Friday, October 14, 2016

Postmortem

I don't know if I would've called it grieving.

I lost two old friends this year, one to death and the other to - well, call it suspected causes. I never got a clear explanation; he only called me some ugly names in front of our mutual circle of friends and then left in a rage.

To be honest, I couldn't quite believe something so dramatic was happening to me - it's the kind of stuff you read about on younger, prettier people's blogs, where they write in single, cryptic lines between inspirational memes, and declare themselves to be 'stronger than all the haters out there'. It was embarrassing, and unfair, I thought. To be punished for not stringing someone along? For doing the right thing, the ethical thing.

But I have behaved unethically in the distant past, in the way I left a partner. So perhaps this is a belated karmic lightning strike, and now I know how it feels like to be unceremoniously dumped, and I deserve the humiliation and hurt. Of course you can argue that a friendship is not the same as a relationship, but this was a long one: ages thirteen to thirty one, give or take a year. It was also a close one: we were in the same tight-knit circle of friends in school and beyond, we were neighbours for about a decade. Naturally the clean-up of the aftermath was difficult, more difficult than any romantic break-up - how do you erase such a quantity of historical debris? Years of photos, texts, posts, mutual friends' tags and comments? I gave up and left everything as is, frozen in time, and these days I just hope that Facebook doesn't wake me up with any unwanted anniversaries.

I am grateful that my circle doesn't blame me for the loss of our friend, except jokingly. (I think!) They came to my defense. Now we go on and pretend that things have always been like this - our number has always been the same. But I feel guilty, and in a feat of magical thinking, my guilt extends into the past - I am sorry, I should have treated people better, I should have left with more grace, more kindness, when I did leave. I feel guilty about everything except my former friend. Try as I might, I cannot recall one moment of exploitation, one time when I knowingly took advantage. My conscience is clear. Too bad it doesn't mean jackshit.

After it happened I was stunned for a few days, like I had been beaten over the head. I was angry, with an intensity I hadn't experienced in years. Adult life is comfortingly soporific, with its routines and stability, but I found myself swept back by a tidal wave of fury into my early twenties, my late teens. Often, as my students recounted yet another incident of "that basic bitch who was once my friend, but totally backstabbed me", I found myself nodding and grimacing: I get what you're saying, kid. I totally get it.

I groused about it to my friends, my brother, my husband, then kept going with life. What else can you do? Weep? In the last decade I've turned into the kind of person who cries fairly easily at lost-dog notices, stress-filled days, Pixar movies. But I have been dry-eyed about this, unable to call up the easy catharsis of tears. The only time I think about it now is when I take a bus to work that passes through the estate where we both grew up. It's a maddeningly long road, and I see our ghosts at various ages meandering through the shops and restaurants: here we are picking our way around the coffee-shop uncles, this is where we had a coupon for fancy Indian food, here is where we drank teh alia after the pasar malam. A few years before that we were children in school uniform, calling out to each other from two floors up, dialling each other's home phone numbers to say that the Simpsons Halloween marathon was on. I can't help but be sorry for those child-ghosts now, bickering over a fifty cent debt on a lazy, sunlit afternoon that felt like it would last forever. This is not an ending I wanted for them.

I used to feel that everything had been poisoned by his hate - my childhood home, my memories of school and adolescence, my favourite pop culture and books, my social media accounts. Even my self-image - I have never been called such things before, and they rankle. But I am coming to terms with the loss, and turning my face forward to the future has never felt more necessary than now. After all, I have nowhere else to go from here.