Shoebox Confessional: Part A

Dear reader,

The confessional that started this series was about an old romantic relationship. This one is about a friendship, and I surprised myself by writing a longer piece for it than the first one about feelings unspoken.

Actually, I talk about feelings unspoken here, too, but unfortunately they’re of the more petty type.

I’ve kept this letter shorter because I won’t lie, writing the confessional itself was hard enough. However, confronting the hurt I’d caused, when I haven’t articulated it so fully before, was a necessary form of self-flagellation. Maybe there is no need to publish this, but I was inspired again by an NPR podcast I listened during the past week. The episode is here and called “Do Self-Help Books Actually…Help?” Kristen Meinzer, one of the women involved in a social experiment of living by self-help books, explained that displaying the results and struggles of the experiment helped to create a community. She was able to see that people connect through vulnerability, and so she felt that if she “can start that dialogue by being shockingly vulnerable at times, that’s awesome.”

This is hard to do in practice for so many reasons, including cultural and psychological factors. But it’s a noble goal, and I couldn’t agree more.

Thank you,

J Wang

P.S. I should’ve explained sooner, but the person’s first initial is what I’m using to name each part in this series. It’s TBD as to how I’ll deal with same first initials. I’ll probably add their last name initial, still keeping it anonymous enough.


I know I lost you, A, because I forgot how to be generous. The same kind of generous as when I don’t hesitate to donate three hundred dollars for refugee aid but also don’t broadcast my contribution to family, friends, or strangers. Until now, that is. Perhaps this is the issue. Maybe I didn’t forget how to be generous because I never knew. After all, this need to be recognized for how good I’m being—or more specifically, how much good I’m doing by someone—is the complete opposite of a genuine giving spirit and who a friend should be. I’m a fraud or was, as I like to think, but not anymore. Even though I view myself as having improved in this aspect, if only to preserve the remaining friendships I have now in my mid-twenties, it doesn’t mean I get you back. I don’t really deserve to. 

We found each other on the ice, and then had so much to share off the ice. In a population of our fellow tween figure skaters who found us offbeat for not sharing their love for One Direction or Justin Bieber—baby, baby, baby, ooh, be damned—you were my lifeline. We both liked anime before Michael B. Jordan being a fan of it made it cool. You shared with me your earliest versions of singer-songwriter style tracks, not fully formed but I found them incredible anyway, given my untouched music composition notebook. I put together poor imitations of outfits I’d seen in Teen Vogue and served as your photography study. 

With you, I could be my full weird.

How stupid it was, then, for me to resent you over some money. This was a hazard of friendships crossing into adulthood that no one had warned me about. In any case, hindsight is not twenty-twenty. Hindsight is being able to objectively see what happened between us but still not comprehend why I could convince myself to think so poorly of someone I’d shared my tweenhood with. How I could not be giving with what I had, like you always had for me, even if it was only time that you could afford to give.

After months of anticipation and saving up for your Los Angeles visit, you and your flight finally landed at LAX. I remember feeling like the night was forgiving for summertime, and how maybe that was what kept people’s tempers cool in the notorious traffic circling the LAX terminals. Making LAX trips was an act of love, the local pop radio station hosts often joked, and I still agree. I’d been able to at least keep that self-congratulating quip to myself.

You had made a list of the things you wanted to see and places where you wanted to eat and take photos of. I had helped vet and curate, using my extensive three years of experience in the sprawl of LA as a guide. I offered to add Disneyland to your joy, using up the last free passes I had saved from my former job. You were staying at my place, minimizing your costs, and since I had a car and did drive, I’d be driving us everywhere. I understood my role as a hostess. And as a thank you, early on in your trip planning, you had promised to treat me when we got to the Korean barbecue item on the list. It sounded like enough. It should’ve been. 

At the time of your visit, I was back to searching for full-time jobs after spending a year trying to be a writer, living a cliche. You’d been there for me through it all, giving feedback on passages of my mediocre novel and listening, or reading, my venting in the messages I sent: sometimes a torrent of clips, sometimes bigger blocks of frustration. And I didn’t just come to you about my novel. The stupid ubiquity of unprotected left turns in LA. The confusing parking restriction signs, one stacked on top of another, so how I was supposed to make a call while navigating a busy street? There may be a more technical term for it, but I can say I was generous in this crap way. 

I’d known my risk of failure was high, but the living of it, trying to get out of it, and sitting through traffic getting to tutoring jobs to survive it changed how I saw things, and in uncharitable ways. The days I spent with you weren’t paid vacation days. (I know they weren’t for you either, though I couldn’t see past myself at the time.) When I had to tutor a client during your visit and dropped you off at the movies, I breathed a sigh of relief, alone in my car again, even though before your visit, that kind of loneliness and the romance to it had long faded away for me. 

For all the years we’d been friends up until then, I should’ve been able to admit all this to you at some point during the week you were with me. Instead I stayed tight-lipped and acted my way through it badly—as in, not good at it. You saw through me earlier on and asked if anything was wrong. If you’d known, you may have pitched in more. Even if after my admission you couldn’t though, at worst you’d just see me as a cheap hostess. At best, we’d still have an open line between us, and I wouldn’t be writing this now.

I had a narrow fixation on what it meant to give. You had already helped me so much, and I wanted more. I never acknowledged how your tendency to empathize and receive could exhaust you, how much of a burden I was to you, then I went and made you feel like one in an unfamiliar city, when you were meant to be a guest. I’m sorry.

We didn’t discuss again the now-obvious mask I’d put on before you left, and after you flew back to Houston, I saw the advantage of our message exchanges in a different way. Before your visit, I could pour my sorrows out to you and not worry about the toll it might’ve taken. Separated again by a two-hour time difference and the advantage of a backspace button, I chose not to be upfront about how I’d really felt. You shared videos of fun things you came across on the internet. I replied immediately with a short acknowledgment of mutual admiration. I thought my act was working. You must’ve thought you could go on, too.

You didn’t. 

This time, the big block of words came from you, and you were clear. I was not good for you, you realized. 

The sad thing is, I kept trying to act. I told you I couldn’t see what about my recent responses made you feel belittled or not taken seriously. You told me if I couldn’t see it, then I never would.

Just like with the novel I gave up, I respected that we also had to end. I respected your choice to go.

To soothe my ego, and because she is my mother, my mother agreed with me that you should’ve done more of this for me and I couldn’t have done more of that for you. But in the end, this was a friendship between you and me, and I did not do well by you.  

You were not the first friend from my grade school years who I assumed I’d get to keep growing up with. And when we could still be vulnerable with each other, I had learned that I wasn’t the first for you either. By now I hope you’ve found a new friend, or many, who make you feel confident in that, yes, they value your company. They share your interests without hesitation and unconditionally. They are people you want to keep close as long as they’ll have you. For having known you for the years that I got to, I can only imagine how lucky they are.


Also published on Medium.

Your thoughts?