Have you ever lost a best friend? And how did it happen? That is the question that has haunted me for many years. I have had two wonderful friends who slipped away, without any explanation, leaving much sadness and disappointment in their place.
One was a fellow countryman, someone from the same place where I was born. She was–well she is, I should say, such a brilliant woman, generous and kind. I met her at the university where I was teaching and liked her immediately. She was erudite, knew her subject well. She had taught at one of the top colleges in England and had written several books. We walked together, talked together about our work and our families. We travelled together, and I invited her to our house with her husband. She inspired me in the writing of Becoming Jane Eyre, a subject she knew extremely well. I felt she confided in me some of her secrets as I confided in her, and then just as the friendship seemed established on a firm footing, slowly at first and then abruptly, soon after the publishing of my book, she withdrew like a ship slowly disappearing into the mist. She shunned me, did not answer emails, and when I questioned her she denied any hard feelings or any mistrust.
What had happened? Did she tell me something she regretted? Was this a pattern with her? Or some insensitivity on my part? Or was there some jealousy involved? Had I trodden on her territory? Was this because of the success of my book? Yet she is such a successful woman, herself, and I could not imagine her being petty or small minded in any way.
The other story was quite similar, someone who was extremely generous, invited us to her lovely home for splendid dinner parties. She is admirably competent: She can cook, make everything herself, garden, decorate a beautiful home with taste, someone who has been very successful in the business world, a divorced woman, independent and seemingly so strong. She helped us with the garden at the moment of a wedding: what to plant and where to plant it. We shared our writing struggles, our lives.
In this case things were further complicated by a man to whom we introduced her, a relationship which did not last. She too was a writer but in her case not someone who had successfully published her fiction. Why did she suddenly withdraw and slip away? Again there was a pattern of great generosity followed perhaps by regret, though here too there was no explanation given. Was this, too, the green-eyed one who slithered in between us? Or just a simple parting of the ways.
We learn of course to live with these disappointments, but they do not cease to puzzle and to hurt. We can put them down to the passage of time, jealousies, unspoken insensitivities, and all the mysterious distances that spring up like rampant weeds, between human beings however hard we try to hack them down.
Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including Becoming Jane Eyre and the recent Dreaming for Freud.