You’re always someone’s bad guy. You might be the most angelic, non-confrontational soul or straight-talking leader-type to most, but to that one person, you are a passive-aggressive shrew. A domineering bully.
Somewhere along the line, E. and I had become each other’s bad guy. I can’t recall how it happened or the specific hurt, but I know the final offence had been something as insignificant as a “stolen” textbook, an overlooked birthday invite. When you’re young, it’s hard to understand another person’s point of view. Your brain is the truth-teller – your perception with all its peculiarities, parental coding and unanalysed misgivings. Give it another 15 years and you’ll (hopefully) realise that every dispute involves two different stories with some element of truth. Give it another 15 years and one of you will message the other out of the blue.
E. and I had once been so close it was intimate. She was nearer to me than my mum or any other friend. We shared our most gruesome secrets – ones no one should have at that age: of a domestic nature, of adults and escalating lies. I spent whole weekends at her house, and then longer as my family dynamic became more fractious and isolating. I can remember the specific smell of her family home and her stale bubblegum breath and the sour milk of her dogs’ fur – a pair of two high-energy boxers that I hated. Inside E.’s house, there was a total feeling of support, that was so all-encompassing and reflected in the way she and her mum treated me, that it felt physically painful in my chest at times. I don’t have the same intensity of recall memory for early crushes or even a first love.
Oddly, when our friendship ended, it didn’t break my heart like similar instances would in my twenties. With T., it was like the end of a passionate romance; mentally tearing down her new best friends on social media like I was eyeing up someone an ex was sleeping with. With D., it felt as confusing and disorientating as being cheated on. The loss of E. hadn’t hurt me like that. When you’re a teen, days are accelerated and experiences are all significant so you don’t have any perspective on what might dominate your memory. Even then, I chalked it all up to us growing apart.
But when E. made contact last year, I was floored. I happened to log into my old Facebook account, and there was a message from her, dated four months prior. I read it over and over. It was like a psychic was channelling a dead loved one, speaking in an eerie blown-out voice. “You all right Hannah,” the voice said. What a weird fucking way to introduce yourself after 15 years – and so her.
I signed into my active Facebook and replied to her. It transpired that her mum had run into my mum, who told her that I’d written a book. Good on me, said E., I was always “shit hot” at English.
In my book, I’d briefly written about how important our friendship had been. Had she, months ago, curiously sought it out and found what I’d written? Might she have been moved (what an arrogant thought!) or just amused? I had wondered while writing it if she’d be angry – annoyed to have little details of our intimacy shared or re-framed or, let’s be real, slightly romanticised. I wrote in there too that I couldn’t remember why we parted ways – a truth – but perhaps she did remember. Maybe when she thought of our friendship, the incident came sharply into view.
I wanted to ask E. if she’d read it, but any morbid interest was rapidly replaced with an expanding sense of love in my chest. As we messaged over the following days, I found out that she was married now. I imagined their wedding, her new home with this guy I didn’t know. She asked more about me – my work, where I lived. I was so happy to learn how our obsessions had carried through to adulthood. Me: writing, books, music. Her: painting, horse riding. I wondered if she still thought of us fondly, and if her new house smelled like her old one.
Within a week, I decided to ask for a phone chat. I wanted to know more, clambering to feel our very same intimacy, one I could prematurely feel rushing back. One more message from her, I thought, and I’d suggest the call. I typed the proposal in the app, ready to go. I started telling friends that we were going to speak on the phone – how nice the way things circle around! I had written something into being! And I imagined where I’d be while on the phone call and the shape of the conversation. Even – how embarrassing – the way we’d end the call with the decision that I had to visit her.
Embarrassing because there were no more replies. A couple of days passed, then almost a week. I looked back at my eager questions typed out. They looked desperate now, forced even. E. was “online” and “active two hours ago” and “online” again, but there would be no reply. No phone call.
I believe we grow out of some people for the better – or if not better, for some forward movement, however uncomfortable or unclear. Should you ever get in touch with these people then, if it’s natural and right to let them go? I suddenly doubted whether anyone had ever “reached out” and sincerely meant to follow through with rekindling a friendship. It’s always a half-arsed affair and I decided I’d never do it again myself. If you did similarly with an ex, at least there was the intention of sex or a chance to do the impossible: rekindle a passion in any sort of real and present way. What was the use of what E. had done? To be kind or remind me of her presence? Or to just feel affirmed in some way? To show that when all’s said, time can heal the hardest first grudge.
And then it really did sink in – that E. never had intended to strike up a conversation, only to make a connection. Long time no speak, hope you’re well, and gone. I still didn’t remember specifics of hows and whys but a feeling crept in: one that said I had been the real bad guy all along.