4 min read

Death of a frenemy

Recently, an erstwhile friend died. She had cancer. I had not been in touch with her. This is how I engaged with the news over a period of time using my mindfulness practice. CW: fat phobia, ED, diet
Death of a frenemy
ID: Two friends watch the sunset with their backs to the camera PC: Brent Ninaber on Unsplash

Did you hear that Lyra* died?

A classmate from high school messaged me on Facebook. She wanted to know if this was the same Lyra who had been in our class. I could understand her surprise. The death of someone our age shakes us up, and it reminds us of our own mortality.

I am not sure. I was not in touch.

I replied simply. She responded within a few minutes, that in fact, it was “our” Lyra who had died.

Lyra and I became friends in the eighth grade through another common friend. We spent a reasonable amount of time together, but I do not consider our friendship particularly close or deep. We would ride our bicycles together. And I went over to her house one time. We talked about her crush on a movie star. I talked to her about a boy I used to like from our neighborhood. It was sweet and innocent.

When we were in the tenth grade, we went swimming. I was and am a strong swimmer. I trained for competitions even though I never participated. She splashed around in the shallow end while I did my laps. Then we both lounged. I remember this moment distinctly. We both crossed our arms at the ledge as we had seen heroines do in Hollywood movies. The sun shone on our faces making them gleam. A perfect Instagram moment, except there was no internet in the mid-90s in India. I am not surer what we spoke of right before, but it felt out of the blue when she remarked, “You have fat arms.” Matter-of-factly. It was not mean, but it was meant to hurt. I can feel myself gulping even now as I did back then. I instantly knew fat meant bad. Fat meant unattractive. And that meant no boys would like me. I mumbled something about it being the result of years of swim training.

She would talk to me about the diets she was trying out. How she restricted her meals. I would listen without interest. I was heavily into sports, and going for a pizza after a good swim was my favorite thing.

We lost touch after school. Soon after, I had my first bout of anorexia because of a comment a boy made. My mom was dying and I was determined to control something, if only my body. After mom died, the anorexia slowly reduced, but it was replaced by an eternal quest for thinness. This was not to be. I was diagnosed with PCOS and I began to gain weight rapidly in my 20s.

I made peace with putting on weight and instead chose to exercise regularly as a means of staying healthy. I was incredibly controlling of what I ate, except when I was drinking, and then I would binge.

In 2010, I went over for dinner to a friend’s place. She was going to be one of my bridesmaids. And to my surprise, she had invited Lyra. At this time in my life, I had a healthy dose of self-confidence. I had completed my MSW, and had a whole new set of ideologies that made me feel good and optimistic about my place in the world. Lyra looked the same. She had completed her MBA and was working with a consulting firm*. Her mannerisms were a bit odd. She was constantly glancing around from the corner of her eyes to see if anyone was looking at her. But it was just us, so no one was. My heart went out to her, until she looked at me up and down and said, “What happened to you? You were the hottest of us all.”

Flabbergasted. Speechless. Ashamed. This is another one of those moments that is singed into my memories. I regressed to my 15-year old self in the swimming pool and mumbled something about PCOS.

I never saw Lyra again. She deleted my Facebook request and I respected her boundary. I had not thought of her till that message about her passing came.

Should we feel obligated to mourn those who have been nasty to us?

I felt nothing. Not sad. Not happy. I felt indifferent. I had a sense of generic sadness one gets when one hears something tragic. One of my other classmates shared that she was having a hard time, even though she did not know her well. I was unable to share anything of value with her.

I messaged my BFF, one year our senior at school and conveyed the news. She was like, “Hey I have no clue who you are talking about. I am so sorry, were you close?” My NO was quietly emphatic. I was surprised she did not remember this girl. I found a photo of her online and sent it to her. No recollection.

I was perturbed at my unfeeling state. I had felt this way once before. It was when a mean and vicious ex died. That time though I had been pleased not to have been traumatized by the news. This time I wondered if I was callous.

Am I obligated to mourn those who have been nasty to me? I wondered.

My mindfulness practice has trained me to not judge my responses, or vie for a certain type of response from myself. I allowed myself to be indifferent. I had not deleted Lyra’s picture from my phone. Each time I scrolled through my gallery, I would come across her face. Initially, I would feel my stomach lurching, no thought. The third time, I gazed at her face for three seconds, no lurching, and the thought was, “She looks luminous.”

This has happened a few more times since then. Each time, a sense of affection emerged. An understanding grew within me that she was more than her interactions with me. She was beloved by her family and friends. I felt compassion for her dreams unlived. And finally, the loving kindness came.

May you be freed of your pain and suffering. May you be liberated.

With that, I closed my karmic relationship with Lyra. I let her go.

Loving kindness need not be forced. It grows in an environment where all feelings are valued and considered sacred. There is no obligation to love. Love is like the sky. Everything else is clouds that appear in the sky for a few moments. No matter how much we want to hold on to the clouds, they will pass. When we remember this, we are less defined by our experiences. Our opinions are not as inflexible.

Before there is any hurt, there is love. For hurt to exist, love has to exist first. Love is our default setting. Mindfulness is our factory reset button