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I Lost a Friend Yesterday

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Call me Midiane.

I had met her through mutual friends about a year ago. She was an attractive British girl with a sense of humour that I missed here in South Africa, and we had hit it off and kept in regular touch. Soon, she was a part of my daily IM marathon conversations during work. And she became privy to the details of my romantic quests, failed attempts at dating, and thought experiments of love. She knew about the former fiancee-to-be. She had helped me navigate the difficult road through recovery and rehabilitation.

We didn't see each other much, as she was married and I was busy with my own life. But that changed when I moved out of my family home and into my own flat. We were suddenly neighbours, if separated by a few more roads than usual. We talked more. We laughed more. And then she confided in me about some concerns she was having in her own life. She confided. I listened. She talked some more. I made more tea and more time online to listen.

I knew about her concerns at her last job and the daily struggles she had to get through. I was glad to help in any way. She was a good friend, who understood my own troubles at home at the time. She had listened and then some.

It seemed only natural that we could now work together on a professional level. And that we could do. But she knew of my recent fiascos in my film business and how I had failed to manage the client relationships in any constructive way. She knew.

I completed the first part of her brief. She was happy about it, she actually loved it. Her eyes lit up with visions of opportunity and success. It was sublime seeing a client happy.

But I choked on the next part. I had missed a few deadlines for this part and she was understanding, yet not afraid to give me a quiet, firm warning. I handled it, she moved on. We were still friends.

But I did say I choked. I woke up, my eyes crumbling from fatigue and anxiety, and I went to work. And I didn't attend the most important meeting, where I was to present the deliverable. And I didn't pick up the calls. And I didn't answer the text message.

I knew she would be angry, fuming, bilious. But I had a naive, presumptuous hope that it would blow over after a long time and we could pick up the friendship again, however difficult and awkward it would inevitably be. That hope compelled me to write her an email a few days ago. I made sure it wasn't dramatic or preachy or self-effacing. Just an "I messed up" email, an "I wanna work it out" email.

I didn't hear back from her and prepared myself for the beginnings of loss: the silence, the unknown, and the suspended sense of resolution. But yesterday, the email came. A sparse creation at twelve words, it echoed more than loss. It echoed: you screwed me over and now I'm cold.

How do I know that it echoed all that? Because the email used the same seven words I had used on a unprofessional freelancer in my film company. I had told her about it, him, and the email, and she had commented on how cold it must have felt to receive.

I had never used those words on her and never planned on doing so. She was a friend I had seriously planned on carrying into my future, regardless of how uncertain that is. So, I could never say that I got what I deserved, or what goes around comes around. Doesn't that apply when you screw that person over – in this case She?

But on another level of human interaction, no situation is isolated from another, in that people will borrow language and use it in their own way to communicate their most hurt states. In a twist, her borrowing my line is humbling. But it is also doubly painful for me. When your own words are used on you, not in revenge or out of spite, but in the exact same vein as you had used them, you hurt. You know exactly where it comes from and you know exactly where it's supposed to be lodged.

So, what started out as the hallmark signs of loss – I the innocent, they the inscrutable offender – ended up as me the guilty, them the vocal innocent. I've lost friends through the end of romantic relationships, but this is different. This is me becoming someone I never wanted to be, but ultimately would have become anyway because I never mitigated the possibility.

Years ago, when I was wasting away in loneliness and depression in Oxford, I struggled with God and the Christian idea of the Incarnation. I raged for days and nights, feeling sorry for myself about people who screwed me over for no reason, wondering why Christ wanted those self-righteous fucks in his fold. I was the ruined byproduct of church politics. I am the very embodiment of the Incarnation in that I accept people the way they are and I go down to their level.

Having never vocalized these sentiments, it's pure horror reading them.

But you know what? Given the same conditions, I am really no different than those people I despised back then. I'm no longer a broken mess. I'm a fairly successful guy in my late 20s with a lot going on. I couldn't take the heat on the day of the meeting with Her, so I did the normal thing and ducked. And hid. And stayed away until I got myself in a state to be able to confront Her and the situation again. This is the new loss for me, loss where I'm the perpetrator against well-meaning people who end up wanting to have nothing to do with me. This is not me. I'm the one people screw over. I'm the one people leave for no reason. This is not how it's supposed to be, but this is the new loss. Loss only for me because in society's terms, this is you the asshole, Midiane.

But life doesn't work like that, especially with people who already have reservations about you. I got an email from Her business partner within a day or two of the missed meeting. I didn't read it until two or three weeks later. But it said what would be expected: the project is off and you will be paid for whatever you completed. You were unprofessional and rude, and treated us like garbage.

It's another horror as I grow up and as I come to terms with the fact that I will never speak to Her again in any semblance of friendship. I lost a friend yesterday, but really I lost her on the day I didn't show up for the meeting and the days after, when I escaped from her.

You can't really end a post like this in any shade of positivity. So here…it ends.

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About Mina Demian

  • It’s a very human story, the failures, the mistakes, the grief of the loss (I think the loss of a friend can hurt more than the loss of a romantic relationship).

    The positive ending is this: you will never make that mistake again!

    A huge lesson for me early in my career was to **immediately** own up to mistakes (to clients, to my boss, to my colleagues) since avoidance, even in the form of well-meaning attempts to fix the mistake, only makes it worse. Of course, the lesson applies in our personal lives as well.

    I’m sorry you had to go through heartbreak to get there, but the outcome is a better you.

    (Oh, and if it were me, I would send her this story with an apology and an assurance that you’ve learned your lesson. It won’t fix the friendship, but it will be honest acknowledgement of your failings.)

    Be well.

  • What’s interesting to me is the question of how deep your realization goes. Acknowledging failure is one thing, but how self-centered is it to say that you “did the normal thing and ducked?”

    It’s unclear — and you may simply not now, or be able to say — how much impact this incident has had on *her* life. You’ve lost a friend, but she may have lost a career.

    I once lamented about how badly I had screwed up various parts of my life, and thought I had arrived. It was only when I started to realized how badly I had screwed up various part of *others* lives that I realized how much I suck, though.

  • Catherine, thank you for your encouragement and kind support. It is much appreciated and cherished.

    You’re right; I’ll never make this mistake again. And as much as your advice is valid and sound, it’s not the right time. Her e-mail meant to stay away. Maybe in a while, I’ll send it. What do you think? Perhaps the iron is too hot right now…

    Phillip, maybe I didn’t understand your comment. I wouldn’t know how that’s self-centered.. it’s a statement. I ducked.

    You are right. You realise you suck more when you mess up others’ lives.

    Again, thanks both of you for your support.

  • Though flawed, you sound human, and remarkably smart. Your embarrassment will subside and there will be a better human on the other side of it.

  • Waiting for the iron to cool down is just another form of avoidance. I would say, “I respect your wishes and will stay away, but as a parting comment, I wanted to let you know that I learned my lesson and I’m deeply sorry it was at your expense.” Or something like that. Good luck.

  • Catherine, very wise.. I think I’ll do that.

    Joanne, I hope so too.

  • Update: sent the email with the link. Thanks again for your wise counsel. Look out for a new post this week.


  • hey all, new essay published last night. Check it out and leave your comments. Look forward to them.

  • Now this is what writing is all about…unabashed honesty, and putting it out there even though you may get some flak.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of people who didn’t keep their word, but again when I was younger I wasn’t always completely responsible either. In most instances, I only hurt myself.

    I firmly believe in karma. Most people take a much longer time to realize that the hurt they put out there comes back to them, but perhaps because you’d had it happen to you before, it was that much more clear.

    I agree: sending her the article is a good thing, even if you never hear back from her. It’s important to have closure, for her and for you.

    And I always find that writing about things helps me sort them out, learn from them, put it out there for others to read and respond to. It’s always a learning experience for me.

    Kudos…keep up the good work.

  • uni

    I’ve learned that relationships that end do so for a reason, and its not always a case of what is broken can never be mended.