I met her in kindergarten. She was feisty and a bit rambunctious, with wildly curly hair. We’ll call her Cora.*
Lucy* came in during second grade; she seemed like the complete opposite of Cora, had a quiet demeanor and straight hair like mine. The three of us became friends and shared interests of bunnies, alien conspiracy theories, and conveniently lived less than half a mile from each other. We would visit each other, watching old Star Wars movies (Cora was a huge fan) way too many times, and dreaming up new stories for ourselves. A few years later, Cora and her family moved a couple hours away.
For several years, we called, fully utilizing the cool method of three-way calling on our landlines, until one of our parents yelled at us for taking up the line. It became easier with the advent of the cell phone, though we had to be careful not to exceed our minutes back then as well. Most of the time, Cora would talk, telling us how much she wanted to move back to our hometown and how boring people were in her “middle of nowhere.” Conversations evolved into who she was in love with, certain that this guy was “the one,” breaking up, and moving on to the next one, who – this time – was “the one,” and so on.
On one particular call, she dropped big news: she was pregnant. I was shocked, but Cora wasn’t one to hide from these types of things. She no longer wanted to stay in a relationship with the baby’s father, and he harassed her family with calls, filling up their voicemail, staking out her home, until she finally managed to get a restraining order on him.
It seemed then that the drama died down. Cora delivered a beautiful, healthy child. If we were Catholic, Lucy and I would have been named godmothers. We went to different universities and would still visit Cora a couple times a year. Cora went to a local community college, where classes were deemed too easy, but she flunked them anyway. She struggled with depression, or ADHD, or maybe her therapist didn’t know what they were talking about. The story changed sometimes, but life went on. Cora didn’t seem too worried. Her parents were helping take care of her baby, and she assured us that she knew what steps to take to find a job and live well.
Fast forward yet again: I was at work. I checked my phone to see multiple missed calls from a number I did not recognize. Strange, but as I typically do in these cases, I ignored them. Later that night, my phone rang again, and I picked up.
“You are about to receive a collect call from an inmate at [REDACTED]. This call may be monitored….”
What? Was this a scam? I didn’t know anyone in prison.
But I did, and it was Cora. Though she couldn’t talk about it on the phone, I got the story from Lucy, who relayed it from Cora’s mother. I looked up arrest records online, and it was confirmed: Felony assault with GBI (Grave Bodily Injury) without a weapon. She and her then-husband were convicted – Cora was to serve three years in prison.
Since I didn’t know all the details, I tried to lend a sympathetic ear. I picked up Cora’s many calls when I could. Yet the reasoning I had heard behind the assault seemed so asinine and unfathomable. Though she hated being in prison, Cora did not act like it was a big deal.
It was to me. However, after being friends with someone for more than fifteen years, the decision to break off the friendship remained difficult. We had great memories as children, and as we grew older, we shared more. Birthday parties, discussing celebrity crushes, giving advice to each other when an obstacle popped up in one of our lives – these were some of the same essentials of nearly every other healthy friendship I had. Would I be abandoning a friend in need? I had told her to be strong over the phone and to hang in there, but how much weight did those words carry? Was there more to the story? I shuffled between these thoughts, and Lucy was my great confidant in talking through it all over a couple months.
In the end, I could not justify being friends with someone who would commit such a crime. We had grown to be so different; our paths diverged. I lost my faith that we could be okay – that I would be okay with us – after this ordeal passed. I was 99% certain she would never do such a thing to me, but that 1% of fear nagged at me incessantly. Despite our years of friendship, it seemed that I could not help her be better – and she was in no capacity to better mine. I was done.
Since we couldn’t call Cora directly, Lucy and I drafted a letter to end the friendship, revising several times before clicking the send button. I ignored Cora’s subsequent calls. When she left prison early and sent me friend requests on Facebook, I deleted them.
I cannot say that all this was completely unexpected. Our friendship was more one-sided, with Cora doing most of the talking and not someone I trusted completely. I listened as she made her mistakes, cycling through toxic patterns, all the while saying that she knew how to get back on track. When it seems like nothing changes, and the same things happen over and over, it is draining. Though she may not have been a terrible person, I knew I could no longer support her as a friend. Breaking up was the right thing to do for me.
Cora, if you’re reading this, I hope you find your way soon.
*Names have been changed for privacy.