First pregnancies, both.
Unmarried and unplanned (me). Recently married and meticulously planned (she).
We were school friends, really, though also not really. I was the new kid in class the term after she left. Expelled, a mutual friend whispered, ghoulish. “Not expelled,” she spat, when we first met, "they thought I would be happier at another school.” And she was until she wasn't.
We circled each other from a safe distance, attending the same parties but rarely speaking. I was terrified and fascinated by the precociously cool teenager she was; provocative, non-compliant. I had equated expulsion with stupidity but she was clever, I knew, and she knew it, too. “I don’t mean to sound esoteric…” I overheard her say to an infatuated boy at a party. I was so astonished by her vocabulary and the languorous way she let the curious word hang in the air while she took a long drag of her cigarette, that I missed the second part of the sentence. Looking esoteric up in the dictionary later did nothing to enlighten me and her enigma persisted.
And so it went for 10 years. It felt like a current ran between us; we sized each other up but we left each other alone. She was nice to me in our teenage years when she thought she was better than me. She ignored me when she was a drug-afflicted young adult and I thought I was better than her. Our orbits finally collided when we found ourselves face-to-face, two unlikely pioneers on the threshold of parenthood.
We were friends, so Add Friend. We were both young and inexperienced and the first of our friends to have children. We compared notes and it seemed, for once, that we were more alike than not. We laughed together at the idiots on the baby forums who asked whether swimming in cold water would cause their foetuses to freeze. I grew accustomed to our daily texts and updates, but as our mutual due date loomed, she vanished; texts went unanswered, Facebook went quiet. I panicked: something awful has happened. If I wasn’t already awake half the night with an enormous belly and an aching lower back, I’d have been up with the sickening anxiety that something had gone wrong. Then the announcement came, not from her but from Facebook: a healthy baby and all is well. I liked the post, of course, and felt a fool for misjudging the closeness of our friendship. But when the time came, I sent her a personal message before announcing my own birth on Facebook. I congratulated myself for this.
A daughter called Zoe (me). A son called Harry (she).
We were still The Odd Couple. She had outgrown her rebelliousness and embraced a Stepford Wife existence that was tinged with irony. She kept a beautiful home and learned to make passata in the style of her Italian mother-in-law, in whose disapproval she revelled. Meanwhile I was feeling the overwhelming inertia of gendered family roles and resisting, stubbornly, letting my house go to hell and refusing to attend a Mothers’ Group. We called our friendship ‘refreshingly honest’ but it was a pantomime of play-acted frankness that we had learned from Sex and the City. She loved The Block and hated my Ikea bookshelves. I hated The Block and loved my Ikea bookshelves.
There was smugness and sadness in her voice when she bragged that “you won’t find a scrap of dust in my house!”. I was proud of my domestic rebellion but ashamed of my carpet. I never once asked her about her real ambitions. Sitting at her marble island bench and drinking a Nespresso, she gave me a retrospective on her mother’s year-long battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, the first she had ever mentioned it. I wondered why she didn’t reach out sooner but I accepted this was the shape of our friendship. We were finally friends, not great friends, but friends nonetheless. Our children became friends. There were so many photos, so many likes. I was ashamed and resentful and uncomfortable but I liked her. Often, and genuinely.
I was attempting to start a business. She suggested we start one together. I cringed at the cliché of a mum-preneurial partnership but I agreed, both to please her and because I was a coward. I didn’t give it my best and it never got out of the gates, owing in no small part to my apathy. I saved my best work for my own venture, which took off and consumed me. Resentment floated between us like a noxious fog that kept us silent in our corners. We never mentioned those little red numbers awaiting us online, the ones that warned us of the tumbleweeds on our Facebook Business Page. Every text still ended with an x.
In Winter came the miscarriage and the subsequent nervous breakdown. All other business – particularly the business of friendship – was put on hiatus. I retreated, barricading myself behind a small group of people who expected nothing more of me than to wake up in the morning and take in enough oxygen to last me til bedtime.
She was immaculate the day she confronted me, hurt that I didn’t invite her into my inner circle in my time of need. Didn’t I think she was a supportive friend? I sheepishly accepted the flowers and home-made passata and was surprised and apologetic.
In Spring I emerged, timid and changed. I threw a birthday party for my daughter. I invited her and her son. She made her apologies; valid, not spiteful. I surprised everyone that day and got married in the backyard. She wasn’t there, and that was OK with me. She wasn’t there, and that wasn’t OK with her.
There was no passata at the confrontation. “I don’t mean to sound esoteric,” she said haughtily, and I listened intently to the next part: “but I have always believed that people should begin as they intend to go on.” I couldn’t decide if she had no idea what esoteric actually meant, or if it was precisely the perfect word. Either way, I was unsurprised and unapologetic.
Fuck that (me). Fuck this (she).
A birthday text. A group dinner. A tipsy reminder of past disappointments met with sober sadness. A child’s birthday. We Must Go Out Sometime.
Three years of conspicuous silence fell. There was Facebook and there was the rest of the iceberg; the great things and the nothings, but also the deaths and the affairs and the heartaches. I still wondered often about her; her son; her mother; but each week of silence dulled my curiosity and marked another broken link in the brittle chain that had been holding us together. I forgot her dog’s name.
If it had been a love affair, it would have been star-crossed. When the debris settled, I looked around to see that the collision had changed us both, but our trajectories were unaltered. Onwards we continued, further and further from one other. I called her to say I was having another baby. She sounded happy for me, but she never came to see him. I found out on Facebook that she was pregnant again. I was happy for her, but I never liked the post. Zoe said "Remember Harry?" and I said, "Yes, I remember."
A Facebook friendship isn’t a friendship as much as it is an acknowledgement: I know you now, I knew you once, I want to know you. To unfriend is to unremember.
I want to remember (me). I don’t want to remember (she).