How Do You Say Goodbye To A Friendship That No Longer Fits?

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
Her name was Sarah, too. We were 5, and so our first conversation went something like this:

“My name is Sarah.”

“My name is Sarah.”

Like that, we were friends. Sarah lived in my neighborhood. We played soccer together on a team named The Smurfettes and found ourselves in the same class in kindergarten. In first grade, she was the ultimate wing woman, doing my talking for me and ushering me to my seat on the first day of class. I was so shy, in fact, that when Sarah was put on the wall at recess for not doing her homework, I tried to erase my phonics workbook so I could join her.

“If you need a sharper pencil, Sarah, just ask,” Mrs. Corey admonished me, pointing to the divot marks on the paper. I paced the playground alone, stealing glances over at my friend who looked impossibly cool leaning up against the bricks.

Sarah was all the things I was not, things I thought I never could be: tough, bold, daring. She wore her blond hair short, and she dressed like a tomboy, somehow, even in our uniform skirts. She rode wooden go-carts down the steepest driveways, went face-first down the snowy slopes in winter. When she was still much too young to drive, she “borrowed” her brother’s moped and forced me to sit behind her, dangerously weaving in and out of the parked cars on our street until my mom ran out of the house screaming for me to get off.

As we grew older Sarah turned to sports, and I turned to books. She struggled in school, and I excelled. She was a talented athlete, and I was a book nerd. She kissed boys, and I wrote dramatic poems about heartache in neat, rhyming couplets. She tried to toughen me up. I tried to soften her. We were The Sarahs, but we became other things, too, and our disparate identities began to pull us apart. I didn’t like that she bossed me around. She didn’t like that I followed the rules. I didn’t like that she made fun of me. She didn’t like that I made new friends. And then we argued. Sarah could anger easily, grow volatile. Sometimes she’d get rough, push me or wrestle me to the ground. Looking back, I see a young girl with a difficult time expressing her emotions. But in the moment, I believed to the core of my being that she might kick my ass.

By high school, we went our separate ways. Even though she lived just down the road, I rarely saw her. I knew an injury had halted her athletic aspirations; I heard she'd tried to run away from home. I’d see her in the hallways like a surly specter from my past, and we wouldn’t even say hello.

When is the moment we finally say goodbye to old friendships we realize no longer fit, ones formed by convenience or geography or something as simple as a shared name?

But nostalgia can play tricks. It lures you back with the false security of sweet memories: the times we built forts out of refrigerator boxes, the times we marathon-watched aerobics competitions, then mimicked the routines because it was funny. After four years, our old wounds slowly faded. By graduation, we were cordial. And by college we were old pals again, laughing over beers and saying, “Can you believe there was a time we weren’t friends?” We were The Sarahs again.

Sometimes we cling to the past a little too blindly. History, if you examine it closely enough, reveals patterns. Perhaps I didn’t want to see that. Perhaps nostalgia is simply the wistful longing for a past that never existed.

I went to grad school, and Sarah got a job. She’d call to tell me stories about her awful co-workers or dramatic fallouts with boyfriends. She was erratic, but charming. Still volatile, but quick to laugh. She was learning to rock climb now and wanted me to learn. I was learning to write fiction and wanted her to come to my readings. Our meetings began to feel like obligations. Beneath the memories we didn’t have that much, except the roles we played, like kindergarten versions of ourselves.

The last time we spoke was not a blowout or a takedown. She didn’t scream at me and I didn’t tell her to go to hell. “Talk to you later,” I said, probably annoyed. “Okay,” she said, if not a little disinterested. “Goodbye.”

When is the moment we finally say goodbye to old friendships we realize no longer fit, ones formed by convenience or geography or something as simple as a shared name? It’s hard to pinpoint, and even harder to do. The moment comes, I think, when we accept that it’s okay to let go of the friend who helped shape us, because shaping comes as much from growing with as it does from growing against. And it’s the growing against that can eventually break you.

I haven’t talked to Sarah in years, though I still think of her from time to time. Occasionally she’ll make a cameo in one of my dreams. In it, I’m riding on the back of her bike down a hill. “Faster” she screams and pumps the pedals. I’m scared, but I’m laughing all the way.

Sarah Domet is the author of The Guineveres, released October 4 by Flatiron Books.

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