I'm an adult, a married adult, and I hadn't been dumped by anyone in decades! So, when I got dumped last September, the mingled feelings of rejection and indignation that often come with being dumped had all but been forgotten in my short memory. It stung.
Anyway, this friend, we'll call her Sue to protect the not-so-innocent, had been one of my two best friends for about four years. And when I say "two best friends," I mean one of the two people, other than my family and the people I work with that I spoke to more than twice a year. I'm stupidly busy, gregarious but guarded and kind of reclusive like that.
We met early one morning when our kids were playing baseball at the YMCA. She was wearing a Star Wars shirt and sitting on her own, looking uncomfortable in the Georgia spring humidity, avoiding the baseball groupie mothers in their matching team jerseys and chirpy, over-bright voices. I was sweaty, bleary-eyed from having to be up so early on a Saturday and sporting an "Inconceivable!" Princess Bride shirt.
Our eyes met across the crowded bleachers and we were drawn to one another by mutual feelings of social anxiety, fandom and the desire to find some respite from the sun. We ended up under the one shade tree in our corner of the park, making fun of the other moms for being so damn serious about a bunch of six-year-olds playing bad baseball and geeking out about books and movies. It was the start of something wonderful.
Sue was fun and she didn't take herself too seriously. That was important to me because I'm an overgrown kid myself and often feel like a middle-schooler masquerading in the world of grown ups. I had such a great time when I was with her. One night we went to Goodwill and bought flashy dresses and stripper shoes. We are SO not cool, but, wearing our fabulous outfits, we went to a trendy Mediterranean place with tapas and belly dancers and drank Ouzo and pretended we were flawless. Another time we went to a canvas painting class and slurped wine while awkwardly painting peacocks, bumping elbows and giggling the whole time. It was perfect.
No, it wasn't. Sue had issues. It made complete sense from a psychological perspective but sometimes her behavior shocked me.
Growing up, Sue was a cute little hippie chick, free wheeling but smart. She accidentally got pregnant when she was 16. I don't judge, but for the grace of God, that could have been me too. She loved living things too much to do anything but have the baby, so at 17 she became a mother.
Dad was a high school dropout dishboy that Sue met when they worked at a pizza parlor together. She married him and then at 19 they had baby number two. They lived in a crappy apartment above a busy street. Two babies in two years is tough for anybody, but they were just kids themselves, you know? Broke and tired and so very young. Things did not work out.
They divorced. For the next several years Sue went back to her hippie lifestyle, dating bartenders and band members. She and her girls had very little structure in their lives but they did have a lot of fun.
And then Sue met Adam. She went to a Red Cross blood drive one afternoon and left with a husband. Well, it wasn't quite that simple. They dated, where they realized he was 15 years older than her but they had chemistry so decided it didn't matter. Get this, at 40, he was also still a virgin! He was super-religious, from a very Christian family and that sex-before- marriage thing just wasn't done. Apparently, with Sue he felt the fire though because they got physical a few times - skin-on-skin physical - but they never had sex. And she got pregnant. This was truly one of those horror stories your high school health teacher tells you to scare you abstinent. They never had intercourse, but they had been close enough that one strong swimmer made it to the finish line.
Adam was ashamed. His family was aghast. He asked Sue to marry him, even though he was unhappy and wasn't ready, but that was the "right" thing to do. Sue and the girls moved into his home, which he ran with a heavy hand, the way he had been taught. It caused years of resentment between him and her daughters.
They had the first, then a second child together. Adam was spending almost all his time away on Red Cross blood drives across the state and when he was home, instead of wanting to do something with Sue, he encouraged her to go do things for herself. This was both sweet and heartbreaking to her because she felt he didn't care to see ever her - just his kids. Behind the lovely face and big smile, she was lonely. This was where I met her.
We talked on the phone and texted pretty often at first. Went on mom dates, or play dates with our kids, It was good, and when we got close enough to get real, even better to have someone to open up to.
And then she "felt the call" to be a foster mother. She is such an incredibly kind person but why would you do that when you already have four kids and a bad marriage? I judged her.
Sue went through the application process and was quickly given two foster children. I hurried to her house one night because a placement had happened so fast that they didn't even have a room ready for the foster kids. We needed to convert a basement room overnight for her older girls to move into so two babies could come home! Adam and Sue and I stayed up all night painting to make the space live-able.
So now Adam was gone all the time, and she had SIX children to take care of. I know taking in foster children is important, but it made her life and her marriage that much harder. Her older children started having behavioral problems at school. Her eldest started cutting. She was at the end of her rope when she met a handsome tax accountant one March and fell for him. "How did this happen?" I asked her, wide eyed.
She had gone in to get her taxes done and, when the accountant asked how many dependents she had, she fell apart. He gave her tissues, and a pep talk, and his private phone number. They started meeting a few times a week, sometimes with the younger children in the car, eating ice cream while they talked and held hands. She had him over to her house - the house she shared with her HUSBAND.
He was handsome and very smart, told her how beautiful she was, how patient. I got it, I could see the attraction. But he was also from South Africa, not a citizen, and he said he wanted her to leave her husband and marry him - he would take care of her and all those children. I said "Really? REALLY?" and begged her to go to counseling with Adam, if just for her babies. And I judged her.
One day she called to tell me she had used me as an excuse to see her boyfriend - had told Adam she was with me when she was with her lover. And on another occasion, when her lover sent a romantic Valentine card to the house, and Adam intercepted it, she told him that I wrote it - that it was me, trying to remind her how she should be treated as a wife. WHAT?? I was horrified. I did not want any part of her lies. Now I avoided her. And I judged her.
She nearly divorced Adam. He confronted her about the cheating and they had a dramatic blow up and then reconciliation. In the days before they made up, she would call me crying. One afternoon I listened to her agonize for three hours, while I steam cleaned my carpet, about the crazy situation she was in. Amazingly, they worked it out. They went on a couple's vacation, They renewed their vows.
I started spending time with Sue again. And then she cheated again.This time it was with some tight-jeaned handyman she met while dancing. This prize was a worthless redneck with a nice ass. When she told me what was up with him it was all I could do for my jaw not to drop. Here we go again.
In the fall, I attended a Civil War ball with Sue, it was the 150th anniversary of Sherman's March through Georgia so Atlanta had a slew of commemorative events. I bought a gorgeous, peach-colored silk dress with a hoop skirt and elbow length gloves and we headed to the ball for a girl's night out. The new stud was there when we arrived! She hadn't told me he was going to be at the ball and was brazen enough to act like it was no big deal when I brought it up. He was there with his mother who gave Sue wholly disapproving looks the whole night as she swirled around the dance floor with her son. When it was over, he walked us to my car. We got in and, when I looked over, they were making out through her open car window like teenagers. I'm no prude, but my God, really? I had never been so uncomfortable. And, I judged her.
That was pretty much it for me. She is a stay at home mom, but I work full time so it was easy to beg off due to family commitments or work. Then I got a new job and that gave me further excuses to stay away. She got dumped by the redneck and when she called I tried to tell her it was really for the best, but that perhaps, if she was that unhappy in her marriage that she would stray twice, she should start working toward a divorce.
The last time we spoke was after another ball she attended out of state. She called me in the middle of the night, a wreck, because she ran into the redneck there, and his mother basically called her a whore and told her to stay away from her son. She was shocked. I thought "What did she expect?" And I judged her.
I couldn't do it any more. I just quietly backed away, not answering texts, trying to fade into the shadows.
But, we were still Facebook friends, and over the next year I watched the drama play out on her page. I could see when her relationship went from married to "It's complicated," and back to married. Could see when she changed her cover photo from one of her and Adam to one of just her children, could see when she moved out of state, could see how things were falling apart. Did she think their wouldn't be a price to pay for what she had done? I judged her.
It wasn't until she sent me and several other friends a private message that her 15-year-old daughter was pregnant and due in the next week that I contacted her. Her girl had chosen to have the baby but give it up for adoption, which, to me, is about the bravest thing a young mother can do. My heart ached for all of them.
I wrote Sue and we started a conversation after eight months of silence. She asked where I had been for so long and I decided to tell her. To be honest. To heal our friendship. I said I knew she had been through a "crazy time," and I used those words because, in case her husband was reading, I didn't want to get her in trouble. I told her that after a while I couldn't handle the excess of drama, didn't know what to say to her any longer when I felt she was making crazy choices and hurting so many people. I said I was sorry I didn't know what to say and sorry I disappeared when I did. I told her I was sorry for not being able to put my family aside in order to be a better friend. And I meant that sincerely.
With the honesty I felt a weight lift.
She wrote back and told me I was a bitch. Dismissive for thinking what she was going through was just a "crazy time." She said I had never been important to her. That she had real friends who were actually there when she needed them. She told me I was a shitty friend because I was only around to have fun but not to carry the real weight of friendship when things got serious. She told me it was pathetic that, in the two years she had her foster kids, I had never met them. She told me she didn't want, nor did she accept my judgement for her "behavior."
I called her, hurt and angry and left her a voice mail saying I was sorry that she mistook the tone of my email. She called me back and said I didn't sound sorry, I sounded angry and she wasn't going to speak to me again. At that point I gave up. I wrote her back on Facebook. Apologized a final time, said that although I hadn't meant much to her, she had been one of my best friends, and that I wished she and her family good things in the future.
I cried. And I thought a lot about what she said. All weekend I thought about it, and realized she was right. I didn't take the time to be the friend she needed. I don't take the time to be the friend ANYONE needs. I felt both guilty and indignant about that though. I work 45 hours a week, commute 90 minutes each day. I have two kids who are in dance and karate and Cub Scouts and a husband that I want to spend quality time with them when possible. It isn't like I'm fucking having a party every day with all my OTHER friends, my life is just that taken up with taking care of them! THEY are my priority right now. There is nothing more important to me than them. And yeah, because I've made this choice, it makes me a crap friend..
It hurt me to realize this about myself, but I am glad she pointed it out. I ached inside, but I needed to move on.
Two days later she actually called me to apologize. Said she was in an awful place with her daughter's pregnancy, said she and Adam had been trying to get back together but that he was doing crazy things. I told her I was sorry for all that, got off the phone as fast as possible and never called her again. Hid her posts from my Facebook feed. I may be a shitty friend but I'm no idiot. You don't get to break my heart and then apologize like what you said was nothing more than small talk. Fuck that. Good riddance.(And...I was judging her again.)
I have a new friend now. She is the mom of one of my daughter's classmates. She is fun and funny and geeky like me. On our first mom date I warned her that I was a crappy friend, like one of those commitment-phobic guys that says "Don't get attached to me, baby." I told her that I'm busy as hell and frequently absent and absent-minded. I just wanted her to know what she was getting into. She said that was cool, she was busy too.
Although I know she won't be there to cry with if something terrible happens - not fair for me to lean on her if she can't depend on that from me - she is my friend.
Sometimes I see the things she does with her REAL friends on Facebook and my heart hurts a little that I don't have someone like that. But, I can't be someone like that right now, so I get it. Like our mothers taught us, I don't deserve a friend if I can't be one.
I'm simply being pragmatic when I think "Ok, in eight years my kids will be out of the house and then, THEN I can try this friend thing again." I don't ever want to be "that one friend" again.