Kill The Messenger
I met Anna when I was in 9th grade in Freeport, Long Island. She was a year older than me but we clicked and became best friends quickly. We had a good deal in common. The thing we had most in common was SHAME. We were both dirt poor with mothers who didn’t give a crap about us and who didn’t really like either of us. We took refuge in our friendship. We laughed and laughed. We laughed at stupid things. We did the typical teenage girl things: she ironed my hair to flatten it and burned my scalp which we just thought was hysterical; once when I slept over her house, I woke to brush my teeth before school and in a morning fog brushed my teeth with her mother’s Preparation H….I didn’t realize it until after I was done. It was just goopy and wouldn’t lather. Anna actually peed in her underwear from laughing when I told her that.
We didn’t belong to any particular group in high school other than gymnastics after school. We weren’t sorority girls, academians (although I got excellent grades and sometimes wrote papers for other students), but we were watchers, sometimes…..just sometimes …. Longing to belong to a particular group. After gymnastics, we liked to watch whatever male sport was finishing their practice and linger as the guys left the school so we could ogle them, hoping to catch their eye and maybe they’d say hello. They didn’t.
We played the same top-hit 40 over and over again. We were best, best friends with our secret – the secrets of the life at home, of errant, inattentive mothers, poverty …. Homes that neither of us could invite others to because of shabby furniture and cockroaches.
It was at Anna’s home where I took refuge when my mother’s boyfriend kicked me out for throwing his liquor bottles at him and screaming at him when I was 14 and caught him trying to “touch” my sisters. Of course, I did call the police and detectives did follow up, but my mother told my sisters to lie about the incident, ever protecting her boyfriend instead of me, and nothing came of it. I was living with Anna for about 10 days when my mother suddenly died. My younger sister was home on that school day, and she called the high school looking for me. The school called me down to the office. I got on the phone. “Can you come home, I think Mommy’s dead and she said you would take care of us.” A school guidance counselor drove me home, a litany of police, random people, my mother splayed on the hallway floor and we were quickly scurried out of the house only to wind up in foster care.
It was 1974. I lost Anna. In 2011, 37 years since I last saw Anna her name popped up on my Facebook feed as “someone you might know”, and I was incredulous! Immediately, I sent her an instant message. Now, when I was a teenager, I was a super ugly duckling and in 2011 I looked very different. As an adult, I had come to learn how to groom myself, so I looked completely different from the person Anna remembered. My Facebook profile picture probably did not look familiar to her. In my message, I told her who I was. She answered my message but didn’t accept a friend request just yet. She queried me on different things to make sure I was the person I said I was. Once Anna was sure that I was I long-lost best friend, we immediately got on the phone and chatted for hours. We agreed to meet in person in a week at The Boathouse Café in Central Park. It was wonderful.
Our friendship continued to grow in a new way as we were now grown women with adult children. We enjoyed great day excursions together. A year after Anna was visiting me at my home for the weekend and showed me her ear. The skin was bright red and inflamed. I put some cortisone on it, and we agreed that Anna should visit a doctor when she got home. Anna went to a dermatologist. Bad news. The dermatologist told her to go to a rheumatologist; it looks like Lupus. And indeed, Anna had Lupus. From 2011 to 2016, Anna’s Lupus continued to worsen at a rapid rate; randomly attacking her body in different ways. Her hair began to fall out in spots and she had bald areas; she had to avoid the sun or she would break out in a rash; she developed fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. And so began, a bevy drugs. Some drugs had side effects which necessitated the use of other drugs to offset the side effects of drug “a” and so on. Life became increasingly difficult for Anna. As it was, she had a full plate even before she found out she had Lupus. She was separated from her never-can-keep-a-job/unreliable/pay-no-child support husband; she was paying for her daughter to go to college in Brooklyn and trying very hard to help her “high-functioning” autistic son finish regular high school. Her doctor told her to try to keep her stress level low as stress only exacerbates all of the worst symptoms of Lupus. Easier said than done. On top of a challenging home life, Anna was a medical secretary in a hospital ER. It was crazy work, and, as I told Anna, it didn’t seem to be a good idea for someone with an autoimmune deficiency to be around sick people every day. But Anna continued to work. She needed the money.
Finally, this year, 2016, Anna could bear it no longer. The pain from her fibromyalgia and arthritis was making it impossible for her to work. It took convincing, which to me seems ridiculous and contrary to the Hippocratic Oath, to get the doctor to put her on disability since he simply could not SEE her pain. But he finally did.
And then the sun seemed to shine on Anna. A name from the past popped up on HER Facebook feed as someone she might know. It was the captain of the football team from our high school days whom she had dated for two weeks all those years ago. She gave it a shot and sent him an instant message just saying hello. Clarence answered immediately! When can we have dinner, when can I see you? oh my God you’re so gorgeous and so on. Now, as Anna tells me, Clarence had gone on from high school to become a NYS Trooper. He also told Anna that after he retired from that job, he went to work for the FBI from which he also retired. Now, to pass time and not sit around, he was a commercial trucker. He lived in North Carolina. No matter. He drove up to Long Island, New York to see Anna nearly every week for several months; buying gifts upon gifts.
I was thrilled that finally someone was treating Anna well, that she wasn’t killing herself working. But where she lived on Long Island irritated her arthritis year round; she lived near the water and the humidity was killing her. Moreover, the brutal New York winters were more than she could bear. So, after several months of dating, when Clarence asked Anna to marry him (he was twice divorced), to move into his “wonderful home with 7 acres” in North Carolina, Anna said yes. I was so happy for Anna’s happiness. She would be moving to an area where she would not be in constant pain, she would have a man who really loved her and she would no longer be counting pennies….literally.
Two months later Anna asked me to drive with her to North Carolina to see, for the first time, her “new house”; that is, Clarence’s house that she would be moving into. Sure! Girlfriends…road trip! Girlfriends are great on a road trip. Need to pee again? No problem, we’ll stop. Men? No no no! We just stopped….not with girlfriends though. It was a nice drive and an unpleasant surprise upon arrival. Clarence’s boasts about his great house (he was on the road working when we got there) were not quite accurate by a very, very long shot. What we arrived to find was a modular home on a piece of land in an extremely rural area. And then we went inside. Anna started to cry. “I can’t, I just can’t”. Well, the inside of the house definitely reflected that a man lived there alone. Everything inside looked “1970”, the walls were plastic but dirty, the bathrooms were filthy beyond belief. Anna and I are both clean OCD people. “It’s ok” I tell her, “We’ll just do one room at a time; just relax, I’ll help you.” And so, over the next 5 days we scrubbed down that modular home from top to bottom including washing the walls.
The drive home was pleasant. It’s funny how when you’re driving TO a place it seems to take so long but when you’re driving home it seems to go so much faster. I went to Anna’s house two weeks later to take her to Lowes to buy boxes and get her going. She was dragging her feet and had not started packing. We mixed it up. We went to Lowes in the morning, bought boxes, went to the beach for the afternoon (Anna hiding under a big umbrella, but she loves the beach), went home, cleaned up, ordered pizza and I built her boxes. I took off for home the next day.
Two days later, Clarence calls me. Now, it’s not unusual for Clarence to call me. First, when Anna and I are together, he will often call me to speak to her because her phone is ancient and he cannot get through. However, he also calls to talk to me. He calls to ask me “what’s going on with Anna?” Why does he do this? Because she is dragging her feet, making excuses, still covering her ex with her medical insurance, not packing, not filing the divorce papers and not giving Clarence – who gave her a lovely engagement ring – any answers other than “I’m overwhelmed.” So, I try to assure him. Yes, yes…she is moving along…I go out every two weeks and scuttle her along.
August 11, 2016 Clarence calls me at 7pm. He says he’s going to be coming up this way and heading to see Anna and that enroute (I’m in NJ); he’d like to take me out to dinner. Um, why? He’d like to talk to me about Anna and her issues. I say, ok but remember, she’s my best friend and I’ll always advocate for her AND, of course, I’ll tell her we’re having dinner. I do NOT like secrets. Sure, sure he says.
Then Clarence says…..ready for this!
I’d like to get a hotel room. I say Clarence….if you’re going to be tired from the long drive; I have several extra bedrooms in my house, stay with me and hubby.
No, he says. “I want the hotel room for you and me. I’m very sexual.” Now Clarence likes his booze on his days off but he was stone-cold sober. I said WHAT DID YOU SAY? Didn’t wait for an answer. Are you out of your mind? I’m married; that’s my best friend; you’ve lost your mind! I have to hang up now. BYE!!!
Now what the hell am I supposed to do. This guy has the brass balls to proposition a married woman….he’s met my husband and professes to be his bud. He knows I know Anna all our lives. But I’m worried for Anna. If he’d do this with me…..and he’s a trucker….who else is he with on the road….I’m worried for my friend who might catch an STD.
I have to tell her. Ugh. It’s agony. I call her and tell her everything. What she says. You heard it wrong. No, you’re wrong. On and on. I’m wrong. I must have misunderstood.
Now, what good does it serve ANYONE for me to make this up when in my truest heart all I want is for my fiend to be happy?
So, what do I get? KILL THE MESSENGER! My friend Anna will no longer speak to me or have anything to do with me. In her mind, somehow, this is my fault.
That is her issue to deal with. I am at peace. I feel I did the right thing.
She is going to move to North Carolina and marry him. OMG, I really, deeply, truly wish her luck.
Friends, being a good friend isn’t easy.