Saturday, August 31, 2013

Breakdown of a Friendship

A little over four years ago, I had a nightmare. Maybe "nightmare" isn't the word I'm looking for, but rather a very intense dream. I'm standing on a wooden dock near a lake; there's a small seaside town in the distant background. I'm not doing anything besides watching the water. I see something glow behind me, and I turn around. A good friend of mine from high school --for the purpose of this blog, I'll call her Sandra-- is hovering six inches off the ground. Sandra is gleaming in a long, flowing white robe, and very pregnant. We make small talk, the details of which I don't remember. Suddenly, she says "goodbye forever," then flies away. I ask Sandra why she said that and where she's going, but she either doesn't hear me or refuses to answer. I wake up in a cold sweat, over an hour before my alarm goes off.

I'm not going to avoid the fact that for the longest time, I had a crush on Sandra. We had a lot in common; we were both nerdy, nearsighted, well-read, with aspirations of a career in writing. On the flip side of that, Sandra was (and still is) fiercely independent and a free spirit. She was openly bisexual and the co-founder of my high school's GLAAD club. She refused to own a TV and for the longest time, quoted Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and spoke conversational Russian. Sandra was an activist; I am an armchair liberal. Sandra was positive, I was pragmatic. Sandra loved to travel; I never had the time to do so, and I still don't. Sandra was simultaneously perfect and out of my reach; she was what I aspired for in a woman but could never have. Above all else, she confided in me like a good friend. I knew my place, but part of me always wondered if there was an opportunity for more.

When I dreamed about Sandra, I hadn't seen her in about six months. At that point, she had been dating a guy named Scott (another pseudonym) for maybe a year and a half. Scott was a great guy --we're still in touch-- and they were a relatively happy couple. However, that dream was so vivid and so haunting I felt absolutely compelled to admit my feelings. I e-mailed her the afternoon after my dream to ask what she had been up to, and if she wanted to meet for coffee. In her reply, Sandra said she was moving to Seattle in a few weeks, but sure, coffee would work. Suffice to say, I panicked.

Sandra and I met about a week later. We caught up and made small talk, but over the course of the hour-long chat I never worked the nerve to admit my feelings. I walked her back to her car and still couldn't find the courage. Two days later, I sent her a long e-mail; I poured my feelings out, cleverly phrasing my words so it didn't sound like our friendship was some sort of ruse. For fear of being perceived as insane, I neglected to mention the dream. Sandra responded two days later; as I had assumed, her feelings were not mutual. Her response had a tone that was both flattered and embarrassed. I sulked a little, knowing that my honesty had put a strain on our friendship.

A week or so after that, I noticed that Sandra had posted a Facebook event for a small, private party at her new apartment in Chicago; to my relief, the move to Seattle had been pushed back a few months. I messaged her for directions, but Sandra never answered. The party came and went. Annoyed, I shot her another e-mail. When she didn't respond to that, I left a terse post on her wall. About 10 days after the party, Sandra finally replied; she was still getting over my original e-mail, and that we needed a break. Between that and my college girlfriend, I spent much of the Summer of '09 in a defeated funk. It took four months for me to work the nerve to contact Sandra again.

If Sandra was elusive, her social circle was hostile. When Sandra and I were students at College of DuPage, and even after she transferred to University of Illinois-Chicago, she hung out mostly with artists, pseduo-intellectuals, and other assorted right-brainers. They were ambivalent to me when I first them, and steadily grew annoyed by my presence anytime I saw them. It wasn't totally me, though; they reeked of pretention, not always self-absorbed but usually humorless and restless. We read the same books and magazines, but didn't necessarily interpret what we read the same way. As far as they were concerned I was a bourgeois outsider, an oblivious old friend of their favorite hostess. Where Sandra was cordial and graceful, her friends merely tolerated me.

So four months after the "break," Sandra and I talked things out. Our friendship seemed to be on the mend, an aura of testiness in the air that we both assumed would gradually subside. After returning from Seattle, we ran into each other at mutual friends' parties and there didn't seem to be any discernible tension. We were supposed to meet at the Chicago gay pride parade that next summer, but I got lost on the El. I was mortified, but given the crowds a disconnect was bound to happen. Ironically, it would've been the last time I would see Sandra in person. Soon after, she moved to San Diego to start grad school.

The building blocks of reconciliation tumbled in December 2010. I caught wind that Sandra was back in Chicago for the holidays. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I asked if she wanted to meet or hang out, but she said she was busy that week. Seven days later, I asked again; Sandra still had other commitments. I assumed she was spending long-overdue time with family. I asked a third time after Christmas, but by that point she was already back in California.

I thought nothing of the schedule conflict until the Tuesday after New Year's. Almost out of the blue, Sandra posted over 100 photos of herself with her Chicago social circle. It was most, if not nearly all of the same haughty prudes that dismissed me on first sight. I was as upset as ever. Against my better judgment, I sent another terse private message on Facebook. She replied a day later, stating that after all this time she had incredibly unfair toward me and that we can never hang out again. In defeat, I accepted the new terms of our "friendship" and wished her well.

Social media, as it turned out, both connected and divided us. I've stayed Facebook friends with Sandra, but I'm still too mortified to say hi. Even a comment on a status update required a certain amount of courage. I left her a happy birthday wall post this past June in the wee hours of the night, assuming she wouldn't see it. I watched silently as she dumped Scott, hooked up with her former roommate from Chicago --I always assumed there was something going on between them-- than began her courtship with the guy that is now her fiancee.

Then late Tuesday night, I found out on Facebook that Sandra was pregnant. For real.

Seeing the pregnancy announcement, quirky and well-intended as it was, brought me back to that dream. I offered my congratulations (no reaction or reply, of course) but in reality I felt uneasy. I take solace in the fact that after years of flightiness and shirking stability, her days of hookah parties and epic, spur-of-the-moment road trips are basically over. Sandra seems content about the news, declaring adulthood "ebullient," but I don't think reality has set in yet. Judging from comments on Facebook, she's struggling to find the nobility of 24-hour "morning" sickness. Now I knew for sure that nothing was ever going to be same again. The angel had flown away.

Until now, I had never told anyone about this. Even the central figure in this only knew (knows?) half of the story. I have rarely acted so selfishly in my life, and in the process I strained a relatively healthy, albeit increasingly distant friendship. My social awkwardness and insecurities consumed me in a way I never thought possible. Whether this was all my fault or other circumstances contributed, I'll never know. I've dated other women but never made the same connection.  I have frequent doubts that I'm emotionally capable of being in a meaningful relationship, let alone married with children, and this experience augmented my concerns. A vivid dream became a real-life nightmare.


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