For my birthday this year, Grannie sent me one of those white, over-sized UPS envelopes. It was filled with memorabilia from 1990-1991, the year I stayed with her. Among my ACT scores and college acceptance letters was also a handmade card from a woman who was my best friend in undergrad. Her name was Bobby.
As soon as I read it, I began to cry…real tears.
The card, a piece of 8 ½ x 11-inch paper folded horizontally, included heartfelt words about me that she’d written for my 20th birthday. She’d expressed how she couldn’t afford to buy a card but how she’d hoped this gift would suffice. Bobby ended the sentiment by saying that I was what she considered a good “friend.”
That’s what made me cry. Bobby and I were friends for a maximum of two years.
During that time, people mistook us for cousins or sisters. We had the same skin tone and haircut and we were always together, no matter what. When she found out I was from Chicago, she nicknamed me Brini, after the infamous housing projects, Cabrini Green. I dismissed the offensive association because that was all she knew about the city. Because she’d deemed me ghetto, she would sing the Sanford and Son theme song when I entered the room. And because I didn’t have a lot of friends in undergrad, least of all a best friend, I let her.
Bobby was there when I first met Dwight. We double dated one night, and she cooed as he pushed me on a swing, “Brini’s in love!”
She and I flew to Charlotte, NC to attend my cousin’s graduation. She, Dwight, and I visited my family in Chicago. I was welcomed in her Detroit home, where her mother would make gumbo from scratch and send bowlfuls back so that we wouldn’t be hungry.
We were so close that we thought we’d join a sorority together. Unlike Bobby, I didn’t read the application thoroughly. I began to hand write my answers, instead of typing them. Upon realizing my error, I then used Wite Out and typed over the bumpy sludge. It was a mess. I submitted it anyway. Unlike Bobby, I was unable to attend an underground Christmas party in Detroit. And, unlike Bobby, I botched my interview.
Winter semester rolled around, and a mutual friend stopped us in our dorm’s hall, fishing for information. “Bobby, I heard you were on line.”
I responded for both of us. “We’re not on line,” I confirmed.
“I haven’t heard anything about you Kathy. Just Bobby,” she said.
The decline of our relationship hit me in that moment. Bobby was on line; she was initiated into the sorority that semester, leaving our “friendship” in the past. I’d see her at parties or on campus donning her shiny paraphernalia with her new circle of sisters. We didn’t speak the remainder of my time in college.
About five years later, after Dwight and I had married and had our first child, somehow Bobby and I found one another through email.
“I’m sorry,” she wrote, “I know Dwight must think I’m horrible.”
I don’t remember my exact response, but I know it wasn’t nice. 1999 was the last time we communicated. I thought I’d unleashed the hurt of the situation in that last email. I thought I was over it. But it turns out, I wasn’t.
I’m sharing this because I was shocked that over twenty years later, her handwritten card would trigger such emotions. Clearly, I hadn’t released the sadness of the relationship. I’d just buried it. And so it is for many of us. Sometimes we think we’ve dealt with something when really we’ve just repressed it and replaced it with a coping mechanism.
But this time, in May 2019, I figured out why I was so hurt by the loss of our bond. Four years before our meeting, my mother had died. Three years prior to our friendship my father had sent me to live with Grannie. I’d already decided that I wasn’t good enough to be loved and her additional abandonment solidified it.
Like previous narratives, I had to also let this one go. Bobby was the type of “friend” she was because of herself; it had nothing to do with me.
Today, I’m clear about that. Should I come across another memento representing our friendship, I’ll send out new energy by thanking her for her companionship and wishing her well.
If you’re wondering, I’ve also since realized that real friends don’t offer up nicknames associated with infamous housing projects and television shows centered in a junkyard. But I’ll save those lessons for another blog.