Saturday, December 31, 2005

When is a best friend not a best friend?

Maybe I am too old to have 'best friends'. Maybe I am expecting too much from my 'best friend' because I am single. Maybe I should just talk to her about it instead of moaning on here. But it has been bothering me for weeks and I don't know if it's my fragile emotional state which is making me feel like this or if I really do have good reason.

I would welcome your thoughts.

Claire has been my 'best friend' since we were 16, that's 21 years, over half my life! We met at school. She came to my school in the 6th form. I was knitting in the common room and she started chatting to me about what I was making. It was during that time when pastel coloured cricket jumper things were supposedly fashionable. Sadly it took me so long to knit the thing that by the time I was finished pastel pink was definitely not cool, I never wore it!. However it broke the ice between us so served some kind of purpose and we have been dear friends ever since.

We visited each other whilst we were at university, each at opposite ends of the land. I worked for her father when I left then I moved abroad. We kept in touch, by air mail letter, can you believe there was no email then?! She even came and visited me and we spent a wonderful christmas in a beach hut and new year in a strip bar, downing tequila's trying to pretend we weren't there! When I came back to London we lived together for 4 years. Then we both took the plunge and bought our own flats. We have holidayed together, spent crazy nights together and share pretty much everything. I have seen her through painful relationships and she has done the same for me.

We have only argued, if you can call it that, twice in all these years. The first time was when she slept with someone she knew I was in love with! Hey ho, we got over that. The second was this summer (post 7th July - my life will for ever more be measured by before or after the bomb). We were driving back from the coast having visited some friends of mine for a party on the beach, we were tired and hung over and my PTSD was beginning to kick in. I was driving, she was map reading & we got lost. This was the final straw for me and I had a go at her, told her it was all her fault. She just said 'whatever'. We talked about it a few weeks later over a few drinks and it was resolved. I told her I realised that it was the stress of what had happened starting to break through and she seemed to understand.

Since the 7th July I have become increasingly disappointed by her reactions. Maybe she can't handle it, maybe she doesn't know what to say, should I blame her? Who does? My gut feeling is that in our relationship I have always been the 'strong one'. She is a youngest child, I am the oldest, does this make a difference?

The day of the bombings a group of us, including Claire were supposed to be going to Devon for a long weekend. My brother picked me up & I went to his flat. As all the mobile lines were down we kept in touch by texting. No-one else was at work so I suggested that one bonus from all of this was that we could leave for Devon early. I heard nothing. I kept texting, all of them, asking where they were, when they were coming to collect me. Occasionally I received a text saying they were 'on their way' a few more hours would go by and still nothing. Eventually I became more incensed by this than I was about the fact that my train had been blown up. I started this conversation with them at about midday. At 5.00pm my brother took me to the pub, at 9.00pm they finally showed up. It transpired that they had all been so worried about me they weren't sure whether we should go, despite me assuring them there was nothing I wanted more than to be with my friends, out of London and by the sea. They wound each other up into a complete panic, they were asking each other what they would do if I 'freaked out'. Apparently it was better for me to 'freak out' in my flat alone rather than amongst my closest friends. Once we got in the car I felt like a complete outsider, there was giggling & whispering in the back, I felt the occasional sympathetic pat on my arm but no one really asked me anything, I was hardly spoken to, I wished I had stayed with my brother.

Since then she has been remote. The daily conversations have ceased. Every time I try to tell he what I'm going through, about the nightmares, the panic attacks, she says 'how bizarre'. Never a word of sympathy, never a caring call just to see how I'm doing. I spent week ends on my own shut away from the world, crying & not wanting to see anyone, I told her about it, 'how bizarre' and still no calls, no sympathy, no effort to understand.

I instinctively knew that people would find it impossible to know what I'd been through, so for myself, and for them I wrote an account of it. I emailed it to a handful of close friends and family. Everyone wrote back within hours with comments, philosophies, love and understanding. I told her I had sent it, she didn't read it for weeks, maybe months. Can I blame her for that or should I understand that she just couldn't face it?

The most poignant moment for me was the morning before the memorial service in St Pauls. I was going with some of my fellow passengers from Kings Cross United (we will come onto how wonderfully we have supported each other). That morning I felt sicker than I did before I got back on the tube for the first time. I was shaking, sweating & wondering if I could even manage it. I was helped by all the texts I received from friends and people I hardly knew saying they were thinking of me. I was willing Claire to call but was convinced she wouldn't. Five minutes before I was about to leave she called, I was overjoyed. 'How are you?' she said. 'I feel sick' I replied. Was there support, was there understanding? No. She just said 'why?'. I told her I was going to the memorial and she said 'Oh God I completely forgot'. It was just luck that she's called when she did, she hadn't remembered at all.

And now it is all coming to a head. Weeks ago, over a few drinks, we decided to go to Devon for new year, like we always do. She said it just depended on whether her brother was using the house but she'd let me know. She never did. Tomorrow is New Years Eve, I have made other plans as I realised it wasn't going to happen. I haven't brought it up, she hasn't. I am going to spend New Year with my true friends.

Happy New Year one and all!