“She’s lying about me.”

“She hurt my feelings.”

“She’s being mean.”

Any of these statements could’ve been uttered by my eight-year-old daughter; and, to be sure, they have, on many occasions. But instead of half-listening while plunging wrinkled fingers back into the kitchen sink, my husband was the one listening. He, too, unsurprisingly, was deep into a pile of dishes. I perched myself up on the counter, sputtering out the words. Words I haven’t spoken in years. Words that felt fake, and bizarre, and—honestly?—a little embarrassing.

“I just don’t understand,” I repeated over and over again. 

The death of a friendship is never easy. It tends to be gradual, though. At least at this point in my life. Sometimes it’s conflicting values or mismatched personalitites. Sometimes it’s distance, a thing with which we military spouses are all too familiar. But it’s rarely spectacular. It’s never fireworks. 

We’ve long since grown out of such childish drama, haven’t we?

Haven’t we?

And yet, there I sat, feet smacking the cupboards like a little girl watching my Mom bake cookies. And that’s exactly what I felt like: a little girl. Small, confused, caught up in events larger than myself. 

It was unfamiliar territory, to be sure.

I can’t remember the last time I felt the wind knocked out of me in such a way. I wondered how I could’ve been so blind for so long. Even now, long after the shock has worn off, there are moments when my stomach drops as if I’ve peaked the crest of a rollercoaster and can feel the earth splitting open beneath my feet. 

And it hurts.

No matter how strong I tell myself I’ve become, or how thick a skin I’ve grown, each new realization cuts and twists. I’m no Super Woman – just a mere human, after all. While friendships sometimes end, it’s rare to discover that they were never real to begin with. And that, ankles rubbing raw against kitchen counters, was where I found myself as my husband offered his ear amidst the dishes. 

Hearing the words spoken aloud, I instinctively shuddered. This was not me. This was drama, and I hate drama. 

At the same time, I was frustrated with myself for becoming a cliche, for being a woman upset with another woman. But the betrayal was real, the likes of which no amount of coffee dates could mend. I knew it was more important to face my fear of being labeled “dramatic” than to continue to subject myself to toxicity.

It was one good choice in a dark moment.

But all moments come to an end, and the next dawned brighter. I found it in old friends who heard despair rather than drama, weariness rather than cattiness. I recognized that one negative person doesn’t negate all the positive people surrounding me. And I heard a pattern amidst the voices of support: We hear you. Your pain is valid.

Friends, the details of this lost friendship will probably exist in my brain for quite some time, but the perfect unison of those supportive voices – I can promise you – will outlast it, for sure. In that validation, I found not just encouragement, but insight. I realized that I don’t always extend such support to people I love the most.

How many times have I glanced backward at a pouting lip, telling me:

“She’s lying about me.”

“She hurt my feelings.”

“She’s being mean.”

And how many times have I brushed it off with a dismissive:

“Don’t let it bother you.”

“Just ignore it.”

“Are you being kind?”

woman and mom consoling one another
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

What if this had been my husband’s reaction that night? What if he had offered to me that same flippancy? Who am I to extend it to my children, however unintentionally? 

I like to think we talk about feelings in our family, and that we address serious difficulties with compassion and patience. But I’m only human, remember? Sometimes my ears are already filled with the flowing water of the faucet, my hands too sudsed up to fully focus. I know you’ve been there, too. 

The betrayal I felt came on the heels of a life lived all around the globe. But my kids? Their life, more or less, begins and ends on our block. How their hearts must ache when a friend steals their piece of chalk or chooses a different playmate. And how their hearts must break when I dismiss it as trivial or less important than the dishes I’m scrubbing. The death of a friendship is no less painful for them than it is for me.

I see it clearly now: everybody hurts and it’s always valid. Full stop. 

The truth is, gossip girls (and boys) don’t disappear with the flip of a graduation tassel. Pretending otherwise is setting our kids up for pain. 

But there is also real goodness in the world full of wonderful people. So while my bad experience might’ve been enough to make someone else close off – no more FRG meetings, no more PTSA, no more neighborhood bonfires because it’s all so temporary and ladies can be so dramatic, amirite?!? – I choose to keep my heart open.

Pain sucks.

Loss sucks.

But we’ve all felt those emotions from the time we kicked the cupboards watching our mamas make chocolate-chip cookies. 

I’m just grateful that these days, I have a good man lending his whole ear while loading the dishwasher; and I will strive to emulate that example each time a pouty lip interrupts my chores.  There’s no way to tell what might cause one’s heart to drop like a rollercoaster at high speed. All I know is that my role as a mama is to catch it, no matter what.