Girlfriends

YouÕre walking along the street enjoying the sun on your face.  Your mind is darting airily here and there like a leaf in freefall. YouÕre wondering what to cook for supper, whether your newest skirt still fits after Christmas, whether or not to stop at the deli and get a coffee to go, and then you catch sight of something out of the corner of your eye and your heart skips with a sudden caffeine jolt.  Up ahead, you see a familiar figure Š a reel from your life on replay - the same dark hair falling in a shower over a bent head, the distinctive jacket, the motorcycle helmet, the stoop to the bird-thin shoulders, the same collection of bags and padded envelopes being stowed into the same box on the back of the same bike.  ItÕs like seeing an old lover from your past with all the unresolved issues between you springing up from between the cracks in the pavement.  Except that this isnÕt an ex boyfriend.  ItÕs a girl.

Men come and go in your life.  Some you marry, some you divorce.  Some you sleep with once and never talk to again.  Some yo sleep with lots and they never talk to you again.  Some you cross the street to greet like a long lost relative and some you cross the street to avoid.  But friends?  Friends stay with you for ever.  Right? 

Wrong Š and as heartbreak goes, when you fall out of love with your best friend, the bitch really bites. 

With a friend you know she wonÕt stop seeing you because sheÕs met someone else, though women can be as unfaithful as the next man.  Trust me, sheÕll say, but you know the chances are sheÕs telling all your treasured secrets to whoever she happens to share an office with at work, but it doesnÕt matter - sheÕll still remain your most trusted confidant.  SheÕll never leave you for the babe on the next desk.  ItÕs like marriage.  The two of you are on the same team even if occasionally you play friendly games elsewhere.

But unlike a man, when your best friend goes, she goes not because she thinks youÕre too fat, too clingy or too bad in bed; not because sheÕs afraid of commitment; or because she prefers blondes, breasts, or has fallen in love with someone else.  She hasnÕt stopped fancying you Š she just doesn't like you anymore.

The box of tissues drama that is losing a long-term girlfriend makes the end of sexual relationship seem like a mere three hanky emergency.  After all, when your lover leaves you Š whoÕre you going to call Š why your best friend. According to sit com law you drink vodka straight from the bottle and eat ice cream straight from the carton.  She tells you that all men are dickheads; that he wasnÕt worth it; youÕre too good for him.  When the girlfriend goes, however, there is no one to talk to.  No one to reassure you.  She was it.

There was a whole dirty laundry list of things that came between my best friend and myself, none of which washed up clean Ariel white when aired in public.  So, we went our separate ways, separately. Just like a divorce, you have to take sides and the whole network of mutual friendships is torn apart.   She took her husband, her parents and her jolly friends whose gossip and petty annoyances she shared generously.  I got to keep my willing ear, my kids and my home Š and the photograph album.  Neither of us returned gifts. When I transferred all my numbers to a new address book at the beginning of last year, I didnÕt include hers.  I didn't even know where she lived anymore.

And here she was.

What should I do Š slow down, speed up, turn around, speak? Ignore her, shout at her, stop, talk?  Jealously, I watched her new girlfriend come out of the house for the long goodbye as I had stood so many times on my own doorstep watching her load her expansive belongings on to her motorbike; and as I walked past I just stretched my hand out in her directions, and said hi,  without even breaking my stride, barely glancing at her face.

As I continued along the road my heart skipped ahead of me, my breathing quickened,  feeling dread, anxiety, pain, hope.  Then along she came on her motorbike, pulled up behind me and got off.

We looked at each other awkwardly then began a stilted game of shakey voiced, polite conversational ping pong, going through our respective significant others like a grocery list. We stood about two yards apart, neither of us willing to do the air kiss convention Š but, still there was a huge bit of me that just wanted to leap over towards her, grab her in a huge hug and tell her how much I loved and missed her.

And then she said that she was sorry to hear about my father.  He had died fifteen months earlier.

A bit late for that a year and a bit afterwards.  I had imagined she hadnÕt known about his death, but apparently someone had seen it in the paper and told her.

And so this is what it comes to.  Several years of raucous laughter, friendship, secrets, shared fears and insecurities Š but not even a two-line note of condolence at one of the most profoundly devastating times of my life.

ŌI am sorry about everything,Õ she began again, Ōbut I really donÕt thinkÉÕ

And I thought, save it sister.  WeÕve been over all this before and itÕs not going to make any difference.  This is over.

Dogs are for life, friends are just for Christmas presents.