I can’t say how many times I played the conversation about that friendship over in my mind. I wrote letters that never got sent and imagined Facebook messages that never got typed. Yet, for years, it never happened. I never apologized to Lila.
There were ten girls in my class from first grade all the way through my sophomore year of high school. With only 48 students in the whole grade level, one would think that the ten girls would be great friends by default. Early on, though, Mandy and I—with the similar clothes and the functional families—gravitated toward each other. The other eight did the same, and that was that. Mandy and I. I and Mandy.
It was in the months spanning the end of fourth/beginning of fifth grade when things got complicated. Those were the seasons of Lila. Lila’s teenage brother and my teenage sister were friends, and so they decided to arrange a friendship between us. Our first outing: going to see the Michael Keaton Batman movie in the theaters. We felt so cool because we were going to the movies with high schoolers. And then there was this sense of surprise; this girl who had been right under my nose for years was so fun, so…normal. With Lila came new possibilities. She lived close to me. She had a trunk full of amazing things like elbow-length gloves and pillbox hats. Outside her room, she had a balcony. She had a waterbed.
We spent countless summer afternoons together, and as our friendship grew, so did my knowledge of her life outside of school. Our fun became peppered with tearful phone calls about her parents’ fights and the occasional request to come get her so she could just get out of the house. I can imagine now that maybe my family provided some stability amid the tumult of hers.
As the August nights grew shorter and the start of the school year drew nearer, my anxiety rose incrementally each day. I had ended fourth grade with one true best friend, and over the summer, I had…replaced her? Added another? No. Neither scenario would work. Mandy and I were tied together. We fit, and we had our place among a larger group of friends. Lila didn’t fit into the puzzle.
The first day of school arrived. Ten o’clock break rolled around—the first opportunity for Lila and me to see each other. And I avoided her. I don’t know when I decided to do it, but I did. My eyes darted to anywhere but her face, and when she finally waved at me like she was flagging down an overhead plane, I simply said, “Hi,” and slapped a “what’s the big deal” look on my face. I don’t recall the rest of that day at school. However, I do vividly remember how small I felt when her mother called me at home that afternoon and shamed me for sending her daughter home in tears.
I tried to be sugary sweet the next day (mostly to make myself feel better), but the damage was done to our friendship. From that day forward, Lila and I were destined to be friendly acquaintances—nothing more. With one gesture of indifference, I likely ruined something for her—just as I am certain I ruined my chance at a meaningful friendship.
I told my daughter that story when she was almost six. (She’s eight now.) She had remarked on hearing the name “Lila” for the first time, and I told her how I once had and lost a friend with that name. Not knowing yet how people fade into and out of each other’s lives, she asked if we were still friends. My answer: “I don’t really know…but I’m sorry that I didn’t treat Lila better.” My little girl, with more wisdom then than I may ever have, said, “Mom, you should tell her you’re sorry. Maybe you could be friends again.”
Later that year, remembering Lila’s birthday always, I sent her a “Happy Birthday” Facebook message that included my sincere apology for the way I had treated her that day, crediting my daughter with the idea. She accepted and said that my message had made her day, and that my girl is going to be a great person when she grows up. I believe that. I believe that for every error in our judgement, every hurt we cause, we get an opportunity to teach our children to do better than we did.