We spent our summers in Chicago, young, single, and fabulous, my best friend and I. A ninety-minute journey by car on the Indiana Toll Road a couple of times per month brought us much needed girlfriend time to laugh, eat, party, and share. We were inseparable, having supported each other through graduations, career moves, breakups, and make-ups, the bittersweet glue of life experience, the very substance that held us together with a unique and sacred closeness unmatched by any other friendship. She was my sister, my “friendship soulmate,” and on this particular day, a day I will never forget, my friend had come to say goodbye.
You see my best friend had fallen in love, and as we sat in a local ice cream parlor, enjoying a cold treat on a warm summer day, she had something to share with me, something that she knew would simultaneously bring me both delight and heartbreak. I had journeyed with her during the ups and downs of long-distance relationship with her beloved, a wonderful man who lived two states and more than six hours away. I’d watched from the sidelines and cheered them on as their partnership flourished, and ridden the roller coaster as their relationship took a more serious turn with them both searching for employment that would bring them geographically closer together. On this day, my friend had come to tell me that she had found employment in her boyfriend’s city and that they had made the decision that she would be the one to move. She would be packing up and leaving the ninety-mile radius that we had held so dear—and soon.
As I stared down at my swollen belly, seven months pregnant with my first child and facing uncharted territory as a soon-to-be (single) mother, I instantly felt sadness and dread. I was happy for my friend, happy for how love had come into her world and turned it upside down in so many wonderful and exhilarating ways… but I also felt left behind. I had expected that she would be by my side for this—this uncertain and scary time in my life—in the same ways that she had been there for me before. How could she leave now? All of these emotions rushed into my mind and heart in that moment, and as I clinked my spoon on the edges of a now empty ice cream dish, I had no idea that how deeply my feeling of being “left behind” would impact the tenor and dynamic of our friendship moving forward.
My best friend left and started her new life. She and her boyfriend would be engaged by the end of that year, and married the following spring. My baby was born that September, and my best friend was, as she promised, by my side, getting on the road from Ohio in the wee hours of the night when I went into labor, and arriving to hug and kiss me and my newborn shortly after she was born.
I cannot pinpoint for me when the feelings of resentment and jealously took root. I think for many months after she left, they were quietly stirring just below my soul’s surface. We continued to talk and keep in touch as we always did, but could not see each other as often. She had a small wedding with just her, her husband, her son, and her own daughter who would be born six months after mine. We swapped mothering stories, she asking me tons of new baby questions as her last had been ten years prior, and she encouraged me that single motherhood was difficult, but would not break me. She and her husband became my daughter’s Godparents, the two that I knew would take care her of as well, or even better than me, if anything were to ever happen to me. And, yet for all the ways that we settled into this new rhythm of our friendship, I was angry and sad. Angry that she had left, angry that the lyrics of Etta James’ “At Last” had not come true for me, jealous and bitter and doing my best to put on a front of something different. I did not want to admit it to myself, to God, and certainly not to her, but it was there, and it was ugly and it was eating me alive.
Just as I cannot remember the exact moment that these negative feelings set in, I do not remember the exact moment that they bubbled to the surface and exploded. What I do remember is a strained conversation, raised voices (which rarely happened between us), tears, and my admitting—finally—what I had been swallowing and feebly attempting to suppress for so long. I remember hearing the intense hurt in my friend’s voice, and sadness, and I remember driving to her home a couple of weeks later, and her holding me as a I wept—wept with shame, wept with sadness, wept with guilt, and asked for forgiveness. Despite all that was or was not going on in my life, I desired to be fully present and happy for her. I knew that would require me doing some intensive head and heart work to get to the root of my own issues, face them once and for all, and manage the triggers. The health, vitality, and longevity of our friendship meant that much to me.
I can unequivocally say that my best friend’s marriage has been a blessing to me. She is the most self-aware, honest, transparent person that I know, and has modeled for me how to successfully cultivate and navigate friendship after marriage. I have watched her and her husband beautifully blend their families, embodying a true partnership, and it is an inspiration for me. As with any wound, if one is not diligent about carefully tending it, it can be reopened at any time, and result in worse pain and worse injury than previous. And, so, I take special care to tend to those wounds that threatened to take root and destroy our friendship after my best friend got married, forgiving myself and receiving her unconditional love and forgiveness always.