Every time I get impatient, I pace around my house. And the longer it took for my friend Brad to text me back, the more I zipped from room to room. New Year’s Eve had come and by late morning, he still hadn’t gotten back to me about any plans.
New Year’s Eve had typically been one of my favorite nights of the year. It was the only time I had allowed myself to open the alcohol floodgates (since my early twenties). We’d gather with friends, I’d get trashed, and it always turned out to be an incredible night of fun, flirtation, celebration and love.
The previous year had been particularly fun as Brad, our partners and I, had met up with a small group of friends who didn’t yet know each other. And yet, all of our energies meshed together, right away.
But things had changed since then. Brad was no longer with his boyfriend due to some messy love-triangle stuff. And I had now gone completely sober since I quit bartending the previous July - a decision Brad had helped me make.
I desperately needed to re-harness last year’s energy for this year’s NYE for one simple reason: I was lonely as fuck. While I had my amazing partner Luke, the writer’s life made it difficult to get out and have social ties. Brad, who I dubbed as a best friend, had also become my last remaining good friend.
And yet, lately, Brad hadn’t been fully present in our friendship. He had discovered a new group of outdoorsy guys to hang with. These fellas were hardcore backpackers. I tend to be more “outdoorsy light” - I love being in nature, but the second I have to survive in it, I’m out.
I am not really the jealous type and didn’t mind getting left out of their reindeer games. But it seemed as though I was starting to get left out of Reindeer Brad’s life. It became increasingly difficult to even grab dinner with him anymore.
When I finally did lock him down for a meal in late fall, the first thing he said to me when we met up was, “I’ve really missed you!”
Without even thinking about it, I blurted out the words, “Are you sure?!”
He laughed. “Of course, I’m sure. What does that mean?”
I talked about him being fairly absent. He talked about his being fairly busy. I talked about my being fairly lonely. Our conversations slipped into the usual discussions of my self-deprecating mistakes and the misadventures of his “slutty heart.”
By the end of dinner, I switched the conversation back and told him I really, REALLY needed his help in staying connected. Brad responded with an invitation to join him and his new crew to a calendar release party by a local LGBT photographer at a new bar/restaurant. I accepted this invite and Luke wanted to come along as well.
The night of the calendar party had gone very differently than I had hoped. Brad and his friends sat in an oversized booth while we stood to the side. In my philosophy of being vulnerable and putting myself out there, I tried making small talk with his friends, but they didn’t seem to have much to say to me.
Then things took an even weirder turn when all of my old bar patrons started showing up. I hadn’t seen any of these guys since I quit and I had missed a lot of them. They all wanted to know how things had been since I left the bar and pursued writing full time. I also ran into a few old friends who I hadn’t gotten to see in a good while either.
Getting to see people who actually WANTED to see me gave me the wonderful connected feeling I had been longing for in my loneliness as a writer. The only problem was that I got to be social with everyone but the friend I had come to be social with. Once Luke and I were able to connect back with Brad’s friends, one of them laughed about how I knew everyone. I laughed too.
After that night, Brad seemed even more distant. Not only did I have trouble getting him to schedule dinner, but he slowed down on responding to my texts. He no longer liked or commented on any of my stuff on social media and it made me wonder if he had unfollowed me.
All of this left me confused and hurting. Did we even have a friendship anymore? I’d vent my frustrations to Luke, but Luke couldn’t really do anything for me but listen. Then, a week or so before Christmas, I got an envelope in the mail from Brad.
It included a handwritten letter telling me how grateful he was and how much he loved seeing me grow in pursuing my dreams of being a writer. Brad was pivotal in my starting the blog as he helped brand the whole thing.
The envelope also contained a wallet-sized photo of the two of us laughing together - a shot we had taken when I once wrote a blog post about the unique way we found our friendship. Then it had more thing - a third little gift. I pulled it out to find a passport coupon book to bars around the city (also another one for the mountains) for buy-one-get-one on beers and other alcoholic beverages.
“What the fuck?!” I said slightly disturbed. Luke leaned over and asked what it was. I showed it to him and asked the obvious. “Why would my friend, who helped me decide to get sober, send me a passport book for alcohol?”
My brain immediately spun off in all of the what-does-this-mean and the why-would-he-do-this. On the one hand, he sent me this incredibly sweet gesture of friendship. On the other, he included something that insinuated he didn’t know me at all. As per usual, Luke snapped me out of it.
“Don’t overthink it, my love,” Luke said. “Yeah, it’s weird he included that. But everything in there is so thoughtful. Don’t discount the positive.”
Maybe Luke was right. Maybe this was a matter of discounting the positive. I have a tendency to see the bullshit rather than the angel shit. And maybe the distance between Brad and I had been mostly in my head. Sure, we hadn’t been hanging out. But this little package was truly one of the nicest things any friend has done.
So what if Brad had possibly unfollowed me on Instagram? He and I obviously still had a friendship. I resumed texting as normal and, right before Christmas, asked him about New Year’s. I didn’t get a response. I decided not to read into it. He’s probably just busy. A few days after Christmas, I tried again.
Brad finally responded and said he was in the process of making plans with his other friends. He asked if we wanted to join. This made me feel second rate - like I was an “afterthought friend” - the person you don’t make plans with, but that you’d invite if they pop and you suddenly remembered they exist. I didn’t like this. But what other choice did I have?
On the day of New Year’s Eve, I texted and asked what the plans were. Like clockwork (or lack thereof), it took him a while to respond. Finally, he said that he and his friends would be doing dinner at 9:30 pm, and should probably be done around 11 pm and, would meet us at the bar. But he’d let me know if they decided to go to a different bar instead.
My stomach sank as I read this. Luke and I weren’t even good enough to be invited to dinner. But apparently we were just good enough to meet them at a bar they weren’t even sure they were going to.
Later in the afternoon, my sunken stomach then got punched. I went on Instagram and saw Brad with his friends celebrating early and wearing silly “FUCK2017” glasses. Plot twist: this was LAST year’s NYE, not this year’s. It has taken me over a year to come to a place where I felt comfortable writing this story. Not since high school had I felt like such a fucking loser.
Luke could see the overwhelming sadness taking over my whole being and said that we didn’t have to go out - that we could just stay home. The thought of this made me feel even more like a loser. Though now, looking back on it, this would have been the better option. Instead, I said we should still join them at the bar.
Luke and I arrived to the bar at 10pm. We hoped to get there early as to avoid crazy parking or a big line to get in. While the bar was busy, it didn’t quite have the high energy crowd I had hoped for. While we ran into a few acquaintances, we didn’t really see anyone else we knew. So, we just stood there…waiting and waiting and waiting.
By 11pm, I hadn’t heard from Brad. Time had become both excruciating and embarrassing, and I could not remember the last time I had felt like such a dumb doormat.
I turned to Luke. “Maybe we should leave,” I said.
This surprised him. “Yeah? Why?”
“I feel stupid,” I told him. “Here we are waiting for Brad and his friends and we don’t even know when or IF they’ll even show up.”
“I gotta be honest with you,” Luke said. “Every time we are around Brad’s friends, I feel invisible.”
The moment he uttered those words, a new sense of truth immediately vibrated through my body. I hadn’t realized it, but I felt the exact same way: invisible. Not only to my best friend’s new friends, but also to my best friend himself. And the harder I tried to fit in, to keep my friendship, the more of a fool I had been.
“Yeah,” I made the decision. “I am sick of waiting for them like a desperate teenager. Let’s go to the other bar.”
We hopped back in my car, but before jetting off, I texted Brad to let him know. He asked if the bar was a bust - if it wasn’t busy. I texted back and said that it wasn’t busy and that the crowd had been kind of strange and that we were headed to the other bar. I left this open ended to see how he would respond - if maybe he would switch gears and join us at the other bar too.
In being transparently objective, I realize this was a mistake. It was a passive-aggressive attempt to see if he cared at all. What I should have texted was the way I had felt. But that could have been a mistake too. Confronting someone while we are in an emotional state of mind rarely ever goes well. Besides, Brad didn’t even respond...again.
The second bar had also been a bust. Perhaps people just weren’t going out to bars much for NYE anymore. Either way, I pursued the “ultimate night out” so blindly that I couldn’t see the obvious signs of what would actually end up being the “ultimate disappointment” and the loss of my closest friend - my worst New Year’s Eve ever.
When Luke and I got home, I immediately went and grabbed the alcohol passport book that Brad and had sent, and threw it in the trash. I thought it would make me feel better. Instead, I cried. Fortunately, I had Luke to rub my back and tell me that I would be alright.
I made the decision that I wouldn’t text Brad again. Part of this was to not feel like such a tool anymore. But the other part was a test to see if he would ever bother to initiate a text with me again. As I often say, “action is information.” And what would happen next would give me far more different information than I expected. To be continued...
Edited by George Paraskeva
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