When a Friendship Dies, Do We?

walkingSomething weird has happened in the last year with a former friend – a yoga and walking buddy and neighbor from down the street. We pass on the street walking. I am usually alone. She is usually with one or two friends, taking up the whole sidewalk. She’s easy to spot because she has a distinctive walk – a sort of lope that’s all over the place and odd for such a small woman. She also wears a distinctive outfit, the same one no matter the weather. An expensive, long-sleeved track suit. And from the neck up, a large flappy, floppy hat with fabric like a veil coming down on either side and in back, some hanging free and some tied under her chin to keep it on her head. The result is that she looks like a beekeeper.

After not seeing her for more than a year (she stopped going to yoga and we couldn’t seem to find convenient times to walk), I recognize the loping beekeeper from a distance and smile as we pass on the sidewalk. She keeps looking at and talking with her friends and ignores me. Maybe she didn’t see me, I thought. But then it happens again, and again. The second time we pass, I look right at her, catch her eye briefly and say hi. No response. Nothing. Nada. It’s as if I wasn’t there. I felt cold and hot and then empty. A shiver of shock, a blast of anger, tepid with sadness.

My god, what are we? Seventh graders?

Since then, it’s happened several more times. I won’t see her for weeks, then I’ll see her two or three times in a few days and she pretends I don’t exist. One day I can’t help myself and yell out, “You are being so childish!” I hear her gasp and then her friends, gasp, gasp. It takes me straight back to that childhood summer when my best friend went off to Lake Ontario to visit her grandmother and the other neighborhood girls decided I was worse than a worm.wrong way

I’ve tried to figure out what I may have said or done to this former friend to warrant this treatment. We enjoyed regular walking and talking for a couple of years when we met in yoga class and realized we lived on the same street. We had several things in common – close in age, both divorced with grown children, both self-supporting. I enjoyed our conversations and appreciated her words of support when my mother died. She even remembered the anniversary of my mother’s death a year later. We didn’t always agree on everything, but who does?

I think it had to do with the handyman. I needed one, asked for her recommendation. My luck so far had not been good with handymen. One young guy I hired at the local hardware store failed to show up two or three times in a row because he “slept in.” Another I found online said he was new to the profession after being laid off. It took him two hours to attach a paper towel holder, which was crooked and kept the cupboard door from closing. A third one I ran into around the corner where he was working in a neighbor’s garage. He was nice-looking, youngish, new to the area and eagerly came over to look at my projects. He mistook my friendliness for something else and the next morning at 6 a.m. was sending me text messages that make me want to laugh, cry and curse. Let’s just say his idea of putting his tools to use didn’t involve the nails and hammer he was using around the corner. After two days of this, I texted back that my son was coming to stay in my place while I was away for a long time far away and that he’d have his pit bull with him.

So, I asked my walking friend for a recommendation and she gave me the name of a man she’d been using for years, said he was great. I called him. He was gruff and uninterested in talking. “You do know it’s Sunday, don’t you? Call me back tomorrow and let me know what you need.”

Why did he answer the phone on Sunday if he didn’t want to talk? Maybe because of my recent experiences, I decided I didn’t have the patience for yet another strange handyman and told my friend this when she asked if I’d called him. She was shocked. “Oh, he has a heart of gold,” she said. “He’s the only person who works on my house I trust with a key. And my friend (one of the gaspers) has used him for more than 25 years. I guess I’m just used to his gruffness.”

So, was it the handyman that was the friendship breaker? I have thought of emailing my former friend, but I doubt she would answer. It is frustrating not to know. Not only is it hurtful, it defies all reason. I suspect she decided we didn’t have enough in common to continue a friendship. Even if the handyman were not an issue, something else would be. But even so, even if we realize we are not friends with someone, does that mean we ignore them, pretend they are dead? Perhaps if I had done something offensive like sleep with her ex-husband …

It is even more frustrating with her because she is a psychologist, very proud of her PhD. She counsels people who want to improve their behavior and their lives.

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Changing Lanes

To my friends who are changing lanes. You know who you are! I wish you the best of luck and salute your courage.

It can be pretty scary sometimes changing lanes on the freeway, or any busy road. Here we are, hurtling along at 60, 70 or 80 miles per hour, protected only by thin pieces of metal – and now we have to speed up or slow down and look around 360 degrees for the other hurtling objects, gauging the best instant to make the move.

Thankfully I’m not thinking this every time I drive or I’d never go anywhere. Like many, I listen to music and go with the flow on auto pilot. I usually stick to the middle lanes, midway between the fast and the slow. The only time I drove 90 miles per hour in the express lane a family member was on his deathbed and the only time I stayed at 40 mph in the slow lane I was stuck in second gear in my old sports car.

Yes, the middle lanes have suited me, both on the road and in life. I don’t like to hurry or multi-task and am more of a Type B than a Type A fast track person. The three years I spent working full-time, finishing college and caring for my two sons were the closest I came to the fast track and I was glad when they were behind me. However, I do like to move along, reach real or imagined destinations, and in the middle lanes I can avoid running into those slow lane putt putts making tentative entrances or looking for exits.

But recently the slow lane has started to appeal to me. Since leaving my demanding technical writing job three years ago and working as a freelancer, I haven’t had to work as much, and more important, I haven’t wanted to work as much. Gradually, I’ve been drifting from the next-to-the-fast middle lane to the next-to-the-slow middle lane – and I’m starting to eye those exits from the slow lane perspective. Maybe I’d like to get off the freeway altogether and explore the coast highways and byways?

Maybe it’s time to find other ways to work, in addition to or in place of writing for a living, writing what other people want? Maybe I could join the artists and explorers who are taking the time to feel the ground underneath their feet and smell the ocean, desert, and mountain air? Maybe reaching external destinations is no longer required, at least not all the time?

And so, here I am, easing into the slow lane, edging back into the middle. Riding between the lanes like a motorcyclist and just as exposed.

Recently I pulled off for a couple of hours and visited an old friend. A year ago she left her high-powered marketing job and immediately enrolled in culinary school with the idea of becoming a chef. For several months, she stuck to a grueling schedule. When she finished, she realized she didn’t want to be a chef at all – a least not professionally. She loves to cook for friends and family, but she didn’t want to work for anyone!smell the roses

So, in addition to exploring famer’s markets, she adopted a dog, rescued from the streets, who gets along well with her cats, and requires a lot of walking. She also tends a couple of rose gardens in a public park. She gave me a tour, naming each rose bush and explaining its history.

“I’m loving all this, but I wonder if it’s really enough?” she said.

We laughed and laughed at her dog’s antics. With broken legs in his past, he hates getting in and out of the car. With a tender back, she hates the wrestling match it requires to get him to move.

Once back at her place, she clipped me some red roses from her own garden. I got back on the road and headed home, in the slow lane. The smell of the roses filled my living room for many slower-paced days. It felt like more than enough to me.