Words are magnets that can bring kindred spirits together.
Writing is a profession that yields many unexpected gifts; you never know who you might meet on the page. Fellow humans from all walks of life and all corners of the globe are wont to appear at random and sometimes they can even upend your reality.
A year ago, one did exactly that. Our minds didn’t so much meet as collide and sparks flew, creating a mutual appreciation society of two as we became fast friends and allies.
I was on the constant verge of sinking as a result of being overtired, underslept, and overwhelmed by stress. But this human provided a guiding light in the darkness and for a while helped me find my way through thick mental fog.
At the time, I had been functional again for only a few months after losing five years of my life to major depressive disorder. My mental and emotional balance was at its most precarious. And I hadn’t yet figured out how to get back to Europe so I could support my parents while my stepmom underwent treatment for Stage IV cancer.
To someone who read hearts and minds as if they were instruction manuals, my distress was hidden in plain sight. This random human offered me their hand to hold and I grasped it with disbelief and gratitude, offering them mine in return.
Although neither of us had much strength to give and we were both in a dire situation, our combined minds created an energy greater than the sum of its parts.
This energy carried us and kept us going as we sought to solve our respective conundrums while rebuilding a life from scratch.
The psychic pain load and the shackles of illness that held us back became more manageable when supporting each other.
Even though challenging to the extreme, those were exhilarating times.
I’d sit down and words would pour out of me as if dictated by a benevolent presence sitting on my shoulder. Although not physically here, this fellow human’s influence was omnipresent, tangible, palpable. They became the friendly ghost whose very existence always brought a smile to my lips.
I no longer felt alone in the world even though I was — am — still bereft by the passing of my confidant of over two decades. But thanks to my new friend, life felt less heavy and I was able to go about my work with renewed energy and inspiration.
They woke me up from a long slumber, and I them.
Day after day, we bared our souls to each other, a process as painful as it was healing. By our own admission, we were both two very messed up individuals bound together by pain.
We co-created a beautiful friendship because it is always possible to honor our shared humanness, even in the midst of seemingly insurmountable difficulty.
Maintaining it wouldn’t be easy my friend warned me but I am fiercely loyal, stubborn to a fault, and neither of us had ever shied away from challenges.
Little did I know our friendship would soon be tested with inarticulate silences stretching for weeks on end.
Little did I know how much pain was still to come.
Little did I know I wouldn’t be able to help my friend.
Little did I know I’d wonder every single day if they were still alive.
Chronic illness is an invisible handler that sometimes dictate your every move.
When you happen to lead a non-standard life as my friend and I both do, our reality is frequently impenetrable to others, much as we try to share it. Articulating the distress within requires complete mutual trust but the innate instinct to protect another you care for from horror never goes away.
And the very reason why my friend fell silent and took a step back several months ago is likely because they can no longer let me in. This hurts more than words can convey as there’s nothing I want more than to help them shoulder the burden of being. The idea of them suffering alone is abhorrent to me but I must respect their choice.
It’s a choice I’ve made in the past, too. During the five years I fell out of my life I kept everyone at arm’s length. Unable to communicate confidently, I also wanted to shield both my family and my friends from the illness that was eating me alive.
It’s a testament to the enduring power of friendship that everyone I’ve been getting back in touch with over the last year has been understanding. It’s as if we’d last spoken yesterday and no one has taken my silence personally unlike my family who were hurt I didn’t reach out for help. My parents are retired and while I remain their child I’m no longer their responsibility. I am mine and mine only.
Not a day goes by when I don’t ache for my friend or worry but I know — and they know — I can’t allow darkness to take over else depression will pounce up on me and I’ll collapse again. Every day, I push back against illness and I suspect my friend does as much.
They once told me I didn’t need them and I can’t help but fear this might have been a portentous pronouncement. They were wrong, of course. Not only do I cherish and value them but we were at our best when we empowered each other.
True friendship weathers all storms.
Hopefully we’ll reconnect at some point. Meanwhile, we must continue to row our respective leaky boats even though I have found myself questioning their motivation in approaching me in the first place. Without an explanation as to why they chose to fall silent and vanish without so much as a goodbye, closure is impossible.
And yet, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes, silence is an act of self-preservation as much as it is an attempt to protect those you care about.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.