As women, we pride ourselves on having that one best friend that has been with us through thick and thin. We don’t imagine we could ever lose that bond, and when it does happen it’s devastating. Most childhood friendships endure up to college and then fizzle out. The one in which I’m writing about endured so many years—from childhood, through college, through long-distance, past two marriages and three children—and thus, it’s hard to believe a 40-year friendship is over. But it is, and it’s downright depressing.
By Taylor Van Arsdale
So readers, sit back, grab a glass of merlot and get ready for a long story.
In retrospect, what prompted the split seems almost ridiculous…I wrote a book. Maybe that seems weird to just sit down and write a novel, but I’m a writer and a published journalist so this was not out of the norm. My BFF, Betsy* (not her real name) asked how she could help promote it. I requested she post a photo of my book on FB and write a nice blurb—and she never did. All the times I’d posted stuff about her children winning art awards, or soccer matches, and she wouldn’t do this one little thing for me. This one miniscule request set our 40-year friendship into a decaying spiral. But was it merely that one act or was it really the tip of several larger issues that started happening years prior? Let’s take a look. You be the judge.
Betsy and I met in the early 80s in New York, and as was typical of 14 year olds during that era we spent time smoking cigarettes, smoking weed, listening to music and talking about our favorite topic, ‘boys.’ Our families couldn’t have been more dissimilar. Her mother had suffered from a brain tumor and was barely functional. Her father was always working and never home. Her house was a wreck both inside and out—dubbed by the neighborhood kids the “junk house.” My home, on the other hand, had a manicured lawn, parents who doted on me, and there was always food in the fridge. My father, having made a considerable amount of money, retired early and spent his days golfing. We had gardeners. We had new cars. We had the best that money could afford.
We lived blocks from each other but once we met, we were inseparable. A guest room across from mine became Betsy’s new place. She spent so much time at my home that she started receiving phone calls there. Her sibling, a younger brother, was constantly in trouble with the law and continually screwing up so they weren’t close. I was an only child, and she was effectively an only child and together we were sisters.
By our late teen years, we’d spent so much time together, going to clubs, concerts, and going through boyfriends, it knew it would be hard for either of us to leave the other, but college called. My decision to attend a school on the West Coast was devastating. More so because Betsy had been adopted and took particular umbrage when she viewed friends as “leaving her.” In the back of my mind, I thought she would join me in my quest for adventure, but she never did. I knew she was hurt when I left but we kept in touch writing letters every couple weeks (this was how people communicated before texting) and talked on the phone regularly. My parents flew her out for my birthday—the flight was the first time she’d been on a plane. My parents funded more west coast trips for Betsy to visit while I was at school, and of course I returned home every holiday and summer, and even some weekends.
When she was looking for a job, my father connected her to the Country Club to which we belonged. She made a lot of new friends and also pulled in some of her public school friends to work there as well. Including her boyfriend—whom she’d had a crush on since 8thgrade.
I tell you this backstory because I need you to know how close we were and for how long. My parents were like her parents. We were family. By this time I’d made California my permanent home and was long out of college. Bets had remained in NY and started working for a large entertainment company. When she came out to visit we toured their west coast offices and she suggested I get a job there as well—which I did. But it wasn’t through any of her efforts that I was able to procure that job. It was another mutual friend who ultimately vouched for me, not Bets.
Perhaps it was that we were employees of the same national company that we were able to remain so very well connected. They had a mail system called the “pouch” that was basically inter-office mail that got shuttled back and forth once a week via our corporate plane. We inter-office’d all sorts of things to each other. Letters, photos, and gifts. She bought me a quilt one year and pouched it to me. It was a bit ridiculous how huge this box was, but not having to pay for mail was the greatest thing ever—and we both abused the hell out of that perk.
When I got married, she was my Maid of Honor. And four years later when she married I was hers. But as life rambles on it takes twists and turns, sometimes ones you don’t expect or plan for. My husband died three months shy of Bets’ wedding—committing suicide. I was pretty much a wreck, but I coped by spending most of the time in the bathroom crying. I was supposed to sing at her wedding and I could barely breathe. I felt like Bets didn’t quite understand how difficult that was for me. But still our friendship continued.
Then she popped out several wonderful children. And because her husband didn’t care for me (or any of her friends), and because he had two brothers, I wasn’t selected as the godmother to her first born, or her second, and when I told her I wanted to be the godmother to at least one of her children I was given the third child with the caveat that I had to share that spot with another couple. I’ll admit it. My nose was out of joint. She would call me “sister” but when push came to shove, I didn’t feel like I was. I didn’t fly back for the christening because the other couple was going to be there and I thought, “The heck with this.” Ironically she told me later that I did more for her daughter from California than this other couple ever had. And as always our friendship marched on.
And so you understand, our friendship was long-distance for 25 years; yet we talked everyday and visited regularly. When she and her husband went to Jamaica—it was me she entrusted with the care of her brood—not any of the other godparents, not her husband’s brothers. I flew back home to watch a three year old, a five year old and a precocious seven year-old for two weeks and I loved every minute of it. I’d never had a chance to have children with my former husband so her children were a big part of my life.
And then something horrible happened and I hate to say this because it’s almost heartbreaking to write it down. But somewhere along the lines, our financial roles reversed. At some point, after my husband died, and my mother got cancer and my father pissed away our family fortune. I realized I wasn’t flush. I hadn’t remarried and didn’t have a husband with a fortune to rely upon. I no longer had the ability to pick up and go. It takes money to purchase plane tickets or jet over to the east coast for a few days. It takes funds to rent a car, book hotel rooms and to do it up right. Suddenly I had to budget and watch my spending. And she was used to me being in a position to help to her.
And then it dawned on me—why our friendship was flailing. I wasn’t rich anymore.
I started to see that the generosity that had been lavished on my best friend through all the lean years when she was struggling, and on her own, was not reciprocated. Yes, she helped me one month with rent when I was really teetering on the brink—but then kept bringing it up. As if the money she gave me was monumental. Yet I never asked her for any of the money I’d spent on her through the years or on her children, taking them on trips to the Hamptons, gas money, rental cars, clothing, presents, restaurants, etc., which was so much more than a “rent check.” She was used to me ‘having money’ to throw around. And when it wasn’t there, it upset her. She was mad at me for being poor.
It is true I think, what they say, that if you can’t keep up with your friends’ lifestyles chances are you won’t remain friends. I’m not sure who first realized this but it was probably a very wise person or a lonely, poverty stricken one.
And so, her visits to California were less frequent, even though she could easily afford it. There was always a reason—a kid’s soccer game, a graduation, or a college tour. Granted she wasn’t working at the same company, nor was I, so the travel perks and Los Angeles trade shows were no longer on the agenda. One year, I did fly back to see her and visit friends and family on the east coast. On that trip, I found myself shuttling her kids back and forth to their soccer games but I’d also been interviewing for jobs in LA and it was getting down to the wire. I was so worried I wouldn’t find work and had let her know I was expecting a phone call from a company in LA to which I’d applied. She said, “just pull over and take the call with us in the car.” I didn’t dare risk a scream fest erupting from the kids in the backseat—I mean, there were so many distractions, with her and the kids in the car, the list was endless. So I dropped them off at a dive-like donut shop while I pulled around the corner to talk to this potential employer. She yelled at me for leaving them in a not-so-great area and because I was stressed the 10 minute interview didn’t go well. When I did return to get them, she was furious with me. She didn’t understand my need for a few minutes of privacy. It was a no win situation, with her children capping off that visit saying, “Aunt Taylor wasn’t very nice to us that day.”
Around this time, I had started dating a man who indicated that he might want to have children. I was in my 40’s and concerned about that ticking clock. I excitedly phoned Bets and when I relayed the info she responded by telling me that she didn’t want me to have children. When I asked her why, she said, “Because then my children won’t be as important to you.” I was shocked at her selfish comment. Here I was thinking that she had some inner parental wisdom she was going to reveal and it was all about her and her needs. She shouldn’t have worried. The man turned out to be a cheater so I dumped him and moved on. I never did have any children of my own.
Some years went by after that trip and Bets came to visit me in California and we didn’t have a great time, like we usually did. I didn’t feel good and I didn’t respond in my usual happy-go-lucky manner. She was irritated with me. I had nodules on my thyroid and that was making me tired, and she seemed angry with me for being sick. It was not what I’d expected. She made weird comments to me like, “You used to be nicer” and “You used to be funnier.” Well, it’s hard to be funny when the doctor’s don’t know whether you have thyroid cancer and the nodules are too small to aspirate to find out.
I really felt like she didn’t have a clue as to what I was going through and it was really tough. She’d say things like, “You’re going through menopause, that’s all.” Or she’d tell me, that because I was around so many young people in California and not other moms (as in her circle of friends), that I didn’t know the symptoms. But still, despite that bitter visit, our friendship persisted.
We continued to talk on the phone almost every other day. But there was a sort of strain. Sometimes I’d call her and get a curt, “What? What do you want? I’m busy.” I’d just say, “Nothing, forget it, it’s not important,” and I’d hang up. Other times, I’d call her to tell her something and she’d launch into a diatribe about her son, as if she had called me. I wouldn’t be able to get a word in—and when she did stop to take a breath it was to tell me her husband had come home and she couldn’t talk anymore.
So I retreated into my own world—I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have friends here where I live, but they’re not “the best friend,” you know? They don’t know my life in the same way, and never will—I don’t have that same shorthand with them. And if you live in LA you understand the dynamic in play here—people are so busy with their families and their lives, they rarely take time to see each other. And those friends that I do consider good friends aren’t in my immediate neighborhood. So, I found myself with some time on my hands and thought, “Well, I’ll write that book, I’ve been meaning to write.”
Finishing “Cocaine To Bain: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Inside Story of the Hollywood Guitar Center” was a polarizing moment for me. I felt as if I was finally doing what I was born to do. Since the publishing the book has won two awards and has been receiving critical praise on Amazon. I was happier than I’d been in a long time. Bets was supportive with her words, telling me, “I know you’re gonna make it big with this project,” which was very nice to hear, but in deed and action, she wasn’t so much so, and, I don’t know, perhaps it was the menopausal hormones gone astray or my thyroid acting up or something but her lack of participatory enthusiasm set me off. I only asked her to do one thing for me, and then, only after she asked how she could help.
I sent her a complimentary copy which she said she would read but didn’t. She didn’t even open the book. Which I thought was crazy-weird. I mean, your very best friend in the world writes an award-winning novel and you don’t bother to read it? I was hurt. I was upset and then, I was pissed.
And let me interject for a second. During this time, she never hesitated to pick up the phone to ask me to write her daughter’s high school term papers. “Oh, you need something written, call Aunt Taylor, she’ll write something great,” which I did on more than one occasion. But by this time, I had landed a job and clients and I was spending my days working and my lunches and evenings doing re-writes, while battling thyroid issues that made me so tired I wanted to lie down and sleep in the middle of the 405 Freeway. So this time, when one of her calls to draft a term paper came rolling in—I said, “no.” I couldn’t do it. I’d never turned her down until that day, and I still felt badly about it.
Bets went to the Caribbean with her family and some friends—as she did every year. Before her flight she called me (as she always did when she was flying) because she was worried about the plane crashing. “Pray for my flight, I’m so scared,” she said. I told her that she would be fine. She told me, “I’m going to bring the book with me, and read it there. I’ll finally have some time.” I was excited for her to read it. I valued her opinion and I wanted to know what she thought of it. And then as fate would have it, one of our mutual friends, also on the island with her, posted a photo on Facebook. I made a positive comment on her post—and then messaged her because I wanted to know what she thought of the book. She responded by asking me, “What book?” She didn’t even know about my book—Bets had never told her.
When Bets returned to NY she didn’t call as promised. I didn’t even know she was home until I saw a post on her FB page that indicated she was out with some of our mutual friends from the City. I replied to the thread saying everyone looked great and then asked one of the friends what he thought about the book—again, he didn’t know anything about it because Bets hadn’t told him. I was mystified.
I jokingly wrote, “I can’t believe she didn’t tell you anything about it.” He responded by saying, “I know! You need to yell at her.” So I did. I sent her a text telling her not to call me until she’d read at least 25 pages of the book. I was sort of joking and sort of not, but I wasn’t prepared for the response.
She balked at me for “telling her what to do.” She was infuriated that I sent her what she thought were “harsh” words calling her out on her behavior (being curt on the phone, and such) and then after I typed, “Did you hear about my book?” in the comment field on another mutual friend’s post, she blocked me from her FB page. Whoa! We were BFF’s for 40 years. And she blocked me on FB, just like that.
I cried the first four weeks but I didn’t reach out. I didn’t think our argument was worthy of a FB block—but I guess that’s what people do when they don’t want to deal with things. But it’s never OK to block your best friend forever. It just isn’t, is it?
Now I know some of you are thinking, “This is such a petty fight,” right? I mean and over FB, what are we in 3rdGrade? But honestly it was more than that. I had been cut. Snipped out of my BFF’s life and since we were miles apart it wasn’t as if I could swing by her place, knock on her door and hash it out. There was nothing I could do about it.
The book was like my child. All I wanted her to do was give it some attention like I’d given to all her children, during their 19+ years, posting all their soccer win photos or their Best Art prize photos or whatever they accomplished, all over my FB page. And now, I needed some reciprocal love, and I felt like my needs weren’t taken seriously. I was an afterthought. I wasn’t being valued.
We didn’t speak for a year. During that time I reflected on our friendship. How she ditched me one summer when I returned from college to spend every waking hour with that boy she’d had a crush on (OK, I could forgive her for that), or how I drove her everywhere the summer she didn’t have a car, and how I crafted memos and emails for her job because she didn’t know what to say, how I imparted advice and how I always made time for her–it was a lot to reflect on. There was a half-hearted reconciliation attempt and we texted briefly but then nothing. I sent her two letters explaining how I felt and that I’d missed her and loved her—and she never even responded. I gave her more than several opportunities to reconnect—but she never reached out. It’s been almost two years and a piece of my heart is gone.
I wonder sometimes if she misses our chats, our laughter and our friendship as I do. How we used to call each other and have “quiet time,” on speaker phone—not saying a word but just being there for each other, just so we could hang out and get things done. How we could discuss anything and confide our deepest secrets, fears and hopes and dreams. How we were cut of the same cloth. Truest friends, best friends…forever.
When you least expect it, life tells you, you need to move on. It’s hard lesson though. It’s very hard. It’s still hard…even today.
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This true story that you just read, is the basis for a new book I’m working on entitled, “The Friendship Ring.” It traces the lives of four childhood friends and follows them through their youth, to early adulthood and into middle age as their lives intersect, diverge and intersect again. Most of us have a best friend we think will be our “bestie” forever. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out that way. The Frienship Ring explores deep female friendships, betrayal and forgiveness. I liken it to Judy Blume on crack.
Have you ever lost a dear friend? A sister? Someone with whom you thought you’d grow old with? I would love to know your thoughts. And while you’re waiting for the release of “The Friendship Ring” please check out my award-winning novel, “Cocaine To Bain.” Thanks for reading.