Burning Bridges

April 19, 2014

Liz and I became friends when I was about 19 years old. I’d briefly met her and to be perfectly honest was intimidated by her. She was a pastor’s daughter at the church I attended at the time and was, in my opinion, a bit of a celebrity. All of my friends talked about her: oh, Elizabeth might come to DMACC, Elizabeth is so great, Elizabeth this, Elizabeth that… How was I ever going to measure up and have this slightly younger all-star be a part of the world I was carving out for myself?

Well, easy. Because Elizabeth actually was great. She wound up in my small group and spent many evenings hanging out in our cat-dominated apartment. As she struggled with the transition between high school and college, and I struggled with feeling suffocated in Des Moines and wanting to flee without it actually looking like that, we formed a strange bond. It wasn’t difficult to soon call her “friend”.

A year or so passed. I moved to Iowa City, then on again to Berlin. Liz and I didn’t stay in super close contact, but she was always a delight to run into when I passed through home, and even once came to visit me at my parents’ farm.

It’s a funny thing, time. It’s a funny thing, growth. Over time, we grow and change. Generally, if we are with people – be it physically or just have strong, regular emotional bonds, we can grow together. But with distance, two people who were once very close will change differently. Not that its necessarily a bad thing, but they will never be able to meet at the same point again, never be able to connect on quite the same level. Maybe it’s better, maybe it’s worse, but never the same.

More time passed. The changes in my life put me at odds with many people who I loved deeply and missed dearly. I was terrified to move back to Des Moines for a summer, fearing being ostracized for how I’d changed. Conversation after conversation proved that these fears weren’t entirely unjustified. I made mistakes, putting up walls and daring my friends to break them down, blaming them when they avoided the walls altogether. Mistakes were also made on others’ behalf – the emotional turmoil of being ignored rather than embraced wrecked havoc on me.

Bridges were burned, friendships so sweet turned sour. Memories brought sorrow instead of joy, bitterness instead of nostalgia. It broke my heart to see friend after friend disappear from my life, even as I saw them across the street.

Fast forward about four months. I’m back to my home in Iowa City, happily graduated and coffee-shopping. I travel back to Des Moines for a wedding and find myself talking with Liz. Tired from the day, tired from a semester of battling depression, tired from the weight of unforgiveness, as we catch up, I confess that one of our conversations from summer had scarred me deeply. Liz, dear, sweet, gentle Liz, ponders this for a couple of months.

And then she begins to fight back.

Bridges had been burnt.

Trust had been lost.

Lives had been changed.

A few weeks ago, Facebook excitedly proclaimed with a red notification that I have a message. Liz asks me if she can come visit me in Iowa City. Not long after, I find myself strolling through downtown Des Moines and almost stumble over Liz. She again asks when would be a good time to come visit.

Do you want to know the funny thing about moving? Shifting friendships. The ones from Des Moines whom I consider friends are those who came and visited me. Laurie fought for my friendship from the day I moved – choosing to remain by my side despite changes in geography and purpose. Stephanie and Matt became my friends as they for one reason or another found themselves in my vicinity on repeated occasions. Mariah made it a point to stop in as she would pass through town on her way home.

When Liz offered to drive two hours out of her way just to hang out with me… Well, that meant a lot. When she met me in the city I call home, I was able to show her my life. We strolled around campus, and I pointed out buildings where I had wiled away the hours. We paced downtown, and I elaborated on funny stories and historical events. We people-watched on the ped mall, basked in the sun on the Old Capitol steps, and curled up in my apartment beneath my paintings.

And through it all, we talked. Frankly. We talked about burned bridges. We talked about growing up. We talked about questions and answers and being in our twenties. We talked about hurt and healing and acknowledged that we’d made mistakes. When time drew short and Liz climbed back in her car to drive off into the sunset, she asked what she could do to show that she cared about me. “This,” I said. “Come see me, or if six months down the road you think of me, text me. Show that you remember I’m alive. That’s all.”

Bridges may catch fire, after all. But not all rivers need one. Sometimes, all you need is to step in the water and wade across. Don’t worry, though, friend. I’ll meet you halfway.


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