August 22, 2007

Repairing the Irreparable

My late mother always said that I should have moved heaven and earth to save my relationship with my longtime best friend. I thought that was incredibly insensitive and unsupportive of her, given all that I'd been through. No one who knew and loved me would ever say such a thing, I believed.

Of course, it turns out she was right. (Don't you hate it when your parents are right about you?)

Annie Newman, nee Ann Rachel Berrol, now tells me her father told her the same thing...and that she took his advice in much the same way. Until recently.

What had happened between Annie and me was, in my mind, the most shameful, unforgivable, irreparable thing ever, and everyone we knew, knew it. If ever I stopped believing this, either by blaming myself or getting spiritual, someone (usually a mutual high school friend, or a member of my well-meaning if overprotective therapy group) would set me straight, and I'd fear and resent Annie all over again.

I'll spare you—well, really, I'm sparing myself—the details, but suffice it to say that I had PTSD for years. The end of our friendship was like a nasty, contentious, litigious divorce; I tore up pictures of Annie, badmouthed her to everyone who knew us as well as to those who didn't, felt nauseated at the thought of our final encounter, frightened by the sight of her (and she by me; we glimpsed each other from a distance once during a High Holy Days service. I pretended I hadn't seen her, and Annie never came back with her brother to that synagogue), then all but forgot about her for years, I think because it was too hard for me to continue hating her (I've been known to be very angry and resentful, but it's an unnatural act for me to actually hate anyone), so I put her out of my mind entirely until someone mentioned her. ("You're not still speaking to Ann, are you?" "God, no. You know what happened between us. Why would I ever have anything to do with her again?")

Annie tells me she never forgot about me. I find that incredible, but she has provided proof, one and a half decades of it. Pictures of me and stories I'd published, found with Google searches. Memories of our friendship that I'd tried to forget. She's a lot braver than I am, not to have dismissed me altogether as I tried so hard to dismiss her.

Truth be told, I never forgot her either. Though I ripped up many photographs and damned her to hell in my mind for years, I secretly kept all the lovely things she ever wrote about or for me—poems, song parodies, fantasy plays about our lives in high school, some letters. I didn't look at them, but I didn't throw them out.

Annie—then called Ann—was one of my three best friends in high school. We remained close through our early 30s, seeing each other through all the major lifequakes: first hirings and firings, first lovers and lost loves, college, studies abroad, my graduate degree, her marriage, my father's death, the birth of her only daughter, our respective and seemingly endless therapies, my years as a pseudo-yogini on an exotic spiritual journey, the gradual decay of her marriage, our mutual and largely unsuccessful efforts to lose weight, get in shape, and stave off deep depression, our various betrayals of each other, and our grateful, tearful reunions.

I can't convey to you how deep was this loss of my friend. No one ever "got" me the way she did. I never had to explain myself to Ann; she knew. In the early days of our friendship, we were so relieved to find a fellow alien, and quickly we retreated to our own planet, a veritable Berrol-and-Skolnickland of humorous obtuseness. We had this way of talking in code, in bursts of song from Broadway musicals, or quoting things that we—and only we—found hilarious. We signed out letters to each other, "YBFITWWW." (Your Best Friend in the Whole Wide World. Sappy but true.)

No one who knows our history would believe this was possible, but after about 15 years, we are friends again. This, Meesees Onna, I believe to be entirely your fault. (That's one of those "hilarious only to Carol and Annie" jokes, paraphrased from The King and I. My pal is probably spewing her Starbucks upon reading this, and you, most likely, are not.)

How did it happen? Well, Annie's not the only one who Googles me. I look myself up every now and again to see who is quoting from, "borrowing," or critiquing my articles, and to check on my website rankings.

A few months ago, I saw a Google entry that said, "For Carol L. Skolnick, Wherever You Are." Source:

Deep breath. Click.

There it was; Annie's blog. With a jokey but wistful King and I reference that no one would get but me. Someone posted a comment pretending to be me, saying "I don't get it," and Annie responded, "If you really were Carol, you would."

I got more than the reference.

Was this a shout-out? What did I want to do about it? I had attempted no more than one Worksheet on Annie over the years, and quickly abandoned it because it was too uncomfortable; I wasn't ready to face my part in our rift. However, worksheets are a microcosm of mind. Cross out "Annie" and insert Mother, Father, God, Boyfriend, Body, Hitler, Former Employer, Noisy Upstairs Neighbor...not much difference, same old stories. They all betrayed me, didn't love me, wished me harm, ruined my life, deserved to be punished, disturbed my peace, needed to change, cooperate, grovel and enslave themselves to me in order for me to be happy...that was my former religion and I had already converted to TrueDayOh-ThisIAmIt-y. I may continue to "act as if" sometimes, but I'm a jerk with awareness; I haven't really believed my thoughts for several years. You work with the heavy-duty, universal ones, and the others gradually collapse like a house of cards.

Did I need anything from Annie? I checked in. Nope. There was nothing I wanted or needed from her anymore. If anything, I wanted to be able to apologize for my part in what happened between us (I haven't done The Work for all these years for nothing). That left me free to say hello, and it left me okay if in fact she wanted nothing further to do with me.

In her response, unasked for, Annie gave me everything I no longer needed from her, everything I thought I wanted from her all those years ago.

And so, as if no time had passed, last week I walked off my much-delayed plane from Amsterdam into the loving embrace of someone who had waited hours—and years—for me. What a beautiful sight. Within minutes, it was as if no time had passed at all. True, we're a bit grayer, a lot rounder, quite a bit smarter and I hope a tad less self-involved than we were in our teens, twenties and thirties. But we've stll got our legs. (That's another one of those jokes, don't even try to get it.) And I look forward to our sharing sushi together when we're on the same coast (she tells me it's all my fault she's addicted to the stuff), and sharing laughter and tears on the telephone when we're not. I look forward to seeing her daughter Tracy, who in my mind is still a toddler even though she's 17. I love that she has, once again, an Aunt Carol. I very much look forward to Annie and me being able to disagree with each other, even vehemently, and this not becoming the end of the world. (In the past, we were too sensitive to deal with much disagreement; one or the other of us would shut down and isolate until it blew over, until we hit the one that never blew over.)

I am willing and I look forward to the world telling me I am completely insane. They could be right. It doesn't matter. What matters to me is that in healing this old wound, I have more of myself back, plus a bonus.

Thank you for your courage, Annie. I love you.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.


Heidi said...

Oh Carol... I love your story of you and Annie. Isn't it amazing how time and inquiry and maybe just plain old grace can shift things around inside of us? And, really, where else do things shift? I love you and love that you wrote this down so that I can see myself in you and in Annie. ~Heidi

Marianne said...

I had no idea! You and Annie are soooo funny together......AND you are both amazing to be able to mend your friendship...what an inspiration for me.

Logan saved you a big piece of butterscotch pie. We'll send it right over.