On a not-so-long-ago Tuesday afternoon, I was at the doctor, discussing a nagging hip injury and what kind of surgery to have, or if I should try another injection, and what the prognosis would be if I opted to do nothing.
At that same time, my best friend was standing on the Golden Gate Bridge. Contemplating whether or not to end her life. She chose yes. In fact, she had been planning it for weeks. But I wouldn’t find out until 28 hours later.
I had no idea why my texts were going unanswered. Or why she’d been distant the weekend before. When I heard the news, I hated myself for going to the doctor. I should have gone to the bridge. I just didn’t know it.
There are people who come into your life at just the right moment–people you were destined to meet for some undefined purpose you can’t explain right then, but you know it’s profound. Friends who leave an immediate and indelible impression just because the two of you said “hi” and allowed that to turn into a life-changing connection. For me, that was Britt.
We met at a party in Oakland. I was chatting with a guy I was crushing on, and off to my left there was this beautiful, vivacious blonde who seemed to capture at least part of the attention of every man in the room. I mean, she was stunning. Damn her. Women like that make chatting with your crush a fucking headache. It’s so much work to keep them focused. On you.
She joined our conversation for a bit, then flitted to the next one, and then the next, and my crush said at one point, “Man, I really like her–she has great energy.” Right. That’s exactly what you were staring at. Her energy.
I wanted to hate her. But five hours, several Cosmos and many easy/poignant/memorable conversations later, she was my favorite person in the room. Our friendship grew quickly. She became like a sister, only better. My best friend. My voice of reason. My weekend companion. My person.
She took me out of town when I wanted to escape my birthday because it wasn’t an age I wanted to celebrate, and we played the slots and drank watered-down cocktails in a smoky casino for 48 hours. It was just the two of us, ignoring the calendar, pretending like we were eternally 29. She drank wine with me even though she didn’t like it, just because I did. She became the first one I would call when this guy sent a confusing text or that guy lied or some other guy ghosted and I didn’t know why. She bought me thoughtful gifts and gave me funny cards and drove to see me way more than I drove to see her because that’s just what she did–she put the people she loved first.
We were two single women, each hoping to find a life partner or undying love or some semblance of happily ever after. But until then, we had each other. Thelma and Louise without the crime. Laverne and Shirley without the brewery. Samantha and Carrie without quite that much sex. Or that many shoes.
“Britt, why am I only attracted to guys who don’t like me? That’s so limiting.”
“Girl, what the hell does this text mean? Can you translate this, because I’m clearly not fluent in man speak.”
“You know I love you, but I have to say it: Don’t go there–he’s an asshole and you deserve better.”
“OMG, dating is so hard! I’m exhausted. Even my hair hurts. What are you doing Saturday? Let’s drink vodka.”
So many late-night phone calls and texts and conversations over cocktails and endless musings about how it’s so damn hard to find a good man and who are you chatting with now and when are you seeing that one guy and where did you go on that last date. She made it all fun. She. Made. Dating. Fun. Or at least, bearable.
And then she left.
I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t know–I promise you. About the depth of her struggles and the darkness in her mind and the excruciating emotional pain she must have been feeling in order to believe that death was her only hope for relief. She kept it so well hidden. From everyone. The first clue I had that anything was wrong was in the letter she left me, telling me she was out of time and this was the only way. It makes me unspeakably sad to know I wasn’t a good enough friend to see the signs. And yet, I don’t believe there were any. Do you see how confusing this is?
Her sister called me late Wednesday afternoon. Twenty-eight hours too late. Shock. Disbelief. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. Guilt. So many emotions, all colliding at once, and my mind–my incredibly bewildered and confused mind–trying to make sense of a senseless death, reaching for answers, grappling with the reality, and the finality, of her decison. I have never felt so helpless. Or so stunned. Or so, I don’t know, foggy, I guess. I felt foggy. Like I couldn’t see or feel or understand anything clearly because of the dense, suffocating fog in my brain, and I wanted to fight with every fiber of my being to make it go away and get a clear picture of how and when and why. Mostly why. Why?
Britt was always thinking about other people. She would text me during a date. “Girl, how’s it going?? I can’t wait to hear!”
She’d call after running at the gym. “How are you feeling about so-and-so today? Are you going to see him again?”
She’d make fun of my idiosyncrasies. “George, again?! Girl, you can’t walk away from these charming sales guy-types, can you? Haha, the very thing that attracts you to men makes me want to run!”
She’d encourage me when I tried to change old patterns. “Give this new guy a try, even if he doesn’t seem like your type. Your type isn’t good for you, lol. Try something new.”
She was quite honestly the most supportive friend I have ever had. And now, she’s gone. We’re not doing this single girl thing together anymore, and can I be honest? I’m pissed off. I’m pretty fucking angry.
I told her that. In my car the other night, on my way to the grocery store.
“Really, Britt? You think I can do this alone? You’re supposed to be here, with me, doing this thing together. You’re supposed to be giving me advice and listening to me rant and telling me there are lots of good men out there, we just haven’t met them yet. You’re supposed to be telling me about this thing–this dark, overwhelming sadness or pain or struggle or whatever it was–that you were suffering from but hiding from everyone. What you did, Britt . . . it was so final. And we could have fixed it! I’m so sure we could have fixed this.
Sadly, she wasn’t.
As women, we’re often focused on romance and love and relationships and that heady feeling that great chemistry floods your brain with and men, men, men–so much ado about men. When is the right one going to come along or how can I keep him from leaving or why does my marriage feel stale and where is that spark we used to have. And that’s normal, right? Who doesn’t want to be happy in love?
But today, I wish I could go back in time, even for a day, and simply focus on my friend. On why my dear sweet Britt was hurting and why she didn’t tell me and how I could have helped and what she was hiding and why she didn’t cry out when she began to believe that death was her only savior. I wish I could just go back and focus on Britt. She poured so much of herself into everyone she loved. She was selfless. Encouraging. Strong. Loving. The only person she couldn’t save was herself.
I’ll date again. I don’t feel like it right now, but eventually I will. I’ll get confusing texts from some man that I can’t decipher and meet assholes I shouldn’t like but do, and I’ll go on dates and wonder if he likes me or if I like him and if we should see each other again. And I’ll want to ask Britt, What do you think?
But now to hear her answer, I’ll have to sit in silence. Quietly. Remembering her face and her voice and the way she’d throw her head back and laugh and call me silly. I’ll have to reach back into our thousands of texts and Facebook messages and conversations. I’ll have to listen for her still, soft voice to speak quietly to my heart. I believe it will be there. But it won’t be the same.
And I will miss her. I will always, always miss her. Nothing will take that pain away, and nothing will fill that void. Not even my very own happily ever after.