When one of your oldest friends texts you, you answer immediately. When that friend texts you a photo of her engagement-ringwearing hand, you drop the phone.
Married? What the fuck? I’m sorry, married?! That was what was going through my mind when I instinctively texted her “OH MY GOD” before “Congratulations!” Before the shock subsided, I called her and she answered on the first ring. Her excitement was tamer than it should be, something that made me feel almost smug. Like even she knew it was too soon. I didn’t even know where to begin, so I just asked her about how it all went down—a question I meant more to mean, How did we get here? than about the proposal. She told the story like I had asked her what she did last weekend—like it was something she had repeated a lot today. I felt my chest get tight when I thought of how many people she must have called before me.
I stood there, phone barely resting in my sweaty palm, mouth agape like I was waiting for someone to close it for me as Josephine regaled me with the elaborate scavenger hunt her husband-to-be had set up for her. She paused throughout her story so I’d make the appropriately timed “awws” and “so greats.” I mostly just interjected with “huhs” and “wows.” It was two minutes into the call when I finally realized how insensitive I must’ve sounded and slipped into severe overcompensation. I knew I should’ve been screaming for her. Crying even. I manically started asking about dates and venues and themes. Things I knew she likely hadn’t even thought of yet herself. I desperately wanted to sound enthused. I could tell by her tone that she knew I wasn’t. My futile attempts at not appearing disingenuous just made me look more so.
She rushed off to “make a few more calls” after just ten minutes.
I sat down on my bed, deflated. Overcome with a wave of emotion, I felt the wet hot feeling of tears bubbling behind my eyes.
Where’d you go, Jo?
When I was little, my mother enrolled me in all sorts of activities. Dance, soccer, ice skating, gymnastics, field hockey, religion, Girl Scouts—I tried it all. Strangely, the only one that stuck was Girl Scouts. Before you go making assumptions, you should know I’m someone who is adamantly against the concept of uniforms so it was a delight to have a more progressive Girl Scout troop that didn’t adhere to the uncomfortable standards set forth by one Juliette Low. Yes, elementary schoolaged Jenna ate her Tagalongs by the box-load in her brightly colored Limited Too ensembles, and there was nothing anyone could say about it.
It was in Girl Scouts that I met Jo. A tiny girl, half my size in stature and girth—a facet that has never changed—and she was one of the most social in the troop from day one. I liked her. She wore neon colors, had sweaters that were fuzzy, and her mom was our troop leader.
It wouldn’t be until my senior prom night when I had all my friends and their parents over that I’d realize that Josephine’s mom had been another (unofficial) mom for me over the years. She cried with my mom as they took photos of us in our pressed gowns and highly flammable hair. “I watched you all grow up,” she’d said back then, and we laughed and hugged her and said that it was all okay. That was what was supposed to happen.
I cry now when I think of her saying that because at eighteen, we hadn’t really grown up at all just yet. Because sometimes growing up means growing apart and we never thought we’d end up here, now did we?
Jo and I were friends from the day we met. We went through phases where we were closer and others where we weren’t, but from the moment each entered the other’s orbit, we never strayed too far. It wouldn’t really be until high school that we became very close and it was college that made us utterly inseparable. We both had stayed in our childhood homes, choosing a commuter collegiate life when all of our other friends chose everywhere but home. We spent nearly every waking moment together those first two years, for more than just our friendship—it was for our survival. We kept each other sane, realitychecking one another when times got tough.
We had a mutual understanding of the world at nineteen that none of our other friends could relate to. We were both working while in school, dependent on the money we brought in each week. Our schedules were far more erratic than many other college students. We had no pep rallies or dorm parties or Greek Life. We had waitress shifts and parental control and movie marathons in spaces we still couldn’t call our own. But we liked it that way. It’d be Friday night and we’d be on Facebook and see photos of high school friends at “CEOs and Corporate Hoes” parties. We’d shake our heads, pop some popcorn and spend the entire night hysterically laughing in one of our respective childhood bedrooms. We’d create OKCupid profiles and message boys we had no intention of ever meeting.
I’ve never forgotten those nights spent with her, in our oversized sweatpants and messy buns, laughing at the absurdity of meeting someone online. I’d never have guessed that’s exactly how she’d meet the man she’d marry. The man I met once before the engagement. The man I always thought I’d have helped pick out with her and then watch their relationship blossom every step of the way.
You never think your best friend will agree to marry a guy she’s known for six months. You never think she’ll grow apart from you and be a stranger because that’s just not possible, right? You never think your best friend won’t be your best friend anymore so you’ll keep calling her that because as long as you say that, it must still be true.
Just a few months before the wedding, Josephine came home to see her parents and greet her friends with her now fiancé. She invited me to get drinks with her and George at one our local bars so we could catch up, so I could get to know George. It was a bar I’d spent far too few nights in with her after we turned 21 because she had already moved away by the time we were old enough to produce cards that weren’t illegitimate.
When I got there, she and George were seated at the bar, sipping margaritas and staring into each other’s eyes like only people in love do. I immediately felt nauseated. There’s something so jarring about seeing your best friend look at someone you don’t know that way. It’s a weird, uncomfortable jealousy.
George was fine enough, a plain and simple man from a Podunk town with average dreams and aspirations. He comes from a large family that looks like they were pulled from a Sears catalog where the norm is marrying and procreating before the age of twenty-two. He’s the type of person you can see someone having a nice future with. A nice home. A nice life.
I respected him for his choices, his intelligence, and his desire for the nice life he deserves. But it was hard to supplant everything I ever saw for Josephine for this. Here was a vivacious and effervescent girl who brought life to every room she ever entered. And, now, she barely raised her voice one decibel over normal volume when she reunited with an old friend after months of not seeing each other. It was like someone had installed in her a dimmer switch with a lock on it and George was the keeper of the keys.
I spent a total of fifty minutes with the two of them that night. The conversation was so strained, like I was asking her to give herself an appendectomy with every question I proposed. George didn’t offer any assistance to further the conversation either. And why should he? As long as he knew Josephine, I wasn’t a relevant player in her life. I wasn’t a constant. I wasn’t her best friend anymore.
Walking to my car that night, I had to stifle sobs. The divide between us finally felt permanent, and I knew that the closer she walked towards the aisle, the farther we became as people.
The weekend of her wedding wasn’t at all like I thought it’d be. It was near Cape Cod in early May and I stayed with good friends that I had introduced to Jo back in high school, friends who were now closer with her than they were with me. How strange a sea change.
I stepped into my gown and swiped on a bold lipstick in hopes that I’d lead with a physical show of support because my heart wasn’t in it. I so wanted to be excited that morning. I wanted to feel that overwhelming, bubblingover emotion of MY BEST FRIEND IS GETTING MARRIED! but it just wasn’t there. Our friends knew it too. We spent more time singing power ballads and talking about college memories in the car ride to the Cape than we did about the happy couple.
Walking into the venue, everything was beach themed. The main room overlooked the water, and seashells lined every table and chair. I was shocked at how classy everything was, how subdued (For reference, Josephine was the girl who wore a blue cheetah-print gown with sequins to our senior prom). I found a nautical menu within minutes of my arrival. It indicated that Moscow mules and strawberry daiquiris were the drinks of the evening. I ordered one and finished it before half the guests had even arrived.
The first time I felt actual, tangible excitement that day was when I saw her parents. Josephine’s mom squealed when she spotted me, and her dad shouted my name in a joyous greeting. I hugged them both at the same time and immediately started crying. I suddenly realized the gravity of the day in their eyes. Their little girl was getting married. And even if she wasn’t my best friend anymore, parents giving their child away is a big deal.
I chatted with them for a while, asking them about the morning and the moments leading up to the present one. They were beaming in the way that parents do, gushing over how gorgeous and happy Josephine looked. You’d have never known they’d divorced just a few years before. The ceremony was simple. Her parents were right; she did look beautiful and happy. There was nothing else for me to say after she said, “I do.” I realized I could either sit there and angrily think she was making a bad decision, or I could resolve to support her, like a friend is supposed to do. It was her wedding day, a gloriously happy day. There was also an open bar. If ever there was a time to forget how much has changed and remember why drinking recreationally exists, it was then.
As the reception kicked into high gear, I couldn’t help but feel grateful that Josephine’s younger sister was spending the majority of the night hanging out with me. Her family was still my family. I took silly selfies with her dad and shots with her mom. I took two extra shots when her mom said Josephine wanted to start a family soon.
It would be another three months after her wedding that Josephine and I had the talk we had been avoiding for several years. She called me out of the blue on a random Tuesday, the stress in her voice palpable. I asked what was wrong, genuinely worried. She said she missed me and she’d missed me for awhile and, for what felt like the hundredth time I’d done so since our friendship fell apart, I started crying and said I missed her. We laughed through our tears at how lame we sounded and how we were like old lovers reconnecting after a bad breakup.
Except therein was the problem and we both knew it: there had been no breakup. There had been no acknowledgement of our friendship evolving and that made it that much harder to accept that it wasn’t there anymore. That we were growing up and apart. We had both been in such intense denial. We were on the phone that night for four hours, replaying the moments we had wanted to share with one another but for whatever reason felt we couldn’t. It was like a veil was lifted. It was the most cathartic phone call of my life. We weren’t back to where we were and we never would be, but the tension of us both fighting this fact was finally gone.
She called me a few weeks after that night to tell me she was pregnant. I nearly dropped my phone again, but at least when I told her “Congratulations!” I actually meant it.