There are certain things in one’s life which don’t do one any good, but which nonetheless seem to make up, if not always the majority, at least a sizeable portion of it. These things, it turns out, are the most difficult to escape from, to get rid of. This category was one into which in moments of clarity, when she thought of their relationship over the years, Susan was forced to place Rachel. Rachel had just shown up unannounced Friday afternoon and turned Susan’s weekend into a whirlwind of drinking, wasting money on takeout, and some other late-night shenanigans that Susan didn’t want to even think of now that it was over. They’d stayed up curled side by side in bed, drinking bourbon out of a bottle and gossiping until 5:00 in the morning the night before. Susan felt as if the life had been drained out of her. Now it was Sunday night and Susan was desperately trying to put her life back in order before the work week started all over again, all while nursing a hangover that had lasted the entire day. She cleaned up boxes, plates, cans and bottles from all over the living room and kitchen. Then she pulled off her outfit and threw it into the wash before hopping into the shower. The shower helped. As she soaked under the steady stream of hot water, the waves of nausea that would break expectantly over her tired body seemed to diminish. She lost track of time, wasting water as her mind travelled. Soon she was thinking back over her and Rachel’s long friendship. Rachel had come up to her at recess in third grade and they’d played ball. They’d been fast friends ever since then. Susan and Rachel loved to discuss this memory whenever they had a chance, to brag about how long they’d been friends. They’d been in school since then, joined the same clubs, played various sports, hung out with the same groups of friends, even read the same books.
At some point in high-school they had realized that part of the attraction was more than friendship. It was at a party, and some boy had dared them to kiss. They had had a few beers each, and so they looked at each other, giggled, and then kissed. It was a ginger kiss on both their parts. The faintest brushing of lips. But then they began to kiss in earnest. The boy had hooted at first. But then as a minute went by he began to feel awkward about just standing there watching, and so he’d gone back into the party, leaving them on the back porch. They dated in secret throughout the rest of their junior and then their senior years. They didn’t tell their families. They didn’t even tell any of their other friends, though a few figured it out. Susan still liked to date guys as well and Rachel accepted this, though she didn’t exactly like it. The summer after high-school was a heaven of freedom and togetherness. They would trek into the woods, lay down a blanket, and cuddle for hours, and then get up, hike to a lake and swim. They would hang in each other’s rooms, watching movies and making love.
College, on the other hand, was rough. They each ended up going to separate schools. They took turns making the one-and-a-half hour drive every weekend, at least for the first semester. In the second semester that didn’t go so well. Susan had become far more busy with schoolwork and other activities. She wanted to see Rachel badly, but it stressed her out. She didn’t have time to dedicate whole weekends as she used to be able to. That summer was like the previous one, on the surface. But underlying the time they spent together was a strange distance, a tension between her and Rachel which they couldn’t seem to pierce. Finally, towards the end of the summer, things exploded. Rachel wanted Susan to transfer schools, or wanted to transfer to Susan’s school. Susan loved Rachel, but she knew that if Rachel transferred to her school, Susan’s life would become monopolized. Her social scene would collapse. Some part of her knew that it could cause far-reaching consequences for her life. And so she’d forced herself to be firm,to be harsh. They left each other in tears and didn’t talk for over a month, which was quite a long time for them. Susan cried much of the first week, but after that she began to find in herself a new lightness. A burden had been lifted. She went out more with the other kids on campus. She would frequently find herself laughing, even when she wasn’t sure what was funny. Her friends seemed to enjoy her more as well. One of them mentioned how much less shy and remote she seemed, how much happier.
When after four weeks the phone rang one afternoon and Susan saw Rachel’s number on the screen, it filled her with instant dread. She stared at the screen and almost didn’t answer it, but then picked up right as it was about to go to voicemail.
"Hello?" She paused. "Rachel?"
"Susan? I’m coming to visit you. I miss you."
Rachel arrived about an hour later, and without Susan giving it much thought they soon fell back into their old situation and it was almost as if nothing had changed. But now as Susan thought back on it, she realized that the friends she had started to make during that month had drifted away again. By Christmas break she was once again isolated and shy, spending most of her free time with Rachel on the phone or in person. This pattern had continued for years. They would break up some times when Susan needed more space than Rachel could allow her; when Rachel wanted more of Susan than Susan could give. But then they would get back together within a matter of weeks. In one of these periods of separation Susan had dated another woman. It was one of the few secrets she had never revealed to Rachel. Now Susan worked in the city and Rachel currently lived back home with her parents not doing much of anything, if Susan was quite honest. Rachel continually tried to convince Susan to let her move in with her. But that was the one thing Susan remained firm on. She needed her space, or she knew that Rachel would swallow her life entirely. She would lose her job. She would lose the few friends she had. It was the one thing Rachel nominally respected, though she still tried to talk Susan into living together with her.
The water started to get cold and Susan was brought out of these reveries. She shut off the shower and stepped out into the bathroom. The mirror was fogged, but Susan knew that if she could see her own face it would be shocked. She had never thought through all of this so clearly before. She had to stop leading Rachel on. She would never be able to provide what Rachel was looking for in the relationship, and in the meantime Susan had sacrificed so much. She needed to make other friends, to try new things, travel. The last ten years, or more, of her life, she had been using up all her energy constantly holding Rachel at arm’s length. Then and there Susan made the decision. She would quit her job, and she would travel for a whole year. She had the money saved up. She had been planning to put a down-payment on a condo or a house. But that could wait. She was still young; not too old to experience life, to make friends, to discover herself. In the living room she sat on the couch, still wet from the shower and naked, and opened her computer. She drafted a two-week notice letter to her job, citing personal reasons. Then she began researching. Perhaps she could teach English somewhere, or work on a farm. But where did she want to go? Well, she had time to figure that out. She finally had time.