By Zoe Knightly
A friend can tell you things you don't want to tell yourself.
~Frances Ward Weller
"Zoe, you need serious professional help, and I cannot continue to be a source of support for you until you get it. I need space from you." As I sat at my kitchen table my heart sank. I could barely read the words of Jessica's e-mail through my tears. The best friendship I'd ever had was crumbling right before my eyes. How had we let our friendship get to this point?
I met Jessica during my freshman year of college. She was two years older than me and had the same drive and passion for running that I did. I broke the ice by making her a care package for a big race she had coming up. From that day forward we did nearly everything together. We would make secret handshakes in the pool, whack giant marshmallows with badminton rackets, roast the remaining marshmallows over an open stove, blow bubbles and throw water balloons at each other, get way too competitive playing Mastermind, and watch chick flicks at her apartment. It was our nerdy, intense, quirky personalities combined with our inability to fit in with the "popular" crowd that made us absolutely inseparable. By my sophomore year she had definitely earned the title of "best friend."
Our beautiful friendship was the super-glue holding together the broken pieces of my soul. A lifelong disordered eater, I struggled immensely with eating in college. After knowing Jessica for two years, I finally felt comfortable enough to share with her what I was going through. She would comfort and console me. "You're a superstar," she'd tell me. She'd send me songs to brighten my day. She'd take me to church. She would touch my arm in support when I cried. She was always there for me. She would always take away my pain and leave me feeling like a champion. Our friendship was magical. Flawless. Perfect. The best thing to ever happen to me.
But behind the perfect illusion I had imagined it to be, our friendship was just as broken as I was. I couldn't see what an enormous burden I was putting on Jessica. Talking endlessly about my struggles was beginning to be more than she could bear. She wanted to help me but didn't know how. This went on for a year and a half until one day I took it too far. We were sitting outside at a picnic table on an unusually warm December afternoon. "I'm thinking about cutting myself," I confided to her. She stared at me with terrified eyes, a sharp contrast from the soothing demeanor she'd always shown me. She quickly began making excuses to leave. As I watched her walk to her car, tears began to form in my eyes. Her uncharacteristic response made me realize that something was terribly wrong.
The next morning I sat down with a warm cup of coffee, still feeling awfully shaken about my encounter with Jessica. I casually began checking my e-mail and noticed that she had sent me a lengthy message. I read the first line and curled up on the floor crying hysterically. "Zoe, you need serious professional help, and I cannot continue to be a source of support for you until you get it," the e-mail began. "I need space from you." How could I possibly distance myself from the girl that meant everything in the world to me? There were countless additional lines detailing why she needed time apart, but my eyes glazed over and the words started spinning all over the page. I felt like I couldn't breathe. I called her twenty-five times. No response. I sent her e-mails begging her to speak to me. Nothing. After a day of uncontrollable sobbing, I finally realized that I had become completely dependent on Jessica and that our friendship was no longer healthy. I sent her a final e-mail telling her that I needed space of my own.
The month I spent apart from Jessica was eye-opening for me. I realized that I was in dire need of professional help, and without Jessica there to help me I felt lost and alone. Forcing me to get professional help was the best thing she could have done for me. Thanks to Jessica's tough love I came back to school a completely different person, ready to face life courageously.
Jessica and I very slowly began to rekindle our friendship, which we affectionately referred to as a "work in progress." For months we walked on eggshells, afraid that saying anything wrong would send our friendship into an irreparable downward spiral.
And then it finally happened. "I beat you, Jessica!" I exclaimed as I jumped up and pumped my fist in the air. "Victory is mine!" We were playing Mastermind on the same picnic table where our friendship had taken a massive nosedive the previous December. I had just beaten my genius best friend by one point. I looked at her with a smug expression and we both started cracking up. From that moment on I knew that our friendship was back to being normal. No, make that back to being completely awesome. Like a rubber band, the tension snapped and we finally both let our guard down.
Our friendship is different now. We have more obligations and see each other less. But our friendship contains an element that it never had before: depth. The breakdown in our friendship helped us get our issues out on the table so we could move past them. It challenged our commitment to being friends. But being the strong, determined women that we are, we put our shattered friendship back together piece by piece. Our friendship will inevitably have many more bumps, twists, turns and roadblocks along the way. We'll stumble and we'll fall. We'll have tension and need some comic relief, and we'll likely resort to taking badminton rackets and whacking over-sized marshmallows at each other. But because of Jessica, I refuse to dwell on the negatives in my life. It's probably for the best; now I can put all of my energy into whipping her butt inMastermind. Bring it, Jessica!