The Messy Art of Lost Friendships

It’s my former friend Josh Campbell’s birthday. I still remember that, still think of him and how terribly abrupt the dissolution of our friendship was. I had no clue when he stormed out of my parents’ house that January day that he was storming out of my life forever. Here I am, sixteen years later, still searching for closure. I want to understand how a friendship like ours could just end in an instant.

We spent countless hours together talking at the library, in the car, at the park, in the halls. When he went to jail, I wrote him letters and even visited him. Before that I followed him into strangers’ apartments far outside my comfort zone because I trusted him that much. I trusted he had my back because that’s exactly the kind of thing he’d say to me. He also said things that provoked me and forced me to dig deeper for my whys and expand my sheltered white teen girl thinking. No one before or since has ever challenged me that way, and I know I’m a better person because of it.

I miss him and our conversations, even after all these years. I have hoped at some point we’d find each other in the same coffee shop line or in the same aisle at the store. Maybe he doesn’t live in Wisconsin anymore. Or worse, maybe he went back to jail, as our system is set up for recidivism rather than true rehabilitation (though that’s a whole topic for another day).

He was just a kid entering the system at a time when “neurodiverse” wasn’t coined, when mental health raised brows, not funds. He was smart and wrote beautiful poetry that was poignant and heartbreaking. He was so raw, so utterly, resolutely himself.

In a strange way, I envied him his mood swings, troubled past, and his rebel nature for all the story and emotional weight it carried at a time when my life was, of course, privileged and good, but felt to my teenage self bland and devoid of the grit I needed to be a real writer with worthwhile things to say. While I could speculate that based on surface level stereotypes, Josh likely envied my life, I don’t believe it. He owned everything that he was in a way I’m still learning to do.

Several years ago I wrote an essay about how Josh changed me, and now I guess I’m writing another one—because it’s true and because I’m still hoping somehow he’ll stumble upon my words and remember the incredible friendship we had, that maybe my words will bridge time and distance to carry him back to me.

One thought on “The Messy Art of Lost Friendships

  1. My heart hurts for this loss – this unexplainable loss. My heart resonates with yours – as I experience a loss – somewhat similar – yet different. My loss is familial – hurts deeply – and – like what you have written – a wish to come across one another in a coffee shop – and reconnect – without the difficult circumstances that surfaced between us – nor the overwhelming sadness that lingers to this day. Your writing speaks volumes of your loss – and to a humanity that appears to care only of self – somehow lacking in the consideration of others. I pray Josh finds his way to gratitude for the friendship you shared.


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