Laura and I first met when our daughters ended up in school together. After becoming a stay-at-home mom, most of the new friendships I developed came by way of my children. And so building a friendship with Laura, like other moms who had come before, seemed like the natural way to go. As the girls’ friendship blossomed, so did ours. We talked constantly on the phone, catching up on school gossip and comparing notes on our emerging teens.
It was my husband’s affair and subsequent departure, however, that ultimately deepened our bond. Laura and I became inseparable, and she was a staunch, self-appointed defender of my suffering. Then one day, nearly as quickly as she’d charged into my life, Laura left.
Up until then, Laura had called nearly every day to check up on me, often showing up at my front door to say “you need to eat a good meal” before dragging me out to lunch. Losing weight and sliding back into my skinny jeans was about the only positive byproduct of those early days, but Laura wouldn’t take no for an answer. She deemed it her personal duty to fatten me up again and make sure I got my daily dose of carbs.
When a real crisis struck, she arrived first on the scene again, tracking down a replacement for my favorite Van Morrison CD which had gone missing. I sobbed when she handed it to me.
“Baby don’t cry,” she said, patting me on the back and giving me a sorely needed hug.
One day over lunch we even began giddily fantasizing about going into business together — Heart Menders, we would call ourselves. Maybe by helping others mend their hearts I could somehow knit back mine. I even sketched out a whole line of greeting cards in my head, though our discussions never got beyond the planning stage.
Another afternoon Laura told me a story she’d heard about a woman’s revenge on her cheating husband. One night after he’d gone to sleep, the woman sewed the bed sheets together around him with black thread, securing him in a womblike cocoon from which there was no escape. And then she beat the crap out of him with a baseball bat. After we stopped laughing, Laura handed me a spool of black thread that I placed on my dresser next to the worry dolls my friend Sadie had given me. Talismans to remind me there surely must be another way out of my anguish, and to keep me from places I’d rather not go.
Laura was good for my heart and comfort for my soul, and then what seemed like overnight, she disappeared. And I felt betrayed all over again.
I suppose there are any number of reasons why moms drift in and out of each other’s lives. Kids change schools, move on to different interests, or suddenly get taken with the new kid at the playground. Sometimes the mothers outgrow each other before the kids do. I’ve even heard since that some married women perceive newly single ones as a threat and would rather not have the reminder that their own marriages might be on shaky ground. Until Laura and I broke up, however, I never really thought about why and how all this happened. Nor did I ever find out why Laura left.
At the height of our friendship, my daughters and I went to Florida on vacation. That’s when I first sensed a change in our relationship. The first night of our trip I was feeling self-conscious as the only single mom at the pool — no single dads either — and called Laura for moral support.
“Hi Laura,” I said. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. What’s up?” she replied, no pause between her clipped phrases or reciprocity after my health. After listening in polite silence to my rambling, Laura said she had to go. Our daughters were in the midst of an on again off again tiff, but this wasn’t like her. We’d always risen above our children’s falling-outs.
During one of our daughters’ spats, I’d even suggested to mine that she be the first one to reach out, advice she wound up taking. I’m still not sure whether I was teaching her good manners or using it as a smokescreen for my own ulterior motives. Probably, it was a little bit of both. And so things between the girls got patched up temporarily. At poolside, however, I wondered whether their friendship might have lasted longer than it would have if I hadn’t stepped in.
When we got home from Florida, though, the girls hit a permanent stalemate and refused to make up. That’s when Laura’s calls stopped. Along with the lunches. And the hugs.
I was bitter and angry, never dreaming that the problems in our daughters’ relationship could spill over into mine and Laura’s. Much later on, it dawned on me that I’d been through a similar separation anxiety before — though not betrayal — when my daughter and her best friend broke up in second grade, right after I’d put all that energy into becoming good friends with the mom. How our 7-year-olds could do this to us I couldn’t fathom. To our credit, Alicia and I did try to keep the friendship going, planning an occasional outing together sans kids. But we eventually drifted apart.
As solo parenting and slogging through divorce court took over my daily preoccupations, Laura slipped from my mind. And then a year and a half after coming home from Florida, I ran into her at an awards banquet for our children. This time we spoke and gave each other a hug almost as if nothing had happened. We even talked about getting together for lunch and promised each other we’d call. Our exchange felt honest and good intentioned, yet we only spoke by e-mail after that and never were able to synchronize our calendars. That’s the last I saw of her, now nearly seven years ago.
I’m still not sure why her breaking things off had such a painful effect on me at the time. Had I made too much of our friendship, too mired at the time in my own anguish to see what was really there? Had we grown too close too fast? Did the wound hurt more deeply because it came so quickly on the heels of the worst betrayal I’d ever known, the one by my children’s father? After all, it caught me off-guard just as he had, and this time the betrayal had been not only by a woman, but also a friend. A mom, a person who’s supposed to possess the compassion gene and inhabit the same universe as me. To me, my husband’s betrayal had no excuse. His leaving left me in shock, but at least society warns us that men can do this. What Laura did? That was definitely not the definition of “sisterhood” I’d grown up with.