If I thought that ending a friendship was as simple as just deciding to do so, I was both right and wrong. After James' toolishness hit last straw levels, I decided I was done. There never was a right time to bring it up with him, and so I simply stopped. Stopped calling, stopped being friendly. When I saw him at trivia I gave him the cold shoulder, and never made eye contact, even though he was on my team, sitting right across the table. He, not being stupid, picked up on it immediately, though he gave no signs of doing so. Instead of asking me what was wrong, he replied in kind, no longer calling or extending invitations. But to all appearances, everything was fine. If we ran into each other he would even hug me. Our former friendship suddenly turned into a limp handshake; a half-hearted attempt at going through the motions, but with all the energy gone. I thought that would be ok; this is what happens when friendships end, after all. But then it wasn't ok.
First, I noticed that he had unfriended me on Facebook (the ultimate relationship barometer.) To say I was insulted would be putting it mildly. James' friend who kissed me once and I rejected back when I first moved here and haven't really talked to since? Even he hasn't unfriended me on Facebook. I mean, really. You really have to hate someone to unfriend them on Facebook, right? What I thought was an amicable separation suddenly seemed like something else altogether. I sent him a brief (Facebook) message. He didn't respond. Ouch.
Then, talking to Y, I found out that what actually happened on my birthday differed quite dramatically from my sister's version of events, and from my drunkenly oblivious memories of what happened. "Yeah, my sister told me you were mean to James and then he left," I said. "That's awesome!"
"Um, no," she said, "we were all being mean to him. Really mean. I think he felt ganged up on. I'm not surprised he left."
"Wait, what?" I said. "I wasn't being mean."
"Especially you," she said. "And your sister, too."
"Oh, well she's like that with everyone," I said. "But I wasn't...I really don't remember saying anything...?"
"It was like, everything he said you would roll your eyes or say something sarcastic. And then your sister was doing it too, and so I kind of joined in when I figured out, Ok, so we don't like this guy."
"Really?" I said, thinking hard. "That's so weird...I really don't remember doing that at all. But yeah, I mean, I was pissed at him, so it makes sense that it would come out like that when I was drunk. But god. Now I feel bad. I mean, I was supposed to be the victim here, and he was the asshole. Now I'm the asshole."
The next week at trivia, I brought Y again, and my friend Canaan, in town for a visit. He was there with a whole group of people, most of whom I didn't know. The vibe was not particularly friendly, and I immediately felt like I was crashing the party. He stuck around long enough to dictate our team name to us, then jumped up suddenly before the game even started and spent the next two hours engaged in conversation at the bar with two girls I'd never seen before. He didn't even answer one question. A friend of his, L., seemed baffled and a bit hurt. "Why would he invite all these people here and then not even hang out?" he asked me. I shrugged, but I thought I might know why.
A couple days after that we had a departmental party at a colleague's house for retiring faculty. I figured James would be there, and half-decided that it might be a good time to pull him aside and clear the air in some way. Or at least address the elephant in the room. I arrived and saw his car parked outside. The place was packed. He barely acknowledged me as I walked in. I poured myself a glass of wine and circulated through the house, trying to find a friendly face. His was the best I could do, and though he projected friendliness outwardly, it seemed a half-hearted attempt, at best. I made my way over, and then I saw her. He had brought a date. He brought a date to the faculty party. I introduced myself to her and made brief, awkward conversation. "So...is S. coming?" I asked, hoping I wasn't projecting too much desperation.
"No, he's in Buffalo," he said, and I felt panic closing in. No one else there was anywhere close to my age, and most of them I didn't know at all. I made desperate loops around the house, stopping occasionally to nibble on nuts and nonchalantly sip my wine, while no one, absolutely no one, stopped to talk to me, or even made eye contact. That was when I started to re-think the whole not being friends thing. If we weren't going to be friends, perhaps we could at least be friendly, because this...this was quickly becoming unbearable.
And so I sent him an e-mail. "Can we talk sometime?" I wrote. "I'd really like to talk. Can we get coffee?" After the unanswered Facebook message I didn't even know if he would respond. But he did.
"Of course, mi amiga," he responded jovially. "I'll be grading papers from 7-10 a.m. on Friday at the coffee shop if you'd like to come by."
And so I waited. I waited from Tuesday until Friday, and then this morning I dragged myself out of bed early, and made it there by 8:45. I optimistically put an hour and fifteen minutes worth of coins in the meter, and even brought some exams with me, figuring maybe I would stay and grade after. I was worried. First I worried he wouldn't be there, and then I worried that I had no idea what in the world I would say. Three days to think about it, and I still had no idea. Better not to plan it, though, I figured. Walking in, my first worries dissolved when I saw him sitting at a table. "Hey," I said, putting my things down.
"Hey," he said. "Brought some grading with you?" I nodded.
"Hey," said someone else. I turned. It was S., sitting comfortably at the next table over. What. The. Fuck. I didn't want to be unkind if it turned out that S. had coincidentally walked in and decided to join him, but I was pretty sure it was planned. I hid my confusion by excusing myself to get coffee. Waiting in line, I fumed. I changed my order from for here to to go. I went back to the table, and for lack of something better to do, took out my grading. James and S. were immersed in their work. No one said anything. I made a brief attempt at reading students' essays, but I couldn't concentrate. It was so quiet. No one looked at anyone. James took out a pair of headphones. Headphones.
No way, I thought. Fuck this.
"Well, I'm going to go," I said, standing up, not two minutes after I had sat down.
"But you just got here," S. said in confusion.
"I think she probably wants to talk to me," James said.
"That is why I came," I said through a tight smile. And stressed about and got up early and put extra quarters in the meter for, I thought.
"Well, he's not going to be here forever," James said, gesturing at S. And what, we're suddenly only talking about people in the third person now, I thought?
Poor S., who clearly had no idea what was going on. "No, I can leave," he said, making a move to get up.
"No no," I said. "I'm going." And I left. No one made a move to stop me. Then I got in my car and fumed, thought fragments swimming through my head. That's it...for real...last straw...I tried...fuck him... My phone rang. I pulled over to take it.
"Sorry about that," he said. (Did he say sorry? Or am I only remembering what a normal person would have said?) "S. wanted to come and he's leaving for Buffalo soon... Let's meet for lunch, ok? Then we can have time to talk."
"I work at one," I said tersely.
"Ok, well...let's meet at seven. What's quiet at seven on a Friday? The Creeker will be quiet. We can talk there."
"Fine," I said instead of the words I really wanted to say. "Fine."
So there we are, and there he is, calling all the shots again. I don't know what either of us could possibly say to make this any better, but for some reason I am going to leave work tonight, and I'm going to meet him, and I'm going to try again. I'll give it a shot, anyway.