Nicole and I met in the fall of 1992. We worked together at USC’s Financial Services. Initially, I was jealous of her. Before she was hired, I was one of the few girls in that department. I got lots of attention. With her long brown hair, brown eyes, upturned nose, and cute smile, Nicole attracted many looks and compliments from our male coworkers. Suddenly, I was no longer the queen bee. Once I got over myself, we became friends. We had a lot in common. She understood my relationship with Adrienne. Nicole also had a younger half-sister, and their age difference was approximately 14 years: the same as Adrienne and me.
I don’t remember when she began dating her future husband, whom I’ll call Mitchell. I believe it was soon after she and I met. I do remember before they dated, she and I shared similar religious views: agnostic, perhaps spiritual, but not defined by any one religion. After she met Mitchell, she converted to Christianity, stopped swearing, and drank less wine. After they graduated, she followed him across the country so he could attend graduate school. With me living on the West Coast and her living on the East Coast, we drifted apart. We stayed in touch, but it was never the same. I watched as the independent, feisty woman I knew became a dependent, submissive, soon-to-be wife.
During the summer of 1998, Nicole and Mitchell got married in San Diego. By that time, I had been raising Adrienne for almost four years. Despite not seeing Nicole for several years, I was a bridesmaid in her wedding, and Adrienne attended as my guest. Adrienne spent most of the evening hanging out with Nicole’s younger sister.
Flash forward three years: The last time I spoke to Nicole was in July 2001 during the height of Adrienne’s illness. Nicole was in town with her new baby, and she wanted to take me out to lunch. I remember how hurt she sounded when I said I couldn’t go. She didn’t seem to understand how much my life had changed — how every waking moment revolved around fighting liver cancer.
However, I wanted to see her and suggested she visit Adrienne and me in the hospital the following week. Adrienne liked Nicole and always appreciated visitors during chemotherapy. Nicole didn’t outright decline my invitation. Instead, she didn’t respond, which was worse. She acted as though her child would catch cancer, but she knew better.
I’ll never forget the last thing she said to me, “God only gives you what you can handle.” It was such an awful, trite thing to say, and if you break it down logically, it makes no sense whatsoever.
Two months later, she responded to a group email I had sent. The first line read, “I just wanted to tell you how very much I love you.” Within weeks, Adrienne died. I never heard from Nicole again.*
I have not thought much about Nicole over the last decade. I knew she was married. I knew she had one daughter. I suspected she had more children. I knew her husband was a doctor in the Bay area, but I had no idea where she actually lived. And I didn’t care. I lost most of my friends after Adrienne died. Sometimes I knew why, but most of the time, I didn’t. Looking back, I feel as though a slow tsunami rolled into my life and swept my friends out to sea. Nicole, like so many other people, disappeared into the deep blue water leaving me alone on the beach. After years of being hurt and angry, I have become detached. Indifferent. I realize the saying, “Friends for a reason, a season, or a lifetime” is true. Nicole was a friend for a season.
That old photo, however, piqued my curiosity. For the first time ever, I googled Nicole. Because her husband’s practice is successful, I found her. Quickly. Damn, I was surprised. For one thing, she goes by her maiden name now. She also returned to her career, which she had given up to be a wife and mother. I know how innocuous those facts sound, but another few clicks revealed more interesting details. Her husband’s bio on his company website doesn’t mention her at all. It does state his involvement in his two daughters’ lives — from carpooling to coaching — and where the three of them live, which is approximately 65 miles from where Nicole works. Could it be that Nicole, a god-fearing, Christian woman, is divorced? And is she the non-custodial parent?
The friends who got away
On some level, I want to ask all of my friends who got away: why? But the truth is I already know why or don’t need to know why. Does it matter? No. Those old friends swimming with Nicole in the Pacific were friends for a reason or for a season. They were not friends for a lifetime.
*Nicole may have mailed me a sympathy card, but I don’t remember. If she did, I kept it. I keep every card anyone has ever given me.
Note: A shorter version of this post appeared on my previous blog Pondering happiness, hope, and wisdom on July 13, 2013.
Recommended Reading: The Friend Who Got Away
Also published on Medium.