I got off the phone with someone today who had a toxic relationship of more than 50 years healed in one afternoon. I marveled at the beauty of the timing and the gift of grace, however long in the coming. It floored the person and brought her great joy, all at once. And it got me thinking…
We started out well, my college best friend and I. We were music majors together, taking the same classes. In a Bible college founded to churn out missionaries, evangelists and pastors, we were part of a unique breed. She was pursuing a teaching credential in music and I was only getting a performance degree (less credits). She was highly competitive (pot, meet kettle) and wanted to be the best in Music Theory, Musicianship (well…until senior year and it was just her and I in the class…then we both tried to get Norm to tell us stories), Form and Analysis, Composition, and on and on. We pushed each other to do better. She was a voice major and I was a flute major.
We had a lot in common. We were both on the quiet side. Our parents were divorced. We were both the oldest. She was funny. She used to do crazy things like buying Swiss cheese and putting M&Ms in the holes. She wore pajama bottoms to the store before it was fashionable. We struggled with our different college crushes, her most serious one unrequited, despite mixed signals from the guy. She put my organizational gifts to shame, however.
Some nights when we roomed together, I would find her organizing her desk in the middle of the night.
“Deb”, I’d croak murkily from my squeaky, plastic green bed. “What are you doing?”
She’d turn and smile sheepishly.
“Getting a jump on tomorrow,” she’d reply.
Immediately I felt like a lunk. Was *I* ready for tomorrow? What if Jesus came back? Nah. Still waiting on the Antichrist. I’d roll over and go back to sleep.
Granted, in this instance I was at fault. She was so great to talk to! I could dump all my problems on her. Even when she became an RA she was there for me. Her sturdy shoulders and kind demeanor kept me afloat. I had no idea how much crap she was stuffing down, her parents’ horrible divorce just prior to her freshman year of college, her tragic breakup with her high school sweetheart, and as the oldest in her family, trying to keep her siblings from drifting away.
As a firstborn myself, I should have seen the signs. But I was too self-absorbed. All I could see were my own petty problems. Well, some not so petty, but to me they were all larger than life. Drama queen!
So it all blew up. I was dumping on her about something really awful that happened back home regarding my sister and she yelled at me. Me! Her best friend! We had done our junior recital together, flute and voice, some songs together but most separately, as a rehearsal for our senior one the next year. She accused me of only thinking about myself. She ripped me a new one, to use the vernacular.
And she was right.
At the time, though, all I could see was how much she hurt me. I hurried back to my dorm, crying, to good ol’ Room 295 in Harp Hall. The room where spiders flourished. Eventually, I saw her point of view and I told her I was sorry. Alas, it did not truly take. Somehow, lasting damage, like holes in a ship’s hull, were starting to tank the relationship.
Fast forward to our senior year. Sticking to our original agreement, we practiced our songs together and apart. We roomed together the first half of the year. We had a great time, sharing secrets in the dark. Then she…moved out. I was heartbroken. She wanted to live off campus with some other girls and experience “real life”. At the time, I remember thinking they were a bad influence and nothing good could come of it.
Truth be told, our friendship was over long before that. I just didn’t know it.
We drove into San Francisco early that spring and shopped at the Jessica McClintock outlet for our dresses. I found a two-piece black velvet number with long sleeves, a floor-length skirt and glitter all over it. My first foray into glamour! She found a demure beige damask ensemble that complimented her peaches and cream complexion perfectly.
Senior recital day came. I was required to perform an hour of music. I was in a cold sweat. My program was all timed. Not to be outdone, Deb did an hour as well. I would ike to apologize to all those who attended. It was a looong night. But we knew if we performed poorly, we wouldn’t graduate. We had talked about going out afterwards to Baker’s Square in San Jose to celebrate this huge achievement. I couldn’t wait to rehash it all with her.
In the end, she went out with her mom. I got it. She and her mom had been estranged, off and on, for years. It was important. My mom and I went out, too, as she sang on one of my songs. Maybe there were other people with us; I don’t remember. I only remember the aching hole in my heart. I saw Deb there, with her mom. When she saw me, she ignored me.
And it never changed.
Oh, she got married the next year. Excitedly, she called and asked me to play flute for her wedding. Sure! I was glad to see her again. I spent the night at her apartment and, sweetly, it was like old times. We chattered away, filling each other in on our lives. I prepared a couple of pieces, along with a pianist friend of ours. One good thing about having musicians as friends: someone will always be able to perform for your wedding! I played poorly, full of fresh emotion. She needed me and she remembered me for such a time as this. And then it was over.
We have corresponded over the years, haphazardly. I have apologized as many ways as I know how. But it can never be recovered, what we had. Eventually, I had to let it go. I had to forgive myself. I couldn’t believe it was finished. How could something so great go so horribly wrong?! I beat myself up for years over it. I kept rehashing it. What could I have done differently? If only I’d said this instead of that. If only I hadn’t been so selfish! God knows I’ve tried everything I know how to make it better.
Sometimes, you can’t. The friendship turned toxic. I could not heal it. For whatever reason, God didn’t make a way to reunite us. She’s been married now, almost as long as I have, with two boys I have never met. I hope she’s getting to do all the things she wanted to. I still miss her sometimes. I wish her well and I hope to see her in heaven. Unless the Lord intervenes, it’s the best I can do.