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Racism destroyed a friendship I thought was unbreakable

I never could have guessed that my best friend and I wouldn’t make it through the long haul. I believed our relationship was rock solid, but when our friendship crumbled, based on a few choice words about my husband’s skin color, there was an emotional landslide I couldn’t have predicted.

I met Star (not her real name) when she was a high school freshman and I was a sophomore. We were instant friends — she seemed to get me in ways most people couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t. Like me, she had a difficult childhood, and like me, she struggled with self-love. With her, I felt like someone accepted me — ugly parts and all — unconditionally. We went to school together for only a year, but our bond was so tight it managed to sustain us long past our tumultuous teenage years.

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We did all the things best friends do: We gossiped about boyfriends, supported each other through relationship crises, celebrated our children and dreamed about our futures. It was because of my best friend that I took the first step in continuing my education, a decision that led to me to attaining a bachelor’s degree.

When she decided to leave the father of her child, I was there to support her, emotionally and through preordered boxes of gourmet cupcakes. Together we hashed out the pros and cons of her custody agreement and spent hours on the phone talking about which path was the right path. When she met a new man and fell in love, I was the one she called and talked to.

I believed our relationship was ironclad. I believed that nothing could come between a bond like ours. I had yet to understand the power of words and the power ignorance had on even the best friendship.

In 2011, Star’s ex sued her for permanent custody of their child. It was an unexpected development and something that caused her an understandable amount of stress. She was forced to fly back and forth between New York, where her ex resided, and her home in Seattle. Money was tight. There was a pending court hearing, and she was scared. I hated to see her struggle, so I offered to drive up to New York with my husband as support and to help alleviate her hotel costs.

She agreed, and we spent the next few weeks planning our trip. Even though it was a difficult time for her, I thought we both were excited at the chance to see each other. That changed when I saw a missed call from Star just four days before the hearing.

Her call went something like this: 

“Hey, I decided I don’t think you and your husband should come to the trial. I’m just thinking about the case, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to have another brown man sitting on my side of the courtroom. Anyway, thank you for wanting to support me. Love you!”

The brown man she was referring to was my husband, Alvaro. In Star’s mind, having her half-Italian boyfriend sitting next to her in a Jamaica, Queens, courtroom was already rolling the dice. In her mind, my husband — a highly decorated, active duty Marine — was too dark to risk allowing in the courtroom in support of her character.

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I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the words she’d said. In that moment, listening to her say something so ignorant, I realized I didn’t know her at all.

My husband was disgusted listening to her message. When Star had stayed in our home — a home shared by me, my husband and our two brown-skinned sons — all four of us had been good enough for her friendship, but when it came to supporting her during a court case, that skin color was something she was ashamed of.

I didn’t speak to her for over a month. It was painful. This was someone I’d spoken to every day, and suddenly she wasn’t there. Five weeks later, I headed to California to reunite with my family. I’d just learned that my grandmother had suffered a massive stroke and probably wasn’t going to live. During a layover, Star called me to sort of apologize. She hadn’t heard about my grandmother, and I took her call to be a sign. We were still connected, even when we weren’t.

After listening to her speak, I doubted that initial thought.

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Star told me that she was sorry her words hurt me, sorry that I took offense to them. She said she thought we were the kind of friends that could just say anything to each other, and finally, she told me that if she had to do it all again, she would still say the same thing.

For some reason — maybe it was the stress of flying home, of being afraid to see my grandmother on her death bed — I accepted her half-assed apology. But in my heart I hadn’t forgiven her.

I carried that resentment inside, quietly, for six long months. The anger made everything Star did an annoyance. I saw her through a new lens. She was selfish, self-destructive, uncaring, cold. It seemed like every interaction made me dislike her more.

Finally I found the strength to let Star go for good. I couldn’t get past the hurt I had. I couldn’t accept her as my best friend or even a friend at all. Her words about how she saw my husband’s skin color had changed the way I saw her too. I didn’t know how to come back from that, and to this day, I don’t think I ever will.

It’s been almost four years since I last spoke to Star. I don’t know where she is or what she’s doing with her life. I’ve long since let the hurt go, but I’ve learned an important lesson. There are boundaries in every relationship, words that should never be spoken and lines that should never be crossed. Star taught me that in a very hurtful, very unfortunate way.

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