I Keep Souvenirs of My Broken Friendships
We may not be friends anymore, but their gifts still bring me joy.
On my 19th birthday, I opened the door to my apartment to three of my closest friends singing “Happy Birthday” for all my neighbors to hear. They came in with hugs, smiles and love, as well as a massive box that they put in my hands. It was a handmade lantern, strung with fairy lights and a selection of pictures of our group of four, plus our extended circle of friends. It was one of the best gifts I’d ever received. It spoke of painstaking effort and a friendship that was valued—I had truly never felt so loved. With their help, I hung it up near my desk.
This was in May 2015. By August of that year, we were no longer friends. Six years later, those three girls who once meant so much to me are no longer part of my life in any way. But even today, the lantern still hangs at the exact spot where they hung it for me. The loss of their friendship was one of the biggest blows of my early adulthood. It was abrupt and irreversible, no matter how much I tried to reconcile with them. They no longer wanted anything to do with me, and that pain lives within me. However, when I look at the lantern —now dusty and rusted—what I feel is not pain. It’s not sadness, either. Instead, I am taken back instead to my 19th birthday and the way I glowed in happiness as they sang to me.
Gifts Help Me to Remember the Good Times
There is another birthday, much earlier in my life, that I also remember. My best friend at the time and I had fought. I was hurt and I didn’t invite her to my birthday party. The following day when I went to school, she handed me a box. It was a watch, nestled in an ornate jewel box—the gift she’d bought for me in anticipation of the party she didn’t get invited to. Inside the box there was also a handwritten letter, clearly written before our fight, thanking me for our friendship. She spoke about how great the past year of our friendship has been, how she loved me and how she’d always be there for me. The day she handed me the gift was the day she stopped talking to me. I came home, read and re-read the letter several times, and broke down in regret over the rash decision I’d made. Ultimately, I was the reason for the loss of this friendship. I decided to store away this precious final piece of our friendship in a safe spot.
Over a decade later, she and I are definitely not friends, but we’ve spoken, catching up as casual acquaintances with no ill will. Her letter still rests inside a compartment in my dressing table. It’s been moved around from its hiding spot as I’ve changed furniture, but it’s still untouched by time and the entire separate lives we’d lived since that day at school. When I think of the letter, I am transported to the melodramatic fallouts of my 14-year-old self. The world-changing hurt I’d felt then and the painful fight that ended our friendship have been transformed by age and experience into a fond memory.
My Old Friends' Gifts Are Time Capsules of Love
Not all memories are as amusing. In another corner of my room, another keepsake rests. A wind chime with a silly smiley face that I never got around to hanging sits in the nook of my bed’s headrest. It’s from another birthday, the one that came after feeling thoroughly loved on my 19th. My 20th birthday was lonelier. I was sadder. I came home after a birthday lunch with my family to see my oldest friend, whom I’d known since I was 11, sitting in my bedroom, smiling mischievously.
She had told me she was too busy to spend my birthday with me, but she’d lied. She had gotten her dad to postpone a trip she was meant to take, just so she could surprise me. Her presence lit me up, and when she handed me the gift—a porcelain wind chime with “I love you” emblazoned on one side and “I’m sorry” on the other—I laughed, and my day was instantly better.
She and I gradually drifted apart. The year after my birthday surprise, I went abroad and she threw herself into her studies, as well as a new relationship. As our priorities and interests changed, our friendship—which by that point had hit its ten-year mark—simply fizzled. But even today, the wind chime rests where she put it, turned to the side with “I love you” on it. I look at it and remember that she did.
I think of nostalgia as bittersweet at its best and painful at its worst. But to me, these trinkets are a small piece of a bond I shared with someone who was once precious to me. Although knowing that they are no longer in my life may hurt, these gifts are a reminder that I was once loved by someone just as much as I loved them. Even if that connection is lost to time, painful separations or “what ifs,” these gifts, which may seem on the surface like painful souvenirs from broken bonds, are really a time capsule of a moment where everything was perfect. When I think of these items given to me as symbols of love, loyalty and friendship, I am transported back in time to those birthdays past, where I see the people lost to me smiling, their love for me frozen in time and carefully placed into the solid presence of these keepsakes, never to be lost, always treasured, no matter how many years pass by.