husband and I had decided to divorce, she told me as tears slipped down my face, “It’s kinda cool to be a single mom.”[/pullquote]
We spent most of our weekends together, even after I had connected with the man who would become my husband in a few years. The three of us would go out to dinner and talk all night, then get up and meet for brunch at Aggie’s on Houston Street (often enough that Aggie recognized us). When my boyfriend and I married, she was the de facto maid of honor, after my actual maid of honor got flakey and needy and resentful. She wore a voluminous floor-length black dress with a deep scoop neck and short cap sleeves — she looked impossibly chic, as she almost always did by then.
She became the third wheel in my marriage, a welcome one. She paid us the greatest compliment once: “You two are the most unmarried couple I know.” It was a point of pride for me to have married and remained an individual. We went to outrageously fancy dinners together, the three of us, spending $350 on a bottle of wine once, which was worth every dollar and I’ll never forget it (Chambolle-Musigny, Les Amoureuses, Premier Cru). Then we trolled around the East Village for a decidedly less polished New Years’ Eve, involving much champagne and marijuana and perhaps, late in the blurry hours, even a nitrous tank.
When my son was born, she became his godmother, a role she took seriously and sweetly, presenting me with a silver spoon from Tiffany when I was eight months pregnant, and we both laughed at the joke. But she spoiled me in spoiling him, buying him his first bike, a cherry-red Trek, when he was just four and then kitting him out in an actual motocross outfit, real helmet and everything, for Halloween when he was five.
And one night at dinner in the Lower East Side, after my husband and I had decided to divorce, she told me as tears slipped down my face, “It’s kinda cool to be a single mom.” Yeah, I agreed, it was. I would make it.
I did make it. And I wrote a book about it, a book in which she made numerous appearances and in which I shared many of the anecdotes I told you above, plus dozens more. The build up to the publication of the book was exciting, and I was fully back on track after having been knocked down by my divorce, even though I was a little worried about my mother, who had been in the hospital since mid-January for what we thought was a gallbladder issue.
We went on a big ski trip together with two other friends that February, and on that trip I broke my shoulder on the first day. I kinda didn’t get it, what breaking a shoulder meant, so I labored through a day on Vicodin and ate chicken wings all with my left hand before I realized I had to go home. Now.
The next morning, I cheerily said goodbye to my friends as they trooped out the door in the morning in their ski gear, ready to attack the very mountain that had attacked me, and I pretended that I was fine getting myself to the airport alone with a huge suitcase while on heavy meds and completely unable to use one arm. And when I got to the airport, I discovered my flight didn’t leave for another 12 hours — my assistant and I had miscommunicated somehow and I just completely lost it, sobbing all over the ticket agent, who could do nothing to help me.
I sat in a corner of the airport for hours, intermittently sobbing and sending softball texts to my skiing friends: “Hey! You’ll never guess what happened!”
I got home, I had a lot of doctor appointments and I exchanged some emails with my friends when they got back. And then Jane slowly stopped returning my emails, or she returned my invitations to do things with curt, one-sentence replies: “I’m not going to do BAM this year.” Signaling the end of four years of buying season tickets to Brooklyn Academy of Music. “I won’t be around that weekend,” for a general inquiry about maybe getting together.
[pullquote]It felt so normal to see her. We caught up on three years of silence quickly and easily, and I hugged and chased and kissed her daughter. And then: nothing.[/pullquote]
The book about my divorce was coming out soon, and Jane was in it. And my mother, it became clear, was starting a steady and not-slow walk toward her death. But at the very same moment, Jane was disappearing from my life. And I didn’t know why.
I tried to shake off the idea that breaking my shoulder had ushered in some crazy juju that made her want to distance herself from me. That writing the book had made her want to distance herself from me. That being an executive at magazines that weren’t fashion and weren’t cool had made her want to distance herself from me.
I don’t know what it was. I still don’t. And I guess I never will.
My book came out and was covered widely in the press. My mother kept dying, and then, suddenly, my father was dying too. I left my high-profile job in a high-profile way to take care of my parents. And I never heard from her through all of that. I was crushed, utterly crushed. Fortunately, I was being crushed by so much at the time that I was barely able to focus on it, but the feeling lingered and lingered, all mixed up with all that other loss.
She and I did have one last meeting, years later, after my ex-husband saw her on the street pushing a baby carriage. Shocked by this news and shocked I hadn’t heard through the media grapevine, I sent her an email on her birthday — Valentine’s Day — saying how glad I was she had a family to spend this birthday with after years of hating her birthday and how alone it made her feel.
She answered me. She answered me! Saying that she and her daughter’s father had broken up but that she was happy to be raising her on her own. And she invited me over to meet her daughter, have some wine, catch up.
I was elated. And I tried not to be elated. I tried to play it cool. But I didn’t. I bought an expensive vintage rosé champagne and a gorgeous, hand-crafted wooden stacking-arcs rainbow perfect for her 18-month-old daughter.
It was great to see her. It felt so normal to see her. We caught up on three years of silence quickly and easily, and I hugged and chased and kissed her daughter as she ran around Jane’s fabulous Tribeca apartment (this one her own).
And then: nothing.
That was really that.
We make light of friends, as if friends are somehow less central to our identity and the shape of our lives than our lovers and boyfriends and partners and spouses are. But no. No. Best friends are the real deal, especially when you grew up together, made your mark on the world together, got older and wiser together, learned to leave blind idealism aside and accept the Good Enoughs of life together.
I lost my husband, which sent my life upside down. But I managed to process the loss and build a new kind of relationship with him, of which I am proud, and which gives me great stability and a sense of pride.
Jane, on the other hand? Not over it. Never will finish processing it. When we first stopped talking and I realized that the silence between us was for sure her choice, I thought, “Well, time will make it better.” And I also had the tools and knowledge to understand her actions: I’d seen Jane do this to at least two other people in her life, two people she’d been close with who she just decided didn’t fit anymore, didn’t make sense. She just closed them out, like slowly closing a closet door full of unwanted items. And that was that.
Now, I’m on the other side of the closet door. And I have been for years. Sometimes I try to knock, but there’s nothing inside that closet anymore. The friendship we had has been packed up and put away in the attic. But I still pull down the old box from time to time and look at all the years we shared.
And it still hurts.