Hello friends, I’m home! Let me know if/when you have time to get together before Sunday! — November 26, 2014, 3:23 p.m.
Going home used to be exciting for me. That changed about this time a year ago.
I was home in Illinois for Thanksgiving break, eager to see my friends from high school. I was the only one who left the state for college, and having spent the summer in Ann Arbor, it had been a while since we were all together. That weekend was especially important because my best friend, who I had known since I was seven and shared a (self-appointed) couple name with, was turning twenty-one.
I texted our group on Wednesday, asking if anyone was free before I had to go back to school.
When I asked again later if we were doing anything for my best friend’s birthday, worried that I hadn’t heard about any plans yet, I was told we’d be maintaining our tradition of going to our town’s tree lighting ceremony the night after Thanksgiving and going back to one of our houses to watch a Christmas movie. This seemed a little off to me, but I went with it, figuring that very few of my friends were big partiers.
Friday night, she got up to leave after “Christmas Vacation” ended, and I went in for a hug. Still no mention of real birthday plans. I asked, “Am I going to see you again before I leave?” She gave me a small smile: “I don’t know.”
I spent the next day at home with my cousin. At some point I checked Snapchat as a distraction from whatever assignment I was only kind of trying to do. I was going through the motions of tapping on each story to get that stupid little plus sign to go away when I saw it: they were all together, celebrating her birthday — without me. I turned to Facebook for confirmation. Photos of her and my other friends captioned “Happy birthday!” mocked me from my computer screen.
I watched the stories again. I could feel my throat closing with each tap. Maybe those other girls I don’t know in the picture planned it and didn’t know about me. My stomach dropped. Tap. That doesn’t make sense, then why would the others be there? Tap. They wouldn’t know them either. Tears began to form in the corners of my eyes when I finally processed it all. Tap.
I’m not supposed to be there.
I rushed to the bathroom to save face in front of my cousin. I knew I couldn’t be in there for too long, so I let the initial sobs come out, took a few deep breaths, and splashed my face with some cold water.
Apparently I wasn’t very convincing. When I came back out, he asked if everything was okay. Usually I lie, but that night I no longer had the heart. We drove around just to get my mind off things. Later that night, I decided to take the initiative and text my friends about how hurt I was. No immediate response. For the next few hours, my eyes would dart to my phone at each ghost vibration. There was still nothing when it came time for me to go to bed.
Halfway through my drive back to Ann Arbor, my phone buzzed. A glance at the screen told me it was her. My heart skipped a beat. I anticipated the worst and feared my own reaction if I decided to pull over and read it. I had two more hours before I could look at what she said. I sang along louder to each song to distract myself.
My gut feeling was right. The gist: she felt like our friendship had been over for a while already. Her birthday party was her idea. As we progressed through our college years, it seemed like I only contacted her when something was going wrong and that our interests were too different.
I gave myself three reads before it really sunk in.
I texted her back with a desperate apology and a plea that we try to fix things. She responded that now wasn’t a good time — she had a lot going on. Crying, I slunk to the floor and frantically texted my next closest friend from home.
She didn’t want to talk about it, but she made a point in telling me that it felt like I only wanted to be her friend when I was in town. That’s when everything started to piece together: the unanswered texts, the “we’ve been really busy” responses I’d get when I’d ask how everyone was, the feeling that celebrating 21 at the town’s tree lighting ceremony wasn’t quite right, the fact that no one could look me in the eye when I’d ask about birthday plans. They’d been keeping me in the dark for months, secretly resenting me.
As I sat crumpled on the floor of my bedroom, their accusations ran through my mind. Were they right? Have I really been that selfish? Did I change for the worse over the years? A mix of defeat and indignation took over. I guess I do only text when I’m coming home, and I only have been telling her about my mishaps. But texting can go both ways! And most of those stories were funny! Shouldn’t you be able to turn to your best friend in times of need anyway? These questions and answers replayed in my head for months. I couldn’t fathom how they could have felt that way for so long without saying anything. I scrutinized every inch of the past, experiencing each stage of grief until I finally reached acceptance.
I had never been more thankful that I was living in my sorority house before then, because you know love after a hallway of girls drops everything to see you stop crying. And that’s what I realized as time wore on. I realized it when my cousin drove me around after the initial shock. I realized it when my best friend in Ann Arbor let me come over that night, cry on her couch, eat ice cream for dinner and watch an awful romantic comedy on a Sunday night even though we both had a break’s worth of homework to do. I realized it when my parents, whom I rarely speak to about my personal life, called me that night because they knew something was wrong. I am still loved.
Going home doesn’t feel like it used to. I still hesitate to get in touch with my other friends for fear that someone else will end things. Our group never talked about what happened, at least not with me, and when we have big gatherings, she and I are nothing more than awkward, polite strangers. I still walk on eggshells for fear I’ll be told again that I’ve changed.
The thing is I have changed. I just no longer feel guilty about it.