Names have been changed.
Madison and I were in the same religion class freshman year of high school. At first, she gave me dirty looks or rolled her eyes when we made eye contact. I had no idea why. One day, however, she complimented me in class. Surprised, I told her I thought she was pretty, and we exchanged genuine smiles.
Next thing I knew, we were friends. I asked her later, “Hey, why did you give me dirty looks before?” She said it was because she thought I hung out with the cool, troubled crew from our grade (which was not the case).
We texted every day and hung out after school. Freshman year flew by, and by the time we were sophomores, our conversations became deeper and more personal. Her dad died just as we were getting close. I had never met him, but I went to his funeral.
As Madison shared her loss, I opened up about having been abused by my mother and going into kinship care with my grandmother when I was 11.
I appreciated how she handled loss. I didn’t realize at first how she’d been affected by her father’s death because she seemed so strong; she kept going. She wasn’t a quitter. I aspired to handle my own troubles with similar calm.
Knowing how much we each had suffered, we boosted each other up. I’d remind her what a good singer and dancer she was, and she’d tell me I was a great speaker and performer. Madison didn’t allow me to carry any baggage alone; she made sure I spoke about whatever I was feeling or going through. She always knew when something was wrong.
We Reflected Each Other
No one else knew that we were down on ourselves. People assumed we were fine because we were “conventionally attractive” and because we were always laughing together. We were going on 16 and both had therapists who didn’t do much for us. We began smoking weed together, and Madison began drinking. We enjoyed getting high, but as with everything else, we came to the same conclusion around the same time.
We met in the girl’s bathroom in school one afternoon after smoking together. Madison said, “Bro, I don’t like doing this sometimes. I hate the feeling of having to sit and deal with the high until it goes away.”
“Yo, I feel the same way. It doesn’t solve anything; it just traps me in a different state of mind that I can’t escape from. I just want to be sober after a while. Weed can really mess you up sometimes.”
“That’s exactly how I feel.”
“We don’t need it. Let’s just stop for a while.”
After that, we helped each other fight the temptation to smoke or drink to escape. We were so similar in our intellectual and emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Having such a reflective and intuitive friend helped me realize how smart I was.
Competition and Support
We were on the speech forensics team together. Speech forensics is an oral interpretation of literature pieces. We read prose and poetry in front of judges.
When Madison and I competed against each other, she usually won. But when we were in different categories, it would be easier for me to win. I was jealous, but I tried not to let it come between us.
Meanwhile, she was jealous of my relationships with boys. She said that she had never had a relationship with anyone. When I pointed out that none of my relationships lasted, she said, “At least you had them.”
But even expressing jealousy helped us see each other’s strengths. We were so intensely bonded, it felt like we were the same person. Usually the word “soulmate” is used for romantic relationships. But if a soulmate is a person ideally suited to another, Madison was mine.
Different Colleges, Drifting Apart
When we went to colleges in different boroughs of New York, we continued to meet up and text each other. But after freshman year, Madison became less available. I reached out to her and got upset when I didn’t get an immediate response. So I called her less and less.
When she transferred to University of the Arts in Philadelphia for sophomore year, she began posting on Twitter things I expected her to only tell me—like about her new boyfriend. I saw her distancing herself from me without communicating that she needed space, the way she would have back when we told each other everything.
I wondered if she’d forgotten all about me and created a new life. The intensity of my emotions about our friendship made me feel foolish in light of her pulling away.
I decided to let her go instead of communicating how I felt. There didn’t need to be a conversation if her actions were telling me everything I needed to know, I thought. It hurt like hell. I suffered every day from not talking to her but refused to put my pride aside.
Finally Expressing My Hurt
But then a few months later, I sent her a hurt and angry text: “It seems like you’re doing what you want to do, Madison, so I think you should continue doing that.”
She replied, “Lol ok Ericka, I’m going to continue doing me.” Madison said I was acting like an obsessive boyfriend.
I knew I needed to depend on her less, but it was hard to let go. We’d gone from telling each other everything for five years, to telling each other nothing. Lacking a solid relationship with my own mother, I depended on Madison for a lot. And I never got so emotionally open with or close to a boyfriend or anyone else as I did to Madison.
I knew it was over when she came to New York from Philly several times without even telling me. I only learned about her visits from social media. The relationship was out of my control, and it hurt so much. I turned to casual sex for comfort. I felt numb. I lost myself.
Lessons From the Suffering
After a year and a half, I began to bounce back from that bleak phase. I started realizing that I didn’t know who I was anymore when I hooked up with guys I didn’t care about. I didn’t have many friends because I compared everyone to Madison, and nobody measured up to her. I had put her on a pedestal.
I realized that I was mourning her. Some friends assured me that we would eventually talk again, and I hated hearing that. It felt like false hope.
I had a fairly new therapist, and I told her about my heartbreak and how I’d then numbed myself with self-destructive behavior. I realized in therapy that I had suppressed the loss of my friendship with Madison and had lost my sense of self. In high school we told each other every thought. Without that intense communication, I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. My behavior forced me to see who I was becoming.
With the help of my therapist, I realized I had to do alone what we had done together, and to take what I’d learned and move forward. We shared so much that she gave me the gift of self-examination. With Madison, I went deeper into my insecurities and my sadness than ever before. I can keep that gift and know myself and honor my feelings without her. I continue to be an open book and a genuine person, and that’s largely because I felt so seen and valued by her.
Madison also taught me a painful lesson: Just because I give doesn’t mean I will always receive, and I can’t expect reciprocation from everyone. I was kind to her and she was with me. I will continue to be kind with others because it is the right thing to do, even if I don’t get the appreciation I got from her.
Being true to myself is my top priority now. Some people in my life will appreciate me; others may not, and I can’t control that. I can just focus on those who do see me. I take pride in who I am, the impact I’ve had on others, and what I’ve accomplished in my life so far.
I know myself intimately now, thanks both to Madison’s friendship and thanks to the pain I suffered when it ended. I will never be loved, understood, and accepted fully for who I am by anyone, even though it did feel like that for a few years with Madison. But even if I’m not someone else’s favorite person, I will be my own.
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