A pit bull killed her dog and now she's lost to me

Something has broken in our 25-year friendship and it's tearing me apart.

Published March 22, 2007 10:30AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have been friends with TD for 25 years or so, since college. After graduation we made a pact to be friends forever -- and we have stuck to it through bad marriages, intercontinental living, bad boyfriends, professional success and failure, every variation of grown-up "thick and thin." We are now both women in our 40s, childless and in "unmarried" long-term relationships. We live on opposite coasts, and until this past year called each other approximately twice a month.

We are part of a small group of college friends that has remained close over the years, and formed a sort of surrogate family that has buoyed us through our disappointments with our birth families.

Not only do I admire TD, I truly believe that if I am sane today it is partly because of our friendship and many kindnesses and shared memories over the years. I hope she feels the same, or at least I thought she did until recently.

As I mentioned, we are both childless. Neither of us has ever wanted children. I have devoted my energies to my career and partner; she has devoted hers partly to career and partly to enjoying her dogs and partner. She successfully made herself a little family.

A truly horrible thing happened in TD's world just over a year ago. One of her dogs, a small terrier to whom she was devoted, was ripped from her arms and killed by a neighbor's pit bull. TD was not just physically hurt but also traumatized by the incident, as was another of her dogs and her partner. The neighbor's dog was put down, but this is cold comfort to her little family.

She has had a very difficult time dealing with the aftermath. She is a very sensitive and feeling person, and this has affected her much as would the violent, traumatic loss of a child. I understand and respect this. I don't find her reaction to be at all excessive, considering the details and her personal history. I have been quite worried about her for months, and have tried to be a kind, compassionate, understanding good friend. I let her take the lead, trusting her to be honest about what she needs to recover.

She has now retreated into a city (the incident happened at her now-sullied country home), and over recent months has gradually stopped communicating with me. I know she communicates with others in our little group, just not with me. They tell me they've just spoken with her, have seen her on a trip to her city, etc. The extent of my being shut out became truly apparent when I sent her a Christmas present, but only got a tepid, cursory thank you two months later. Totally out of character for her.

The last time we spoke was just before Thanksgiving. Her struggle was apparent, but it seemed "we" were fine. Weirder still, a couple of weeks ago when I called the country house, her partner, David, just happened to be there to take care of something, and told me he knows she'd want to talk to me. Was he blowing smoke?

I leave messages at her "home phone," at the country house, but they are not returned. She only has a cellphone now, but I never seem to be able to get the numberb

Last weekend I finally e-mailed her to ask if it is something I said or did. Her response (two days later) denied it, saying that she just can't talk to anyone right now. Nevertheless, I found myself bursting into tears on reading it, as if she'd slapped me.

Is this a typical part of PTSD? The pushing away of those nearest and dearest? At least then I wouldn't take it so personally. However, now I'm not only deeply worried about her, I am quite hurt that after so many years of good friendship, she's shutting me out in a way I am finding difficult to accept.

To compound things, a few months before the horrible dog incident, I finally fell in love, after many years of searching, with a man I truly adore and can live with (Let's call him Bob). Unfortunately, he has been diagnosed with a long-term chronic hepatitis C infection. It turned up in a physical. His liver has been damaged. He started undergoing treatment for it earlier this year. The treatment is very difficult, and will last 48 weeks -- nearly a year. The treatment is tormenting Bob, and me by proxy as I watch him suffering. As is natural for people who find love later in life, we find the loss of this time deeply unfair, adding grief to misery. To make it through, I know I need the mutual support/distraction of my friends.

TD has been a key part of this support system in the past, and I need her in my life as much as ever. Maybe more. I love her like a sister, and want to be a good friend to her and to support whatever she needs to recover, but I don't want that to include cutting me out of her life. Am I being selfish and unreasonable?

I get the feeling that she's not being entirely honest with me, and that it's something about me -- that somehow she doesn't feel like I'm "safe," or that I'll "understand," or that because of my situation I'll be a burden on her recovery process. That's her call to make. I can't judge her process from the outside. I just want her to be honest about it.

I feel hurt, betrayed and impatient, since I am concerned for her and "there" for her, but she isn't "there" for me. I don't know what to do. I don't ever want to say, "I was friends with TD once b

I'm afraid of talking to anyone in our circle about this, since it's between her and me. I don't want someone's good intentions creating more tension if they speak to her.

Is there any way to turn this situation around?

Hurt, Betrayed and Impatient

Dear Hurt,

I had to do several things before answering your letter. I had to sit quietly with the dogs. I had to eat toast with jam. I had to watch Lou Dobbs. I had to read Pat Schneider on discipline in the writer's life. I had to call my brother about our mother. I did these things.

A man wrote a comment the other day, addressing me, saying, in effect, "You have to stop writing like this! Any English teacher would tell you, you can't write like this! If you ever want to be a writer, you can't write like this!"

I continue to write like this. It's like you see a man with a bad leg and you tell him, You can't walk like this! Any orthopedist would tell you, you can't walk like this! And there he goes down the street, walking like that.

What I want to get across to you is the spirit of waiting in amazement and respect. What this sounds like is a kind of weather that requires waiting, like a storm you can't stop, or time to the minute, or adjust yourself to either -- it's beyond you what is going on, beyond you. Is that a grammatical sentence? I am quietly defiant.

It is an attitude I am attempting to convey, not a set of instructions. It was a trauma. That is clear. It was a tear, a break, a shredding of something dear.

She is coming back from it in her own way.

Your concern is with you. Her concern is with her. She can't give you anything. Maybe she feels bad about that. She might feel ashamed that she is so immensely grave in her shock and rawness. She might feel she should be stronger. You might frighten her. She might be afraid of failing to be who she is supposed to be, who she used to be, who she was for you. She might not know any of this -- what she is feeling, that is. (Is that another sentence that is in some way defective in form? May I write like this anyway, please? May I pay a small fine to write like this?)

Your concern is with you and how long this takes. It takes longer than it should. That is a rule. Do you like the short, declarative sentences? That is what these are. They are short. They are declarative. You could put them in a box like pebbles, rounded and uniform in size. Or you could use them like chisels, they are so stubby and hard. You could use them like chisels to break apart the longer sentences into ones to send to the English teacher, who owns the language and locks it up at night in a locker with the coats. Oops, I'm writing like that again.

It expresses an attitude and is not a set of instructions. It is a private thing shared. I am, like, in the attic.

The answer to your question is an attitude of waiting, as if you couldn't believe how long the storm has gone on, and have started thinking maybe you should just go to bed and see if it's clear in the morning. Remember on long trips sometimes you would just have to wait it out, and the adults would stay up, looking out the curtains, saying My, my! at the thunder? Waiting frees up some time. You can just go to bed and see how it is tomorrow.

I think you just have to wait, my friend.

Maybe I'm not saying it all just the way it should be said.

But I think you know what I mean.

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