The frailty of friendship

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When she sent me the email, I thought I could die. Her words so simple on the page were full of poison.

‘You were mistaken,’ she wrote, ‘to think I had not received your email. You were mistaken. I have simply chosen to ignore it.’

I sat at the keyboard frozen. I had tried to reach out across the gulf of oceans, across the gulf of skies, to make contact yet again, after two years of silence and all she wanted to say to me was ‘Go away’.

You’re not wanted in my life. You’re not welcome.

I had found the eggshell by the side of the road on the small strip of grass called the nature strip. Someone must have mowed it recently but they had not done a good enough job. Bits of grass sprouted at the edge by the gutter, like a badly cut hairdo. Long weeds stuck out from under the sprawling ti-tree in the middle. The ti-tree had grown in that straggly ungainly way of trees when they are close to the sea.

I found the shell on the grass between the ti-tree and the gutter. It was pale blue and speckled in green. Its edge was crusted with the egg yolk yellow of the embryo that once must have been tucked inside.

I do not know what made me pick it up. Some sense of its fragility, its beauty, its connection to the earth. Instinctively I took it to my nose. It smelt the way a stone smells when you breathe on it. It carried the smell of wind and rain, the grassy smell of a hot day after a heavy soak.

I stroked its smoothness. A tiny bit crumbled from the edge and fell to the ground. I would keep the shell, I decided then, as a souvenir of her.

A souvenir of the day I last saw her, the last time she held my hand.

‘You can’t just leave like that,’ I had said. ‘You can’t just go.’

‘I must,’ she said. ‘My mother is dying. But I’ll be back.’

That’s what she said then. She said it, I heard her words loud and clear. I heard her make the promise.

‘I’ll be back. Soon,’ she said. ‘I swear. Besides I have to be back for the next exhibition. I have too much at stake.’

At first she wrote me long loving letters, on purple notepaper in her fine spidery scrawl.

My mother is up and down, she wrote. She’s frail. Not long now.

I was understanding then.

What daughter could leave her mother to die alone? I was understanding then that I must be patient. I had cradled my eggshell in a piece of tissue paper in an old soapbox in the bottom of my study drawer.

From time to time I looked at it, as I look at it now. It was fading fast. The hard shell around the thin milky inner skin had come away. My half shell had become a quarter. Soon it would be fragments.

A year ago she sent a note and inside enclosed a card containing all the details of her mother’s life and death.

Her letters came fewer and further between, their content thinned to a list of her activities, those she had seen, what she had done.

No longer did she share with me the inner workings of her mind.

I thought of her often. Every time a new exhibition opened at the gallery, I wondered why she had not comeback to exhibit her work, why she had decided that Germany could offer so much more to her than here with me.

I looked up her name on the Internet, nestled in among the names of other print makers. I found her alongside the famous, Monique Gilbre, Antonia Boudin, and knew then I had lost her.

There was an email address at the foot of the page alongside her name and a copy of the details of her latest exhibition.

It would be easy to reach her.

Letters are slow, I thought.

Letters lose their passion, letters cannot convey the urgency of my need for her, but an email. A message now shot from the heart. A call that could cross the ether, that would bring her back to me, would bring a message back to me.

I waited a month, a month maybe two. But I did not hear.

What could this mean? It must be a wrong address, a changed address. The university where she worked had a website and again I found her name with a new address. I sent her another email, a last arrow into the darkness, my last call.

And then her reply.

I was mistaken to think she still cared.

Here now, I peel the eggshell from its tissue.

I crush it inside the hollow of my hand. I rub the powdered grit into the small of my hand, one hand on the other, rubbing and rubbing until all trace of the shell has gone, pulverised, like the image of my friend, then I press the delete button.

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10 Comments on The frailty of friendship

  1. Karen C
    September 17, 2017 at 5:20 pm (3 days ago)

    Oh, my. How cold. Do you know of any event that might have precipitated this response? I wonder if she regrets it?
    I have recently upset 2 neighbours separately and over different issues, due in part to a.their stupidity (my opinion) and b. my all too direct no-nonsense response (again, my opinion – they would say I am a bully). They’re actions hurt me and my reactions hurt them.
    I have tried in vain to apologise to one, but she won’t hear of it and well, I just can’t be bothered with the other one now.
    I hope you have other relationships you can celebrate. I do, but it still hurts to be misunderstood and rejected.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      September 18, 2017 at 8:26 am (3 days ago)

      It hurts indeed, Karen, to be thus rejected and for you twice. A third and you’d start worrying. As you suggest, I, too, reckon we should celebrate our relationships over and over, but sometimes a few thoughts on the ones we’ve lost help assuage the pain. Thanks, Karen.

      Reply
  2. Jim Murdoch
    September 17, 2017 at 5:45 pm (3 days ago)

    I don’t have any friends left in the real world. I’ve not had a best friend in about thirty years. Now I have acquaintances, people I know but not well enough to say what they take in their coffee or even if they drink coffee. My last best friend was called Tom. We stayed friends after school and he even lived with me for a year when he was at uni. We really didn’t have much in common but something worked for as long as we could get away being juvenile. The older we got the more forced that became. And then one day one of us—whoever’s turn it was (his, I think)—forgot or didn’t bother to call the other to arrange to meet and the other never chased him up to see what was wrong. And that was it. We never fell out. We just knew it was over.

    A few years back my first girlfriend died. I stumbled across her obituary online a year later and wrote a poem for her:

    Poem in Want

    ( in memoriam A.P. )

    I had believed all debts paid
    yet something’s not right. I stare
    in the mirror and nothing
    has changed but nothing’s the same.

    She who had gone has gone again.

    All this talk of ‘loss’ makes me
    think of neglect or of theft.
    The misplaced are sometimes found.
    The used-up never can be.

    She who had gone has gone again.

    I want to trade this hurt for
    words but it’s complicated.
    So few words are suitable
    still I feel it’s expected.

    She who had gone has gone again.

    A girl I once loved is dead.
    I thought I’d lost that love or
    found some better use for it
    though now I know I could not.

    She who had gone has gone again

    and she’s never coming back.
    There’s no poetry in death.
    There is only a vacuum
    and silence and senselessness.

    She is gone and she is never coming back.

    Saturday, 04 August 2012

    After that I found a need to trawl through Facebook and see if my one-time best friend was still alive. It mattered very much that he be. I knew I’d make no effort to make contact but I really didn’t want him to be dead. Not at fifty-three.

    I found him and his wife without difficulty and both seemed well, still living in the same house but now with a grown family. There was a photo of the two of them with one of their boys and as soon as I saw that I wanted one with my daughter when she graduated and you’ve seen a copy. I think that’s the first time I was ever jealous of Tom and desired what he had. I didn’t care he had a BMW and a yacht. I didn’t care he had a first-class honours degree. I didn’t care that he was still married to the same girl after thirty years. I didn’t care he’d risen to the top of his profession. I did care he had a son he was proud of and I wanted to record how proud I was of my daughter. Odd that.

    I did write a letter to Tom although I never intended to send it. I merely wanted to sort out my thoughts and I’ve never read it since until just now. It wouldn’t have hurt to send it but best I didn’t. Endings aren’t bad. They can make us sad for a while but we move on. To be honest I’m a bit of a bridge-burner. It’s the main way in which you and are I different. In the main that mindset has stood me in good stead. I don’t not remember—to be honest I have little control over where my mind wanders—but I refuse to wallow or relive. It takes enough effort to live now.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      September 18, 2017 at 8:24 am (3 days ago)

      Such a poignant poem, Jim. This line: ‘She who had gone has gone again’, to me says it all. Hence the need to burn brigades perhaps, rather than build them. why not send that letter. It might come to nothing, but then again it stands now it only remains there in your imagination and such things on my view need to be shared. In your own words: ‘There is no poetry in death,’ or is here? Thanks, Jim.

      Reply
  3. Elizabeth Aquino
    September 19, 2017 at 2:20 am (2 days ago)

    This made me catch my breath. Powerful and so sad —

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      September 19, 2017 at 8:54 pm (1 day ago)

      Such is the power of rejection, Elizabeth. Thanks.

      Reply
  4. Louise Allan
    September 19, 2017 at 9:14 am (2 days ago)

    Do you know what, you’ve done the courageous thing by reaching out to your friend. I know her response hurts, but at least you can rest assured you showed strength and love.
    That’s what I told myself when it happened to me. Then I told myself that if they didn’t want me, it was their issue and their loss, because there were others who did.
    xx

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      September 19, 2017 at 8:56 pm (1 day ago)

      We need to find ways of wrapping ourselves around when we suffer such rejections, Louise. Not to take it too personally, I reckon, however much it hurts. Thanks, Louise.

      Reply
      • Louise Allan
        September 20, 2017 at 7:34 pm (3 hours ago)

        I should have mentioned how powerful this piece is. Beautiful writing, Lis. x

        Reply
        • Elisabeth
          September 20, 2017 at 9:24 pm (2 hours ago)

          Thanks, Louise.

          Reply

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