Have you ever had a friend that you once thought was going to be more than a friend, and then they weren’t, but they sort of still were, and then some stuff happened and you thought it was all going to change, but it didn’t, and then other stuff happened and you thought now it would definitely change, but it really didn’t, but then some MORE stuff happened and you were pretty much convinced that time?
Brad and I met on my first day of work in my previous job. I don’t really remember what was said. I just remember standing in the hallway, meeting him, thinking, “He’s going to be my friend.” Like it was first grade or something.
Two weeks later, the planes hit the Towers and the Pentagon. Brad’s uncle and grandfather both worked in the Towers, and his mom, he knew, was going to New York, but he couldn’t remember if it was that week or the week after. He couldn’t get a hold of anyone and he spent the whole day just watching the news. When he left, he sent me his phone number via instant message and told me to call him later. I wasn’t sure what was happening, because we had been chatting a lot, and I was new, and it seemed like he liked me, and I was 24 years old so that sort of means something. (I had progressed to sixth grade at this point.) But I knew he was worried and the whole country was scared, so of course, I called.
We had like a 30 minute conversation with me wondering whether I should ask about his various family members, and he was about to end the call, so I finally asked, cautiously.
”Oh! Yeah, they’re fine,” he said.
Little did I know that that phone conversation was the first of about a bazillion we would have over the years.
Brad lived right across the street from me; he in his apartment complex and I in mine. Sometimes we went out after work, or on a weekend. He took me to the first bar I went to since moving to town for the job. We hung out sometimes and watched a movie and ordered Chinese. When he had parties (which usually involved some sort of savage brutality masquerading as a sport on pay-per-view), I was the designated First Person To Come, because I was usually bringing something necessary (like cups), and also because I was the only person who was allowed to know how neurotic he was before the party started.
“Oh my God, nobody’s coming,” he would say.
“They’ll come,” I would say. “We have an hour before they’re supposed to show up.”
“Ugh, what if they don’t come?” would be his reply.
“Oh my God.” (He’s Woody Allen, this guy.)
We had late night phone calls that lasted two, three hours. This, after spending all day in the same building at work. He is the rare male mammal that actually likes talking on the phone. We hashed out each other’s days, we told stories, we unraveled the mysteries of the opposite sex with each other. (I was his woman-explainer; he was my man-explainer. Turns out, apparently every guy I’ve ever dated in life is a jerk, no matter how good the relationship was while it lasted. So saith Brad.) We quickly realized that we were total basketcases on our own, but with the other person, we were completely level-headed and reasonable. There wasn’t a problem we couldn’t work through for each other.
When my ovary decided to explode and try to kill me, guess who spent the whole night in the ER with me while I slowly died of internal hemorrhaging and the idiocy of a B-grade medical crew on a Saturday night? Yup. Brad. He yelled at the doctor – twice – because I was clearly in agony, there was one other patient in the ER, and I was being ignored. He got there at midnight and left at 7am, 30 minutes before I went into surgery, and about an hour after my parents had arrived. At 9am, he went to work. At 10pm, he came back to visit me. Having had some trouble getting in after visiting hours, he apparently had to work a little magic on the front desk. He was declarative when he entered my tiny room.
“We’re engaged,” he said.
“Oh,” I replied weakly, in a post-op painkiller-and-anesthesia-cocktail haze and feeling really awful. “Where’s my ring?”
Between the sweetness and the thoughtfulness, he found time to crack wise with the nurses and mock me while I lay in anguish.
One night, when my first (and longtime) love drove ten and a half hours from his home and showed up at my door to ask me for another chance on a night when all I wanted to do was watch American Idol, Brad called me. Ryan had finally left and I was on the phone with my sister at the time, drinking the bottle of wine Ryan had brought (which I waited all of five minutes to uncork after an anguished, heart-rending hour of awfulness). Brad’s call came through and I clicked over.
“OHmigod I have to talk to you.” This is how he starts all phone conversations. Never “hello.” Always straight to the neurosis du jour.
“Well, I have to talk to you too, but I’m on the other line with my sister right now.”
“But this is, like, huge.”
“Mine’s pretty huge.”
“Nnnnope, I’m pretty sure mine’s bigger.”
“Nnnnooo, I’m thinkin’ mine is.”
“Amanda (girl he was seeing) had a kid in her class that has tuberculosis and now I’ve been exposed.”
“Yeah, um, Ryan drove halfway across the country, showed up at my door with a bottle of wine and a white rose, and asked me for another chance.”
“Yeah, you win. Call me back.”
I was heartbroken when he told me he’d found a girl he really, really liked, but I give him credit; he called and asked me to come over because he needed to talk to me. Not many guys you’re not even dating would do that. But I thought we were in trouble then. I thought our friendship would fade. I cried as much over that as I did over him falling for someone else.
But we stayed close. I got over the idea of him and me, and we still had those marathon phone conversations. Brad dated Lila for two years, and man, was there drama. I’m the one he talked to about how to deal with it.
Then he met Carrie.
Carrie was a force of nature. She worked with us, all gusto and go-getterness, fresh from a place somewhere in Virginia. He couldn’t shake her, and he didn’t want to. She was the reason he ended it with Lila, ultimately (even though I was on the phone telling him he couldn’t start anything with Carrie until he broke up with Lila. Sometimes I yelled that at him. Just to make sure he understood.) After two months with Carrie, he called one night all worked up because she had made a list of expectations. Wow, I thought. She has no idea who she’s dealing with. He was worried this was a harbinger of things to come.
Brad got a job in New York. The idea of him leaving town was sad and scary for me. I thought for sure we’d lose each other in the distance, that we could never stay as connected as we had been for five years. On his last day at work, he came over to me to say goodbye (which irritated me; didn’t I deserve more than a workplace adieu?) and I burst into tears. I had to run into the ladies’ room. I tried to calm down, but I couldn’t.
When I gave up on getting it together, I flung the bathroom door open, and there he was, in the hallway, waiting for me. “This isn’t working,” I sobbed into his shoulder when he wrapped me up in a hug. “I can’t stop crying. It’s your stupid fault.”
He just hugged me tighter.
But still we stayed close. We emailed each other as though we were using the instant messaging system at work. All day long, one- or two-line emails volleyed back and forth between our respective servers. Little, stupid stuff. Stuff that didn’t mean anything. Just the stuff of days passing. But with the emails and the text messages (and the less frequent phone calls), we kept up our friendship, same as ever.
One day, at 1pm, he emailed me. “I have to tell you something.”
Nothing for 30 minutes.
Then: “Yeah, we’ll talk.”
“Ugh. You’re annoying.”
It went on like this for three and a half hours. Finally, at 4:30pm, he sent The Email.
“I bought a ring.”
I had gotten to a point where the idea of Brad and me together made me laugh, so I wasn’t jealous about him loving her. But still, when I read those words, I stopped breathing. A ring?! What?!
“What. Kind. Of. Ring.” Send.
“The kind with a diamond” came back.
Holy crap! How did I not know this was coming?! How did he not talk to me for, like, hours about this? How did he manage to make this decision without me?! I hadn’t realized it, but the drama that surrounded Carrie’s list of expectations two months into their relationship was the only drama he ever had with her. My little Brad was growing up. He didn’t need me to be a part of his major decisions. It was happening. We were drifting.
I lambasted him via electronic device. “I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU ARE TELLING ME THIS AT 4:30 IN THE AFTERNOON! Three and a half hours, you made me wait, and now I have a Thing, and you tell me this NOW?! Ugh. There will be a phone call. Oh yes. A phone call will be made.”
I had to keep The Ring a secret for a month, even though I still worked with Carrie. I knew for a month that he was going to pop the question, and I couldn’t say a word. I’m good at keeping secrets, but I spent the entire week before she left to meet him for vacation with a mantra in my head: ”Don’t say ‘ring,’ don’t say ‘ring…’” and trying not to look at her left hand.
Several months later, she got a job in New York and moved up. A few months after that, I stood on a beach and watched him marry her. I wondered what would happen to our friendship now.
Two years after that, while we were Facebook-chatting one morning, as per our usual routine, he sent me a message: “ANSWER YOUR PHONE!”
“Oh, that’s you!” I replied, getting my phone.
“Okay, good. Now. Read this.” I heard a click as he hit ENTER on his keyboard.
“Carrie is pregnant” popped up on my screen.
“AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!” I cried.
“Okay, back to the computer,” he said, and hung up. We had the rest of the conversation via Facebook chat. Their parents knew; that was it. Another secret for me to keep for a month. Carrie didn’t even know I knew. I’m forbidden from telling her how far in advance I had been informed.
Throughout Carrie’s pregnancy, he’s shared his anxieties (of which he has several). His mother, her mother, the Jewish vs. Methodist thing (he’s Jewish, Carrie is the daughter of a Methodist minister, his mother makes him insane, she’s very close to hers), furniture, dogs, new apartments in New York (this is where I get to remind him that he lives, in point of fact, in New Jersey, which he blindly refuses to admit, despite driver’s licenses, license plates, mailing addresses and various other things that confirm his actual state of residence).
Last week, at seven months along, Carrie fell and had to spend a night in the hospital.
I was on vacation, and he hadn’t tried to call or text or Facebook chat with me while I was away. He didn’t tell me about it for days.
When he finally did, via text while I stood on the jetway for a flight, I responded, “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this.”
This is it, I thought. Now that he’s going to have a kid, everything’s going to change. Including our friendship.
“Eh, everything’s fine,” he replied. And then I remembered: his very first text to me that night was, “Are you back yet? You go away for too long!”
Somebody missed me.
“I told you I had my laptop, and my phone. You could have texted, emailed, called or Facebooked,” I replied.
“yeah I don’t really like texting these days” was the response.
Yeah… we’ll be alright.