Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 22, 2024

The pain of growing apart from an old friend

By LILY KAIRIS | March 15, 2018




Kairis met Tala at a writing camp one summer during high school.

People often focus on breakups as a romantic concern, but friendship breakups can cut just as deeply. Through my 20 years of life, I have bonded deeply with dozens of people. It feels almost like an adrenaline rush — meeting someone and suddenly, miraculously, clicking. You have the same sense of humor. You belt out the same songs at camp karaoke. You both love Broadway musicals and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 

This person becomes woven into your life quietly and seamlessly, without the fanfare of a courtship. Then, before you know it, you are finishing each other’s sentences and declaring your undying love for each other on a weekly basis. But like anything in this world, friendships cannot last forever. Whether through geographic distance or simply growing apart, I (like everyone) have lost so many friends through the years. It is a bittersweet reality I often ignore. But with the ever-thrumming churn of my brain, occasionally nostalgia pulls me back. 

I remember, for instance, the girl I met at writing camp — Tala. My best Hopkins friends will recall this name, because, as a freshman, I used to talk about her all the time. We met the summer before my senior year of high school. I had been accepted to a two-week writing program at the University of Iowa, called “Between the Lines,” where 10 students from the United States and 10 students from Arabic-speaking countries (throughout the Middle East and North Africa) study and write together. It was an utterly transformative, inspiring experience that solidified my love for creative writing and gave me the confidence I needed to pursue it in college. I owe so much of that transformation to Tala. 

She was the first friend with whom I felt deeply known, understood and loved. Not to say that my friends before that were inadequate. In large part, Tala and I bonded because of the experience itself. On the third day of camp, students were asked to write a poem about a significant childhood memory. 

I wound up far exceeding the recommended 15-line length, filling two pages with raw reflections about my older sister’s schizophrenia, filtered through the perspective of a terrified 10-year-old. It was the first time I had written about my sister. 

The next day in class, as my hands quivered so erratically, I thought I’d tear the pages, I read it all aloud. Afterward, Tala approached me. “That was so beautiful and so brave,” she said. She then asked if she could tell me a story. We went on a walk that was supposed to last ten minutes and ended up extending for three hours into the evening. She told me about her father, who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness only a few months prior and about how unnerving it was to see signs of weakness in the man who had always kept her grounded. As she spoke, I felt my walls of privacy breaking down. Suddenly I wanted to tell this girl everything. We were kindred spirits; I could just tell. 

And I was right. That night at karaoke, when we shared a chair and shamelessly belted out “Dancing Queen,” that was the final straw. Tala and I became inseparable. Soon we were holding hands on the walk to class, sharing chocolate peanut butter milkshakes, developing a secret handshake and laughing about the most nonsensical things until our stomachs ached. 

Two weeks later, when we were forced to say goodbye, both of us sobbed. We promised to stay in touch, but with a 10-hour time difference between her home in Kuwait and mine in Delaware, we both should have expected the difficulty. 

Yet we put in a valiant effort. For the first few months after camp, we FaceTimed nearly every week and sent three-paragraph texts with intermittent updates. She ended up visiting the West Coast of the U.S. for the next year’s summer vacation, and in a spontaneous burst of enthusiasm, I bought a plane ticket to meet up with her family in Las Vegas. 

But of course, I wouldn’t be telling this story if everything had worked out. Today Tala and I are no longer the close friends we once were. Our disconnection happened gradually. She started dentistry school in the U.K.; I started at Hopkins; and our lives began to shift far too quickly for either of us to keep track of. The intermittent updates became more spread out and more overwhelming. We’d text after four months saying, “I don’t know how to summarize everything that has happened.” 

Growing apart is inevitable, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. It is a bitter pill: recognizing that someone who once knew every detail of your mundane existence has become nearly a stranger. I remember how painful it was, three years after camp, when Tala messaged me saying I had forgotten her birthday. “I guess we’re at that stage now,” she said, “It was silly to believe we could be long-distance best friends.” Looking back, it sounds insanely melodramatic, but at the time, the dissolution of our friendship felt like a failure. 

However, as time moved forward and we both grew to accept the reality of our situation, that long-distance best friendship really is impossible, I also grew to see things from a different perspective. Our friendship did not fail or sever, it just ran its natural course. Naturally, our paths diverged, but that does not make her importance in my life simply disappear. I am too sentimental to let that slide. She will always be the girl who taught me the value of sharing my voice. She will always be an important chapter of my life story, and I trust that to her, I will always be, too.

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