Friday, December 05, 2008

Go back to high school

SO, once again I have promised to write about something and I'm not going to. Yet. I will have to make a list and work through it all one day. I DO want to write about diving, I DO want to write about visiting the zoo yesterday and seeing the monkeys again and playing with a lemur. And back in time I still need to write about the desert trip and the bush pig bathtub guy and the farmers wife with her leaf blower.

But for now, something is bothering me.

I have a friend from high school. Most of the people I spent time with back then I have lost touch with and, thanks to Facebook I chat to one or two of them from time to time, but that's about it. Partly because high school was not a happy time in my life by any definition of the term, and partly because I find that if I do see them we have nothing to talk about. I'm away a lot and so when I'm around I really try to make an effort to be a good friend, but that means (as nasty as it sounds) prioritising people. I can't get my work done and still see all the people I care about. I can barely cope with getting my work done and seeing the friends I would classify as 'close' plus the people I am in the "getting to know" phase with who I really do want to get to know better.

I used to be a good friend, I never forgot birthdays, I kept up to date with how everyone was, I drank so much coffee with various people that my mild liking for coffee developed into a full-blown addiction. But not anymore.

So back to the point. This girl is... difficult. We were friends through school because we did a lot of extracurriculars together. We were at a fancy private school where I didn't fit into the traditional mould of "long blonde hair and eight layers of makeup" and neither did she. She went off on a weird pagan phase and I was into punk rock and metal and would have dyed my hair blue if a)my parents and b) school regulations would allow it. We were both from normal families which had morals and values rather than piles and piles of money and as such we found that we could relate to each other.

But after school things changed. I went to university and on my first day, in my first lecture I found an empty seat and shyly asked if I could sit there, and the girl who moved her bag out of the way became one of my closest friends. And so it continued. I'm not saying that university was a social cakewalk... but I was never alone or unhappy and I have been blessed with some of the most incredible people who I can call my friends.

This girl (who I will call Susie for anonymity and because I can't think of a better name) had a similar atmosphere. I know some people from her classes and I like them all. They're all lovely, sweet, friendly people. And yet by the end of a four-year degree, she had no friends in the world except for me and her next-door neighbour. We went of field trips for our studies, I went to a lot more than she did, and I survived everything from sharing a 1-person hut with 6 other people to showering in shoes because of a spider invasion, to sharing 2 showers with 60 other people and getting up to shower at 3am to avoid the queue, only to find a queue because everyone else had had the same thoughts. And those trips are among the happiest memories I have. You learn to appreciate the awfulness of a situation for it's humour and for the weirdness of choosing a career where getting into the shower to open the door to get out of the bathroom while trying to keep your socks dry in subzero temperatures can be considered normal. And through it all you bond as a group in a way that I've never known in any other situation.

She went on her first trip and phoned me every day to complain because the bath was dirty (first rule of fieldtrips: DO NOT use the bath! Shower if you can, otherwise find some extra-strength disinfectant first!). She made no friends on that trip. One of my brother's closest friends and a girlfriend who went to the same place, and she told me that she'd never had more fun...

I tried to prompt her into a more positive outlook. I like to whine myself, but usually purely for the drama of it, but I tried to explain that she would have more fun if she tried just a little bit... But it didn't work. As the years passed it got harder and harder for me to spend time with her. We really have nothing to talk about. I got tired of the phone calls which, as if scripted always go as follows:

me: "Hello?"
Susie: "Hi, is that Helen?"
me: "yes."
Susie:" It's Susie, how are you?"
me: "I've got a leg in traction and I haven't slept for 3 days, but otherwise everything's awesome! how are you?" (obviously the injuries change between calls)
Susie: "*sigh*" and then a half-hour rant about how awful her life is and how cute her dog is and how he sat when she told him to, but the he wanted his rawhide bone. Not the rawhide bone that you get from the petshop down the road from her, he only likes the rawhide bones from the market... and so on.

I know that her life is, to all extents and purposes, pretty empty, but at the same time every call got a little bit more draining until I just couldn't. So sometimes when she called I wouldn't answer and I would wait until I had a bit cup of coffee and I would listen to her voicemail. And then I would call back, or send a message or something and we'd invariably end up having coffee or something where I'd end up having to hear all about her dog again.

The kicker for me was when she got her name changed (officially) because she didn't like correcting people's pronunciation. It was the equivalent of doing all the paperwork to change her name from "Susan" to "Susie." She's adopted, and her parents waited for over 2 years to get her, and they picked out her name really carefully and they love her to bits. I I felt like she was kicking them in the face for it.

And so, over the past 6 years our friendship has kind of deteriorated and I feel guilty, but I'm just not around enough to spend lots of time with her, and I know that every time she calls and I'm out of town she feels like I'm avoiding her, but there's nothing I can do!

So anyway. She called about a week ago while I was having a narcoleptic episode and didn't leave a message. I would have answered it too, but - as anyone who knows me during nap time will tell you, it would take a small earthquake to wake me and my ring tone isn't that loud. I didn't call back because I figured if she hadn't left a message it was because she would call back. Then the conference and diving happened and I hadn't had time to sit still since then when I woke to this message this morning:

I just want to say that I won't bother u with phone calls or smses anymore since u never answer them. Good luck with everything. Our friendship was great while it lasted. Susie"

And now I don't know what to do. I know she's lonely, but I don't know if I should respond, or leave her to her sulking. And if I respond what do I say? I feel like I'm 15 all over again!


SuvvyGirl said...

I have a friend that annoys me in a similar way. She thinks that phones only seem to work one way and gets pissed when I don't get her psychic vibes to call her. And the world revolves around her clingy sons nap time.

This girl is just trying to guilt you and cause some drama in her life. If you still want any form of contact with her write her, sit her down, call her and explain that you don't always have the time or the memory to return calls/messages and that she's not the only sufferer out of your friends. She accepts it great, if not her loss. And look at it the same way if you really don't want to keep talking to her. Friend drama is the worst kind.

Kath Lockett said...

I had (note the past tense) a friend who was very similar - it was as though as our lives progressed, her world remained smaller and mine (like most people's) got larger, with more priorities and challenges.

My calls got less frequent and eventually so did hers. If I were you, I'd delete the SMS and move on - there's not much else you can do for her now; it's now up to her to decide how she's going to live her life and what attitude and determination she'll bring to it.

Helen said...

Thanks so much guys! It's awesome to know that I wasn't completely overreacting!