5: Time to Say Goodbye

5: Time to Say Goodbye

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Time to Say Goodbye

No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.

~Alice Walker

I’d just returned from our regular monthly lunch date. As usual, my friend and I had exchanged the latest news, relished the gossip about other friends’ breakups, and laughed until our make-up ran. But driving home, I began to feel as I had the last several times.

It started like a wisp, a feather across my mind, and quickly heightened. What irked me so much?

I went to my journal. It always gave me answers.

Warming up, I started writing about the basics to help get me started — the phone call for a day that fit both our schedules, the big discussion the night before. “What do you feel like? Chinese? Italian? Decadent Deli?” Giggling, we chose Decadent — two kids skipping healthy diet school.

Then I described the restaurant. Arriving first, I had time to look around. The booth was roomy, upholstery past its prime. On the table sat the perennial bowl of sour pickles, with little pieces of garlic bobbing in the brine. The plastic-covered menu, three feet tall, promised anything your heart desired. Smiling hello, the gravel-voiced waitress asked if I were alone. From her collar hung a giant wilting cloth gardenia.

Continuing to write, I felt a small nervousness, an excitement that always told me I was getting closer to the truth.

As I studied the menu, my friend rushed in, breathless and flushed. We screamed and hugged. She slid into the booth opposite me and immediately started talking.

“The traffic! This idiot in front of me for six miles! Couldn’t make up his mind. Where did he learn to drive, Jupiter? Kept weaving in and out, the jerk!”

I wondered why she didn’t pass him or take another route.

She kept talking, interrupted only by the waitress taking our orders for overstuffed pastrami sandwiches and diet sodas.

I kept writing, trusting the moving pen. Reliving our visit, I found, as always, the answers coming.

She lived, I saw, in a state of chronic indignation. Everything — from the curl of the napkins to the highway driver to how others raised children — was cause for her righteous anger.

As she talked, the frown between her eyebrows deepened, and her lips moved like a sped-up cartoon. Her outrage was punctuated by hand motions that alternately clutched the air and flattened in open-palmed incredulity at humankind’s folly.

She jumped from one thing to another with quirky logic: shopping on the Internet revealed the stupidity of retailers. Restaurant pasta less than al dente was a sin punishable by leaving the waiter two quarters. The supermarket checkers’ sluggishness proved the regression of human evolution and threatened our entire civilization.

After almost an hour, she wound down, sandwich untouched. Now, I thought, I could talk, finally sharing meaningful bits of my life and the news about mutual friends. That was when I knew she would listen and nod in understanding. And we’d laugh with full abandon like we used to.

But instead our conversation reminded her to deplore something else. And she was off again, eyes popping, voice strident in irate virtue.

In the past, sometimes I’d sympathized with her constant diatribes and even joined in. But then I’d come home with a headache, and, despite my lunch indulgence, not at all nourished. Today, I now saw, was no different.

When it was time to leave, we kissed and promised to call.

As I kept writing, the picture grew clearer. I’d really known for a long time but didn’t want to admit it. She’d been a friend so many years, and we used to have such fun. But the truths scribbled out in my journal couldn’t be denied.

It was time to say goodbye.

~Noelle Sterne

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