My Break Ups


In the last seven years, I have lost five friends. They are very much alive but they don’t want to see me.

The trouble is they remain a vivid part of me.  I cannot not  think of them. That is how much they once meant to me. The first to depart I knew for about fifteen years. The next was newer—three years. Followed was a great one: a niece I considered a daughter—thirty-two years. And then there was the great divide, a two, three, year relationship that factored in the departure of one through four.

Number five was the capper.  Let’s call her Grace, for that was what she was from 2000 to 2012. There wasn’t anything we didn’t discuss or go through together, starting with marital discord, serious illnesses, children and siblings, our lost youth, even decorating disasters. One ordinary day at lunch she said I crossed a line about something we had crossed many times before.  Just like that, the day became historic.

One way or another, these break-ups were caused by my breakdown.  Beginning in 2005, I could no longer catch my breath. I had no conscious idea what I was doing, except for the whirl it created around me. Eventually, I  became paralyzed, unable to focus, to move, wishing only a very swift and merciful release.  The thing about my breakdown was that, as these things go, it was a quiet affair.  A repressed Irish heritage is good for something.  None of my friends and family guessed the nature of my increasing strangeness.  The first two friends and my niece considered my erratic stumbling in the worse possible way.  It was easier for them to walk away from me than to sort through my trail of debris.  Swept up in the vortex of my break-down, the fourth blindly went along with its initial ecstatic nature and backed out much too later.

Grace was different.  She heard the cracks my shell was making and sympathized because she had done the same.  She gave me a secure space to rest.  She made me laugh hysterical about our mutual oddness. “It’s hard being us,” we said all the time and that would be enough to acknowledge the pain as well as the necessary acceptance to begin gluing myself together again.

When we broke up, Grace was changing many things in her life. I think I reminded her too much of what she needed to move past. For weeks after that lunch, I tried in increasing despair to talk to her. When she finally called me back to say she could no longer be my friend, she was actually kind about it, or as kind as one can be when breaking another’s heart.  A measure of how good she had been for me and her effectiveness in teaching me how to accept my shattered self, was that my mourning for her has given me this understanding of her own needs.

But good Lord do I miss her.  How I miss the others, too.  Even when I was spitting angry at their departure, I longed for them. I’m pass that now and I often consider texting them, reaching out to their Facebook/LinkenIn sites. I examine Instantgram where I see them with their current friends, lovers and family. A few have blogs. I mull over just slipping them an innocent “Hello! How are you? ;)”

I catch myself just in time because I realize that to them I am probably just a dim memory troubling the edges of their consciences. I appreciate that and remain gone.  I make do with knowing their presence in my life changed me as much as my breakdown did by giving me a deeper respect for resilience and forgiveness.

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pat willard

Grew up in Philadelphia. Live in Brooklyn. Written four books best described as about memory and cultural history, food and some pretty good recipes. Works in progress may be viewed at

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