When it happens, you won’t want to believe it. You’ll take their word for it when they say they’re busy, swamped at work, “just doing me.” You’ll make excuses for them, put your ringer on extra loud in case they call. But you’ll still feel the change, and because you can’t rationalize it, you’ll try to ignore it.
It’s a specific kind of loneliness that hits you like a wave of nausea. When the two of you are having a beer and you realize that you have both been staring out the same window for twenty minutes, nothing to say, the opposite of a comfortable silence. When they cancel plans consistently and stall when giving you reasons. When you scroll through your contacts and stop at their name and almost call but don’t, feeling suddenly, inexplicably, abandoned and confused.
Sometimes there’s no huge fight that marks the end of a friendship. No falling out, no major disagreement. Sometimes it just falls apart for no good reason. Distance. New relationships. Priorities. Somehow these things can become more important than your connection; they shouldn’t but they do. And as we get older we tend to downsize, prioritize. Trim the corners of our lives, keeping what’s important and discarding what isn’t. Sometimes we stop needing people in our lives and it isn’t even conscious. No one wakes up in the morning actively thinking “Hmm, I think I’ll stop being friends with so-and-so today.” It just goes out with an empty fizz, like a cigarette hitting the bottom of a Coke can.
In so many ways, losing a close friend is worse than losing a lover. Lovers are transient for the most part but friends are supposed to be there for you always, or so we like to believe. Friendship is a special kind of love that’s not supposed to fade. You never expect the one person you thought you could always depend on to disappear without saying goodbye. And when they do you feel sickeningly stupid and cheated, wondering what you meant to them all along, whether you were just convenient or in the right place at the right time. You never really know for sure.
You look through pictures from back when you were happy — holding each other up drunk and ecstatic, working on art projects on a rainy Sunday afternoon — and can’t understand what happened. Reach for the phone. Attach a photo to an email, start the subject line with some fusion of “Remember this?” and “I miss you…” Get suddenly overwhelmed by a horrible emptiness and discard the draft, leaving the phone untouched. History. So much history flushed down a dirty sink.
And the worst part is, you don’t even know how to explain yourself. You know if you bring this up with them they’ll give you a blank expression and a blank excuse. You don’t want to explain how you feel. You can’t. You just want them to get it, to read you like they used to be able to. You want to take them by the shoulders and shake them, screaming Where are you? What happened?! Until you’re blue in the face. But you can’t do that either, because you’re no longer on the same level and it’s going to make you feel crazy.
In life, it’s a given that you will lose people. People will flow in and out like curtains through an open window, sometimes for no reason at all. But losing someone important to you will feel like a suckerpunch every single time, and you’ll never see it coming. Which makes the friendships that do hold out, the ones that make it through countless breakdowns and breakthroughs and changes and years, so damn important.