Memoir: Where Did Our Friendship Go Wrong?

Chalk it up to bad judgment, a momentary lapse that was punished by total rejection. The story of how a painful rift helped one woman become a better friend

by Jacquelyn Mitchard
jacquelyn mitchard image
The writer at her former home in Wisconsin with her ever-loyal friend Hobbes
Photograph: © James Schnepf

Several of the friendships I once considered second tier are now filled with life and sentiment because I’m giving them the attention they always deserved. When something irks me, I still put it forcibly into context. I’ll never be a pushover, but now I’m not so blunt. Before I hit the wall with an opinion, I’ll try the detour. Now I honor the child’s rule of counting to 10 before I speak (and the cyber-commandment of waiting overnight before I send an e-mail).

Inevitably, there came a day when I ran into Elizabeth and Charles at a play. My three younger children, including my youngest, Elizabeth’s godson, were with me. Liz stretched out her arms to him, but he was shy; it had been a year, and he didn’t remember her.

“How are you, Jack?” Liz asked me. She looked genuinely concerned.

“I’m really OK,” I told her, as bat wings of mascara, formed by my tears, gave the lie to my words. “It’s so good to see you.”
It was good to see her. My heart had hungered for the hard hug of those fragile, graceful arms, for the luster of her smile. As the kids and I walked away, I glanced back. Liz had drawn down the brim of her straw hat and was leaning on Charles’s shoulder. Perhaps there was a shadow in her life that still held my shape. I got into the car and adjusted the rearview mirror. In it I saw Liz throwing her arms wide and leaping with delight at the approach of her friend Asia.

Well. I would have wished it otherwise. I would have wanted to be the one who lit the light in her eyes. Still, I could be philosophical. It had taken half a century and a hard knock to teach me not to be prouder of having friends than of being one. Now it’s the other way around. Friendship for me is made from a tapestry of personalities, each of whom shares a part of all I care about.

With just a little more time, I expect to be able to give my relationship with Liz the place it deserves in my life history. It’s over. But it was, as my friend David said, an epic friendship.
I fold it tenderly, as I would the baptismal gown of a child now grown. It is no longer useful. But it is still precious. It always will be mine.


All the names and identifying details in this story have been changed.


JACQUELYN MITCHARD’s 23 novels include the award-winning The Deep End of the Ocean. Out this winter: What We Saw in the Dark.

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First published in the July/August 2012 issue

Share Your Thoughts!


Maricia Johns07.15.2012

Hello, I loved the article and in fact wrote about it on my blog. Take a look.

Marie 07.06.2012

This article really hit home, as I recently ended a 20+ year friendship. But I was on the other side of the fence - I was the one who walked away. My friend had been through tough times, financially, maritally, emotionally, and I'd stood by her. Yet for several years I'd had an increasingly uneasy feeling when I saw or talked to her. The worse things became in her life, the more she put down others, and the more she insisted she 'deserved' things like a trip to Italy and a luxury car, when she hadn't even been able to pay her property taxes in a year. She took that trip and bought numerous items she could not afford, then cried to me that she didn't have the money to take her cat to the vet or to fix her washing machine. Annoying, but we'd been through so much, I didn't speak up. Then she did the unforgiveable - in an email. Her son had gone on a campus visit to the college my son attends. Her email explained, in most insulting terms, that the school was just not good enough for her child. (I think the exact words were "He saw so many kids who could have been cast on Jersey Shore. Now he knows why Snooki spoke there.") That was the last straw. I never replied to her email, and I never called her again. I don't wish her any ill will, I just don't need someone like that in my life any longer. It took a few months for her to realize she was no longer a part of my life. She invited me to her son's graduation party (I declined) and called a month later to ask a favor (I declined). I never gave an explanation - I didn't feel obligated to do so. She had violated our friendship so thoroughly, there was no turning back. So I hope that my friend learned the same lesson as Ms. Mitchard. To keep a friend you need to be a true fried.

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