"It's the way he paws at me," she confessed to me. "Like he's some kind of animal. I think I could deal with it if he was at least making an EFFORT to include me, but it's like he just doesn't care what I feel. Like he's just…"
"Using you?" I prompted.
"Exactly!" The sunlight filtered through the leaves of the oak tree overhanging the patio. The pattern of light and shadow danced across her face, playing tricks with her expression. I saw frustration, suffering, and confusion there, but couldn't be sure which were real and which were products of my imagination. "I…..I think….I think I'm going to give him back his ring…."
I stayed quiet, expressionless. I knew she she wanted a response. She had asked me here for this purpose – best-friend-turned-sounding-board for the biggest decision of her life. And she expected my….approval? I couldn't tell yet.
"I mean" she continued, "if he's so inconsiderate right now, how are things going to be in a year, or five years? It's not like I expect him to come home every night with a dozen roses and a bag of my favorite candy. But are we going to be still talking to each other? Still having inside jokes? Is he going to still put up with my bad habits? Or is it all going to go downhill, like the sex?"
An errant gust blew her hair into her eyes. As she brushed back the airy strands, she pleaded with me with her eyes. "I just don't think I can be with him anymore. It's not that he's changed, or I've changed….it's just….not right….anymore."
All she wanted was confirmation. For me to tell her she was right, that she was making the right decision, and she'd be better off without him. All I had to do was act the friend, support what she had already thought through, and she'd be happy again. Alive again. Single again.
But still not available. I couldn't chicken out any longer.
"Um." I cleared my throat, suddenly blushing self-consciously as I tried to put the words in some magic order. "Look. I know this is probably the WORST possible time for me to say this, but if I stayed quiet here, I know you'd hate me later. I can't tell you to leave him…I can't be objective….because I like you….a lot…….a whole lot" I could see a cloud of bewilderment in her eyes as she tried to switch gears and understand what I was saying. "I…..DO think he's an asshole, and I DO think you need to break up with him. But…if I just told you that today, and let things be…." I'd lose you all over again, I thought to myself. Out loud, I finished up, "…I'd hate myself, and if you ever found out later why I supported you in this, you'd hate me too."
As I was talking, I could SEE the change come over her. Confusion and anguish gave way to complete anger, her eyes afire with it. She was beautiful, even when she was angry. "Look," I said again, before she could interrupt. "I'm sorry I brought this up just now. I'm sorry I even waited until now to tell you. But I'm NOT sorry that I told you. I can't JUST be your friend anymore. I know that this probably means we won't be friends anymore. But I don't want to…no…I CAN'T keep this a secret from you. Not and still be the friend I have been. I hope you do give the ring back. I think you'll be happier. But do it because you want to, and not just because I wanted you to."
I stood up, almost in tears as I turned away and walked away from her, out from under the oak tree and into the blazing afternoon sun. "Goodbye," I murmured. "I hope it isn't goodbye forever." And with that, I left her, my stomach churning, my shoulders tight and tense, and my mind dizzy with what I had just done.
"Friendship should be a private pleasure, not a public boast. I loathe those braggarts who are forever trying to invest themselves with importance by calling important people by their first names in or out of print. Such first-naming for effect makes me cringe."
–John Mason Brown