I made it to the lake for a ten-miler at 6 p.m., and a mile or two into the run, dark storm clouds raced like black war horses from the western side of the water. The wind picked up and as I ran, with steady gait and an aching ankle along the dirt path, I heard a single clap of thunder and I shivered. The path wove through a thick forest, the trees rustled, and the opening between the tall trees whipped the whistling, howling wind into a frenzy of volume. I tried to calm my racing heart.
I needed this run for peace of mind, and yet the tumultuous gray clouds and thunderclaps manifested the inward conflict that raged inside me. I could not get away from torment and angst. But I gritted my teeth and continued running, and I tried to smile as I whispered, “Losers don’t run ten miles in the rain.”
As I ran, I reflected on the friend I had just lost and tried to sort through how I felt about her. Of all the friends I have ever had, she was the one who most resembled the storm clouds racing over the lake: exciting, dramatic and full of risk. When she called or wrote me, I held my breath, unsure, a little frightened, but always hopeful that after the storm, the sun would shine its brilliant rays. I love thunderstorms most of the time, just as I loved this friend . . . until I got fried one too many times.
Yet again, things turned dark between us. What started as a disagreement fast led into name-calling and moved quickly into a profanity-laced tirade in which she called me “a fucking fool” with a mental disorder. This wasn’t the first time we’ve argued, but as I tossed and turned that night, I realized that lightning does strike in the same place twice. And it was my responsibility to avoid the path of the storm she raged and wrought upon me.
Don’t get me wrong. I bear plenty of blame for what went wrong in this friendship. I have done plenty of stupid things with this person and I have a lot of regrets. I wish I could go back and undo some of my mistakes. I said too much; I was too vulnerable; and at times, I acted too needy. So be it. The very nature of friendship is this process of opening ourselves up to getting hurt and allowing ourselves to need and to care a little too much. But as much as I am sorry for what I did wrong, I am more sorry that I kept trying to maintain a friendship with someone who made me feel cruddy too much of the time.
One of my dear friends, Renée Jacobson (who happens to be my writing partner) recently wrote a blog about toxic friends. We all have had friends who bring us down or make us feel worse, rather than better, inside. I reckon that perhaps I was as toxic for this friend as she was for me. Maybe we triggered each other. Maybe I brought the worst out in her. That’s why I couldn’t sleep: I worried that I failed at friendship and that I had earned her contempt and hatred.
And yet I fought against these feelings of self-defeat. The words she used against me felt so familiar, so right, and yet so wrong, and I knew why. This is how my parents talked to me. And no matter what I did to bring on their wraith, I did not deserve to be called epithets like “a goddamn slut” or “fat failure” or “little piece of shit loser.” No one deserves that. Maybe I sought her out because she felt familiar, like a dirty old blanket that a child wraps around herself because it smells like home. All I know, and I don’t know much, is that it is time to bury this blanket and run free of what it represents.
That next day, while I was running, and for a moment, I thought about turning back. But there was something about the rain beating down on me, and persevering through the elements that brought me back to my better angels. The rain struck a chord deep inside me and after a while, it washed away her words. And as my tears fell, I ran onward, strong and proud. I let go of the thunder and the storm and the final sentences she had written to me, and I let her go.
Have you ever had a friendship go wrong? Where were you when you realized it and how did you let that friendship go?