Last Thursday, October 9th, as I was dusting away like the happy little cleaning bee I can rarely become (and thus, of which I should take full, uninterrupted advantage), I received a very strange phone call. Actually, the instant message came first. A sorority sister, whom I shall call Tori to protect myself from the Wrath of Tori, sent me an IM commenting on the people I had invited to my Screw Cancer party. Apparently, she had seen the guest list on my Evite invitation and didn’t like that I had invited other sorority sisters from back in the day. First, let me say that I had lost touch with almost all of them but, once they found out about my diagnosis, they have totally stepped up to the plate. Thank you girls—you know who you are (but I’ll name a few: Rene’, Crystal, Liz, Hansen and a bunch of other awesome girls who have sent me positive messages).
The IM conversation went something like this:
Tori: I didn’t know you had gotten so close to XXXX. You know I can’t stand her.
Me: I certainly wouldn’t call us “so close” but she has totally been there for me since I was diagnosed. She checks in on me regularly and has been really encouraging.
Tori: Well isn’t that SOOOO SWEET (yes, dripping sarcasm). I’m glad you’ve got people who are so THERE for you. You should have that. Well, I need to get to the gym now so I’ll talk to you later.
Allow me now to back up: Tori and I called each other “best friend” for years but the love was lost a while ago. We had a ton of inside jokes, compared silly stories, and generally made each other laugh until we peed our respective pants just a little, but the deep, insightful conversations ceased years ago. Plans to visit each other always fell through, and, last March when I was in her town for a conference, our one night hanging out together was strained…..nothing shockingly atypical of two friends who have drifted apart. That’s why, upon being diagnosed, I didn’t make a special call to her and she found out the way nearly everyone else did: by e-mail. She also received the only two mass follow-up e-mail updates about my condition that the rest of my support system got and, thus, had no other knowledge about me, my life, my state of mind, or my treatment.
So there I was post-weird-IM-conversation, swiffering my ceiling fans and musing about the meaning of life, when my phone rang: It was Tori. She asked me if she could take a few minutes of my time and say two things, after which I am free to comment and interrupt all I want. Fair ‘nuff. Here, in a nutshell, is what she had to say to me:
- We all have different friends who fit into different categories. I’m her easy-going, lighthearted, drama-free friend and she respects and appreciates that our relationship is so uncomplicated. If I expect more from her, she’s so sorry but she can’t be that person. She is sorry if that lets me down, but she just doesn’t think of me “that way” (what way I ask??? As a meaningful, no-strings-attached friend?).
- It really, really sucks that I have cancer and she can’t imagine what it’s like. HOWEVER……I said myself that I won’t die from it and attitude is everything, right? So, I should essentially stop making such a big deal of it and try to move on. I might, in fact, be milking it for all it’s worth (I guess that’s true, what with the Hodgkins royalty checks rolling in, the incessant TV appearances, Lymphoma Society-sponsored Sarah Brannon scholarship fund, and my lucrative book deal). In a nutshell: get over it.
With that, I told her that I wasn’t disappointed but rather hurt, that she made no attempt to talk to me through this hard time, rendering her “attitude is everything” speech highly inappropriate and insulting given that she has no concrete knowledge of said attitude, and that I have learned a valuable lesson about people’s true character—particularly hers. We ended the conversation on an extremely awkward, tense note and I dropped to the living room sofa completely flabbergasted, phone still in hand. What the hell just happened here? Absentmindedly, I reached up to twirl my long hair around my fingers—a nervous habit—but realized that as of four days prior, I didn’t have any hair to play with. Worry not, morality police: I instantly chastised myself that I’m NOT supposed to feel self pity, remember? GEEEEEEZ…..how much more sympathy should I expect from…..myself? Sorry, Tori. Instead of mourning the loss of my hair I will rub my bald head out of sheer pretention and smugly proclaim “HA! I bet you can’t count your skull bumps.”
I should explain something about myself. I was always a tenacious, obstinately stubborn child. I was born 2 months premature and fought my way to health for the first five years; in and out of the hospital and fighting every strain of virus along the way. I was also what some would euphemistically deem a challenge to raise. When I was in trouble, and that was usually the case, I was sent to the corner or to my room, the car was pulled over, or I was grounded more weekends than not and frequently lectured and/or yelled at. My response to each disciplinary action? “Can’t make me cry.” I’m not kidding. At three years old my parents would summon me from solitary confinement after breaking a lamp and then lying about it, and ask if I had thought about what I’d done. “What do you have to say for yourself?” or “Are you ready to apologize and explain what you did wrong?”
With trembling lip and shaky voice: “Can’t make me cry.”
That’s how I felt when Tori de-friended me. I didn’t crawl into bed and weep out of self-pity, nor did I pull out my sorority composite and poke holes into her eyes and draw devil horns atop her brazen head. Instead, I sat on the couch in total silence and wondered, for about 10 minutes, what I was supposed to do with this new development in my life. So, I did what any obstinately stubborn child does: I deleted her from my e-mail, cell phone, IM list, and Myspace friends. Not out of anger but because it hurt too much to see her name over and over again during my daily techno-geek activities. A few minutes later, Tori’s phone number appeared on my caller ID but I opted not to answer. Her message was so endearing: “Hey, it’s me. There are a few things I still didn’t get to say so call me back later. Bye.” Oh yeah…allow me to assist you in finishing me off. I haven’t been kicked enough....here’s a bullseye to tape to my forehead. ENJOY!!!
Later that night, I received several phone calls from aforementioned Tori-taboo sorority sisters inquiring about how I was feeling. I took that opportunity to explain what had happened—you can take a girl out of the sorority house but you can’t take the sorority house out of the girl—and relished their responses. I love that one of the witty, sarcastic girls said, “Sarah, if you’re trying to get me to feel sorry for you it won’t work. We’re just not that kind of friends.” (Thank you for making me laugh, CS!!) During that time, Tori called in and left another voicemail stating that she is sending me an e-mail to explain what she meant when she told me to “get over myself” and that our friendship is “not like that.” I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into some juicy reading. A few hours and several glasses of wine later, it arrived: What I like to affectionately call “The Breakup Letter.”
After we got off the phone, I realized that I should not have given you the half-excuse/half-truth of "different types of friends". I was trying to maintain some kind of friendship with you, since I thought you may need as many as possible during this time in your life, but it seems that you really don't want mine, so at least I could have given a completely honest explanation and not empty words.
The past several months, I have felt that our lives were going in different directions and that maybe we were growing into different people. Sometimes friends drift apart and then they come back together after a while. So while life has kept me busy, I've also kept a bit of a distance. I should have said something months ago, but thought with the actual physical distance between us, time would take its course and there was no need to abruptly end a long friendship. (Which is what I was trying to avoid.)
--And my personal favorite, uber-condescending golden nugget--
I wish you all the best. I hope that after you have battled all of this you find yourself and the security in who you are. I hope all of your emptiness is filled and you can be at peace with yourself.
And that, my friends, is how two straight people break-up from a 10-year friendship.
I continued to get ready for the party that almost wasn’t, considering that almost no one could make it since A) I gave one official weeks notice and B) unbeknownst to me at the time I chose a holiday weekend when most couples decided to take advantage of their Columbus Day Monday off to get the hell out of dodge. Most of my guest list was composed of family in Houston and Dallas (about 10 people), friends in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin (about 15 people) and scattered friends in San Antonio (one of which took his young kids to the lake for the weekend, one whose grandmother died on Friday night, one who was committed to a Team in Training event as the team sponsor, and a few who were hosting baby or wedding showers and in Saturday evening weddings). Instead of cancelling, I decided to party on in the spirit of all those who could not attend, which of course meant drinking on their behalf as well.
In maintaining the theme of “find out who your friends are,” here is a friendly FYI: For those of you who don’t know: the host of all Evite invitations can see the date and time you open the invitation. Sooooo……for the three of you who opened and read the invitation and then later said that you didn’t receive it (and I’m not buying any “it must have gotten to someone else” excuses because I’ve used that one before knowing any better) OR just didn’t respond whatsoever, be careful next time you open any Evites. Having said that, I am not offended by that white lie considering I just admitted to having done that myself….instead, I find it somewhat amusing. Most people hosting a party obsess over the guest list and, thus, check the RSVP responses every 30 minutes. Remember that, courtesy of moi.
Stay tuned….interesting screw cancer story on deck.