When People Just Disappear

I did it.

I did it again today.

 

I always know that I shouldn’t.. that it won’t help anything; that it will only bring to life old feelings, tear open old wounds and ruin my mood for the day, or the next few days, or the week.

But I couldn’t help myself.

I googled her name, and a picture from Facebook came up.

I’m blocked on Facebook, or I would have just typed her name in there.

 

Have you ever lost a best friend? Did they die, or did they just disappear?

Here’s the sad story that I’ve carried in my heart for years.  I’m hoping that by telling it, some of its weight will subside.  My sympathy goes out to anyone who can relate.

Aun Aqui

(PS, three names have been changed, as denoted by ensuing asterisks)

 

 

I was turning eleven years old when I met *Jane.  It was in the late spring, and right after the 9/11 incident, so that’s always been my time-marker.  From today, it would be around 11 years ago.

At the time, my mom had begun to attend the local Seventh-day Adventist church on a weekly basis, so, bright and early every Saturday morning, she would head off to the main sanctuary while I made my way down the long, carpeted hallway to the Sabbath School room.

I loved my Sabbath School teacher; she was an old and crazy white woman whose hair bolted outward from the top and sides of her head in a massive, pale-blonde poof. The classroom had a felt board with attachable Jesus characters, a green chalkboard that we used for word games, and a utility closet stuffed full of crayon boxes and crayola markers, thick stacks of plain white paper, non-toxic sticks of glue and rolls of invisible tape. Our doting teacher always kept snacks nearby: goldfish, potato chips, fruit roll-ups, chocolate chip cookies and, occasionally, vegan cookies that she had baked especially for me (my mom had made me tell her that I was on a “vegan diet”).

The lessons were simple and easy to understand, and my hand was usually the first to fly up when the teacher either presented a question or asked for a volunteer to do something, like pass out papers or come up to the board.  Occasionally, our class would sing a song for the adults out in the sanctuary or put on a play, but we usually just kept to ourselves in our quiet, colorful and cozy school room, saying short prayers, reading kiddie versions of old Bible stories and eating our snacks off of white styrofoam plates.

 

One Sabbath morning, a little girl and small boy walked into our class.  They were a little too late to really catch that day’s lesson, but our teacher still welcomed them in and motioned for them to take a seat at the table where the rest of us were mostly coloring and half-listening to the teacher read out of the book.  I eyed the boy for a second once he had entered and then the girl for much longer: both of the kids had dark features — thick eyebrows, brown hair, brown eyes and olive-colored skin.  They had straight noses, square faces with angular jaw lines and athletic builds. I was too young to recognize  it at the time, but they were obviously of Greek descent.

The girl took a seat at the table across from where I was sitting and placed her hands in her lap.  The boy sat at the other end of the table and kept his eyes on the table.  The teacher had picked up with her reading and the other students had resumed their coloring, so I returned my attention to the girl.  She must have felt my gaze, because she looked up at me inquiringly.  I smiled at her and then quickly looked back down at my work, but I lowered my head slow enough to have seen her lips stretch into a smile before my eyes had even reached my paper.

 

It was like two magnets that had been moving and acting independently of each other were just placed into the same room that day, and that fatal, desperate attraction between the two that had been set in motion since birth finally acted out its will in locking us, heart to heart and hand in hand, for the rest of our days.  That clasping of human souls could only be broken by the most painful, excruciating means.. and eventually, it would happen, and we’d both feel the tear.

 

Her name was Jane.

Our friendship began innocently and simply enough.  We walked down the church hall together that day, our elbows no more than an inch part, and sat beside each other in the sanctuary.  We passed notes back and forth (penciling in questions that kids like to ask, what’s your favorite color and where were you born, and drawing cartoons) and begged our parents, after the service, to let us meet at the beach.  My mother, one of the shyest people I’ve ever known and a true hermit, magically (miraculously, even) agreed for us to meet, and the following Sabbath, our families drove down to Pine Island.  It was a sunny, cool evening when we arrived; my mom and grandma, along with Jane’s mom and dad, lugged Tupperware and plastic bags from the cars and picked out a picnic table by the water.  We grilled vegetarian big franks and ate baked beans, potato salad, watermelon and a casserole that Jane’s mom had brought from home.

After the meal, Jane, *Peter and I ran over to the car and hid ourselves inside of it, spending the last hour of sunlight decorating plain white t-shirts with fabric paint.  As a side note, I still have the shirt.  It’s stuffed into a corner in my closet.

 

And that’s how it started.  As the weeks and months went on, I learned more about Jane; she and her family lived in Connecticut and drove down to Florida during the summers (where they had a second house).  While this was bad news (she would be spending half of the year away from me), it was also an exciting prospect: our parents talked it over, and it was decided that I would take a plane and come visit during the winters.

Thus the years progressed.  Jane and I talked every single day; in person, or over the phone, through AIM, or over MySpace, on Facebook, and even over Skype.  We had Bible studies together and talked about every facet of life together.  I helped her with math over the phone (she and her brother were homeschooled) and she listened to the exciting stories I brought home from public school; what the girls were like, what the boys were like, and what everyone said and did and wore and listened to.  She was my confidant in all things; she felt closer than a sister to me.

 

I quickly learned, though, that my best friend had one great flaw: jealousy.  It creeps into all relationships, really.  When I was born, my brother was so jealous of the attention that I took away from him that he suggested to my grandma one day that she should just throw me into a ditch.  Siblings get jealous.

Girlfriends get jealous.  I personally know girlfriends who get upset with their boyfriends simply because they work with other females.  As in.. the guy works at a Sprint store and a female human being also happens to work at that store. …

Wives get jealous, husbands get jealous, mothers get jealous, people in general get jealous.. and sometimes, for good reason.  But friends, in particular, possess this certain breed of jealousy that branches into a possessiveness that views every other smiling, handshaking person as a threat.  And that was a trait that my dear best friend possessed.

 

Around the same time that I met Jane, I met a girl named *Veronica.  She and I were similar in terms of ages, and her mom and dad took a liking to me right away.  We met at a Bible study one day, and her mom invited me to come spend the afternoon with them.  My mother agreed (which was, again, surprising) and Veronica and I quickly became good friends.  We’d go out in the family’s boat with her dad and camp out at an island or by a river; we’d ride around in her big driveway on our scooters, singing songs from “The Lion King,” and we’d explore the treehouse in her backyard, the one that her dad had built and that always had scary flying insects stationed all along the insides of it.

Jane eventually found out about Veronica and how fond I was of her, and when she did, she made no attempt to hide her displeasure.  We’re best friends, Rose.  Why are you hanging out with her?

 

Jane and I were both preteens — nervous, insecure, and simple-minded.  To her, a thousand miles away in Connecticut, the thought of me hanging out with another girl and having fun with her was the same as disowning Jane as my best friend and replacing her with someone else.  I was forced to make a decision.

I spent the next ten years of my life pushing people away.  I still hung out with people on occasion, but I didn’t allow any other girl the kind of intimacy in my life that I shared with Jane.  I didn’t confide in girls, I didn’t trust girls, and I didn’t grow attached to any of my other female friends; in Jane and I’s daily conversations, I’d do my best to avoid mentioning any outings or activities I had had with my school friends, but it was difficult, and sometimes, she just downright asked who I had hung out with, what we had done, and if I really liked them.  I always downplayed it: “Yeah, mom let me go to the rollerblading place Thursday night, but I mostly kept to myself.  I wish you’d been there.”

The truth is, during this time, it seemed worth it.  Cutting people off and verbally negating how much I enjoyed other friendships seemed like a small sacrifice in comparison to how beautiful of a friendship Jane and I shared together.  Jane was the best friend that I could ever ask for; she wasn’t like other girls (dramatic, catty, untrustworthy, superficial).  The only problem was that she lived on the other side of the country during half of the year, and then, when my family relocated to Alabama, she lived in another state every day of the year.  My annual trips became twice-annual trips, as we planned and looked forward to summer and winter vacations together.  My trips to Jane’s house (whether in Florida or Connecticut) usually lasted anywhere from 1-2 weeks long, and those times that I spent with Jane and her brother were the happiest times of my childhood life.  I didn’t need other friends.  I had her.. and she was the best.

 

But then, we hit another road block.

As often as Jane and I talked and hung out, I was forced to see and spend time with her brother, too; I was a natural tomboy, so it was a perfect situation when we were kids.  We were the three musketeers, riding bikes, hiking, goofing off and exploring the world together.  We all bonded.. and while we were kids, that’s all it was between us: a three-way best-friendship.

But then, we turned fifteen and then sixteen, and we had to ask ourselves the question: is dating an option for us?

What you have to understand is that, growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and believing that you are to marry in your own faith, makes the suitor options out there pretty slim.  I remember, as an early teen, visiting SDA churches in the area with my mom and grandma and quickly scanning the length and width of the sanctuary for any signs of teenage boys.  Occasionally, there’d be a gentleman in his thirties somewhere in the congregation or I’d spot an obese twelve-year-old boy in a back pew, his chubby hands holding a Nintendo gameboy conspicuously in his lap. I’d note my findings and sigh to myself.  There are Adventist dating websites out there, I’d console myself, and they hold conventions every once in a while.. maybe I can go to one of those when I’m like nineteen.. or twenty.. and maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a single guy then.

(It’s not like I was even allowed to date when I was fifteen; I just liked the idea that, if I was allowed to date, there was an ample supply of suitable boys out there and not just one or two single, compatible and sought-after males in the entire Southern region)

 

And so, my future as a wife seemed relatively doomed, which really wasn’t that big of a deal, considering that I was only fourteen years old.  But when age fifteen rolled around and I recognized Jane’s brother, my second best friend, as a potential suitor, the idea fascinated me.

How perfect would that be! I thought to myself, excited and confident for the first time ever.  “And they do say that you’re supposed to marry a guy you consider a friend..”

 

At first, I kept my ideas and feelings to myself.  Peter, who had once appeared geeky and extremely awkward to me, suddenly looked quite handsome in the pictures he shared on MySpace and Facebook.  I noticed muscles (in reality, the size of walnuts) in his arms, the hint of facial hair above his lip, and a deepening in his voice on the family’s answering machine, and all of this signaled to me that he should soon be showing an interest in dating.

Jane, always perceptive and discerning, confronted me about it on the phone one evening.  I had no idea where she had drawn her suspicions from, but I didn’t ask; all at once, the truth of my feelings and ideas spilled out, and, surprisingly, she supported the idea of Peter and I dating.  She thought it was a marvelous idea; we could be real sisters!  She was actually cool with it.

And so, in just a few months time, we began our 2 and 1/2 year relationship of distance-dating.  This essentially changed nothing about how life had been in the past; only that, where in the past, Jane had always answered the phone, Peter would now sometimes answer the phone and talk with me for a few brief and fleeting minutes before passing the phone off to his sister.  And instead of just receiving emails from Jane, Peter began messaging me goofy animal pictures with captions and one liners with smiley faces.  There were a few “special” moments; Jane sacrified two hours of vacation time with me one winter so that Peter and I could go ice skating alone.  We called it dating, but to be honest, what we shared was more like a loving friendship.  I think I kissed the guy on the cheek once.

In a nutshell, our relationship was cute; we were young.. and it continued, like I said, for two and a half years.  Then.. Christopher came along.

 

To make a long story short, Peter and I had a falling out.  It was over the phone one afternoon, over something trivial, but it signaled the end of our relationship.  He yelled at me, hung up the phone, and never called back.  Jane and I had just spoken that morning (and the day before, and every day before that day for the past 363 days).  I shot her an email over Facebook that afternoon, asking her to tell her brother that I wanted all of my stuff back.  She responded that she would tell him, but that she thought it would be good if I spoke to him myself.

 

I didn’t call her that evening because of how upset I was.

I didn’t call her for a few days, actually, and the phone wasn’t ringing on my end, either..

 

and slowly, it dawned on me.  As each day passed and our silence continued unbroken, I realized what had happened: when Peter and I had broken up, Jane and I had broken up, too.  She was put into a situation where she felt that she needed to choose a side.. and blood was thicker than water.

The story of my 11 year “best-friendship” with Jane pretty much ends there.

 

There was no huge fight between us or some climactic moment of separation or a teary, emotional departure.  She just sort of faded from my arms.. like a ghost.  She just.. disappeared.

I sent emails.  I hand-wrote a letter and mailed it to her grandma’s house, where I knew she would be staying all summer.  I sent her another handwritten letter on Thanksgiving.  I waited a year, and wrote an email.. I waited six months, and sent another email.

 

It’s just a few days short of being 3 years since I’ve heard a word, a syllable, a sigh, a breath from my best friend — the one female that I chose to trust, invest myself in, and devote myself to.  During the past three years, I’ve experienced a lot of different emotions about her disappearance; the first year, when my dog Zoie died, I felt a sadness, a loss, that I couldn’t call my best friend and cry into the phone about it.  When my brother died the next year, I felt an anger towards Jane; she didn’t care.. and all of those years – those eleven years – that I spent obsessing over her and our friendship I could have spent bonding with my dead, irretrievable brother..

And now, this year, I just feel a hole.  It’s empty.  I’m not angry anymore.. but I’ll admit that I’m still sad.  I understand that she made a decision that she thought was necessary; loyalty to her brother overruled her love and affection for me.  While I can understand why she made that decision, I don’t think that it was situation where she needed to take one side.  We were only teenagers, experimenting with love.. and truly, had I known, at the tender age of sixteen, that dating Peter would ultimately take my best friend away from me forever, I would have shunned him.  I would have never taken the first step.. given the first smile.. posted the “change in relationship” status on Facebook or bought the “I ❤ my boyfriend” t-shirt.

For the past three years, I’ve tried to find a friend.. a good female friend.  A few times, I thought that I’d struck gold; I found someone I connected with, someone cool and fun and interesting and mature like me, and I was convinced that this would be my best friend.. this person would love me for the rest of my life.  I’ve been disappointed, every single time.

And I’ve realized: it’s not them.. it’s me.  What I experienced with Jane was unique; we were truly the best of friends – completely in love with each other and devoted to each other – almost to a fault.  And we were best friends during one of the most interesting and beautiful periods of life: childhood and young adulthood.  No future friendship will (or could) ever possess that magical, nostalgic, special nature.. it’s not the kind of thing you can duplicate or create. I’ll never again find or be able to forge that special, spiritual bond, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.  The expectations that I’ve had for the people that I’ve met and the friends that I’ve made have been unrealistic.  What Jane and I had was a gift.. and I’m constantly, forever quieting myself, telling myself that I should just be grateful that I was fortunate enough to have ever had, loved and treasured that kind of friend at one point in my life.

I’ve also come to the sad realization that I’ll never experience that degree of intimacy with a friend again.  I’m an adult now; the friendships we strike as adults are just completely different from the friendships we form during childhood.  It’s a sad fact.. but that ship has sailed for me.

Then again, my husband is my absolute best friend; what more do I need? The friendship and companionship that I’ve shared with him in the past three years is the most wonderful that I’ve ever known.  It is unlike anything I have ever known.  He has promised to love me unconditionally, and I know that he does, because he’s proven it.  He’s loved me as a Christian, as an atheist, at my worst, and at my best.  He’s supported and sympathized with me in my losses and he has also witnessed my greatest successes.  He is my one true confidant, my permanent and eternal companion, and I treasure him more than anything in the world.

 

Ultimately, my rollercoaster friendship with Jane has provided me with three things:

one, a collection of bright happy memories of Florida sunshine, Connecticut snow, long brown hair, warm smiles, high-pitched laughs, late night conversations, Disney channel movies, burnt soy cheese pizzas, sweet friendship and a sense of belonging.

two, universal world tip#37: don’t date your best friend’s brother.  Ever.

three, I’ve learned the cliché of a lesson that good things don’t last forever.   Sometimes, they aren’t meant to.  They last for a while and then sputter, quitting suddenly, or they last for a short amount of time and then end, or people die, or people walk away for a while.

And then sometimes, people just disappear.

 

All we can really expect, in this life, is for good and bad things to come and go from our lives.. continually.  Embrace the good things; embrace them, feel them, smell them, taste them and hold them, but don’t hold them so tightly that when it’s time for them to leave, it takes a part of you with them.  Brace yourself for the bad times; brace yourself, turn your focus inward, and stay strong, but don’t stand so rigidly that you break with the wind; be willing to bend.  Be flexible.

Lastly, enjoy friendship and companionship.  It’s special.  Enjoy the love that others share with you.  It’s a gift.  But never be afraid to stand alone.

Eventually, you’ll be standing by yourself.  You might even, at the end of your life, be in the middle of a screaming, crying, laughing crowd, but you’ll still be alone.

 

Aun Aqui