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How I Lost Touch With My Best Friend

If I'm being honest, I know it's all my fault.

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animation of a miss you text message left on read and waiting for response by elizabeth brockway
Elizabeth Brockway
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Chubby cheeks, sweet face, little hands concealed in the blue-striped romper. He's perfect.

I see him on Instagram. Everything stops around me as I read the caption again and again. She calls him their latest "collaboration," which is a letter-perfect description coming from these two lovely, creative people. He's a baby. Their baby. The one she once said she didn't think she'd ever have. She didn't want to. Now she did.

The air is sucked from my lungs. The room seems to tilt. Nothing seems right.

She was pregnant, and I didn't even know. She gave birth, and I had no idea. I didn't throw a baby shower for her or help her in the days after birth like she did for me. How did this happen?

Life has gone on for them, as it has for me. But in this moment, that dull ache of loss I've felt morphs into acute pain.

She's gone. Our friendship is gone. It has been gone.

I knew that, but at the same time hope still lived. There was a chance, a possibility. Time, they say, heals. But this time it didn't. Perhaps it couldn't.

She was supposed to be my forever friend. The friendship with the origin story we’d recount again and again as decades passed.

We were 14 when we met, seated near each other at the charcoal-colored tables of our Earth Science lab. It was there, with Natalia sitting on one side eating Whatchamacallit bars and her on the other, doodling with a fountain pen, that friendship blossomed.

In the years that followed, we lost touch and found it again. We laughed that we grew up less than a mile from each other, but never knew it. And as we got older, we maintained our friendship across wide divides. She moved around. I settled down. She traveled. I had kids. She started to settle down. I started traveling again. We lived hours apart, but still managed to talk regularly and see each other several times each year. There were annual berry-picking trips and a weekend away here or there.

This was one of those friendships you cherish into your old age, fondly recalling your reckless youth.

When the worst day of my life happened — the one where there was a question whether my son was still alive — she held me up. When I was frozen with indecision, she firmly told me what to do and I listened. When I found him safe, she was among the first I told. And later, when more bad things happened around the country, shattering me again and again, she supported me.

She was there time and time again.

My best friend, my confidante, my daughter's godmother.

Then came my move. The one I didn't talk to her about until it was practically decided. The one that took us from a commuting distance to far, far away. The one that felt so urgent and necessary.

She came to help me pack, frustrated at how unprepared I was. She was angry at me. In retrospect, I see it. At the time, I was just trying to get through every day. She helped anyway. When we said our farewells, it was supposed to be farewell for now.

I was moving for a job. I was moving for a better life for my kids. I was moving for our happiness. It was never about leaving her or taking the kids away.

I moved to Maine, eight hours away from New York. But that was OK — she and her husband loved Maine. They'd been several times and shared pictures and stories. I thought, surely they'd visit. We'd see each other.

A few months passed. We talked, emailed and texted. Then months turned into a year.

They didn’t come. I didn't invite them. They didn't just show up. It wasn't like planning a trip to fill baskets with blueberries. This was bigger, farther, harder.

And then we lost touch. It was all my fault.

The texts stopped getting returned. Mine, theirs, both. The calls ceased. Emails I started writing never got sent. We didn't see each other. The one time we had plans, I didn't follow up until a few days before — not really unusual in the days past — but this time she wouldn't see me. Then silence. We didn't try to talk anymore.

Days turned to weeks. Then it was months. I texted her once, sending her photos of her goddaughter. The reply was polite but chilly. And now, years. Two summers ago I found an unsent email in my drafts — nearly done and filled with news, excitement, wonder and curiosity — from early 2015. That's when, as far as I can tell, things crumbled silently.

It has been years. It has been too long.

I'm divorced. Recoupled. Love hiking. I coached soccer for several seasons. I wrote books. She illustrated one and started this new mixed media art endeavor. We’ve both been approaching big, new things. Her art career has blossomed. She has had a baby. Life has marched forward for both of us.

I wish she were here, if not physically then in spirit.

And if I'm being honest, I know it's all my fault.

In the best and worst year of my life, I insulated myself. My marriage was over. I was trying to forge a new life in spurts and stops. My career rocketed forward. But my friendships sunk, a host of Titanic ships in an iceberg-filled sea. It wasn’t just this one; it was several, all gone.

Turns out, the transition from working at home to working full time and continuing to manage my freelance career was a rough one. It wasn’t just a shift of work, but a whole life shift. With so much other change happening — a big culture shift from Connecticut to Maine, getting the kids situated, dealing with personal stuff — my communications became few and far between, the distance felt huge, and even texting dropped off.

It wasn’t just her. It was everyone. I just focused on getting through each day, each week, each bill cycle.

Somehow, in prioritizing my life, I didn't place enough emphasis on my friends. And I should have. Friendships are important, too.

When I realized the damage I'd done, I was back in the New York-Connecticut area for a wedding. I ran into another old friend, one I’d also thought would be a forever friend. While the conversation was nice, through her polite but chilled tone it was clear that there was no room for me anymore.

I miss my friends. I don't know what to do to repair the friendships. Maybe I can’t. In a lot of ways, I feel absolutely powerless.

As for that one friend, I did reach out to her with a long email. That was a year ago. I received a reply, brief and sweet. But she couldn’t deal with the emotions of our friendship’s demise at the time. Maybe she never will.

When I go over it in my mind — I have, again and again — I know I didn't try hard enough. I wasn't there for them enough. I missed so much. While life was happening — not just recently, but for years prior — I was selfishly focused on me, my kids and my drama. What about theirs? Why did I ignore it so?

Why couldn't I be better? Maybe I didn't deserve them at all.

Sarah Walker Caron is a writer, editor and author based in Bangor, Maine, where she lives with her two kids and a black cat named Bippity. She’s the editor of Bangor Metro Magazine.