Good friends are hard to find. There is one in particular I’d like to share with you, though. Her name is Carmen.
Carmen and I met in a college marketing class in Rochester, NY. It wasn’t long before she and I were joined at the hip. I taught her how to drive standard, we spent days at the beach with her beautiful daughter who was only 2(ish) at the time, driving around and singing whatever big hair songs were on the radio, and meeting every Thursday night to watch ER. Our parents loved us!
I loved Carmen, her spirit…her. I knew that when she looked at me that she loved me, and probably would never cease to love me even if I were a serial killer. We never dated, we had a couple sexual tension moments back then, but we were just really the very best of friends. Even if the notion had come up, we both had been involved with other people for the most part continually throughout our time in Rochester together.
Carmen’s daughter Jody was a key player for me. Jody was about 1 or 2 years old. I was always so happy to sit with her when Carmen would go on dates. She called me Mr. Steve. When she would fall asleep on my chest, she felt like family.
After about five years the time came for me to move to Denver. I had planned everything for a year, being completely transparent with everyone in my circle about what I was doing and why. I wanted a friend to ride shotgun in my moving truck drive to Chicago, where I would meet up with my future wife and mother of my future son and we’d drive the rest of the way together, sending my first road partner back to Rochester by plane. Carmen agreed, and I couldn’t have been happier. I would get to spend major bonding time and very important alone time with one of my best friends! Everything was ready!
The night before I was to leave, Carmen called me. She was backing out. I don’t remember her reasons, but I was devastated. As it turned out, I convinced my recently retired dad to ride with me, and that was an amazing experience which I’ll save for a different post.
I’m a very forgiving person, and Carmen was still one of my loved ones and I wouldn’t hold this against her.
…and now for a montage…
Fast forward a year – I took my (still) future wife to Rochester with me to attend Carmen’s wedding to the man she’d been with consistently during most of our friendship. I remember dancing like a fool with her family at the reception.
Fast forward another year – Carmen calls me to tell me she is suffering from stage 4 cancer. Again, I was a dripping sponge of tears and our long distance relationship had more frequent calls. She told me how the Chemo was going, and how she was keeping this all important information from her family (which was really bizarre to me). Apparently, I was her only support network. Time passed.
Fast forward another year – My future wife and I are going back to Rochester again, this time for OUR wedding. Carmen did not attend (I’m certain she had a great excuse).
Through these early years of her marriage she shared with me how her husband would verbally and physically abuse her. It was upsetting to say the least. I could never understand why she would share these travesties in her life yet with nobody else but me.
Finally, they divorced and HE got full custody of the two girls they had together. She told me he had a great lawyer and she couldn’t afford one.
In 2013, with our conversations growing more infrequent, Carmen calls me and tells me how things are amazing! She says she is exceeding sales expectations at work, is trying to find space to open her own greeting card store, she’s in remission, and is running 5 miles every day! She had met a guy and things were just looking up and up! I was so very happy for her!
In 2014, she tells me how she has somehow landed herself in another abusive relationship, followed by another call saying how her cancer had returned and she doesn’t have very long to live. Now I am taking action! I bought a plane ticket for Rochester, and I was going alone so that there would be no distraction for the connection between Carmen and I that I needed to focus on. The flight was for a couple months out. She said she felt fine at the moment, and as such, we had been talking about going running together, cooking healthy meals, and really just spending warm cozy friendship time together. I was unsettled, yet happy and excited to be there for her!
Carmen’s live-in relationship being what it was, I had made arrangements to stay with another of my close friends, and I would use her place as my home-base, and I am eternally thankful for her kindness through what was about to unfold. For without her generosity, I might have been homeless for a couple nights while I sorted through my emotional confusion.
I was to meet with Carmen on my first full day in Rochester. I woke up went shopping with my friend and had been exchanging texts with Carmen about our dinner plans after she was to get out of work. 6pm rolled around and Carmen told me that there had been a suicide at the apartment complex she’d been running the front desk for and that she didn’t know when she’d be able to leave. After it had grown too late, we agreed, after what sounded like a traumatic day for her, to put it off until the next night. I went out on the town with my friend and things were cool. The next day (Saturday I think), I stayed back while my friend went off to do her own thing so that I’d be available for Carmen as she was to have Saturdays off. I sent her messages, called her multiple times, and never heard a thing from her. Now confused, spinning my own narrative of what might be happening with her, then my emotions finally morphing into anger and frustration as night fell. There was no reason she wouldn’t be in touch with me unless she’d been hospitalized by her cancer or her boyfriend.
Day 3, I was in action mode again, and I did as much research as I could to locate her address, and all I could find was the house she’d lived in when married and it was 8 miles away. When I woke up in the morning, I left on foot to track down my friend. While walking, through facebook, I had gotten ahold of her daughter. She was so excited to hear from me, and had not seemed to have any information about why Carmen wouldn’t be reaching out to me…suspicious. She too stopped communicating with me. It occurred to me that another couple of my old friends who are married lived very close by, and I called them. I told them what was happening and they dropped what they were doing to come pick me up and take me the rest of the way. We pulled into the driveway. With a great knot in my gut, I walked to the front door and I rang the doorbell. A pretty girl of about 10 years old (whom I recognized from FB pics) answered the door, and I asked for Carmen. John (her ex-husband) came to the door. John who was said to be abusive among many other things, greeted me with bewilderment. He was kind and gentle in his speech as I told him what I was experiencing. I asked if he knew anything that might help me find her. Perhaps out of privacy, he said he didn’t know where Carmen was living (which I thought odd with co-parenting logistics if there were any). Totally believable though given all that had transpired. I left, walked back to the minivan I had arrived in, and I was overcome with tears…tears of what I couldn’t even tell for there were so many things now running through my mind. I was coming to the understanding that I really didn’t know this person I had known as family for more nearly 20 years. My friends drove me back to home-base around 3pm. I’ve given up now, heart-broken, confused, angry, and alone.
Carmen called me that afternoon shortly after. She said she was on her way and sounded quite hectic. I tried to probe her for information and she was not forthcoming. I went out to the streetside to wait for her. She was driving quickly, and chucking a cigarette out the window as she pulled up. We exchanged an awkward hug and she asked me where I wanted to go. I didn’t care, I just wanted to know what was happening. She began driving in the direction of Lake Ontario and so I told her to just go to the beach where we’d spent so many hours in previous years, I’d hoped it would be peaceful so that she’d open up to me. On our way, she was trying her best to engage me in small talk, and I kept refocusing on her. Again, she was giving me superficial answers all the way through this hour and a half I spent with her. That was it…on day 3 in town out of 7, I spent an hour and a half with her. An hour and a half which brought no clarity to the mind-boggling strife I had been through on her behalf.
I was now questioning my entire relationship with her. Had she told me all the things she’d told me as some grand manipulation to bring us closer together? Does she really have cancer? How could her husband have custody if he was the abusive man that she said he was? I was now in mourning, and I went through a grieving process because she was then all but dead to me.
Fast forward 9 months…April, 2015. Carmen calls to get back in touch with me and to apologize for the events of my trip. I knew I’d hear from her again at some point, and I was ready. I let her say what she needed to, which still told me very little. Then I asked her to listen to me. I explained to her that I have more questions than I can count regarding our relationship and her life. That I would always love her because of what I know exists between us as a connection. I told her that until she comes to terms with her truth in a way that she can fill in all the blanks for me, that I was no longer willing to be in a relationship with her. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Maybe the hardest thing since my divorce.
I know this was long, and I thank you for sticking with it. The moral of this story is that regardless of who the people in our lives are, whether it be parents, friends, neighbors, or whoever, sometimes the healthiest relationship is the one that doesn’t exist. I have two close friends who had to do this with their parents, both for totally different reasons, and though it was challenging, it was totally the right move. We must surround ourselves with people who support our best selves. Life is too challenging to be hindered by those who say they love us yet dishonor us time after time.
Sometimes out of love, we must separate.