I am very slow to acknowledge the end of a friendship. I think I know what the other person is thinking or feeling, and of course I don’t know anything. I attach different meanings to the silence, a very silly exercise in futility. In my own life, I never say to someone, “I know how you feel,” because that phrase (along with “I will pray for you”) is both presumptuous and meaningless. So why do I try to figure out why my friend is silent?
Martha and I met the first day of medical school over “Petunia,” our shared cadaver in gross anatomy lab. She was older than the rest of us: she really had been at Woodstock, she had a daughter in grade school, and she was divorced. She had done this and that, and finally ended up in medical school, determined to go into Ob/Gyn. She was hard-working but not academically gifted, and spent part of the four years on probation. But she did graduate, and we both ended up in New England for residency.
We bonded over Petunia and late-night study sessions and nasty attendings and nastier residents. She was my best friend. After medical school we managed to stay in touch through the occasional letters and emails, phone calls, and visits. Then she stopped. All my communications went unanswered for several years. I did not know she had moved state again, that her email address had changed, that her phone number had changed. But one day, she picked up her phone and actually answered the voice mail I had left awhile back wishing her a happy birthday.
We talked, and it was as though we picked up right where we left off. She said she had been “very bad” about keeping in touch, and I did not push for a better explanation. Sometimes there just isn’t a better explanation, and if you don’t want a real answer, you shouldn’t ask. But I confess I was hurt: she had managed to keep in touch with some of the other women in our medical school class, and in fact was renting a house with them for our class reunion. Why was I not worthy?
She has stopped again. It has been a year since I wrote to her, a year of silence. I know where she is, I have her contact information. I will be on a 2-week break near her neck of the woods, and I have been debating whether to try to get in touch with her. Until today. Today, my massage therapist (who is also a good friend and a very smart woman) told me something pretty simple: I cannot act based on how I think someone else will react. Silence is just silence, but if I must have some sort of explanations, I should think about the nature of relationships and how people manage them: sometimes, the “I do not have the time” becomes “I cannot be bothered” becomes “I will not be bothered.” The friendship is a burden and has been one for a long time, though I had been too obtuse to recognize it. What I need to accept is that I no longer serve any function in her life: she has others to love and care for, to love her and care for her.
I love The Parting Glass, the traditional Irish farewell song. So, in honor of what once was, I remember the best of times, and joy be with her always.