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We had started our friendship during the first week of college, both of us newly arrived in our so-called adult lives. Molly was beautiful and smart and wildly talented as an artist. I thought she was a superwoman, and she must have felt something similar about me because, for my birthday that year, she drew a cartoon of me amid all of my perceived accomplishments at college: a pen! an oar! a stack of books! It was a glowing, idealized version of me, and I loved it. It also led to our first major fight.

I had loaned her some money. Some time later, and short of money, myself, I asked for it back. Perhaps, she suggested, while furiously writing me a check, she ought to deduct the cost of art supplies for my birthday gift. We didn't speak for the next three years.

Then we tried again, reuniting, with relief, after graduation, as if college—not the intersection of our personalities—had been to blame. I had gone abroad to study, returning with the man I would marry. She was living in New York, working in advertising, but not on the creative side where she belonged; instead, her smarts and competence began to take her deeper and deeper into a marketing career she could never make peace with, let alone love. She met a co-worker and moved west with him. In 1987, she was a bridesmaid in my wedding. The following year, I was matron of honor in hers.

So far so good, right? Two women who loved and admired each other, who wanted happiness and success for each other, who were living on opposite sides of the country with their new husbands—mine liked her, hers liked me—but were closely in touch, nonetheless. I must have left something out, right?

I have left a few things out.

For example, the anxiety she had struggled with since childhood. The intense self-focus that arose from that anxiety. The constant negativity and criticism. Sometimes, she showed such cruelty in the way she spoke about other people (a mutual acquaintance, a stranger on the street, a celebrity, or me) that I thought she could not possibly realize what she was saying. "Oh I can't believe you have that bag. That is just disgusting," she announced once, at a dinner party. She meant the 30-year-old Herm├Ęs Kelly handbag I had just bought on eBay, after having pined for one for more than a year. There was a moment of stunned silence in the room. I sat very still, as always, embarrassed (for her? for myself?) and trying to move past the comment. She loved me, I knew that. But her habit of wounding me so casually—what did it mean?

Still, no cutting remark directed at another person came close to the criticism she leveled at herself. Molly could take no pleasure in her accomplishments, her beauty, her strong marriage. There were many times I would hang up the phone in despair over her crushing unhappiness. I couldn't fix it and she didn't want it to be fixed, so we were both frozen in place.

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