I Wasn't Speaking To My Friend When She Committed Suicide — And Now I'm Trying To Grieve
I met Allyson* when I was naive college girl who thought drinking Smirnoff Ice was the height of class and that the novelty of staying up all night would never wear off. She was older than me, in her 30s compared to my late teens, and had been in the same sorority as me years earlier. We connected when she returned to college to pursue a master’s degree and became an active sister once more.
Allyson was loud, opinionated, and unapologetic. She taught me the importance of buying quality furniture, advised me to always wear lipgloss instead of lipstick, and was #sorrynotsorry for owning vibrators. I didn’t know what the term “feminist” really meant when I met her, only that when I grew up I would be happy to have even a tenth of her pluck.
Allyson was over 300lbs when I we met. She underwent gastric bypass surgery (and several cosmetic procedures afterwards) to remove loose skin that developed as a result of her weight loss. She was forthcoming about her self-esteem issues both before and after her surgeries, her struggle with depression, and the time she spend in a psychiatric ward as a teenager.
She could also be stubborn and jealous, easily imagining that her crush had a thing for you if he did nothing more than smile in your general direction. But her general aura of fabulousness was contagious, and being in her orbit was exciting and fun. When you hung out with Allyson, you never wondered what other people were up to or if you were missing out — it was happening here and now, and thanks to Allyson, you were a part of it. She brought this Catholic school girl out her shell.
Although she was fiercely loyal to her friends, Allyson was known for always being on bad terms with someone, cutting them out of her life after a big, dramatic argument. These epic flounces could last for weeks, months, or even a few years before she suddenly reached out to reestablish the friendship as though nothing had happened.
It was in the midst of one of these non-speaking phases of our friendship that Allyson killed herself.
Here's how the fight happened: I was off at graduate school, while Allyson and two of our mutual close friends were still active in the sorority. There was an unscheduled vote on a change in rules, and Allyson lost the chance to have a little sister. She felt as though the rule change was something everyone had discussed behind her back prior to the meeting, and was upset that the situation was handled so formally, rather than discussed openly. Allyson got mad and sent an email to the three of us, telling us she was done with both the organization and our friendships. I agreed that Allyson had reason to be upset, and that the situation was poorly managed. But when I tried to respond to her accusations that I was somehow conspiring against her, I found she had already blocked my email. She refused to return my calls.
While I was annoyed, particularly because I was being punished more for my affiliation with our sorority sisters rather than for having actually done anything wrong, part of me assumed our rift would be temporary, as always. After all, it was just a silly college sorority. Surely our friendship meant more to her that that. Yet the months passed by and my emails continued to bounce back, my phone number continuously blocked.
Many times, I drove by her job and apartment wondering what she would do if I popped in, but I tried to respect her space and kept my distance. I assumed she was just being particularly dramatic, but never doubted that one day she would once again hold me down to pluck my eyebrows or tell me I could do better than my current boyfriend. I didn’t know Allyson’s mental illness had gotten so bad that she had been hospitalized, that she was no longer the spunky older sister I looked up to and admired so much.
When I found out Allyson had taken her own life, I blamed myself. I should have done more, tried harder, sent letters, gone to her house, forced her to talk to me. I wondered if there was any way I could have prevented what had happened.
I felt like an impostor at the memorial service. Athough I realize now that everyone there was adrift on their own sea of numbness and grief, I kept thinking someone would escort me out, or that one of our mutual friends would come up to me soap opera-style, where she’d launch into a speech about how much Allyson hated me before smacking me across the face. Instead, I went in, mumbled my apologies to her family, and was shocked at how much I didn’t recognize the woman in Allyson’s most recent photos. It certainly didn't feel like closure.
I’ll never get the chance to tell her that she was unfair to cut me out of her life, and I’ll never have the opportunity to make things right.
Later this summer will mark five years since Allyson committed suicide, but I keep waiting for our olive branch moment. Whenever I drive past her old apartment, I have to remind myself that she’s no longer there, waiting for PeaPod to deliver her fifty pound bags of cat litter because she refused to sweat in public.
I wish I could say that I was at peace with her death, that I could look at a butterfly and tell myself it’s a sign she’s watching over me. But I can’t. The truth is, I’m still angry with her. I’ll never get the chance to tell her that she was wrong to cut me out of her life, and I’ll never have the opportunity to make things right.
I know it’s her depression that I’m truly mad at, because without her illness, she likely would have been more rational about our friendship. But I can’t fume at a page in the DSM-IV, so instead, I cycle between being angry with Allyson, and being mad at myself for thinking ill of the dead.
Even if I do get to the point where I can see a voluptuous redhead with a pixe cut and light blue eyes without catching my breath, I don’t know that I will ever truly come to terms with what happened. I can forgive Allyson for taking her own life, but I still can’t seem to forgive her for how our friendship ended.
*Name has been changed
Images: Megan Zander/Bustle