What I Thought Happened, Didn’t

By Carol L. Skolnick

Recently I found myself weeping with longing for my long-deceased parents…something I didn’t do at all when they were dying. As long as my parents lived, I resented them for being in my life. While they were dying, I blamed them for leaving me.

Somewhere along the way, I must have forgiven them. That’s been happening a lot lately. This year I even got my old best friend back, which, as anyone who knows either of us might have opined, was impossible, as we had become sworn enemies.

My late mother always said that I should have moved heaven and earth to save my relationship with Annie. I thought that was incredibly insensitive and unsupportive of her, given all that I’d been through. No one who knew and loved me would ever say such a thing, I believed…and nearly everyone in my life at the time agreed with me. (Annie now tells me her father told her the same thing about me…and that, for most of the past 15 years, she took his advice in much the same way I took my mother’s.)

The last thing I wanted was to salvage that friendship. The end of it had played out like a nasty, contentious, litigious divorce. Afterwards, I tore up pictures of Annie, badmouthed her to everyone who knew us as well as to those who didn’t, felt nauseated at the thought of our final encounter, then all but forgot about her for years. I would put her out of my mind entirely until someone mentioned her. “You’re not still speaking to her, are you?” “God, no. You know what happened between us.” And if they didn’t know the story, I’d repeat it like some ancient mariner with an albatross around my neck, effectively weighing myself down, and everyone else, and then needing to put her out of my mind again.

Annie tells me she never forgot about me. I found that incredible, but she has provided proof, one and a half decades of it: pictures of me and stories I’d published, found during Google searches…along with mementos and memories of a long and mostly happy association that I’d tried so hard to forget. In truth, though I tore her face out of photos, I could never tear her out of my heart. In secret, I kept all the lovely things she ever wrote about with, or for, me – poems, letters, song parodies, fantasy plays about our lives in high school. When I moved things around and came across these writings, I shuddered and didn’t look at them, but I didn’t throw them away either.

Annie was one of my three closest friends in high school. We met in our sophomore year and remained tight through our early 30s, seeing each other through all the major lifequakes: first hirings and firings, first lovers and lost loves, college, studies abroad (me in Nice, she in London), my graduate degree, her marriage, my father’s death, the birth of her only daughter, our respective and seemingly endless therapies, my years as a pseudo-yogini on an exotic spiritual journey, the gradual decay of her marriage, our mutual, and largely unsuccessful, efforts to lose weight, our various misunderstandings and separations and our grateful, tearful reunions.

I can’t convey how deep the loss of my friend was. No one ever “got” me the way she did. I never had to explain myself to Annie; she knew. In the early days of our friendship, we were so relieved to find a fellow alien, we quickly retreated to our own planet of humorous obtuseness. We had this way of talking in code, in bursts of song from Broadway musicals, or quoting things that we – and only we – found hilarious. We signed our letters to each other, “YBFITWWW” (Your Best Friend in the Whole Wide World).

No one who knows our history would believe this was possible, but after about 15 years, we are friends again. It happened because Annie’s not the only one who Googles me. I look myself up every now and again to see who is quoting from, “borrowing,” or critiquing my articles and to check on my website rankings.

A few months ago, I saw a Google entry that said, “For Carol L. Skolnick, Wherever You Are.” I took a deep breath and clicked on the link. There it was; Annie’s blog, with a joking but wistful reference to The King and I that no one would get but me. Someone posted a comment pretending to be me, saying “I don’t get it,” and Annie responded, “If you really were Carol, you would.”

Was this a shout-out? What did I want to do about it? I had attempted to work with my feelings about Annie over the years, but it was too uncomfortable; I wasn’t ready to face my part in our rift. That she had betrayed me, didn’t love me, wished me harm, ruined my life, deserved to be punished, disturbed my peace, needed to change, cooperate, grovel and enslave herself to me in order for me to be happy…this was my former religion; I don’t believe in those gods anymore. I may continue to be a jerk sometimes, but I’m a jerk with awareness; so many of my old stories, so carefully created and maintained, have collapsed like a house of cards. I could feel this one crumbling as I sought to cling to it.

My mentor, the author Byron Katie, has famously said, “Forgiveness means that what you thought happened, didn’t.”

What had happened between Annie and myself? A difference of opinion, and the tragedies we built out of that misunderstanding. Could I put those stories behind me? I sure wanted to. Did I need anything from Annie? I checked in. Nope; I was complete within myself. If anything, I wanted to be able to apologize for my part in what happened between us. That left me free to write and say hello, and it left me okay if in fact she wanted nothing further to do with me.

In her response, unasked for, Annie gave me everything I no longer needed from her, everything I thought I wanted from her all those years ago. And so, as if no time had passed, last August I walked off my much-delayed plane from Amsterdam, into the Newark Liberty airport, and straight to the loving embrace of someone who had waited hours – and years – for me. What a beautiful sight she was. Within minutes, it was as if no time had passed at all. Although, we are a tad grayer, a lot rounder, quite a bit smarter, and I hope a lot less self-involved than we were in our teens, twenties and thirties. I look forward to sharing sushi with her when we’re on the same coast (she tells me it’s all my fault she’s addicted to the stuff), and sharing laughter, and tears, and snippets of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs on the telephone when we’re not. I look forward to seeing her daughter Tracy, who in my mind is still a toddler even though she’s 17. I love that Tracy has, once again, an Aunt Carol. I very much look forward to Annie and me being able to disagree with each other, even vehemently, and this not becoming the end of the world or of our friendship.

As I look back on so many relationships in my life – romantic, familial and convivial – it is amazing to see how many of my sad memories have changed and how much love remains as a result. It turns out nothing terrible ever happened. What a wonderful thing, to be wrong.

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