Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Friends, part 3

Continued from prior posts.

Some friendships, even those that seem perfect and eternal, end. People move on. Their interests change. Their values change. And sometimes all you have left are pictures and memories you'd rather erase. I guess that's the appeal of movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: there are relationships I've had that I would just as soon pretend had never happened. Because even years later, the wounds still hurt. What would I be if I hadn't experienced those memories? How would my character be different?

And, perhaps the other valid question: why do I feel a need to write about this broken relationship? Well, the story is important. What happened changed me. It informs how I relate to other people.

I started college in 1988, at the tender age of 17, having chosen a school 750 miles away from home. I didn't know anyone there. Given the fact that I had attended three high schools, all in different states, I was undaunted.

Next door to my dorm room lived L.A. and her roommate. L.A. was full-on Southern. Raised in a small Georgia town, on the campus of a boarding school (her parents were on the faculty), and a legacy Chi Omega, she was a shining example of what our college was all about. She and I also planned the same major: art history.

L.A. and I took a long time to become friends. She went through sorority rush (about 80% of the women in college did); I did not. I was a smoker; she was not. I had fun hair; she had a bob. I was politically liberal; she voted for Bush (the elder). Not much in common. But rush didn't work out for her (despite her Chi-O legacy status, they did not invite her to pledge). So she and I were independents, I by choice, and she by circumstance.

The Greek scene was a big deal at our small school. Such a big deal, in fact, that the college decided to add another sorority, or three, to Sorority Row. By then, I had seen my roommate truly loving her Greek sisters, and I saw that the Greek world might not be so bad. L.A. had wanted to pledge before, so she and I attended the informational meetings and decided to join this new pledge class.

That's what bonded us. Well, that and the art history classes.

The following year, we were participants in rush, from the other side. We came up with a pretty good pledge class which included J.G., a hearty small-town Southern girl with a big personality and a bigger laugh. As time went on, the three of us became very good friends.

Greek life, it turns out, didn't really suit me, and I left the sorority in the spring of my sophomore year. The friendships, however, stuck. The three of us, along with my then-boyfriend Craig, and a few other people, were a tight group who spent a great deal of time together.

Senior year I moved off campus, as did J.G. I also got a job off-campus and was dividing my time between school and "real life." Craig had already graduated and was struggling to make ends meet. I was writing my thesis, keeping up with my classes, working hard, and playing hard, too. I threw a legendary party that December. By spring, the main topic of conversation was what would happen after graduation. J.G. had one more year to go as an undergraduate, but L.A. and I were almost finished. Internships? Graduate school? Work? Relocation? Big questions.

Because my relationship with Craig was most important to me, I decided to stay in Memphis and work. By the end of April I had secured two part-time jobs, one at a museum and one working for a graphic designer/artist representative. Neither paid well, but they seemed to be a foot in the door.

L.A. was still looking, and had her sights set on an internship in North Carolina. J.G., L.A. and I were together when the envelope arrived: she did not get the internship.

The look that the two of them exchanged didn't really register with me until later.

That Friday, we were at a dance club blowing off some steam. J.G. and L.A. pulled me aside, sat me down, and dropped a bomb. They were in love. They had been together for months. They were lesbians. They were a couple.

It took me a week to realize it wasn't a joke. I wasn't on Candid Camera.

The gay part didn't bother me; I had known for years that J.G. was bisexual. The hiding it from me bothered me quite a bit. The secrecy.

After graduation, L.A. stayed in Memphis and attended graduate school and completed an internship. I worked and got engaged. J.G. finished her last year of school. We were all busy with our separate lives and with our relationships. Craig and I married eleven months after I graduated, and J.G. and L.A. were bridesmaids. J.G. even caught the bouquet at the wedding (and they moved in together a month later, just around the corner from us).

This is where things fell apart. Craig often worked nights. I worked 9-5, Monday to Friday. Which meant I was alone with the cats many nights. Having lived in my parents' house, then dorms, then a very social apartment building, I wasn't accustomed to being alone, and I often visited L.A. and J.G. or invited them over. And suddenly, with no warning, they stopped calling and stopped returning my calls.

After months of not hearing from them, I called one night and left a long, sad, pathetic message on their answering machine. I told them that whatever I had done, I was sorry. I told them I missed them. I told them I didn't know what had happened.

We got together a few nights later, and they spelled it out for me: I was too needy. I was treating them like my "token" gay friends. They were moving on. But they didn't want things to be ugly. They wanted to be able to run into us at reunions and stuff without it being awkward. They even made it clear that they regretted that by dumping me, they wouldn't be able to hang out with Craig anymore.


I still bristle at that. TOKEN GAY FRIENDS??? We were friends before they were gay. I didn't care, still don't, never will, that they were gay. They were my best friends, and they just stopped. They moved on. And the mention of running into each other at reunions? Horrible. But it was cruel, seriously cruel, to bring Craig into the discussion. "Yeah, we love your husband but really don't like you a bit." Lovely.

With no other option, I moved on too. JWM moved to Memphis and I started graduate school and then had kids. I made new friends. Poof!

Memphis, however, is a small town. We run into them sometimes (though not at reunions, which we don't attend), and it's still uncomfortable. Case in point: in 2004, we took the kids to see Shrek 2. We saw J.G. and L.A. sitting in the back row. The movie was about to start, so we didn't stop to chat, but instead said hello as we passed them, then sat down (not in the same row). When the movie was over, I figured we'd chat a moment, maybe get a coffee, blah blah blah. But no. They headed that off at the pass. They were nowhere to be seen after the movie. Sure, maybe they had somewhere else to be. But it sure seemed like they were avoiding us (and by us I mean "me").

I still don't really understand what happened. People do sometimes outgrow friendships. It's hard, however, to have someone tell you that they've outgrown you. This experience has colored subsequent relationships. I've been more cautious. I've been more guarded. I've been very conscious of appearing needy, and have cast myself in the opposite role, waiting to be approached rather than approaching, curbing my enthusiasm. It's not something I'm proud of, and it's dishonest, but so far, it's necessary.


furrjenn said...

Wow. They're still around? I thought they had broken up or moved out of town. I think I remember seeing L at Cafe Ole one afternoon when I was still with S. She told me J was moving out of state to grad school or a job or something.

I guess not, or something...

Yes, this relationship is definitely in the "ouch to think about" category. It's generous of you to assume they'd want to go for coffee and/or a chat after the movie. I would have just been polite , said "hi," and left it at that, assuming they were still the cold people they were years ago.

I have low expectations that way. :)

Kaleigh said...

Yes, J did go to grad school out of state - law school - and then returned. I did talk on the phone with L right before we moved; I had received a letter from college about our advisor (he was up for a promotion). I wanted to talk to someone about it before I answered it (because college had been so long ago at that point), so we caught up a bit. But there's been no contact since then, probably spring of 2005.