Buried under papers on my desk is a small black book of snapshots. I consider throwing it away, but I don’t. I flip through the silly pictures that remind me of an old friend and then bury the book again in the paper piles. I killed this friendship; I tapped on the final nail in its coffin.
Photographs of a trip to New York City with my friend Lena fill the book’s pages. Lena and I sat near the Statue of Liberty’s base when Gene Rayburn, instantly recognizable by his height and comb-over, and his companion walked past us. Gene Rayburn hosted the vintage “Match Game.” Lena and I both remembered, “Dumb Dora was so dumb that she….” Contestants filled in the blanks on similar phrases, often off-color.
We followed Rayburn and his friend. Lena was inches shorter than me, and we soon lost our target, who had a long stride. We walked in the opposite direction to pass him. Yes, we were stalking a celebrity from our childhood. The little photo album contains several unidentifiable pictures of Rayburn and his companion. We were too timid to take his picture up close. Laughing during the Gene Rayburn chase is one of a hundred memories of our friendship.
Lena and I went to the same college but ran in different circles. However, we became good friends after we moved to the same city after graduation. Lena was hilarious and interesting. She was uber-smart, but I equaled her in curiosity. We talked for hours about shared interests in books, travel, and current events and went to plays and films.
I moved to Florida and came home to get married. She was at my wedding as one of four bridesmaids who wore a peach taffeta monstrosity with sleeves like Jerry Seinfeld’s puffy shirt. It seemed fashionable then, but I’m surprised all my bridesmaids didn’t revolt over the hideous dress I chose.
At the reception, Lena told me she was moving to an East Coast city for a new job. We stayed in touch, but it wasn’t the same as in the early years when we talked daily. I’m not sure. In my twenties, I could fully appreciate how life can change. Like wedding fashion, friendships evolve.
Today, I am mature enough to understand how moves and different life paths may affect a friendship. While it doesn’t always happen, some friendships last longer than others, and many don’t continue.
Psychology Today noted 55 reasons why friendships end in four categories: selfishness, lack of regular interaction, romantic involvement, and perception of family and other friends.
In the early 1990s, Lena and I started a new tradition: visiting New York City every few years. We visited museums, saw plays, trailed Gene Rayburn, and ate at the Russian Tea Room. At the iconic 57th Street restaurant, we were rushed up the stairs to a place I called “The Out-of-Towners Room,” referencing an old movie where two Midwesterners struggle in the city. We laughed ourselves silly over Borscht.
We were busy forging our lives, happy to see each other on occasional trips.
Lena cared for her dying father and then went to graduate school and earned success in the academic world. I worked to support my husband in graduate school and pursued a career in marketing. After three miscarriages, I had a child who became the center of our world.
My friend and I still enjoyed our trips, but our lives differed. We were good traveling companions, more interested in museums than nightclubs and choosing theaters over Canal Street shopping, though we did pseudo-stalk Dr. Phil in Times Square.
I would have been incredulous if someone had suggested to me in my twenties that this friendship would end. Today, much is written about female friends. “The Atlantic” featured an article, “Stop Firing Your Friends: Just Make More of Them.” Author Olga Khazan posits that not every friend can meet every expectation. She believes the answer is finding more friends who can meet those needs or whose needs you can meet.
Lena emailed me the week my mom died to ask about my intentions for a trip to New York City we had tentatively scheduled for the summer. She knew my mother had passed away, and I had returned from the funeral.
I responded to her email, “I can’t see it happening right now unless it is a trip with family.”
My answer was a quick, off-the-cuff remark.
The word “family” carries much baggage. Did I mean to use the word family? As soon as I hit send, I regretted it. I immediately apologized by email and called Lena, who didn’t answer. I felt terrible.
In an email, Lena left no doubt that she was finished with our friendship. I asked for forgiveness. None arrived. We never spoke again, though I reached out several more times.
I didn’t understand. Did I say the right thing the wrong way? Was something huge going on with my friend that I didn’t know? I still have a tiny crack in my heart where our friendship once lived.
No one starts a friendship thinking it will end. But, sometimes, change is the culprit. And sometimes, I am the culprit. Change is one of the few things you can count on in life. I’ve changed due to loss, jobs, family status, health, and much that was unexpected. I’m sad that we can’t exchange holiday cards at least, but I’ve learned to accept that not everything is forever or on my terms.
I hope I have changed for good and grown since the end of that friendship. To be human, we must crack a little. Later, paraphrased by Leonard Cohen, Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.”
And I have made new friends, several close friends who share the challenges of retirement and aging.
Whenever I clean my desk, I find a little black book with pictures of Gene Rayburn. They make me laugh, and I contemplate throwing the book away, but I won’t. The ending of a friendship has not diminished its joyful memories.