My homegirl sat with her hands folded, waiting for a response, fresh from a European trip and blissful honeymoon, sunshine glimmering through her afro, and her Americano getting cold.
I had no answer for her.
Her comment sounded like a variation of other utterances she'd made before. In the last year and a half, I'd accepted a position at a school that seemed fantastic until its flaws started devouring the educators one by one.
Let me give you the short version: When the history teacher quit, I was asked to take on History and English. They merged two classes together into one room and changed the course name to "Humanities."
Almost 50 kids. One educator.
This was no biggie, considering that part of the bargain was that I'd have help with the grading, editing, and data analysis. Nope. Help never came. My life became a complete overwhelm, my home filled with stockpiles of graded and ungraded work, my performances cancelled, and writing diminished. One day, I reached out to my friends in a group text.
"Hey Guys. I'm not feeling great right about now. My house looks crazy, my to-do list is insane. I could really use some words of encouragement."
Two of my girlfriends responded instantly, sharing their own stories and positivity. My sunshine-Americano-afro friend responded, "I can't feel guilty because my life is going well, Erica. I'm getting married and I'm planning that. I can't help it if things are great in my life and they aren't in yours."
I instantly called my other friends to see if I'd said anything inappropriate that would've prompted this unrelated response. They were both just as confused as I was.
Six months later I found myself with a ruptured achilles tendon, during play production with my scholars, and in a boot/crutches for six more months. As a bridesmaid in my friend's wedding, I was expected to be at many mobile events: the bridal shower with a spiral staircase and no elevator, Martha's Vineyard for the wine tour on my antibiotics, the tasting also with no elevator. I was also told that the single most important event of the school year that I'd orchestrated, a service trip to South Africa for 30 scholars, would not be a possibility for me.
I called my friend to break the news, two weeks into her wedding planning,"I won't be able to do much this summer."
She said she understood, I came to the wedding, and now here we were talking about my brand.
"What are you talking about?"
I'd called several times. I'd asked what she needed and how I could hobble over to her home and help. Each and every time, she said she didn't need help and I should focus on healing.
We left the table amicable, with plans to go to dinner once a month, and a I'll-text-you-when-I'm-home. We never did.
I left the cafe, walked down Broadway listening to the J train rumble, and passed my favorite bar.
This bar, the one with the cheap shots, slamming burritos, and app controlled jukebox is the same bar that another close friend would make her way to the moment she made her way across the Williamsburg Bridge a few months later.
She and I had been communicating about her Brooklyn visit for weeks. She was coming to an engagement party and then the rest of the weekend was ours.
I was excited, finally back on my feet and at a new job that kept my stress levels low. I waited 24 hours after her arrival time to reach out. When she answered the phone, there was loud music and laughter in the background.
"Tasha, where are you?"
"Hey girl! I'm at the bar at Broadway and something-and-other."
"Yeah, that's the one!"
"Girl, that's like 5 minutes from my house."
"Oh really?! I didn't know. Come through! It's open bar."
My boyfriend and I made a mad dash for the bathroom & changed for the evening ahead of us. "Open bar" was synonymous with money-that-stayed-in-your-bank-account for hashtag #TravelNoire moments. When we arrived, I text, called, and practically smoke-signaled my friend to no avail. I saw people, that were close to her and her husband, when I arrived, but they were nowhere to be found.
Eventually my boyfriend and I left and made our way home. Driving down Flushing Ave, discussing the fact that there was nothing open about the bar, my friend finally hit me back, "Hey girl. We were in and out of different bars all over the block. I'm sorry. Catch you next time I'm here!"
"Catch you next time!"
These were the words, in a text, from a friend that lived in Los Angeles. We hadn't seen each other in 3 years and I was ecstatic about kicking it. For the 4 days, that I dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean and took a picture in front Insecure's Dunes, she called and direct messaged about how she would meet me here or there. She never did.
I don't need to write another anecdote for you to get the picture. Do I?
I haven't written in quite some time.
Despite the curriculum that makes it in front of the scholars I adore, I have had little time for poetry, fiction, or memoir. In the last two years, I've been injured and then diagnosed. I'll save the "with what" for my loved ones.
Each summer brings an onset of self-care I didn't know I had in me. I'm eating differently, I'm going to the doctor more than once every other year, I'm taking up my mother's weekend requests for glam time, the people I surround myself with are mostly human beings that did not exist in my world five years ago, and I'm handling transitions far better than 25-year-old me.
As Facebook greets me every morning with its on-this-day feature, I'm watching the seasons change. A decade ago, the people that brought me solace and comfort are replaced by completely different names and faces. Sure, quite a few remain. However many have made their way to my block list, the recesses of my text messages, or social media updates that never make it onto my feed or my mind.
I found myself riled up about the first few instances. I was hurt and I started to add up the things I did or did not do. I started to weigh if I was the common denominator. I quantified how much time I spent on my career and my brand. I wondered, "Did I put my job over the people that love me?"
I was telling all of this to the last friend of the famous group text, where it all began, who seemed to be the only consistent one. She said, "I'm here."
These two words, as simple as they are, were the most healing things I needed to hear. While I was mourning the friendships that never aligned with the early seasons of "Girlfriends," there were so many people that loved me and were waiting for me to realize they were there too.
An editor I'd met on Twitter a few years ago and a photographer that I'd befriended, while teaching at the same school, made their way to my house every Wednesday for "accountability night." My overeager homie in PR and Texas made monthly FaceTime calls and sent me videos of him singing a capella in the bathroom.
My parents are in my texts every Friday, like clockwork, "Are you home? Can we come by?" My boyfriend is with me almost half of the week.
Yeah, I was growing apart from some friends. They were buying houses, having children, taking trips, getting married, having meetings, starting businesses, investing in their futures, and so much more.
So am I.
There is no moral equivalence factor here. Our situations were different and we flexed where we could and flaked when we couldn't.
Sure. One of those girls might just be a plain jerk.
I'm very sure I know exactly which one: Someone pointed out that they'd been with me three times in other public establishments she'd abandoned me in. Case in point.
But some folks are just busy, some overwhelmed, some legitimately don't have time to call, and some folks haven't pushed you up their priority list. Some folks will make it off the block list, others you might see in a local supermarket and be flabbergasted that you've lived in the same neighborhood all of this time, some you may never think of again. It's all part of the cliche cycle.
I was listening to my favorite podcast, "NPR's How I Built This w/ Guy Raz" and they had Katrina Lake, Founder of Stitch Fix, talking about her life in conjunction with her innovations.
Guy Raz prompts Katrina with this question, "Pretty early on, you parted ways with your co-founder. What's your story? Did you guys just have a different sense of what you wanted to do with the company?"
She responds, "My co-founder and I we parted ways...and it was really hard and in a divorce you talk about irreconcilable differences and I feel like through that I truly understood what that meant. If you can be in a place where you really deeply care for somebody and at the same time you see things so differently. You just can't see the future in the same way."
Raz asks her another questions, "Do you think people who are starting businesses are better off starting them on their own?"
"Starting a company is such a team sport and I look back and I could not have done it without the many employees who believed in it, the many clients who believed in it, my friends who I didn't go to their wedding because I was like too poor and too busy at the time and like...it's such a team sport and you have to surround yourself with people who help you to achieve those goals...I couldn't have done it without having a network of people who believed."
The words above can fluctuate and be replaced. Company can just be "your life." A co-founder can be a friend. Clients + employees can be associates. Here's one thing that we don't have to replace: "My friends who I didn't go to their ___________ because I was like too poor and too busy and at the time like..."
I'm not saying that you're not to blame here. You perhaps could've stepped up differently in different situations. Who knows?
Our friendships, active or deactivated are a crucial part of our trajectory. They make up who were are now and who we are then.
I'm grateful for every flower and petal that's bloomed but I am also grateful for those that've shed, allowing me to see the people who were prepared to deal with the "me" in that specific moment (poor, busy, etc. etc.).
This is one of the biggest lessons that 30 has taught me thus far.
I have many more lessons...but hold on...I'm going to call you right back.