Because I find it exhausting meeting new people these days, I especially treasure the friends I already have. They already know my history and my quirks and I don’t need to explain myself to them. It doesn’t matter that we don’t live in the same town anymore. Distance doesn’t diminish the friendship, at least not on my end.
Something just happened to me a few days ago that gave me a huge wake-up call, however.
I first met Juliane (not her real name) at camp when I was 11. We were partnered up for orienteering. While trekking through the woods, one of the boys tripped me and I sprained my ankle, but I continued hobbling around on it rather than telling one of the people in charge.
“What’s wrong with you?” Juliane asked in her forthright way. “Why are you walking like that?”
“My ankle hurts. I think something’s wrong with it.”
“Why don’t you tell someone?”
“I don’t know.”
Juliane rolled her eyes and went marching up to the nearest person in charge. “She sprained her ankle,” she said, pointing at me. “She needs to get off her feet immediately.”
And that set the tone for the rest of our friendship. Juliane rescuing me from my own inadequacies.
A little more than a year later, we ended up at the same junior high school, and she was the one person who remained my friend the entire time I went there. Others either viciously turned on me or just avoided me after I became a social pariah, but Juliane, who was much taller, stronger, and more confident than I was, would walk the halls with me as my bodyguard. She had a younger sister who was a lot like me, and she had done the same thing for her sister all through elementary school.
My mom and I ended up moving, first to another town just across the river, and later a 4-hour drive away, but Juliane and I always kept in touch, writing letters back and forth and even visiting each other via bus. I hated where my mom had moved us to, so when I was old enough I moved back on my own. Juliane and I ended up working at different stores in the same mall, and we got closer than ever. She was always there for me, helping me move on short notice when I was being threatened by a psycho roommate, and patiently listening to my teary-eyed ramblings when I had my heart broken.
We had fun too, going to the movies every week on cheap Tuesday, trying new cuisines, and going on shopping trips to the big city in her convertible. We talked about everything under the sun.
At times I worried that I was a burden to her. I was emotionally unstable, while she was an emotional rock. I was always having crises, while her life was calm and stable. But she would tell me how much I meant to her. She said that while my emotions were always right on the surface, hers were buried, and she would often find herself feeling stressed or sad or irritable without knowing why. But after a few minutes of talking to me, I would somehow draw out what was bothering her and she could work through it and feel better. I was shocked when she told me that. I had no idea how I was doing it; it certainly wasn’t deliberate. She also once told me that she was my friend because I was wise and I said things that made her think. Again, I was baffled, but very grateful that she felt she was getting as much out of the friendship as I was.
After a couple years, I ended up crashing and burning in my mall job and moving back in with my mom. But again, Juliane and I stayed in touch. She also ended up moving a few years later so we were closer, but still a couple hours away from each other. Once when she heard on the news that my town was being threatened by a forest fire, before the evacuation order had even been issued she called me and said, “I’m coming to get you and you’re coming to stay at my place!” She was always looking out for me.
Since she was the friend who had stuck by me the longest and most continuously, when I got married 11 years ago, I asked her to be my maid of honour. I had a very small wedding with only 12 guests, but everyone who was truly important to me, who I really wanted in my future, was there.
After I got married and moved even further away, Juliane and I continued to keep in touch, by phone or e-mail and then through Facebook. Once when I was sitting in my car having one of my meltdowns, my cell phone rang and it was her. It was kind of weird that she was calling because it was in the middle of church, which she knew I attended on Sundays, and she never called during that time. Her voice was exactly what I needed just then, and she, without any judgment or impatience, calmly talked me down off the proverbial ledge. I felt at that time that God must have sent her to me, not just in that moment, but back when I was 11 at camp. I was certain that our friendship was not an accident, but that she was a God-given friend, and I was so grateful for her.
And then in 2011, my husband, through no fault of his own, found himself unemployed. My husband’s career is very important to him and he was devastated. He desperately searched for another job. I was a stay-at-home wife at the time, but of course I started looking for work too. Unfortunately, we reached a point where we felt we had no choice but to move in with my parents, but doing so meant moving to the tiny town they lived in where there were few, if any, jobs. My husband, with his advanced qualifications, looked for work all over Canada, and I looked for work locally to help us out in the meantime. Neither one of us was having any success. After four months, we made a trip out to where Juliane lived so my husband could meet with some potential employers there. Juliane had invited us to stay with her and her boyfriend, and that was my first opportunity to meet him. Let’s call him Bob.
During the visit, Juliane had another obligation and had to leave us alone with Bob for a few hours. During that time, my husband and I sipped on our glasses of wine while Bob drank well over a dozen beers. Not that I’m judging, just setting the scene for what happened next.
My husband and I were talking about our job search and Bob suddenly looked at me and slurred, “You’re not even looking for work.”
Caught off guard, I said, “What? Yes I am.”
“No, you don’t even want to work. You’re not looking.”
I realized he could only have the impression I didn’t want to work from things Juliane had told him, so I explained, “I get stressed out in the workforce, so I do like to stay home when we can afford it. But in a time like this, I am absolutely looking for work. I have applied for dozens of jobs.”
Suddenly he said, “Man, I would be scared if I were you guys. I would be fucking scared.”
“Yeah, well it is a difficult time,” I said.
Turning his attention to my husband, he said, “You know, there is work out there. If you really wanted to work, you would have found it.”
Things were just awkward after that.
A few months later, with my husband and I both still unemployed, I found myself looking at the website for the company Juliane managed. I noticed that they were looking to hire someone with my qualifications. It was full time and I knew that my husband would at least be able to get some tutoring work in the area, unlike where we were currently living with my parents, so between the two of us we might be able to eke out a living there. I’d been seeing an employment counselor who had stressed again and again that I needed to use any connections I had. People who know you are more likely to give you a job than people who don’t, she said. So I called Juliane.
It was extremely difficult to make that call. I think on some level I realized that with Juliane being the hiring manager and with her knowing my skills, qualifications, and desperate situation, if she were willing to hire me she probably would have already told me about the opening. But I felt I needed to prove to myself and to others that I was doing everything I could to find a job. To have a clear conscience, I needed to pursue every avenue.
She ended up telling me that she would not hire me because I was prone to meltdowns. It was true, I was, but this was the first time I had felt any judgment from her because of it. Besides, despite my meltdowns, I am extremely conscientious with a strong work ethic and a perfectionist’s standards. I am a good employee when I am employed, I give my all to whatever I’m responsible for, and I even have excellent work references from past employers. I felt she should have known that about me, but all she could see were my deficits. I didn’t say that though. I was aware that she had to make the best decision for her company and was under no obligation to rescue me yet again. I calmly accepted what she told me but cried after we hung up, because despite my reasoning, on an emotional level it still hurt.
I guess, despite what my employment counselor told me, knowing me makes someone less likely to hire me, not more. That was a hard thing to realize.
My husband and I are now back on our feet, or at least my husband is back on his and I am along for the ride. Juliane and I have continued to keep in touch but things have felt different. While I used to feel 100% accepted by her, for the last couple of years, I’ve felt that she is more critical and impatient with me. I think she runs everything I say past Bob and he tells her what’s wrong with me and it’s making her see me in a different light.
About a year ago, she told me that she thinks my emotionalism is a result of my hypothyroidism. She said her sister has hypothyroidism, and like me, often needs her medication adjusted, and also like me, has the same kind of emotional issues I do. I appreciated that she was making an effort to understand, but then she said, “If you weren’t both like this, I’d think one of you is full of shit.” I was floored. She had never said anything like that to me before and it didn’t quite sound right to me. I didn’t say anything that revealed my feelings about it though.
A few months ago, after coming to the realization that I likely have Asperger’s syndrome, I told her about it. “And if you do, so what?” she said. “Why even tell people? Like, you’re telling me, so what do you want me to do about it?”
I should have said, “All I’m looking for is understanding. Besides, we’ve always told each other things, so I’m telling you because this is important to me.” But I didn’t think of that at the time. All I said is, “Nothing, I guess.”
Around the same time, I found out on Facebook that she had gotten engaged to Bob. Since I found out on Facebook, I congratulated her on Facebook. But then she called me later that day, and I congratulated her again and asked her what kind of wedding she wanted. She said she had no idea and hadn’t even begun to think or to make plans. I said at the end of the conversation, “Well, keep me in the loop.”
And then a few days ago, I unexpectedly saw her wedding photo and announcement on Facebook. Juliane and Bob are married.
To be continued in Part 2.