From an episode of Crossing Jordan:
Jordan: “I have this key, to the trunk of a car. Today I found out where that car is. I don’t know what’s inside, but whatever it is, it has something to do with my Mom’s murder.”
Lily: “So… go open the trunk.”
Lily: “Why not?”
Jordan: “It’ll make me crazy.”
Lily: “But you’re already crazy.”
Jordan: “(laughing) Some shrink you are!”
Lily: “I’m not a shrink. I’m your friend.”
Jordan: “Will you.. ah… stay with me?”
Lily: “As long as you need me to.”
It’s hard to reach out. It’s hard to ask friends to put their own lives aside, just to be there for me, just sit next to me while I go through something. It’s hard to admit I need it. It’s harder still to ask someone to prove their love for me by doing something for me.
That’s how it feels, like I’m cashing in on a loan. Friendship feels like a barter system. I care about you, and have tried to do things for you, therefore I feel entitled to your love and attention. I sang in your wedding, so you should come visit me for lunch and shopping. I came to your party and helped you clean up, and let you cry on my shoulder when you got dumped, so you should come to the movies with me, so I don’t have to sit by myself in a movie theatre, feeling alone. I helped you write papers and told you not to back down when you were being discriminated against, and told you no man was worth your slavery, that you deserved true love and respect. So I feel you should have come to my birthday party, or at least called to say why you wouldn’t come.
Love shouldn’t be bartered. But often, it is.
Kristin and Lisa. I always come back to them. They have really never let me down. Everything I’ve ever expected from a friend, and in many cases far more, they have been. I’ve been far less of a friend to them than they have to me. In the decade-plus that we’ve been out of our parent’s homes, I have never visited Lisa in Chicago, and since Kristin moved into that new house about six years ago, I have never seen it. I don’t always send them birthday or Christmas presents, and when I do, it’s usually something small. Granted, I’m broke, but still. Nobody’s exactly wealthy here. Kristin and Lisa have both flown to New York to visit me. Every single time I come to Illinois, unless we’re sick, or I’m only there for two days – and sometimes even then – one or both of them makes the four-hour drive down to see me. And they constantly reassure me, over the phone and in emails, that they love me, that they value our friendship. Wow.
Let’s just say they are the best emotional investment I have ever made.
Glamgirl and I are no longer friends. When we went to SCAMDA together, we were inseparable. I remember people saying we never went anywhere without each other – if one of us was in view, the other must be close by. The receptionist at school once remarked warmly how great it was that Glamgirl and I had “found each other.” I felt the same way. We called each other “sister.” We crashed at each others apartments. We spent so much time together, for about five years, that it was impossible to know one of us without knowing the other.
Then she moved back to Korea.
I was the last one to help her clean out her apartment, haul everything to the trash area, run around Manhattan at 2AM donating stuff to various friends, and sharing a Korean pear at about 5AM, before she had to catch her cab. I took a keychain and a magnet and a scarf, and a large kitchen knife that we didn’t feel comfortable leaving in the garbage. We were somewhat in denial, laughing and groaning with fatigue, eating that fruit on the floor of her empty studio on east 15th street. We believed we’d see each other often enough. We believed we’d keep in touch. We talked about my visiting her in Seoul. And when 6AM rolled around, I caught her a cab, helped load her two suitcases in the trunk, gave her a quick hug and kiss, and watched her roll away up second avenue, toward JFK, and a teaching job at Pusan University. I hugged myself in the February dawn, the sun not quite up, telling myself not to be so silly as to cry. Glamgirl and I were sisters. We’d always be friends. I’d be in her wedding in a few years. We had so much history together, such intimacy, such amazing transformative times behind us. My life in New York is impossible to remember without her.
Yet, as I subwayed back home to the upper west side, I sniffled. And when I lay down in my bed at around 7am, I cried. I sobbed. I cried for what seemed like days.
I won’t go into detail about the gradual decline of our friendship, the utter dearth of phone calls, her refusal to write letters or use email, etc.. but it has run its course. The last two times she came to town, she just didn’t care about seeing me. She refused to even consider coming to Nyack to see where I’m living, because “What am I gonna do there?” She made some disturbingly racist comments about southeast Asians on one visit, in front of G. And she has become so concerned with her appearance… I’ve never seen anything like it.
I think the last straw was when she chastised me for not wearing enough sunscreen on my face, because I have freckles. “Are you kidding?” I said. “I should have stock in sunscreen, I wear so much!” I pulled a tube of it out of my purse to demonstrate. “But you have so many freckles,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “I’m white, Glamgirl, and Irish. We have freckles.” She brushed my cheek with her finger, as though she could wipe my brown imperfections away like dirt. “But you don’t have to. You should use face cream.”
I stepped back and looked at her hard. “Why should I?” I asked her. “I like my freckles. My mom has freckles. My aunts have freckles. Why should I hide them?”
She shrugged her shoulders and turned back to her mirror. She picked up a hat and began adjusting it on top of her long, chemically waved and highlighted black hair. “Well,” she said, “If you don’t mind having them…”
I’m wrong. This wasn’t even the last straw. Even if my friend has become a self-absorbed, superficial, racist princess, she was still my friend and my sister.
The last straw was my birthday last August. This darling man had tried to throw Rich and I a lovely birthday party at this ultra-nice dining establishment. When I realized that they would only take a reservation for eight, and that all eight slots were filled, I asked him to change the location. I did that for two people – G and Glamgirl. My boyfriend, and my best friend, who was only in town for two weeks. I found a restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen where the food was mediocre at best, and made everybody go there, in the hopes that she would come.
When I called her and invited her, she balked. “I might be in California that day, with Donny (her boyfriend). But I’m not sure. We haven’t confirmed that yet.”
“Glamgirl. It’s my birthday. We haven’t been in the same city for my birthday in years. I’m having it in Manhattan, just a few stops north of you on the 1/9. I really want to see you, and I really want you to meet my friends.”
“Of course! I wanna see you too! I’ll check with Donny and call you when I know.”
Days passed. No word. I tried to call her again, and got the voicemail. “Please let me know if you can come to my birthday party.” I left the time, date, and location. “Please come, sister, it means so much to me.”
She never called. When G and I arrived in Hell’s Kitchen, we had a lovely dinner with Jess, Marc, Frank, Crash, Wayne, and Jeff. We missed Rich, and a couple of others who had given us maybes, but we had a lovely time, and I felt blessed.
Jess, guys, I'm sorry I was such a fool. Thanks for showing me what real friendship is.
I have no idea when Glamgirl left America. I never heard from her again. I am sure I never will, and that’s fine. I have no idea who that woman is. The girl who was my best friend is gone, lost somewhere between New York and Korea, somewhere between a failed dream to be an actress, and a career teaching acting. Lost somewhere between an independent, headstrong, outspoken, sexually aware American girl, and a society where women must be the exact opposite of that. Lost somewhere on a plane over Europe, a 40-year old Korean woman waiting for her 26-year old blond American boyfriend to propose. Lost in a cloud of Designer clothes that her father pays for and expensive hotels that her boyfreind pays for. Insulated by a sea of 20-something girls who follow her around, hoping they can achieve what she has: the appearance of eternal youth. They cannot conceive of anything more important in life.
But she could, at one time. I imagine that years of disappointment has led her to this state. She insulates herself in materialism. I suppose she has done the best she could. Granted, her disappointment in America must have been profound – eight years of auditioning, an MFA from the Actor’s studio, training at AMDA (which Koreans actually respect), and private lessons in voice and dance from some of the best studios in New York. She was never cast in anything. She couldn’t lose her accent, and sadly, in spite of all those voice lessons, she doesn’t have a world-class voice. I feel for her. I identify, in some ways.
I probably had more of a chance to be cast than she did… but I didn’t want it as badly as she did. And I didn’t come from a culture of achievement at all costs. I could go into a litany of things she had to struggle with, that I didn’t. But I had my own struggles. I didn’t become a selfish, self-absorbed spoiled brat.
Well, I didn’t become a spoiled brat.
This has been hurting me for so long that I just got used to it. Then New Year’s Eve came. Glamgirl’s birthday. Yes, I know, all Koreans count themselves a year older on New Year’s Day, but she was actually born on January first, 1965. My parents and I, and on a couple of occasions my ex-husband, would call her apartment every year at midnight on New Year’s Eve, right after we’d done our kissing and toasting, and sing happy birthday to her, in harmony. Often we would sing to her answering machine. Once, I called her from Aspen, where I was spending the holiday with my cousin, and had a street full of people shout “happy birthday” into the phone. Once I called from a party and had a roomful of revelers join in the singing. And on a one occasion, it was just me, singing alone to my sister, missing her, but feeling warm, knowing she was out there, and that our friendship was special, and sustaining.
This year, I felt sick. I got angry for a few minutes, but mostly, I felt sad. Then I got angry again. Then I spent some time focusing on my friends. When we went to sleep later on, I cried. And then next morning, I had forgotten all about her.
Losing a friend is so much harder than losing a lover. They are so much harder to find.
I can be harsh with people sometimes. I expect a great deal from the world. I expect the most from myself. Most of the time, I’m let down. This is my own fault, I know. I tell myself this all the time. I need to stop expecting people to give, to not change, to value me as much as I value them, to show their feelings, to appreciate what I have to give, to not need to be the center of attention. I need to accept the imperfections of the world, and the people in it.
What I haven’t been able to get past is the idea that when I have a need, and I have a friend, that I should be able to expect that person to help me fill that need. Someone who calls themselves my friend, who has done so for a certain period of time, someone who has told me on many occasions that they love me… when they let me down, when they disregard me, when they simply withdraw and leave me hanging… I feel, quite frankly, fucked over. I feel a sense of injustice. I’m angry.
I don’t think I can forgive this one. Other things in the past, I let go. I told myself she had changed, that we all change, that her life has been difficult, that underneath it all, she’s still my sister, that she still loves me, and that’s what counts. Well, this time, I saw no evidence whatsoever of her love for me. I saw judgment, and impatient tolerance, and disregard.
Glamgirl is not the only friend who has disappeared from my life in the last two years. There was one friend who I realized was never really a friend – I was her friend, but really, it was always a one-way street. And there was another friend who, for a while, was a real friend. Someone I felt a connection with, due to some shared experiences, and some common views of life. Both of these people simply stopped calling or writing me. I made one attempt to contact each of them, left a message or an email, and heard nothing in response. They are gone. Their lives in their immediate surroundings became their focus. I was out, with no explanation.
If I mean so little to someone, then losing them is no loss.