I lost my best friend two days ago.
If she had died, it would be easier. But she's still out there, and now she's utterly alone. I was the only real friend she had.
So what happened?
It took me two days to process, and some deep talks with my husband. It finally became clear this morning.
She's had a hard life. I knew she was trans the moment I met her five years ago, and won a significant amount of money on exactly when and how she'd do it. She's also a third level registered sex offender - she did her time, and in her state, you only get out of prison if you go into a court-ordered program with their therapists and doctors. So she must attend weekly, no excuses, once a week at sex therapy, and once a week with a head shrink. Monthly visits with her court-ordered doctor, and prescribed medications she must take no matter how they make her feel. Now she's added once-weekly gender therapy, plus two or three weekly trans group meetings, and a transitioning doctor. Did I mention a parole officer, with incredibly strict guidelines on where she can go? Curfew at seven pm, must ask permission to go anywhere else besides work, can't take or receive pictures, can't have access to most of the internet, no private communication that can't be monitored. Plus ankle monitor, of course.
Visiting her from three states away is a series of hoops, each and every time. First, her parole officer must be okay with whom she's associating with. No contact with kids, and no contact with pics or videos of someone else's kids. Hotel visit is OK, as long as she's home by curfew, unless she has permission for a sleepover. Access to the internet, as long as I'm the one with my hand on the mouse, and only websites where there would be no "pornographic" images. (Translation: no nakedness. Not even medical websites, where it's necessary.) Our online world narrowed to YouTube videos of silliness and makeup tutorials and some music videos.
Did she do what she's accused of? Yes. I was lied to when introduced by a mutual friend who downplayed the situation, but I asked questions when I got contradicting answers. When I asked her directly, she was honest - yes, she did it. No excuses. But the person I met, fresh out of a ten year prison sentence, was no longer that manipulative person. And she's been working amazingly hard on becoming a new person, inside and out.
So what went all wrong?
Triggers. We both have trauma in our past, so we both have PTSD. Hers is compounded with undiagnosed and unmedicated ADHD, and when I say she's got a severe case, she's got it baaaaad. With an extra thick layer of Rejection Sensitivity Disorder, and a healthy paranoia of not wanting to step a toe out of line to be thrown back in prison for so much as breathing wrong. Also misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, and on the very wrong medication for it. The doctor won't listen, and it's not like she can switch doctors.
When you have severe ADHD and RSD, you only have so many spoons. You must spend them on living - eating, work, paying bills. With three therapies a week, plus parole and doctor's visits, she's got no spoons left. None. At. All. I didn't figure out till this morning, when a lot of things she blurted out in passing over the last few months fell into place: she's already been living on borrowed time in having to dive into her psyche in all those therapy sessions. It's deep, it's distressing going over and over what she's said and done, and she's trying to get up the courage to start a new life in a new body and a new gender.
She has nothing left over for anything else, including (especially) me. She's working eighty hours a week to stay exhausted. You can't grieve when you don't have a social life to grieve about.
And I didn't get it. I have abandonment issues bad, so every time she pulled away to give herself space or tried to lighten the mood or talk about "shallow" subjects, I interpreted it as her throwing away the friendship. I've been kicked to the curb before, and that's what it felt like all over again. She's done this to me before as well, and I'd accuse her of putting me on a shelf, dealing with other parts of her life that she wouldn't allow me to participate in. I'd try to steer back to deep subjects, and she'd wrench it back to light subjects.
But here's the thing: she did value me highly. So highly, that she put me on that shelf instead of kicking me to the curb. That's what you do with things you value, after all. Every time she tried to talk about her pain and how she needed to pull back, I'd start to cry and think the relationship was over. She could never get through her carefully rehearsed speech, because her triggers kept hitting mine. And when I'd react in pain and fear, it would hit her entire wall of triggers. It was like therapy scraped her skin off, and here I was rubbing sand paper on the wound and calling it "helping" and "friendship." It was pushing her nearer and nearer the brink, and instead of falling, she had to let me go.
For once, she thought of herself first. She had tried so hard to get through to me, and I didn't hear her. Before, when she cared for people, she'd go out of her way to hurt them to get them to go away. She tried a new path this time, and I completely misinterpreted her.
We had tried putting protective measures in place. I come from a different culture as well, so I know miscommunication can easily occur. I told her repeatedly to call and talk to my husband if we hit a wall. She couldn't. She was completely incapable of making that call, the RSD would flare and she'd freeze up. Same with looping in one of her counselors so we could work it out in therapy.
Can you imaging having so many triggers, that you're trapped? Every time you try something new, it's like others slap you back into the same old mold they've kept you in, and spit on you for even trying to get out? So may triggers that they're layered, and trying to get one under control triggers ten in the other direction? I was her only friend, the only one she really cared about, and she had to run to save herself.
I cannot imagine how lonely her life will be, realizing that any person she tries to get close to will trigger her. I cannot imagine my life without her.
There is no happy ending. I face life-threatening surgery on Tuesday, and she's cut all communication. She won't find out if I live or die. What is most likely is that I face so many bad reactions that I will have years of recovery. There is a strong chance of losing sight in one eye. Maybe I'll be so changed, that if I do recover, and she gets a handle on some triggers, and I learn how to not set off the others, that we may never even recognize each other in the future.
Did I finally get it right, K? You said I was so close, but not quite right. Did I finally figure it all out? When it's too late to say I'm sorry, when it's too late to dial it back and have you in my life, when I've run out of time?
I'm so sorry I wasn't the friend you needed. I wish I could have you back. You didn't have the spoons to be my best friend either these past two months, with my facing dicey surgery and your trying to beg for breathing space and my not understanding why you couldn't be there for me when I only have a few days left. You had nothing left to give. I at least have other friends who are very concerned and are checking in repeatedly to make sure I'm in a decent head space, and you don't have that safety net at all.
If I live, and if you slay some trigger dragons to give yourself breathing room, please find your way back to us. I know what to look for, now that it's too late.
A friend once said to me, "I'm not breaking my heart and head on this wall." Well, this time, the wall of triggers fell on me.
I miss you so much.
About the author
Mix equal parts anthropologist, biologist, geologist, and artisan, stir and heat in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, sprinkle with a heaping pile of odd life experiences. Half-baked.