I hate eating alone in public, always have. I’m not sure if it stems from always being insecure about my weight and being paranoid that people would judge what I was eating or if I was afraid it looked like I had no one in my life willing to sit down and share a meal. Both thoughts are ridiculous. Nonetheless, I’m uncomfortable eating alone at a restaurant. When I do go solo I’m likely to keep my eyes glued to my phone or a pen moving on paper, as if looking busy makes me look less desperate.

Of course, I’m not desperate at all. I actually like being alone. I work from home. I prefer to shop alone. I am good company for myself on most days. Being alone isn’t a bad thing for me. My thoughts are free to ramble about without distraction or conflicting interests. Most days it works out just fine. Yesterday wasn’t most days. I had an appointment that took me to the other side of the metro. The meeting lasted about an hour and I figured since I was on that side of town I would stroll about one of my favorite stores and maybe grab lunch in their deli. A fun treat of sorts.hands on coffee cup

But this store holds lots of memories, a few more than I realized. It has been a destination over the years for catching up, escaping the office, and some good old-fashioned retail therapy with a couple girlfriends. We are all still friends, but one of us has gone missing. Not in the physical reality, but in the sense that we have lost her to some dark place, that neither she nor we can explain or find a road back from. I think she is suffering from a mental illness, but I don’t know that there has been an official diagnosis. She has not returned a call or text in over eight months.

I think about my friend every single day, but yesterday being in the place we’d celebrated so many birthdays and shopped for so many Christmas presents was harder than I thought it would be. For several years we had spoken to each other almost daily. Now we don’t speak at all. It is heartbreaking. So when I walked past the deli and heard the dull roar of ladies happily chatting away over long lunches I remembered all the times we had done the same. Dining alone felt all too lonely and I decided to just grab something to go on my way out. As I shopped about the store I heard a woman with a similar laugh to my friend’s, oh how I miss her laugh. I quickly glanced in the woman’s direction – thinking maybe it would be my friend – maybe she was okay and happy – maybe she just didn’t want to talk to me. That would’ve been good news, but it wasn’t her.

This place that I’ve always enjoyed just didn’t feel the same anymore. I got some chicken salad to go, the same salad my friend had served at my baby shower because she knew it was a favorite of mine. I ate it alone in my vehicle. It didn’t taste as good as I remembered. I felt sad the rest of the day. This journey has been painful. I feel as though I’ve experienced a death, but don’t get to mourn. I’ve done some reading on having a friend with depression and some of it spoke to how agonizing calls, visits, and invitations can be when the person receiving them just isn’t up to responding. While I certainly don’t want to pour salt in her wounds, not reaching out feels a lot like I’ve given up on her. And I haven’t.

Calls unanswered and messages left without response leave me feeling rejected. This isn’t about me and I know it is selfish, but still, I feel it. I feel guilty for not knowing how to help her and desperately wanting to. Perhaps I haven’t prayed enough. If only my reaching out actually reached her. I get angry and have to be careful that I direct that anger toward the illness and not at her. In the past year, she has missed some important things. She has missed a death, a birth, job changes, birthdays, and countless everyday things. We would’ve shared so much and I feel like we’ve both been robbed.

November is always a challenge for me. It is just too dark and always makes me feel melancholy. Yesterday multiplied that feeling.  But I am grateful too. Grateful for all the memories. Grateful for my health and that of my family’s. Grateful, that while I feel a little blue I do not live in what she described as a black hole. If there is a way to reach down and pull her up I will do it, but I have to be careful not to slip into the hole myself. Sadness is a slippery slope. I will bask in whatever rays of sunshine are available and thank my lucky stars.

If anyone who has been in that dark place and found a way out has any tips to share on how to be the friend she needs me to be, I’m listening.