Flying home on the plane yesterday, I huddled in my seat, coat wrapped around me like a protective shield. I tried my best to doze, but it wasn't exactly successful. The people in front of us were laughing and noisy - not disruptively so, but too animated to sleep near. I felt vaguely guilty because the little old lady sitting next to me seemed to want to chat, but I just wasn't in the mood to be even remotely social. I just wanted to go home.
My mind started to wander and I found myself thinking about a girl I knew, back in graduate school. There was one year where I shared an apartment with several different people - or rather the apartment shared it with several of us. I moved in with one woman; she moved out and I found a new roommate; I moved out and she found someone new. But that is not the point of this story. The point is the first roommate - the one I originally was to live with.
Ellie was one of those people who are always animated and cheerful, even when things are falling apart. It wasn't false or saccharin. She seemed genuinely happy and more than prepared for the knocks the world gave her. She was friendly and smart and warm, and her major professor left the university and stranded her, forcing her to have to move away so she could have a chance of completing the work she needed to do for her doctoral thesis. Weaker people would have gotten discouraged at such a setback, but not Ellie. She always rallied. It was sometimes amazing and humbling to watch.
She moved away and I got busy - too busy. We corresponded sporadically and I even headed down to visit her once. She was doing well, finishing her research and dating someone who seemed to care a great deal for her. And then, a few years later, she moved back.
She called, excited. She wanted to get together and we did, but this was in the middle of one of my traveling stints. My weekends were already overloaded with trying to get everything done and appease all the existing friends and family members who wanted pieces of my all-too-precious free time. And I regretfully let our contact slip, deliberately. There simply wasn't time for me to fit another friendship into my over packed life.
I'm not sure what made me think of Ellie as I sat on that plane. Perhaps it was simply that sometimes I am reminded that in life you have to make choices. Sometimes you know even as you make them that you will regret the decisions you choose, but you make them anyway because there doesn't seem to be any better option.
I felt guilty for allowing a friendship with someone as amazingly nice and sweet as Ellie to die from deliberate neglect. I wondered then, as I do now, if she realized that it was simply that I was too busy and not that I didn't like her. I hope she knew that. I hope she understood.