Decade of Contrition

I met Kate at a poetry slam at Casa Cantina in Athens, when we were undergraduates at Ohio University. We were the kind of people you’d find at a poetry slam in an Athens hippie co-op bar. We became instant friends as we breathlessly confessed every book

I met Kate at a poetry slam at Casa Cantina in Athens, when we were undergraduates at Ohio University. We were the kind of people you’d find at a poetry slam in an Athens hippie co-op bar.

We became instant friends as we breathlessly confessed every book we both loved, every CD we both owned, every crunchy-crafty hobby we shared.

Like everyone, Kate towered above me. Her long, light-brown hair was so straight and smooth that it seemed to move on its own, a curtain that kept closing around her face. She would tuck it behind an ear to give me a peek at her full smile, green eyes, slender nose and strong features.

She had long, lithe fingers with little round scars where she’d had a sixth finger removed at birth. She was an English major and women’s studies minor, and we spent many hours talking feminist theory and science fiction.

We dived together into Moosewood’s international cookbook, making vegetarian feasts from all over the world. We traveled all the way to Cincinnati together (my first visit to my now home city) and hung out at Sitwell’s back when it was in the basement of the Cove Apartments and shopped all over Ludlow Avenue. We even performed the undergrad equivalent of the meet-the-parents ritual: hanging out with each other’s Friends From Home when they came to visit.

The friendship begun abruptly with my heart racing at the pleasure of finding a kindred spirit, whose fascinating eccentricities and engrossing back story filled me with admiration and the desire to learn more, to hear more, to discuss every idea we had or hadn’t already examined in depth.

But just as abruptly as this rare friendship began, it ended. Kate tore away from me in an instant, like a piece of a house ripped out in a tornado, whipped away suddenly, visible to me in a spiraling instant and then gone, with all the violence of a natural disaster, leaving a wide hole whistling in the wind.

In our senior year Kate began to date a guy who was a known, documented total douchebag, and in my infinite idiocy I confronted her about it. It’s not simply that she ended our friendship over a guy; to her, my confrontation was the ultimate betrayal, evidence I didn’t support her.

I believed a heartfelt apology and pledge to put it behind us would bridge the rift. I e-mailed her and called, passed messages between acquaintances. Silence yawned back at me.

I went to her house, banged my fist on her door, shouted, “Kate, I’m so sorry! Let me in! Can’t we talk it over?”

“Fuck off!” came her reply.

She opened the door just wide enough to slam it in my face. Before she could, I shoved my foot in and tried to pry it open — not the best move I realize, but give me a break. I was about 20 years old, totally impassioned and grasping desperately for my friend. She jammed the door against my foot, and I withdrew in pain.

I stood staring at the mute object that now separated us. The wooden door and its peeling paint stirred rage and humiliation that grew fast and hot to my face and arms. I briskly walked home in tears.

Months passed, and graduation approached. I feared I had very little time left, and then we’d both belong to the world. We would no longer belong to little Athens with its hippie co-ops and poetry slams, Punk Rock at the Union, friends at the coffee shop between classes and little brick paths ground down by centuries of studious passage. I decided to extend one last request for reconciliation.

And Kate finally agreed to meet me for lunch and hear my prepared remarks. I apologized repeatedly, reminded her of our great moments, our rare friendship, the pierogies we made by hand in my little kitchen, the times we sat on the campus green sewing and gossiping.

I told her that her punishment of eternal silent treatment didn’t fit my crime of being a nosy, judgmental know-it-all.

She sat across from me, arms crossed, lunch untouched, saying nothing the whole time. None of my urgent appeals could bring forth a syllable from her.

Finally at the end of a grueling half-hour, when I might as well have been challenging a statue to compete in a dance-off with me, I rose and pushed back my chair.

“This is useless, isn’t it?” I announced. “I’m wasting my time and yours. You just don’t want me in your life anymore.”

She looked up at me mutely and nodded.

I haven’t gotten over the shock that I couldn’t make things right between Kate and me. We grew close in a time when relationships and contact required effort and reciprocation.

Now, a decade later, Kate could easily and casually accept a friend request on Facebook without the slightest overture of forgiveness. So I decided to look her up and give her that chance to reach back across the decades with the merest possible acknowledgment of our history.

Weeks later, I’m still “awaiting friend confirmation.” Now I wonder if I even want a friendship with someone who would hurt me so much for so long. Am I just curious to see how she ended up? Do I want to be vindicated and maybe receive an apology of my own?

Yes, all of these. But instead I’ll accept that her silence is, at last, out of my control.

CONTACT FRANCES L. HARP: [email protected]

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