I lived in the same house from the age of four until I was twenty one. I met children in grade school that were also in my High School graduating class.
One friend was of particular note. We met in kindergarten when she pulled my braids, and we traversed the gauntlet of childhood on parallel paths. Our mothers were close friends and worked together, we shared many classrooms. We were in 4-H, were involved in Masonic activities. We celebrated birthdays, played horses and Barbies, competed in the county fair, slept at each other’s houses and had crushes on the same boys. As time passed we grew into two very different people and our relationship was complicated, as many childhood relationships can be.
My friend was very intelligent, confident, competitive; she was motivated to be #1. I was a bit shy, I wanted people to like me. I was also intelligent and I frequently presented a challenge to her expectation of being #1. Early in our relationship I started to believe that if I did my best, it might upset my friend. She might not like me. My desire to stay her friend and keep her happy would cause me to hold back. I remember purposely answering incorrectly on school tests because that was the easiest way to ensure she would have the top grade and would stay my friend. We were children and this childish logic made perfect sense to me.
As we grew up, this challenging relationship became harder for me to accept. As I matured I felt I could not be myself around my friend. If I did my best, I felt guilty if I “beat” her. I felt anger because I also wanted to be recognized and felt I had to chose between my own ego and her friendship. I even felt indignation that she didn’t appreciate that I was doing these things to maintain our relationship…. Even as now I realize she could have had no idea how I felt. All this conflict within me was going on below the surface and never expressed in words. I lived in a world in which our relationship was “either / or”, there was not enough room between us for both of us to be our best.
We entered high school, we ran with different crowds, spent less and less time together. After high school we went on to college and careers in different fields, living on different coastlines. We stayed in touch, occasionally met, exchanged Christmas cards.
My adult life seemed to unfold with great ease and with wonderful opportunities; My friend’s life presented challenge after challenge. She faced health issues, family issues, career issues. In my head, it seemed that every time something wonderful would happen for me I would find out something negative was unfolding in her life. I started to dread our next phone call, my thinking was that if I discussed my life I was gloating, and I worried that she would feel worse for having talked with me.
Over the years our connection because more and more fragile until we became “Facebook friends”.
Two days ago my childhood friend passed away. I did not even know she had been ill. We lived within a three house drive of each other’s homes for many years, yet I had never traveled to see her, nor she to see me.
As I have read the wonderful things people had to say about her upon her passing, I realized I did not know her anymore. She had done such kind and touching acts, working with her community, her church and her friends. In her lifetime she had lost both her parents, her siblings, her spouse. She had spent years in and out of hospitals dealing with incurable afflictions. Yet she had built a life that gave back to the people around her and died in a state of grace.
I feel ashamed that I had held on to my childhood feelings. I had let those feeling and responses keep me from experiencing this individual. I’ve missed the opportunity to hear her voice, share in her sharp wit, connect the experiences of our childhood into the reality of our adult life. I had allowed the voice of the “8-year-old me” to keep me from exploring a relationship that might have been a true gift, to actually ‘know’ someone throughout my life.
Through this shame I also understand that I had been holding on to my childhood experience because to me it was a ‘truth’… I had never examined this childhood voice to assess whether it was helping me navigate my life as an adult. My mind logically knew my friend and I had grown into different people, and yet the shadows of my childhood held me back from risking what the child in me saw as a possibility to be hurt.
I have been holding on to these childhood memories, those experiences. By holding on I missed an opportunity, one that for all my wanting and wishing, I cannot get back. I will forever wonder if we could have been friends as adults, contemplate what we could have learned from each other, what we might have been able to offer each other. If we might have talked about our childhood and shared and compared on inner stories to find a different ‘truth’. By holding on to this voice of my childhood I lost a something I will never know – what could have been.
I can also be with this terrible truth and be open to what it can teach me. I am at peace with the child I was, and the woman I have become.
I will sit today – and in future days – exploring what else I am holding on to that is holding me back from something that might be wonderful and decide if I still want to hold it.