There are some friends that come into our lives that are beyond incredible. We are left not knowing what we would do without them, but also puzzled and speechless on how or why they choose to be friends with us.
I was incredibly fortunate to meet someone who has done more for me than I was (and still continue to be) able to comprehend. She gave me the nickname 0011, and so tonight, I find it fitting to recall this saga and share a few insights I learned along the way about what being a friend really means.
This story begins in perhaps the most obscure way any introduction could take place. It was my Senior Year of High School and I was attending school in Washington State. It so happened that I was pursuing a girl that I had grown up with when I still lived in Wisconsin. However, I was 110% in the friend zone and was not willing to accept that reality, she was attending college in Ohio, and long distance was not going to work.
During one of my attempts to call and say hi / keep the friendship alive, I managed to call her during a party in the dorm. Somehow, one thing lead to another and the phone started being passed around as other ladies in the room wanted to talk and say hi to me (apparently they had heard of me through conversations). Eventually the phone ended up with Nadia*. We talked, somehow exchanged numbers & emails, and began chatting throughout the weeks.
Now before you jump ahead of yourself, let me be very clear: Nadia was several years older than I was and there was no romantic connection or interest between us. She was more of the big sister that had my back: She would be asking what classes I was taking, making sure I called and kept in touch with my parents, and also got on my case to keep studying! She became my mentor.
And when she wasn’t saying things like “You better not be fooling around and make me come out there and knock some sense into you”, she was helping me through the friendship troubles I was having with the other girl I was interested in. When ultimately we both had a falling out with that other girl, Nadia was there to help me focus on moving forward and have a positive outlook on life.
She then continued to mentor me as I entered college and studied Pre-Med, telling me what classes to focus on, what concepts were important, and also making sure I knew that I had an incredible support group cheering me along the way. We actually didn’t meet in person until almost 4 years after we “became friends” when we both happened to be in Los Angeles. Fast forward to my graduation from college and she and her friends came to cheer me on and celebrate before I started med.school and as I applied for prestigious military scholarships (where the nickname 0011 vs. 007 came from). Graduation weekend was a blast!
As med.school started, and as I began to date another med.student, Nadia continued to support me and keep me focused on my studies.
And then, it happened. Within a few months, almost everything in my world collapsed at once. It all devastated me and took a substantial toll on my then girlfriend. She eventually ended the relationship with quite the theatrics, and looking back, I do feel sorry for all that I put her through. But I was still left cut open, confused, and questioning every aspect of my life.
That’s when I made the biggest mistake of all.
I can’t remember how, but somehow I caught a rumor that Nadia was talking to my ex. And I LOST IT. Mistake #1: I didn’t call Nadia up and calmly ask her if what I was hearing was true. Instead, I jumped to conclusions and wrote an incredibly insensitive email casting all sorts of accusations on Nadia. Mistake #2: I refused to believe that Nadia was trying to support me as she had done in the past. Instead, I began to believe (with no evidence or frankly any rationale) that Nadia was trying to sabotage me, even though she had no reason to do so and was about to get engaged to the man of her dreams. What’s even worse, Nadia wasn’t the only person who was affected as I managed to push others away and ruin a handful of friendships that to this day still leaves me with regret, sadness, and embarrassment.
And that’s when I lost my mentor and my (in a way) big sister. She cut off all ties with me, and rightfully so. In those moments, I was an arrogant, condescending jerk. Sadly, it took me weeks and calls with our other mutual friends for me to realize that all the nasty things I said about Nadia were not things that described her, but were all issues that described me.
At this point, I had already hit the literal definition of rock bottom in my life, but I hit the rock so hard that I couldn’t begin to climb upwards out of the pit I had dug for myself. No matter how hard I tried to pick up the pieces of my shattered life, I realized I was paralyzed and depressed to the point that I realized I could not begin the path to recovery until I first began to dig deeper and destroy any part of my life that was still standing. I knew I had to first question my beliefs, my life creed, my outlook on the world. I had to search my innermost soul and rebuild my life not brick by brick, but by single pieces of straw at a time. I had to build a solid core foundation.
It took me 4 months before all the pain subsided, then it took me several more months before the numbness and the overall shell-shock of “What the hell has happened to me in the past year!?” faded. I did not return to my adventurous, positive, optimistic self until close to a full 12 months later.
And I only truly became whole again when I learned from Mistake #1 and this time picked up the phone and called Nadia. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if she would answer, if she would listen to me at all, or if would give me a taste of my own medicine and really lay into me on everything I did wrong. Despite all the pain I could potentially endure, I knew I had to at least try to apologize before I could have a true clear conscience.
I honestly don’t remember how the conversation went down, mainly because I was trying to keep it together and not break down from all the pain that I knew I had caused Nadia. I told her what I did was wrong, unacceptable, and I would understand if she wouldn’t forgive me because I wasn’t even sure I could forgive myself for what I did. But I wanted her to know I was sorry and couldn’t express how badly I wanted to apologize to her and have her know how much I meant it.
It’s been 3 years now since all of this took place. Are things perfect between Nadia, myself, and our mutual friend Siena? No. Is it my fault? Absolutely. But we are still healing, and for that I am thankful! Last October, Nadia made a surprise visit to Florida to see Siena, myself, and our friends (yes I lived in Florida). It was so good to see Nadia again and to hear where life has taken her. She is now married to an awesome guy who is talented in so many different areas, and recently, Siena also just got engaged and is planning for her wedding. I couldn’t help but apologize again to Nadia and to Siena for all that happened and thank them for being willing to spend a weekend mending our bridges. While we all may be living in different parts of the world, and while I may not know what the future holds for our friendships, I do know this:
The key to amazing friendships is to listen, keep your calm, and communicate on! I know it may sound like a “Well duh!” moment, but even in the most intense situations, don’t forget this! I can’t help but imagine what would have happened if I had only conversed and supportingly asked my ex in med.school a few questions, or what would have happened if I had called up Nadia and asked her if what rumors or preconceived notions I had cooked up in my mind were true. I wish I had been slower to react, more eager to listen, more supportive, and less quick to jump to conclusions.
These are the biggest regrets of my life. Not the parties or concerts I didn’t attend because I was studying. Not the vacations or trips I didn’t take because I was working. Not the girls I didn’t ask out or share my feelings with until it was too late because I was scared of being rejected. No, the biggest regret I have was not listening and communicating effectively.
Please don’t make this same mistake!!
Am I the perfect individual now who has it all figured out? No, not even close! I still have plenty of issues that I need to improve upon so that I can be the best version of myself.
But that’s the whole point in life: each and every one of us is going to screw up! What matters not is what you have done, but rather whether you choose to treat every situation as a learning opportunity to improve yourself, to take steps that work towards preventing you from repeating those actions, and if you use that knowledge to make the world around you a better place.
So may you find the strength to overcome your fears, your embarrassment, your doubts. May you find the courage to listen more, be slower to anger, and be more supporting of others. And may you instead find the path that leads you to become the best version of yourself.
*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.