"I feel like I should try to kiss you."
With those nine words, spoken to me by my best friend's husband, came the end of a more than decade-long friendship.
Millie* and I met our sophomore year of high school in science class. She was friends Pam*, my best pal at the time, and though I'd heard a lot about Millie, we had never been introduced. Our social Venn diagram had very little overlap. Now, we were sitting next to each other and it was her goal to make me laugh at least once every class. We gelled instantly.
Like so many other depressed, socially awkward kids in high school I rarely made new friends, so I prized what friendships I had as a triumph over adversity. I was artsy, introverted, and painfully self-conscious (I still am, but being thirty-something comes with better coping mechanisms). Millie was my polar opposite. She was bold and she took no bullshit from anyone. However, like me she had the inner pain of being an intelligent, poor kid born in Eastern Kentucky. It was our bond.
After high school graduation, we both received scholarships to our hometown college. We moved into the dorms together and shared a two-person room for a year. We plastered memorabilia all over the walls, doubled our wardrobes by agreeing to borrow whatever, whenever, and Millie made paper names plaques for our separate sides of the room. She worked at a local movie rental place — these were the days of yore — and I worked at a national pizza chain that allowed its workers, mostly poor students, to bring home free food at the end of the night. We pulled off THE quintessential college set-up, but it only lasted a year.
Our mutual friend, Pam, was dating a guy from high school, Nick*. Nick's older brother, Jack*, moved to our neck of the woods to escape the drug scene he had fallen into in his hometown out West. Jack was the self-destructive type and no stranger to the practice of self-medicating with whatever was available. However, he was affable and it was not unusual for all of us to do things together, like movie nights and dinner. You really couldn't help but like him; he was smart, unassuming, and witty. He was also a pretty broken individual.
Millie and Jack began dating and, a few months later, she was pregnant with her first child. She was terrified at the prospect of motherhood before finishing her degree, but remained optimistic. She had always talked about wanting children in her future; the future just came a little earlier than she expected. I helped her out as much as I could, listened to her fears and her well-founded complaints about Jack not being supportive enough, and showed up at her work late at night to serve as a buffer against the creepier customers at the video store.
Millie gave birth to her first child, a son, with Jack nervously by her side.
Affection and understanding were easy for Millie and that's probably why I came to her with my own pregnancy dilemma a few months later. It's hard to believe I showed up at her door almost 13 years ago, freshly purchased First Response test in hand, and needing support. We had spoken on the phone maybe thirty minutes earlier and she gently guided me through what I needed to do that afternoon.
"I think I'm pregnant, Millie."
"It's going to be okay. You don't know yet, so go get a test. Bring it to my house and we'll take it from there."
I was so nervous, I couldn't even check the results. She went into the bathroom and checked it for me, confirmed my suspicions, then held me as I cried and cried. Unlike her, I never planned on children. I was shocked. She gave me her unwavering support because it was the hardest time in my life. I gave birth to my daughter nine months later. Millie and Pam showed up the next day to marvel over her.
Time passed and we grew into our mid-twenties. I got divorced, gained sole custody of my daughter, and married the love of my life, Alan*. Millie and Jack got married and had another child, a daughter, but was apparent to anyone who talked to him that Jack didn't feel like he was up to the challenge. He was scared shitless by having people who depended on him emotionally and financially. Often he coped by drinking and smoking too much. I witnessed his self-destructive tendencies in real time over and over, but never to the extent of "the night" in question.
Millie and Jack had returned from a prolonged family visit out West and we were now living in the same town. We made plans to have dinner and stay at their place overnight. Needless to say, I was very excited; I missed my friend and wanted to catch up.
We arrived at their house in the afternoon. Hugs were given and drinks were poured. We picked up right where we left off, reverting to inside jokes and our friendship shorthand. Everyone seemed at ease. The night flew by quickly. Millie and Alan were fading, but Jack and I decided to smoke a cigarette before calling it a night. As a recovering addict, my resolve often lapsed once I was a little tipsy. I asked Jack if I could bum a smoke. He agreed and we made our way to their garage.
In the harsh florescent lighting I noticed just how drunk he was. His face was pale, his eyes were baggy, and he stumbled a little. I took a cigarette from the pack he held out. A weird smirk crossed his face. We sat at a couple of folding chairs and I remembered how ridiculous smoking is. You're relegated to freezing your ass off in cold metal chairs while you suck toxic fumes into your lungs. It's stupid. We talked about their trip out West and how their family was adjusting to life after the move back. Then things took a bizarre turn.
"I feel like I should try to kiss you." He mumbled it, but it was audible. Jack was comfortable saying it. Like he had tried the line a thousand times before on a thousand other women.
"What?" I felt nauseous and I asked him to repeat himself. He did.
"Goddammit!" I was livid. "I love my husband and I love your wife."
I ranted about how ashamed he should be, that it's a rat-bastard move to try that on anyone let alone YOUR WIFE'S BEST FRIEND WHILE SHE SLEEPS IN THE NEXT ROOM. Jack hung his head, blankly agreeing with everything I said. As I ranted he pulled a pill from his shirt pocket and swiftly chased it with a swig of straight liquor from his glass. I had no idea what he had taken. At that point, I was done.
I found my husband asleep, woke him, and spilled what happened. Being level-headed and stoic, he held me and told me how sorry he was that Jack pulled this bullshit. He said he would have a talk with him the next day, when Jack wasn't drunk. At the time, I secretly wished Alan had beaten him up.
Once the shock subsided, I realized the horror of the situation: I would have to tell Millie. I didn't know what would happen, but she deserved the truth. I would want to know and I believed she would, too. Jack had put me in the shittiest of positions.
The next day Millie had to leave in the morning for a couple of hours to check in at her office. Alan took to opportunity to confront Jack outside. He told him in no uncertain terms to apologize to me and asked him what the hell he was trying to pull. Jack became submissive, asking my husband over and over again if he was going to punch him. To my husband's credit, he did not. Jack reluctantly apologized to me and begged me not to tell Millie what he had done. It was the most self-serving and insincere apology I've ever received. I would later find out from my husband he had to force it out of him. Cowards never want to face the repercussions of their actions, so I wasn't surprised.
As soon as Millie came back home, Jack stayed glued to her so I couldn't get her alone to tell her what had happened. I took an opportunity and gestured to Millie to come into the garage with me. She did. I immediately started crying and the events of last night poured out of me. She stoically wept as she listened to me recount every last detail. There was no blaming me for what had happened. There was no anger directed at me. Over and over she said, "This isn't your fault." It honestly was not what I expected. I anticipated screaming, yelling, and objects being hurled across the room. Nothing. This type of devastation had made her quiet. Everything ended in a whisper.
"I have to go," she said. She coldly hugged me goodbye and I could tell we would be strangers from this point forward. I haven't seen or spoken to her since. I've attempted to contact her twice, through email and text, but have received no answer and I don't think that will change. I had no idea what I expected when I made my decision to tell her, I just knew she deserved the truth. In an strange way, I feel like telling her was worth the cost of our friendship. Maybe it was the catalyst for Jack to get therapy. Maybe she will eventually leave him and realize he's not worth it. I have no way of knowing. Of course I wish sharing the knowledge with her hadn't cost such a high price. Still, I don't blame her for never wanting to talk to me again. Any future meeting between us would be a terrible reminder. I sincerely hope her decision has given her peace.
There isn't a day I don't think about her and her children. I'm still in mourning and it's been five years.
God, I miss my friend.