We used to spend our time laying in bed, drinking champagne through straws while watching concert specials on repeat. We used to hold one another as we walked down our street towards a favorite happy hour; arms locked and bodies close, laughing loudly and whispering softly, all in perfect, synchronized stride.
I carried her down her stairs after a medical procedure, tucking her into bed and kissing her forehead, much like I do my now one-year-old son. She held my hair back when I was sick from having too much to drink, and never made me feel bad when I came home from a one night stand, always fiercely in my corner and unapologetically loyal.
We were each other’s person, at times when our happiness was surreal and at times when anger and pain and disappointment felt like the norm. We made promises, like I would her maid of honor whenever she was married, and she would marry my brother if he didn’t find a wife before he turned 40.
We wrote "forever" on each other’s hearts, in the same way I used to write on the back of high school yearbooks, begging forgotten friends not to change. And like the adolescent versions of ourselves, we meant our promises.
We weren’t gifting one another hollow words in order to surround ourselves with important or pivotal people. We were friends when neither one of us had anything, and when she lost a job or I couldn’t pay a bill, we were one another’s first call. I would come over with takeout and a bottle of whiskey, and she would come over with a heartbreaking playlist and a plan for a (cheap) night out.
And then success happened.
I turned 25 and I found stable footing on unstable ground, and was able to cultivate a semi-decent writing career. I was working three jobs, and while I was incredibly unhealthy, I was also being published; first in a magazine, and eventually in a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.
And that was all it took. Years of sisterhood and companionship and unending support crumbled at the very inkling of my potentially successful career.
When my name was printed in black and white, it stopped being “us” and it started being “me” vs “her.” Our promises cracked and broke and left pieces with sharp edges, perfect for cutting one another.
I was angry that I didn’t have my supportive friend anymore, and she was unable to articulate that she was scared that I was leaving her behind. I would lie and say everything was okay, white-knuckling our relationship in the hopes that we would return to the dynamic duo we once were. She told everyone else how she truly felt, except me.
We wanted to protect one another and hurt one another simultaneously, locked in a mix of love and resentment that made our actions seem paradoxical. We would make plans and cancel. We would finally see one another and spend the first hour weeding through an overwhelming and palpable awkwardness.
We didn’t want to give up, until giving up was the only thing left to do.
So we’d tell ourselves we were okay and that it was just a scary drop in a rollercoaster every relationship experiences, but a part of me and (I’m sure) a part of her knew that it was the beginning of the end.
We could only be supportive when both of us needed support. We could only be defiant friends when we were both knee deep in shared anguish and pain and self-destruction. Because the moment one of us did well, the “we” we had come to rely on failed.
Why does this happen? Why is that people -- especially women, it seems and at least in this instance -- condemn instead of congratulate? Why do we rely on our friends’ pain to feel fulfilled and useful and worthwhile?
I’ve thought about the beginning of our end more times than I care to admit. I know it’s “cool” to act like you don’t care, but I care. Even after almost four years, I care. I think about us laying on the same bed, waxing nostalgic about college, and I wish that time and careers and success didn’t push us forward and apart, simultaneously.
I think about her meeting my son, and how she would have been in the delivery room if it all hadn’t of fallen apart in such spectacular manner.
I think about the ways that I contributed to our end, because nothing is ever one person’s fault, and while she was jealous and genuinely unhappy that I was succeeding, I was unwilling to hide my happiness for her benefit. I supported her and helped her, but I didn’t want to cease talking about my latest published article or my newest opportunity, even if I knew it hurt her.
I was selfish. Selfish to the point of self-righteousness. I would go on and on about my career, completely aware that it made her feel ineffectual, only to turn around and point a finger at her and tell anyone who would listen that she wasn’t being supportive.
She wasn’t a good friend, but hell, I definitely wasn’t a good friend either.
And now that it has been years and we’ve both become strangers instead of the forever sisters we promised, I wonder why we’ve let success do this to us. I wonder, if I was poor and failing and still miserable, would she still be the first person I called? I wonder, if it was reversed, and if she had found a writing career while I was lost, would I have handled it the same?
I think about whether or not this was all out of our control. Are some people really supposed to only be in our lives for a moment in time, to teach us lessons and ground us in certainty and change us to be better versions of ourselves? Or were we never that great of friends to begin with, and the inability to celebrate one another’s successes was just one of many reasons why we would have inevitably failed?
But mostly, I think about my career, and wonder if our failed friendship was worth it. And then I think about our friendship, and wonder if sacrificing the career I have now would have been worth it too.