I Lost My Best Friend of Two Decades To Trump
We were good girls who drank. We pregamed with Rumple Minze, Goldschläger, and 151, and we winced as the drink burned down our throat. We pounded 50-cent drafts and staggered home. We held our drink until we held our hair back — but the drink was the one thing we couldn’t let go.
And on it went with Thursday night drink-ups and gypsy cabs into the city, and do you think we’ll get in, of course we’ll get in — we’re the pretty ones. We’re the girls boys want to drink with, go home with, make a home with. We’re swathed by the bottles we bought and the warmth they bring.
Remember that time we slid on black ice on Fordham Road because we only had enough money for a bottle of Boone’s?
When we drank, the world was set to rights. Scrubbed clean and raw and everyone was beautiful and nothing hurt. Remember being 19 and feeling so, so young? Faces unmarked by the slow, steady march of time.
Freshman year, I knew of you, but my impression was you that were a bit of a bitch. That persistent hair flipping, the one-carat diamond studs you wore, the Connecticut affectation — I wrote you off. Until my best friend vouched for you and it was second semester and I was 18 with a pile of AP credits, so really I was a sophomore in disguise. And so were you. We were both smart, acerbic women who had unbeatable odds for the best dorm a sophomore could get.
Later on, you told me this: Yeah, I thought you were kind of a bitch too.
We were barnacles. We were twinned. We were as thick as thieves. The poor girl from Brooklyn made passable by Long Island — I made everyone laugh. I was the girl the boys studied with. And you with your blonde hair and good breeding, handing me J.Crew catalogs. We ordered roll-necks, flannels, and scarlet wool scarves that we wound around our necks.
We attended a university planted in the middle of the South Bronx, and everyone was white, monied, and patrician. They hailed from New York, New England, and suburban New Jersey. I borrowed books and clothes and earrings while they collected allowances from their parents.
I was the full ride who worked in financial aid.
Everyone was also conservative. Molded in the likeness of their parents, although they regarded that truth as if it were a pair of too-tight pants they refused to wear. No, we were going to be better than what had come before. We were nothing if not ardent. They called us slackers drenched in apathy. They told us we’re Generation X. But we were all of those things and none of those things, and did it matter when parents cut a check every month?
I didn’t tell you the history of me, because I was ashamed of it — my mother was a specter that hovered just beyond my reach. A woman who sometimes called in the middle of the night. Instead, I swallowed my voice and all that history. Absorbed all of you.
I suppose I should thank you now, because people who meet me assume I come from wealth — the pedigreed education, perfected accent, the language and cultural references — because who I am as an adult, maybe the worst parts of me that took years to shed, is because I’d always wanted to be you. Until I didn’t.
Remember how you poked fun at the way I pronounced Massachusetts? How you implied I was intellectually inferior because I was getting a degree in finance? Because I do.
I wonder if you knew how I felt the first time we went to your home. How I bounded up the stairs because I’d never lived in a house divided in two. How I shook the silver fork I held in my hand. How even the toilet paper smelled of perfume. I marveled over your home — how could it be so white, so clean? Your family drew me in and held me tight. Fed me all the Portuguese bread because I loved it so much.
Funny, I can’t touch the stuff now, because it puts me to thinking of you.
You upheld the terrific fiction you’d sold me — happy family, happy life — and it was only decades later, on a car ride to New Haven, when you gripped the wheel tight and told me about the cracks in the fault. A family barely held together by string. A family that saved face to take a good picture.
Except for the money, you could’ve been me. I wish you would’ve trusted me all those years ago when I’d trusted you. When I let you in all the way. When you stood in my apartment one New Year’s Eve and saw my mother rage and you were quiet on the ride into the city when you said she frightened you. I held the door wide open while you barely cracked the window.
But back then, I was in awe of you. Over time, I handed over all my values to you. Maybe I should’ve said something when everyone poked fun of your last name, called you Hispanic, and you snapped and said you were Portuguese. European. You weren’t one of them. I was confused. And I should’ve said something when you made one gay slur after another. Talked about how your God didn’t love those people, and maybe I was slow on the uptake, but I thought your God loved all people.
I wasn’t homophobic like you. I wasn’t racist like you. But I was complicit. Perhaps I still recoiled from the years of torment in Long Island because my hair betrayed my paleness. White people couldn’t get the make of me. I was white but I wasn’t, and I sat silent when people hurled Brillo pads over my head in band class. I cried in the stall when people called me the names Black people get called all the time. Years later, they would beg me to come to their high school reunion at some steak house — maybe Benihana? — and I laughed and said fuck all the way off, motherfuckers.
I didn’t call you out hard enough, often enough until I was older. Excised from you. Until I was strong enough to stand on my own and stand up for what I believe in.
I imagine you reading this, like when you read my first book, and the pained silence that inevitably follows. You would tell me you’re not racist, you don’t harbor hate. Just like you told me you weren’t one of those Republicans, until four years ago, you let it slip you watched Hannity and Fox News. You would’ve voted for Ted Cruz. Black Lives Matter was a terrorist organization. Obama was a socialist, etc.
Really? You’re not one of them? How is it possible when you’re exactly one of them? The only difference being you’ve hidden your red hat and replaced it with David Yurman. You’re a genteel mother and lawyer living in affluent Connecticut, not ranting in a stadium of your peers.
But before we get to our chasm and our long stretch of silence, I want to tell you about the hurt I feel losing you.
You were my family when none existed. You made me one of your own. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I had a seat at the family table. I was invited to the weddings and showers. You trusted me to care for your daughter that Christmas night your son was rushed to the emergency room. I’m not good with kids, but I loved yours. I loved how your son would talk about wearing his sister’s princess costumes because he knew it would get a rise out of you — he just didn’t know why. Children love pressing those buttons.
Once, he pulled that on me, but I didn’t get mad. I told him some boys wore dresses and that was beautiful too. He was confused.
I never told you this, but he asked me if that was wrong. And I didn’t know how to answer, because I respected that he was your son. So I weighed each word carefully, but I told him the truth. I don’t think it’s wrong, but his parents don’t share that opinion, and I left it at that. But what I didn’t tell you was what he said next: I don’t think it’s wrong too.
If you’re reading this, no, he’s not gay. Exhale. He loves like you taught him to. Loves the kind of love you stripped away and traded up for a Christian kingdom on Earth. Children aren’t born cruel; they’re made that way.
Sometimes, I hold onto that brief conversation like a note played out too long until it warbles and fades out. Because I hope your children will be better than you — I love them that much.
What hurts is that I no longer love you.
But before we get to the election, remember the year you lost your job and were desperate for another? And how my closest friend Justin, an attorney at a fancy firm, tried to get you a job? Even though he knew what you thought of men like him — men who loved other men. He did it because he had grace when you were disgraceful. He did it because you were a human who had a family to support and you were hurting.
He was kind when you were unkind to his kind.
I wonder if you ever think about that moment when you were vulnerable and he was the better person. Because I’ve had years to reconcile all the times when I was a lesser person. I’m flawed and human, but I show up to do the hard work.
Here’s why it hurts to no longer love you. It’s not our history or how you brought me into your home. I hate to admit this out loud, but you saved me. Four years ago, I wrote an essay on this space that frightened one of my friends so much that she sleuthed until she found you, because you were the one person she knew who could get through.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cry, but that one morning in February, you called me from work. Whispered at your desk. Broke down in tears. You begged me to see a psychiatrist and offered to pay for it. And it was you breaking that cut me to the core. I got help not for me, but for you.
I didn’t die, because I loved you. I’m here because of you, your kindness. Isn’t it funny how time sorts things? How kindness can be given so freely and then snatched away?
The heart can be cruel and stingy above all things.
We had a tacit agreement — no politics. You were a lawyer who would battle to the grave, and I always had to have the last word. We would yell across our caskets if we could. We sat on either side of the political divide, but I believed we could weather our differences.
And then 2016. It started with your opinions on Black Lives Matter and me shouting into the phone and ended with your staunch support of Trump. Our once respectful yet heated discussions veered toward the ugly and profane. I’d lost all respect for you, and you, in turn, lost respect for me.
Before we hung up I asked, Who are you? And then it occurred to me you are exactly who you’ve always been. I’ve been the complicit one, the one who chose not to see. And when he won, you posted your triumph on Facebook — remember your glee? You could come out now. Loud and proud. And then you were dead to me, because I could no longer afford to be blind. There’s a cost for refusing to see, and I could no longer bear its weight.
Twenty-six years ago, we took up friendship like cross-stitch. We were bound to one another even as the years passed and our sheen fell to blight. I thought we’d have wine in our twilight years — me in my muumuu and you on your pristine porch. Keeping my meat longer on the grill because you know how I like it. I make that apple pie you like so much. And your children become what we once were — fresh-faced and filled with possibility.
I wonder if they remember me. I suppose that’s one of the many hurts — being forgotten. Locked in a box. I know how neat and tidy you like things.
You should know this one thing: I wish I could still love you. I wish I could throw open the doors and let the mothballs flutter out, but I can’t. And part of me wonders if I loved your fiction more. Did I ever know you? Did we ever know each other? Or were we thrown together and endured out of habit, convenience?
Or did we love the idea of us? The pretty blonde with the perfect life. The quirky writer friend who travels the world.
I’ll say this —
I’ll miss being in a car with you. Falling asleep while you drive.