“Rachel” is my best friend during the years I live in Atlanta. I meet her after I buy a grey Cape Cod in Midtown when I am 23. My new neighbor knows her and introduces us. Instantly, Rachel and I are making plans. We are grown women having sleep overs like teenagers. We make midnight runs for hot Krispy Kremes. She and I weep over the same movies. She teaches me ribbon embroidery and we cook elaborate meals that we can’t finish. The art museum is free on Thursday and we go after lunch at a French themed café. Rachel is the friend I have always wanted and needed. I laugh far more with Rachel than I do with my fiancé and I spend New Year’s Eve with her when he insists on a boy’s night out. When my grandfather dies suddenly, Rachel sits with me, brings me a casserole and gives me the strength to write his eulogy.
“You can do it,” she tells me.
She thinks I look like a Lancôme model.
“You are so beautiful. You are my most beautiful friend.”
And she tells me this at a time when I need to know that someone thinks I’m beautiful.
It is Rachel I think I will miss the most when I move to Florida. I beg her to come visit but she has a new boyfriend; a blind date that just happened to work out during the same week that my ex-fiancé and I ended it all, leaving me utterly devastated.
I fly up later that year for her winter wedding and am puzzled she didn’t ask me to be in her wedding party.
“You can read a poem during the ceremony,” she decides at the last minute.
We still talk weekly. I call her. One day in May she answers the phone squealing that she is pregnant. It seems too soon, like she is too young and I don’t understand her joy at all as I congratulate her.
Still, I monitor her pregnancy, which is troubled. She has a rare liver disorder and is ill, in and out of the hospital until her son is born healthy the next January and I can stop googling “cholestasis.”
She emails me pictures and of course I understand when she can’t answer the phone each time I dial her number. When we talk, she sighs and I can hear her smiling when she talks about being a stay at home mother.
Her second pregnancy is just as challenging. The cholestasis returns and one frantic day I call all the hospitals in her city trying to find out if she is ok after receiving an email that she expects the worst, the baby is in danger and they are rushing to the Emergency Room. Everything was fine. I send the flowers I’d planned to send to her hospital room to her home instead.
The next year, when her second child turns one, I am getting married.
“I hope you can come,” I say, “It won’t be the same without you at my wedding.”
“I have two children now.”
“Well you can bring them or just fly down for the day and go right home. Your mom can watch them maybe. It’s really important to me.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
She doesn’t return the RSVP card so I call again.
“I told you, I can’t come to your wedding. I’m a mother of two boys.”
“I know. I understand. It’s ok, really. I’ll send you pictures and everything.”
One of the children whines in the background.
“I would love if you could send me one of your paintings. Just a little one. I want a little piece of you in my home so I can always think of you when I see it,” I say.
She laughs, “Like I can paint anymore.”
“You stopped painting?”
“How do you expect me to have time to paint?”
“Oh, sorry. Maybe you can send me one of your old ones.”
“They’re all hanging in my son’s rooms.”
“Oh, ok. How sweet. I’d love if my mom painted and I had her pictures in my room as a kid.”
“Look, I have to go. The baby’s crying.”
She doesn’t send me a Christmas card or acknowledge the package of small gifts I send her, so I call on her birthday in January. There is no answer. I try for several weeks until finally, she answers, flustered.
“Rachel! Gosh, I’ve been trying to call your forever!”
“Rachel, it’s me, Victoria.”
“I know who it is. I was expecting the doctor. I’m dealing with two sick kids here.”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. Is everything ok?”
“Look, you just don’t get it. I can’t talk to you.”
“Ok, sorry, well maybe I’ll call you another time.”
That is the last time we ever spoke. She said that I didn’t “get it.” Motherhood was hard, but somehow I still felt that losing my best friend was just as difficult.
Follow Victoria on her blog, Wide Lawns.
About the new book, “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends”
Not all friendships are meant to last forever. There can be so much good, so much power, so much love in female friendships. But there is also a dark side of pain and loss. And surrounding that dark side there is often silence. There is shame, the haunting feeling that the loss of a friendship is a reflection of our own worth and capacity to be loved.
My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends is a step toward breaking that silence. The brave writers in this engrossing, diverse collection of 35 essays tell their own unique stories of failed friendships and remind us of the universality of loss. The book, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger of The HerStories Project, includes a foreword by Nicole Knepper, author of the popular blog and book, Moms Who Drink and Swear.
Buy a copy now:
The HerStories Project is accepting submissions for its next collection of essays, Mothering Through the Darkness: Stories of Postpartum Struggle.
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