Monday, November 12, 2012

My longest blog post ever

I am in the middle of a hysterically funny book called The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days by
Ian Frazier. So, in a nod to his witheringly crafted prose, I was inspired to write something of length which I am, with some trepidation, sharing with all of you.

I know some about friendship- and unfortunately quite a bit about ending friendships. For lack of a better idea I’ll start with a friendship that ended way back when (or another lifetime ago).
I grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio and C. was in my older brother’s class. Her sister G. was in my class, but for a whole host of reasons, I got along with C. better. I had the sort of family a lot of friends admired. An interesting house filled with books, art and music and a mother who never really cared who ate what out of the refrigerator. Oh, and four older brothers with a lot of assorted buddies. This made my home a kind of go-to destination for many of my friends. I was C.’s drawing model when no one else would comply- we were after all her 17 to my 14. I was a stalwart supporter of her artistic ability and when she chose after college to go to London and be an au pair to a very famous artist I of course was positive this was a great career move. The only problem was that she was miserable. She wrote one miserable letter after another and my mother, reasonably gracious and willing to help, suggested I fly to London over my Christmas break from college and convince C. to come home. Which I did. While there, whenever she wasn’t obliged by her au pair tasks, we roamed the city.
Loads of fun. One day, while in the Tate gallery (if memory serves me correct on the exact location) I noticed a bearded guy in a fatigue jacket wandering the galleries alone. He had to be an American. That was perfectly clear to me. I wandered over- introduced myself and the befriending began. We three palled around London and had a great time. I flew home, C. returned somewhat later, and reconnecting with M., our friendly solo traveler, struck up a romance. Years later, they married. (Author’s note- while they had a mid sized wedding, I was not invited- an oversight that was never adequately explained to me- but whatever. I think C. told me I wasn’t invited because she didn’t know how to find me- which of course was extremely weird because my parents lived in the same house and never changed their phone number- but silly me. Finding me would have required a phone call.)
Flash-forward a number of years and the happy couple is now living on the Main Line in a lovely home on a lovely street with their two lovely children. My good friend turned 40- her hubby organized a gala event, and my then-husband and I went down a day early to help with the preparations, stayed at a nearby hotel, and took part in the festivities. Subsequently I tried to help my friend find a gallery (unsuccessfully), helped her photograph her work (successfully), and held a reception for her after her first one-woman show at a NYC gallery of modest repute. My own 40th birthday rolled around. My friend C. and spouse M. were invited- but as it was held on my actual birth date- and not an evening convenient for them, they chose not to attend, nor did they do anything. No flowers, no card. Nothing.
A little past this event C. called needing a favor. She wanted me to help her take more photos of her art. I mentioned that I was short on favors in her regard and that my feelings had been hurt by her apparent inability to do anything to commemorate my birthday. She did agree that I was very considerate, and that she had dropped the ball. Okay, I thought. It took a lot for me to stand up for myself- usually I have a kind of doormat affect (well that waned as my tales will foretell). But I was happy to get my unhappiness off my chest. Unfortunately, the phone rang again ad C. was furious. “You are keeping tabs,” she said. “And friends don’t keep tabs.” “Everyone keeps tabs, C. grow up.” I replied and that was the last conversation we ever had. I did write and ask her to meet me halfway to have lunch and discuss what had happened. She wrote back that she had a husband, two children and a job and that she never had time for lunch. She wrote me a condolence note when my mother (who had been so nice to her) dropped dead a year later, but there was no going back. 
I, on the other hand now have three children, a husband, a dog, a snake, a rabbit, an aging house that seems to always need something important done, and a calling, if not a career. If you need to talk to me-I always have time for lunch. Just in case you were wondering.
I let it go with C. Very glad I found her husband for her. It’s important in life to feel useful, don’t you think?

From there it is just a leap to S. I met S. in college. She found my family and me fascinatingly real. As she grew up in a kind of urbane international moneyed family where going out to 4 star restaurants was part of their weekly routine- my world seemed so prosaic and normal. I was the true friend she had always craved and my typical suburban upbringing gave her a kind of calm. As the years rolled by and she aspired to build the kind of success her father and grandfather had created- she sought her own fortune in an interesting apparel business that she launched with an artistic neighbor from her building in Soho. I became the photographer for the brand, the poet of their packaging. Everyone prospered. However, as the years went by, her success revealed her true nastiness. I looked the other way. A lot. I didn’t know what to do. It was good work for me and if I didn’t pay too much close attention, I didn’t really have to accept the bully my friend was becoming. Countless thoughtless remarks were flung my way. But no worries. I took it all in stride. (Not really. Her boorishness always wounded me- but she held the reins and I was not prepared to walk away) A decade later, she was on to her next pursuit, sans a partner, sans me, but that was okay. I was happy to end this part of our association. But her meanness, unfortunately, did not stop. One day, on the phone, I told her that I didn’t want to hear her cutting remarks anymore. And with that she announced that she didn’t want a relationship that was superficial. After my third child was born, I called to tell her of his arrival. She commented that if I was ever in NY and wanted to have lunch, I should call her. Remarkably enough, it has never occurred to me to call her ever again and she seems to have forgotten my number. So, a friendship that spanned over 25 years ended in a flash or rather a phone call in an attempt to share some happy news.

I probably have to talk about M. next. A delightful gal I met in graduate school. Talented, attractive, funny, neurotic- just like me! We both moved to NYC after grad school and she subsequently made her way with her family to Westchester. She would invite me up and I fell in love with suburbia- it felt like the kind of place I could breathe freely again. My husband and I found and bought a very nice house (at least from the curb- as in, “that’s a very nice house.”) It was all good, mostly, until one summer night she had a few too many margaritas and then holding the doorknob as she made her departure turned and said, “Why did you have to move here?” Oh, yes, she was delighted to have another talented photographer so near by! That friendship hurt a lot less, when it came to an end. We also differed dramatically on a surgical procedure that typically affects newborn baby boys. In the tradition of Moses I sought the ways of my ancestors, but it didn’t keep her from calling my husband to share with him the utter horror of my thinking. It’s good to know that some people know (or rather don’t know) where the real boundaries lay.

Well, I didn’t really think I was heading down some fork in the road, but I was. I haven’t found myself in conflict with everyone I know- rather the opposite. I only find myself in conflict with some of the people I know. Invariably these conflicts are with difficult women who like to get their way. Like to dispense pearls of advice, like my old pal E.,  when none has been sought.  Friends who like to call my husband after a pleasant stay at our house and tell him “Your wife doesn’t feed the children enough.” (this after my eldest refused to eat anything for dinner and then announced she was hungry before bedtime. I responded that breakfast would appear right after she woke up and that in the future I recommended she eat dinner with the rest of the family when dinner was served, at dinnertime.) I didn’t even mention that one to my friend- but as the mother of three children born within 5 years and my friend, E., the mother of none, was certainly not my favorite go to source on all matters related to parenthood. Another visit was planned, and picking her up at the train station on the other side of the county she proceeded to tell me that I needed a haircut. Yes, she was an expert on so many things. Next, while shopping she reminded me that she hoped I was saving for the kids' college funds because as a university professor she saw so many kids saddled with debt. As my husband and I were barely making it financially, what with the sky high property taxes, utilities and those extremely necessary additional extras all kids in Westchester seem to require- our savings were indeed more modest that I really liked. Finally, worn out by all the expert insight she bestowed, I asked her to stop giving me advice for which I hadn’t sought her help. She was not happy with me. No, not one bit and she wanted to part ways that instant. No amount of explanation on my part would do.
I then drove her back to the train station from which I had so recently picked her up so she could continue on her merry way. I didn’t speak to her for years until after a recent art opening where we were both in attendance at the post affair dinner. She sat next to my husband as I was blissfully ensconced in the middle of the table surrounded by nice people I didn’t really know. According to my husband, immediately upon settling in her chair she asked him how much we stilled owed on our mortgage. No, you cannot make this stuff up. Yes, the end of her friendship was a terrific loss. (sarcasm intended.)

So, what is the point of this post of mine? It’s not that people are who they are; it’s more that I am not who I once was. Once, I was the pliant, agreeable, take anyone’s s**t sort of gal who strived to stay cordial and kind. Until I couldn’t do it anymore because I wasn’t that person anymore. I didn’t want to be bullied and I didn’t want to tolerate another’s inconsiderate crap. I had changed. Maybe not for the better but that’s my concern. I know it’s a relief to not be prevailed upon anymore by people who clearly care more about their own agenda than they ever respected mine. So, call me what you will. A little lonelier perhaps, but at the end of the day, when I look in the mirror and see the years advance across my mostly intact and aging face, I think I like myself a little bit more. And I wish you all the same.

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