For many years, they were friends. In some ways, they seemed an unlikely pair. She was married. He was single. There was nothing romantic about their relationship, although no one ever believed that. They met in graduate school and found friendship through studying together. They stayed together through two degree programs and helped each other every step of the way.
Others viewed their friendship with curiosity. He was abrasive, arrogant, and difficult to be around. She was friendlier with a touch of arrogance. People liked her more than they did him. She had a wide circle of friends and he did not. When she tried to include him in her circle, most of her friends found him difficult and unlikeable. She never understood this because she liked him, understood him. She had the ability to be with normal people despite her intelligence. His intelligence shined and intimidated others.
What she enjoyed most about him was their conversations about every topic under the sun. Long, philosophical conversations. He had strengths in some areas and she in other areas. They complimented each other and learned from each other. He filled an intellectual hole in her life. Somehow, these long conversations never included politics. Not in the early and middle years of their friendship. As she looks back, she wonders how they avoided it. She decides they were too busy learning their respective fields to be concerned with political matters. That was then.
Gradually, their friendship extended beyond the academic and philosophical and they met each other’s families. They helped each other with personal matters. Their entire lives became intertwined. There was still no romantic relationship. Not even when she divorced. They truly just had a good friendship.
By now, 25 or 30 years had passed. They had grown old as good friends, this unlikely pair. The world was changing around them and the U.S. had become politically polarized. Politics began to creep into their conversations. Until now, they’d had only a basic awareness of each other’s political leanings. Just enough to know that they leaned in different directions, but that had never mattered. Until now.
Suddenly, everything in the U.S. was defined by whether it was right or left, red or blue, conservative or liberal. There was no middle ground anymore. Their conversations were increasingly couched in politics. Their political positions couldn’t have been more different. Over the space of several years, she found it difficult to talk to him knowing his political position. It was like he was suddenly from another world. A world she wasn’t familiar with. A world of hatred and exclusion. He found it difficult to talk to her since he did not enjoy knowing anyone who had the political beliefs she had.
Their communication became less often and more tense. One evening, he blasted her with political rhetoric that made her feel like he kept in touch with her out of obligation only. That he didn’t really enjoy it since she believed so differently than he did. She felt like his political leanings were monstrous. She couldn’t hear them anymore.
She didn’t have it in her to be mean to him. Life had become too stressful in the politically charged atmosphere of the U.S. society. She had to get away from his rhetoric.
Through tears, she made a decision. She quit answering the phone. She finally had to save herself.