Posted by: Kate | May 14, 2008

The Invitation

The thick envelope sits on my coffee table, a quiet but insistent reminder of a task undone.  It wouldn’t even be an arduous chore: a simple check next to the “With Regrets” line, bundle it all into the return envelop, and walk it across the street to the mailbox.  And yet it remains neglected, nagging at the back of my consciousness.

The invitation is for a wedding, to be held in Connecticut.  We can’t attend, because it’s the day we drop Emily off at summer camp.  Even if I didn’t have concerns about how that will impact me, I wouldn’t head out of state immediately after depositing my child with strangers.  The decision had been made for us, months before the invitation appeared in my mailbox.

And yet I have struggled with it.  The groom-to-be is a total stranger to me, someone I have never laid eyes upon in my life.  The bride-to-be was once a friend, with all of the intensity and hilarity that comes with a high school friendship.  A best friend. 

We joked that we shared a brain cell.  We were the ones who would laugh at each other’s stories before they were anywhere near the punchline.  We had identical, if slightly macabre, suggestions for a Social Studies class field trip, several hours apart and with no contact in between (“The cemetary!”).  We weren’t allowed to play charades after the Rocky and Bullwinkle incident, the time when she drew the card and stood thinking about it, and I blurted out the answer from across the room before she’d moved.

She knew, when no one else knew, about my secret trauma.  She knew about my father’s emotional abuse.  She knew about the half-hearted suicide attempts, unfinished only because I couldn’t care enough to really try. 

I left high school a year early, to flee the memories and pressures of home and the surrounding areas, to escape the resentment of another classmate who decided that my refusal, my inability, to talk about my experiences meant that I was lying.  I could not have survived another year of the whispered accusations and offended doubts.  I was terrified that I would end up, once again, walking 15 miles home after a chorus cnocert because my ride for the night had been told, by that other classmate, that former friend, that I was a slut and a liar and he could get whatever he wanted from me.  I was more terrified that next time I wouldn’t be able to get out of the car and walk home.

So I went away to school, and this best friend of mine became close with the other classmates.  They formed a club, with nicknames, and I knew that even if I had stayed behind, I never would have been welcomed.  She never openly accused me, never showed any doubts to me, but she changed.  I moved away, but she pulled farther away from me.  Became one of them. 

I coped, made new friends, went on with my life.  We continued a correspondance, one that grew increasingly sporadic after a year or two.  By the time I had graduated and was figuring out how to live healthier, how to pull away from the self-loathing and misery that I had perfected through my adolescence, we were effectively out of touch.  By the time I had my daughter, became more stable, found contentment, I had only one, outdated email address for her.  We met once, in 1999, to wander the streets of Salem, MA, for the Halloween revelry, but parted ways early and awkwardly and haven’t reconnected since.  I sent her a silly package, of decades-old inside jokes, for her 30th birthday, and after an appropriately tongue-in-cheek thank-you note, the silence settled in again.

Eight years after our last meeting, at my old email address that I only use now for online registrations and mailing lists, I had a note from her.  She wanted my physical address, to send out wedding invitations.  I sent it willingly enough, along with a note: “Why?”  Not out of bitterness or distate, just simple confusion.  Why now, after so many years of silence?  If I passed her on the street, I wouldn’t necessarily recognize her, particularly after several years’ practice as a therapist and assessor have created the necessary skill of deliberate distance; to protect my clients’ privacy I have to wait for them to acknowledge me, and can walk right by without a glimmer of recognition if they choose not to approach me.  So why now?  Why me?

She wrote back that she was organizing her wedding reception, and her fiance has a large family.  To balance, she was inviting anyone who had been significant in her life, even if the relationships weren’t current.  Besides, she wrote, I was once her closest friend.

I don’t know if I would have attended her wedding, in the absence of other commitments.  I don’t know if I want to reignite an old friendship, or even just attend a ceremony for the sake of what was.  My friendship with her was important and special, but it also marked one of the first times I felt let down and abandoned, as though she could have stood up for me but instead chose an easier route.  This has been a bit of a theme for me, this sense that I have to stand up for myself because other people, even those I care deeply about and who care deeply for me, frequently have not stepped up in times of crisis.  I’ve developed a good, solid sense of self-reliance because of it, but there’s also a tang of insecurity, a wish that I could step back and let someone else handle a crisis.  I know I have support and protection if I ask for it, but the damsel-in-distress in the recesses of my brain has always wished for a white knight, an unsought protector.

This is not her fault, of course.  She was an adolescent, herself, and peer pressure is heady, heavy stuff.  It was just the start of a trend in my own life, one that I continue to struggle to cast in a more positive, look-how-strong-I-can-be light.

I want to be able to be there for her wedding, but I also want to avoid so much about that time in my life.  I don’t want to share a table with other classmates who may have been invited.  I don’t want to be reminded of how brittle and breakable I was. 

And I won’t.  I can’t go, and I have no guilt about this.  Just ruminations and memories, whether I want them or not.


  1. Doesn’t sound like she is trying to reconnect or reestablish the friendship. Almost sounds like she is trying to show her in-laws how popular she is. Or something.
    Have a great time that day with Emily.

  2. Paul is right – sounds more like a way of keeping score with her in-laws than a genuine, heartfelt invitation.
    I’ve had that friend. I feel no regrets whatsoever that I no longer know her.

  3. I also totally understand wanting someone else to take over in a crisis. I too would love to hand i over and just watch it all go by, alas we are the ones left to be the rescuers…in motherhood alone that puts us in the position. You have come a long way and I don’t think you need her wedding to prove it to anyone. You shouldn’t be a tally on a wedding scorcard – your so much more than that.
    Don’t you wish you didn’t NEED to become so strong to survive?

  4. Tick the box. You don’t need to be reminded of past misdemeanours even if there was once a friendship in between. Besides, weddings when you’re a distant friend are tedious . . . if she wants to rekindle the friendship she should do it one on one, now that would test her sincerity.

  5. Hi Kate,
    I’m way too old to be getting wedding invitations from HS friends, but I completely relate to that envelope sitting there, with me unable to say the final “no”.

    Old friendships – those that are still going and those we leave behind – are so complicated and bittersweet, even under the best of circumstances.

    Thanks for sharing this; it was hard to read but lovely at the same time.

  6. hmmm. I’ll go with Ann.

  7. People grow and change and you two have grown apart. You have other obligations, so check the “sorry” box and send a nice gift, if you feel it’s necessary or just a card with congrats. Or not… (depending on whether you want to open the channels for a re-connection later). Otherwise, it sounds like you have dealt with those feelings and issues and moved on splendidly.

  8. I kind of think weddings are a drag anyway, unless they’re your own. But that’s me.

    My once closest friend called me last fall because she was running for local public office in my old hometown and wanted my mom’s vote. We made a date for coffee because I was feeling vulnerable that day, but she cancelled short notice and I haven’t heard from her since. The thing is, you can’t go back…to innocence, to friendships before the hurt, or even to your old sense of self. None of it would be the same. But your self now, the woman you are today, is not only strong but she is kind and caring and thoughtful and accomplished both professionally and personally. You can’t go back because you don’t need to: you are more than enough right now and you don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

    Be there for Miss Emily, and then do a little happy dance that we never have to go back to high school (thank god).

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