Goodbye Love

It’s been a year exactly, now, and so it is time to address or process or recognize that the best friend I lost on a cobblestone street in the Barcelona Gothic District, outside a bar with a tiny happy puppy and no patrons, save us, is gone forever and done and so here, I tell a ghost story, my least favorite type.

A year ago I asked her, “can we talk?” “What happened?” “What did I do?” And a year ago she asked for “time to process,” and a year has passed and I’m wondering, “now?” “Is it enough?” “Can we talk?” and now my words float like whispers on a haunted wind, unnoticed. I never wanted to be a ghost.

I didn’t so much meet her as stalk her, from a distance, as she was the first bisexual girl in my peer group and, from a distance, I watched her wield that power over boys and girls alike. Her piercings, lining her ears, and goth-phase chokers and black denim were a giant adolescent “fuck you” to our preppy highschool and, so, I was not surprised when she transferred out of my orbit and out of reach, across town to the “rougher” highschool where she felt she’d fit in. My crush, then, Austin, was heartbroken at his loss of his crush, then, her. And so I was allowed him briefly in her absence. It’s impossible to be found, after all, when her glow is a spotlight leaving everyone else dull and shadowed. Then. Now. She had always had a devilish shine.

I finally found myself close to her and forced my friendship on her as a young mother when my work took me to her town and, already social media friends, I contacted her to book a haircut and color. Initially she responded with delight and enthusiasm, “can’t wait to see you babe" and it was not until I was in her chair that I realized she had no recollection of how we’d met or if we had. Embarrassed, I didn’t really ever attempt to remind her of our shared past (we dated more than one shared boy and held more than one shared girl) but let her believe whatever she told herself about our acquaintance. The way I handed her power of the narrative then, and now, is exemplary of our whole friendship. She who writes the story tells the tale, as she wants. And, so, here, do I.

That first three hours in her stylist chair, we connected on one hundred million things. I learned of her girlfriend, then struggling into sobriety, and of her own concern that “without alcohol she’s stable but boring.” We talked of my marriage, faltering and difficult in the wake of three close-born babies and no real vision. “What you need is a wife!” she laughed. “I do.” and I took her then, in some way, to be mine.

Our first real adult conversation was a spillover of all of the things I’d wanted to tell her as I’d grown up and out of shy conservatism and into a wider and more open view of intimacy and sex and belief and community. We talked endlessly about parenting — how I’d already begun conversations with my elementary aged boys about consent and feminism and sex as pleasure and sex as connection and marriage contracts and respect and tolerance and kindness and celebration of others' expression and the more I talked to her the more I imagined the parent I wanted to be because more than anything I wanted her to be mine enough to be by my side as I raised them in this way.

And she was. For the next five years she spent holidays in my home, hours in my heart. Probably the only South Dakota family to make mimosas and decorate phallic shaped Penismas cookies at Christmas with my group of young boys, we laughed through their jokes and wondering as we built a world where no question was disallowed and no expression shamed. We traveled together. Miami. Denver. Nashville. Berkeley. Spain. (Spain 😭) In each trip she and I collected new friends in bartenders and museum curators and organizational heads and internationally touring musicians and the lesbian couple we sat next to at a restaurant one election night in 2016 when the whole world was about to teeter and shift and somehow she and I would cling to the edges and make the safety. When we weren’t camping/kayaking/modeling/tattooing/traveling/concert-going/drinking together we were building brands and businesses. I spent hours hand drawing and vectorizing the logo she was quick to tattoo on her shoulder and that, eventually, I put on the back of my own arm. I cannot tell you how many nights we talked and cried on the phone for hours, half solving the world’s problems and half drowning in them — the four hundred miles that separated us made smaller by the monthly trips I found room in the budget and schedule to make sure took place.

When she couldn’t take the time off work, I attended her grandmother’s funeral, holding hands with her mother as we laid her mother to rest and I wasn’t a sister or a daughter but try to tell me I wasn’t a lover. Try to tell me I didn’t love her well.

I was the maid of honor at her wedding. I spent the night before curled on a hotel couch writing her vows with her. I spent the night before hoping that nothing would change while knowing that, as I delivered a passionate and not untrue speech at the reception, it would.

Her husband became my friend. Well, first he was my date to a concert, a lesbian friend of another lesbian. At the time, I too was captivated by this masculine woman who came into our circle. “What about A?” I had asked. What about her as a girlfriend, for my love? And then they started dating and got engaged and that masculine lesbian came out as transgender and my girl’s lesbian identity was shaken too.

Here I will honor how little I know, though I was in the room where it happened. I held tissues and hair back as she cried endlessly trying to figure out if love usurped identity — if there was room for both of them too. For both of them to feel whole. For both to be honored and seen and happy and I was there, draining surgical wounds and cleaning house when my girl’s now husband went through top surgery. I was there when they fought — both equally filling my DMs with words of conflict, both trusting me for the cure.

To say I loved this girl with my whole heart would be a lie. My whole heart, at many times, was tucked in the corner to allow hers to better shine. Her last name was celestial. Her whole being is.

Ok. Deep breath. I am trying to grieve but also to let go. It’s been a year of loss. A year of hurt. She’s stolen my art and my friends. She’s turned people against me, rejected my gifts, refused to attempt conversation, much less reconciliation. In a year’s time I’ve had a cancer scare and surgery myself, a dad’s cancer diagnosis, a mother’s remission, a brother’s arrest and criminal charges. I’ve fostered a teenager, embraced sobriety, become a writer, been elected to the Board of my local Equality Center, traveled to Asia and the Middle East, started running, cried. For a good part of the year she had blocked me on social media, inexplicably, and then perhaps drunkenly texted on occasion to let me know she missed me. When I attempted to engage, asked for a chance to talk it out, she ghosted me again and again. See? I try and tell myself how much better off I am without her. But nothing sparkles as much without her light.

At my birthday last year I threw myself a party in her hometown — so many of her friends had become mine. There, surrounded by my children and husband and her husband and our friends, she’d lashed out at me for communicating with a joint friend of ours, jealous or presenting as jealous, of our connection. Here was where I shrugged off her quick anger as an only child response but here also was where I first really understood that I was secondary, always, to her shine. My understanding of our love kept no records of wrong but when I counted back moments and memories I realized how often I’d held her and how seldom she’d held me. A birthday spent sad and hurt by her insistence that I “give her this one thing,” — a relationship with the girl she thought I was trying to steal by simply being me — reminded me that as much as I was warmed by her fire, it carries an ever present danger of burning. First degree. Third degree. Full explosion. Combustion. The fiery end.

And so, on the streets of Barcelona, just three weeks after that birthday, our friendship ended in a drunken rage of honesty. I tallied sins. Her husband rallied and railed against mine. I was left slumped along an alley way unsure how I’d arrived and wondering why my whole body felt scarred and burnt.

She took the train to Madrid. I took the car. I was able to stop and get out on the road trip, stretch my legs and survey the wreckage. My husband and I ran along the beach, saw the ruins of a Moorish castle, ate unrecognizable foods in a restaurant without a street sign, carried on. I tried to talk to her then, as I had before and would after, to no avail.

It’s been a year. Have I gifted her space? Has she had time to process? Is it forgiveable? Do I want it to be? I have my own guesses at why the demise happened so quickly and with only a hint of warning but those guesses involve sexuality and identity and intimacy and truth and without spending a lifetime in her skin, fighting to be seen and to shine, my guesses fall short, at best, and are completely off track, more than likely.

I have spent a year falling in love with myself. This sounds funny, and I don’t actually feel it most days, but I realize that as long as I had her I was supporting her dreams and letting them usurp mine in more ways than one. Our habits of late night drinking and smoking made us convinced that all that glittered was gold — certain we had answers to ways to change the world but she was quick to jump on social media and tell others how it was … but her follow through and action was inconsistent, and mine, too. She was acclaimed in her artistry but I knew how much money and time those awards had cost her. She was picture perfect in her acceptance but I’d answered the phone in her crushing rage. She’d held most of my secrets, some I wouldn’t even admit to myself, but she’s also spilled them at times and left me questioning how to trust. Mostly she’d said she loved me but I wonder now how much she loved what we looked like, how I held her, the dreams we could dream side by side.

Without her nothing sparkles and this year has sucked. Without her I’ve taken personal responsibility for my own efforts and lack thereof. Without her I’ve cried myself to sleep but not as many nights as I did with her. Without her I’ve written my own stories and told my own truths in new ways (to myself. To others.) and I’m learning how to shine in and on my own. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her.

“Every love story is a ghost story,” is attributed to David Foster Wallace but the origins of the sentiment are unknown. It first appeared in a letter he wrote but it echoes, today, in the stories I write about her, about me.

Every love story is a ghost story and so…

is this.