I'm sitting in the car, looking out the window as we drive the last 100 miles to reach Bend, Oregon. There is no place to stop for a drink or snack, and God help you if you have to pee. When fellow travelers say "There's no way in Hell I'm using THAT restroom," you know it's bad. The gravelly side of the road suddenly looks more appealing.
The landscape is flat and desert like, void of anything interesting to look at. The road stretches out before you, only to round a curve and, surprise! It stretches out again for miles. My knees hurt. My butt hurts.
Like an old bruise, my heart hurts a little too.
Bend reminds me of K.
K's best friend lives in Bend, and she visits her often. The friend that K had complained to me about when she moved to Bend,
"She wants me to drop everything to help her move. Really, isn't that asking a bit MUCH?"
The friend that K used to complain about to me but who is now her best friend. I used to be the best friend.
There's deer outside my window, grazing. Jake is snoring softly and Hubs continues to drive. A tear slowly slides down my cheek, dripping on my shirt.
I know there are a lot of things that contributed to our friendship's demise. Part of it was my life circumstances turning me into THAT friend. You know, the one that is always in crisis? Thing is, that was just life for us for awhile. Things were just damn hard. You really find out who your friends are when life gets that hard; and in the end, few were left standing. Sometimes, you just don't have anything left to be a good friend. It's really all you can do to put one foot in front of the other and slog through the crap that is thrown at you on a daily basis.
It didn't matter that K and I knew each other only through e-mail. Her words were like salve, soothing my battered soul when I just wanted to give up. She gave me faith that I could get through the bad times, and we did.
Was it that? Maybe.
Then there was the fact that we had nothing in common. I see that, now. We were as opposite as you can get. She loved pop culture, theater, dark movies about zombies and horror flicks, her kids were into video games, wasn't into nature at all and didn't really cook. She home schooled and loved Harry Potter so much that going to a book party at 12 am was fun.
I hardly watch TV, don't care a bit about pop culture and detest over hyped media, listen to country music, feel happiest when I'm hiking, by the beach, or 4x4ing in the desert, ban video games from my home, cook (and love it) all the time, and think fan-dom is outright weird. Plus I work in public schools.
The only threads that we had in common were motherhood and writing. I see that, now. The words on computer screens that we wrote held us together, much like reading a blog and loving the author. I adored her funny, offbeat humor and felt bolstered by her words. They encouraged me to reach deeper, be creative, and to respond in kind. Emotionally, she could tug at my heart with her words and make me feel loved and accepted. Despite that, I often wonder that if we had met in real life, would we have even been friends? Likely not.
Was it THAT? I don't know.
The traffic suddenly stops. Jake and I are so thirsty, all we both can think about are tall glasses of ice water, cool and wet. The cooler is empty. The driver in front of us gets out of his SUV, pops open the back of his car and pulls out cans of soda, dripping wet, from his cooler. It's almost like the universe is mocking us, and we briefly consider mugging him for them, or at the very least, offering to buy them. Na. I'm not THAT thirsty.
Off we go again. Jake goes back to sleep, Hubs keeps driving, and I keep looking out the window, contemplating. Not sad now, but a melancholy feeling dances on the edges, as I continue to think about her.
I'm the kind of person that if I've hurt someone, I like to know right away. Talk to me. Give it to me straight and let's get it out and over with, because then we can fix it. Communicate with me. I want to know. Also, please don't just leave. Don't walk away without trying to fix it. I've had people walk away from me before, and my heart can't take it. It will hurt me the MOST.
Don't ever tell people what will hurt you the most because when they really want to hurt you, it's exactly what they'll do.
Was it that? Was it the fact that she and I were so different in communication styles when we were hurt? That I was one who wanted things out in the open immediately, and she retreated, held on, and kept score? That she would wait until the worst time possible to finally dump a truckload of hurts and resentment onto me when I couldn't do anything about it, and then retreat and not speak to me for weeks so I'd be frantic trying to figure out what to do?
Probably. I couldn't deal with that.
Everything really unraveled when I began this blog. Writing a blog really started as an impulse; one night, tired of poking around in the Internet and playing solitaire, I finally decided to check out what Blogger was. I had no idea where it would lead because at the time, it was just a fun hobby.
I had no idea that I was entering into K's world where she had established herself a long time ago, and that there were toes that I'd be treading on. Old resentments lingered, festered, and grew. Resentments that I had absolutely no idea even existed suddenly, inexplicably, reared their poisonous heads.
As most newbies to blogging, I hadn't quite figured out the etiquette; what is okay and what's not and so when she sternly told me to stop using the same widgets or similar themes in my posts, I was mortified at myself. I had thought I was commiserating, not copying but somehow, in trying to figure out my own voice, I had borrowed hers. Suddenly I knew this was no hobby, but a creative outlet, and I became very conscious of finding my own voice.
Things were never the same after that. At all. Every time I figured out a new blogging trick, found a widget, posted a picture, changed colors, fonts, or headers, she seemed annoyed. If I asked her what a feed was, how to post pictures, or something else she knew about, she wouldn't tell me. Everything became closely guarded, magical secret.
If I wrote about socks and she wrote about socks sometime in the six months before then, I was accused of copying. If I found a widget on a site and installed it, only to find out that she had the same widget, I was accused of stealing her ideas even though dozens of other bloggers had the very same thing. She wanted me to credit her even if I found the widget somewhere else and hadn't noticed she had it too.
Resentment and frustration began to eat away at me. This wasn't fun, or what friendship should be like. This was control, competition, and I hated it. Some days I hated HER. Her insecurity was becoming so consuming that if I so much as looked at her blog, she'd accuse me of gleaning ideas from it. Sometimes I'd bring up her page and then not even look at it, just to see if my very presence on her blog bothered her. It did-and I wasn't even reading the damn thing!
Things had turned into a competition of "who can find it first". She was more internet savvy, and by the time I found any hack, widget, or tool, she had already laid claim to it. It began to feel like she had laid claim to every blogging thing that ever existed and I had to make do with the scraps that she saw fit to let me have.
The only way to keep our friendship was obvious; I had to quit blogging.
As we continue towards Bend, mountains finally looming in the distance, I look down at the notebook in my hand filled with notes and scribbles for future blog posts. How could I have chosen blogging over K? Could I have actually just quit?
It's interesting that the night I really contemplated sacrificing my blog for our friendship, I was watching Erin Brockovich and one single scene summed up exactly how I felt; when George insists that Erin has to choose between him or her job. (I may not get this quote perfectly)
Erin: "All my life I have bent myself around what men have decided they think they need..... Don't ask me to quit. I won't do it."
Like many women when they become mothers, I had thrown myself headfirst into motherhood, completely consumed by the little life Hubs and I created. As the years went by I was discovering that Jake didn't need me quite so intensely, and I needed to do something for me. My soul felt parched and withered, as if I needed something creative to fill me up and give me purpose. When I had begun to blog suddenly an entire world that I never knew existed opened up; there was a community, I was challenged, stretched, could set goals, and felt it fill me up to the very depths of my soul. Finally, I had found something that I really, truly, deeply, loved. Something that made my very spirit sing for joy.
For too long in my life, I had allowed other people to squash that spirit and mold me into what they wanted. Now, I suddenly felt completely free and there was no way in HELL I was giving that up.
Was that the demise of our friendship? YES.
E-mail had been our world, our entire friendship. For months it had been a mine field-I never knew what would touch a nerve and result in an argument, so I stopped talking. The words that once soothed my soul had taken on a sarcastic, cutting edge. One night when I was sick, frightened, and in so much pain, I poured out my soul.
"The doctor thinks I might have Multiple Sclerosis," I wept. "I'm so, so, SO scared."
Her response was curt and dismissive; the e-mail version of a teenage eye roll.
"Geez Karen, just because the doctor says that you might have MS doesn't mean you DO."
That was when I knew it was over.
I remember to the second what it was like reading her final e-mail. It was like a hand reached through the computer screen, ripped open my chest, snatched out my heart, and stomped on it until there was nothing left.
"I can't be friends with you anymore," it said. "I've felt like this for years but you were sick so I waited for you to get better to tell you. You'll be fine."
My head was reeling; better? How long? How long was it that she allowed me to pour out my very soul to her, when she no longer cared? How long had she pretended to be my friend, when really all she wanted was for me to go away? How fucking long had she strung me along out of PITY?
She did exactly what I had told her would hurt me most.
We finally arrive in Bend, check in our hotel, and make our way to Red Robin for dinner. K liked Red Robin, and as I look at the menu I wonder what she would have ordered. The place is bustling with activity and at one point, I see a tall girl with brown hair and imagine it's her.
I'd like to say that I responded with class and dignity, but I didn't. Wounded deeper then I ever thought possible, I spewed venom right back, saying and doing things that I regret now. For months I just hated her.
The ironic thing is, through it all I kept reading her blog. It's not what you think; I never commented, and was never there to harass her, I just read. Maybe at first it was morbid curiosity. Maybe I just wanted to see if she'd write about us. I watched as the pictures and the posts continued, reminding me that her life merrily forged ahead while any trace that she ever knew me was quite promptly erased. I felt disposable. Forgotten. Erased from existence.
Last year she discovered that I am still reading her blog and the same old insecurities bubbled to the surface once again. A post was suddenly there one day, obviously directed at me, full of wild accusations and reasons why she is happy I'm no longer her friend.
She doesn't understand. She'll never understand. I have never gleaned anything from her since the moment long ago when she pointed out what I had done and asked me to stop. I'm not there to revel in her pitfalls, to make fun of her, to spew venom or to continue to allow resentment to eat me up. The shackles of those emotions fell off long ago. The hate dissolved and all that's left now are the good memories; the ones where her words left me laughing, or built me up to face a hard day ahead. That's what I carry now.
We finish at Red Robin and walk, hand in hand along the Deschutes River. The sun is setting and the light dances along the water. People are laughing, floating down the river on inner tubes, the smell of BBQ fills the air, and Hubs takes my hand. Suddenly, as I watch the sun fade and the sky explode into colors, it comes to me.
I continue to go there because somehow, reading her blog gives me a taste of what I lost. What I loved about her so dearly. What was once the best part of our friendship.
I go because despite it all, some days I just miss her words.