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Digital Finches and the Death of Friendship

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

A grayish Tamagotchi lays on a white backdrop, begging to be cared for my its oblivious owner.
We're all merely Tamagotchi's with complex emotions and a longer battery life.

A couple of weeks ago, I downloaded the Finch app. It's like a Tamagotchi for mental health. I put in a series of goals that I check off during my day. The goals I meet translate into energy for my finch. Once I hit 25 energy bolts, my finch has enough energy to explore and grow. Everything after 25 turns into rainbow gems that allow me to deck out its little house. The hope is that by powering up my finch I, in turn, power myself up to face and survive my day. It’s working pretty well, in large part, because I don’t want the little robot pet neglected. My Tamagotchi trained me well. Who knew those skills would one day be used to pull me out of the crater left by my mother’s death?

One of the goals I set for myself was to write an old friend. I have yet to meet this goal. When I think of this goal, I think of the friends I've had to let go of in the last decade of my life. I’d rather think of the people who are still present, still checking in, still showing up; but I don’t. I want to sit down like a Victorian-era woman gazing out into her garden and pen the most heartfelt pieces of prose on elegant stationary paper. That’s not what’s happened. Instead, my mind replays the absent deuteragonists as if they were the main characters in the movie of my life. Maybe it’s a holdover from the neglect of my parents that my brain still seeks out those who don’t seek me.

If I’m honest with myself, I don't want to write any of the ghosts from my near or distant past a letter or even a one-word text. Regardless of how often my brain conjures their memory, I don’t want them lingering in my present. The husband suggested I write the letters and then burn them since anything I need to say would be for me alone. It’s a nice idea, but I don't want to sit down every Tuesday and write letters to people who aren't here, in this life-changing moment, with me. So I decided to hack the system and combine my letters to these humans and my goal to write for 30 minutes each day into one activity that will, hopefully, allow me to collect that sweet, sweet energy and also make peace with all that's been left unsaid.

It goes without saying, that the grief that comes with the death of a friendship hits differently than the grief of losing a parent. It's still grief, though. You still go through a process of mourning the relationship and person you knew. You miss the way they understood you in a space and time occupied only by the two of you. You miss the adventures you shared and the way they pushed your buttons to make you think about things from a different angle. You miss the energy their presence sprinkled into your life. The vibrations they caused in your soul even when they weren’t physically present. People leave invisible marks that we can’t erase, we can’t see them but we know they are there. They’ve changed something about us for better or for worse.

As the days flow into weeks, months, and years, you find them moving in and out of your mind. At times, it’s terrifying to process your life without their presence. The bigger the space they held, the wider the spaces of time without them feel. And yet, the urge to peek at their socials or send a mini-text novel begins to subside with each curve life throws at you. You move further away from seeing them as someone you could ride the waves of life with, to them being another nameless face in the sea of humanity. A nameless face that happened to leave a mark you can’t erase.

Being the product of neglectful and distant parents has taught me how to swallow the love that lingers in the space of unmet expectations and turn it into something else. Usually, it was bitterness. Every “if only” became one more reminder that I was someone who could, and should be, abandoned. Part of healing involves recognizing that someone's inability to be the person I expected them to be doesn't need to be internalized or weaponized against them or myself. It needs to be held, understood, and released.

I have not been perfect in this life, and I never will be. I have been and will be incapable of being the friend or companion someone needs at different moments in their life. I can reminisce about what was without drowning myself in what could have been. I can also use the distance to see what love blinded me to. We don't only wear rose-colored glasses for our romantic partners and children. We don them while nurturing friendships, too.

We overlook the idiosyncrasies that would send us running from anyone else because of the potential we see in the whole human. We're so engrossed in the promise of what this person can bring to our life - shared family vacations, friendship trips, and a hand to hold during life’s toughest curves - that we don't see the ways they showed us that they wouldn't be able to show up for us at the moment the relationship went left instead of going right.

Does it mean we must become cynical in friendship building and wall ourselves off? My therapist would say no. I'm working on sharing that opinion while making peace with the reality that the people filling this season of my life may not be in the next. We all have our waves to ride and curves to move through. Today, those waves and curves intersect, but tomorrow they might not.

I could use this moment of my life to run back to closed doors and empty hearts. But, I owe it to myself to take each of life's curves as an opportunity to assess where I am in that moment, what I need from those riding that curve with me, the grace to let those who can't hang on go, the self-respect to know what I’m not willing to sacrifice or change to go back for them, and enough compassion to wish them well as they take their life curves. Who knows, maybe our roads will intersect again one day. And if they don’t, that’s ok.

There will always be missed moments and cherished adventures. The sadness that accompanies those memories doesn't diminish them. Instead, it amplifies how much power the connection between two people has to help us all get through this thing we call life.

To those friends I've had to let go of and those who have let go of me, I wish you peace, happiness, and one hell of a ride.

Unless I let you go because you're a fucking bigot, in that case, I wish you the day you absolutely fucking deserve, and I hope you die mad about it.

Copyright(c)2023 Rayven Holmes

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