Sometimes, when I am putting away laundry, I stop and notice my coat hangers. Most of them are not special in the least — just ordinary, boring coat hangers. But on some of the white ones, you can still make out a faint black mark, made by a Sharpie nearly 12 years ago.
Freshman year of college, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) Rick and I made friends with a guy named Tim. We first noticed Tim because we had seen a series of near-doppelgangers for Rick around campus, and Tim was one of them. One day, we ended up eating lunch at the same table as him in the dining hall. Turns out, he was a geeky filmboy who loved They Might Be Giants. We became fast friends. Early on, he needed to borrow some hangers. I lent him ten or so, marking them with a Sharpie so we would know which ones were mine at the end of the year.
Soon, our friendship was tested. Tim entered a relationship that would take an up-and-down course, one that pulled him out of town often and for increasingly longer stints, one that sometimes jerked him around. He was losing focus on his life and studies in Boston. I became very protective of him, jealous (in a platonic sense) of losing friendship time to a girl I didn’t think treated Tim very well. I felt enraged on his behalf, and I believed that this was what it meant to be a good, loyal friend. One time, I staged a We Love Tim weekend, pulling his friends together for a fun weekend of activities to show how much we cared for and missed him. By Saturday afternoon, however, he had already booked his bus out of town.
This all continued even after he transferred to go to school closer to his hometown, where she lived, and after college, as well. When they were together, I rarely heard from him. When they weren’t, Tim fell back to us, where we counseled against his getting back together with her. But Tim usually did.
When I found out they were engaged, the alarm bells sounded in my mind. Who am I to judge, right? But I did. The wedding invitation came, and I was filled with self-righteous indignation. There was no way in my mind I could attend a wedding where I did not support the union. I initially sent my RSVP, mainly because a mutual friend wanted me to attend. Eventually, he realized he couldn’t go. So I didn’t go either.
I tried to call, e-mail and write to explain myself. I wanted to state my case, offer a reason for why I wasn’t going to be there to support the decision he made, one I felt I couldn’t support myself.
He never responded. The wedding went on, and I wasn’t there. And when I saw the two of them at the same mutual friend’s own wedding a year and a half later, the reception was so chilly that despite it being August, I felt like I needed an overcoat.
That was almost a year ago. It’s hard to have a friendship die, and I’ve thought a lot about how my friendship with Tim fell apart and what my role was in that happening. I think part of the problem was that I didn’t listen to him. I projected a lot of attitudes, opinions and emotions onto the situation, but I don’t think I wanted to hear a whole lot in return. It’s also about trust. Ultimately, I didn’t trust him to live his own life; I thought I knew better. I am a firm believer that people shouldn’t blindly support all the choices that their friends make, particularly if they are dishonest or self-injurious. But I don’t think I ever had a conversation with him about my concerns and feelings that wasn’t full of self-righteous bluster and misguided protectiveness. It all comes down to honesty and being direct. We all deserve friends who won’t posture or project, or pull away when things get tough, but will give it to us straight and listen when we do the same. I failed at that, but I’ve accepted this and hopefully learned from it.
And if for some reason I haven’t, everytime I thumb through my closet and linger on a black-marked coat hanger, I have a reminder. In an instant, I’m flung back to a simpler time. We’re standing in Tim’s dorm room, next to his closet. Pictures and headlines cut out from free newspapers blanket the wall. Tim is laughing. He’s my new friend here at college and we’re off to a great start, and I haven’t fucked up yet.