The inevitable pain of growing apart from a friend

During my freshman year in college, I lived in a housing and residence community known as “Middle Earth,” based off J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. On freshman move-in day, my family helped me carry up all my boxes and luggage, and as I stepped into my new dorm, waves of nervousness and ease hit me simultaneously. A girl with bright pink luggage, my new roommate, struggled to squeeze through the open door. I helped her, introduced myself, and we would soon become each other’s best friend. We cooked Indian Maggi noodles in the shared dorm kitchen and went on late night adventures around campus. We drove to the beach and blasted Bollywood tunes when we wanted to escape from academic life. She was there for me when I went through a bad breakup, and she was there for me when I got my first byline in a publication. I didn’t really have any Indian American friends until college—Anna* was my first brown girl friend. Our friendship was electric and we were inseparable.

As sophomore year approached, Anna asked if I wanted to move into an apartment with her and a mutual friend. Without hesitation, I said yes. Living together at that age meant experiencing so many “firsts” with my best friend by my side. We tried new things and broke free from our comfortable shells. I assumed our friendship was stronger than ever—but I didn’t know that Anna was good at masking her struggles.

I had already noticed that she wasn’t going to class or doing her work. I gave her space and didn’t ask about it. Then she started avoiding class more frequently—isolating herself in our apartment, choosing to watch TV while ignoring the stacks of books on her desk. I had just finished taking a final when I noticed I’d received eight missed phone calls from her dad. We connected and I heard him say, frantically, “Do you know where Anna is? I can’t get a hold of her.” I was worried. It was unlike Anna to not pick up her phone. Anna’s dad flew in to find her, and soon we learned that off-campus housing had told Anna that, because she had not attended any of her college classes, she was no longer considered an enrolled student.

With the help of technology, Anna’s dad was able to track down his daughter’s car. I remember how exhausted she looked when we found her. Like a ghost. It terrified me, and broke my heart to know that my best friend had not been able to confide in me. I realized that, the whole time, Anna had needed to talk to someone, but I didn’t know. I so easily brushed it off as, “Anna needs to be alone,” or, “She must be watching a show and studying at the same time.” Anna made it so believable that she was enrolled in classes—she had notes and books and had hinted that her classes were hard, but not impossible. So many things that helped me assume nothing was wrong.

Anna didn’t say anything. She just cried. But her dad understood and told her, “That’s it. We’re getting you out of here. You don’t have to stay in college.” I hugged Anna like I would never see her again, and told her that everything would be okay, that whenever she felt ready to talk, I would be there for her.

Anna moved back home with family to focus on getting better, but she never talked about the incident again. I also never pushed her to discuss the details of what happened. She eventually enrolled in another college and did really well. I talked to her on the phone every day until the conversations became shorter and shorter. But she seemed happy, more than she had ever been before. That made me happy.

“I talked to her on the phone every day until the conversations became shorter and shorter.”

But for me, things weren’t that great after Anna left. I missed her. Luckily, we found a wonderful roommate to replace her, but I thought about her all the time. Then, during my junior year, I moved in with another mutual friend of ours—but it turned into a bad situation. From arguments at home to social media harassment to possessions being thrown outside, I needed out of that living arrangement. Eventually, I found another apartment, but selfishly wished I could just live with my best friend again. When I told Anna about what had happened, it was a tense conversation since it involved someone we’d both cared about. I was admittedly frustrated that she didn’t understand my concerns, so I halted contact with her until I cooled off. We were, of course, back to normal soon enough and kept talking after college ended.

When I got a job near Anna’s family, I was ecstatic that I’d be close to her. She let me stay with her for two weeks before I could secure my own apartment. I lived in the guest house, and our time spent together felt just like our college days: laughing, swimming, impromptu photoshoots. But once I’d moved into my place and started working, I stopped seeing her as often. I was stressed out at a new job and spent most of my time with coworkers.

One day, she told me that she was angry; she’d noticed I’d gone out with friends from work and didn’t invite her. I explained that it was not my intention to leave her out, and that I was allowed to have other friends. One argument led to another—we were like a bickering old couple. Between our disconnect, my stress over paying bills, and my time spent making a home in this new city, we drifted apart. We simply stopped being friends, and the “friend breakup” seemed mutual.

“I was so excited for her, but I also felt like I was talking to a complete stranger… So I left it alone, and figured that it was better to reminisce about the past than disrupt her new life.”

We didn’t speak for a year. Then, without saying goodbye to her, I moved back home to find a new job and start from scratch. I often wondered what Anna was doing, how she was doing. One day, I messaged her on Facebook and apologized for what was left unsaid. She said she was just as confused by what had happened between us, and explained that a lot of her life had changed since we last spoke, from marrying her dream guy to finding a career she actually felt passionate about. I was so excited for her, but I also felt like I was talking to a complete stranger. I felt like maybe I didn’t belong in her life, that I was only supposed to communicate with her to clear up any pain from our past. We only messaged each other and never talked about meeting up in person. So I left it alone, and figured that it was better to reminisce about the past than disrupt her new life.

I had always dreamed of being a bridesmaid at Anna’s wedding, but it was too late for that to happen now. I tried not to peruse her wedding album on social media. I tried to move on. I do wonder how Anna is doing from time to time, but I also know that reaching out to her could bring back some stressful memories she might not want to relive. That period still helped me grow as a person and allowed me to become a stronger woman. Anna’s friendship solidified my future relationships and showed me what it was like to deeply care about someone who is not my significant other.

I’ve started to think that, maybe, Anna was only meant to be in my life for a few chapters. Some friendships just aren’t meant to last, and that’s okay.

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