Monday, September 07, 2009

Crying Wolf

I had a friend once.
(I've got friends now, of course--good ones, too--but this is about the friend-who-was-and-is-no longer.)
Oh, it's not that she's dead, or anything. In fact, I still follow her blog. It's all I can do not to leave comments, even though my having left a comment is what destroyed the friendship.
Well...that's not true, actually. The friendship was dead in the water when I left that comment; she just didn't know it yet. In hindsight, I probably could have told her a little more gently that I no longer wanted anything to do with her, but the end result would have been the same.

I don't make friends easily and I don't discard them lightly. To this day, I feel tremendously guilty for giving this one the boot. That guilt wars with the sure and certain knowledge that I had to let go: she was drowning, and if I didn't let go she'd take me down with her.

It took more time than it should have to recognize this, and longer still to do anything about it. That's because of all my friends, this one took the most effort to secure.

September, 1989

First day in (yet another) new school. I went to five different public schools, one of them twice, and this is my third high school. University awaits next year, another move, ho-hum. I've developed a love-hate relationship with the words "fresh start". I was bullied through elementary school, ostracized in grade nine; it was only at my last school that I finally started to come into my own...making friends, real friends, the kind of friends who came over to your house and you go to theirs. So of course I didn't want to leave Westminster. At all, no way, nohow. If the best of those friends hadn't moved away herself that summer, I think I would have elevated my grumbling and bitching to the level of a demand.
Or maybe not. I'm, well, let's face it, pretty meek when it comes to my parents. But I've got a Westminster-sized chip on my shoulder. My love for the place burns like a torch, a torch that wants to burn this school down for the grave sin of not being that school.

Anyway, here I am, and I'm about to be sick. It's two minutes to homeroom and I can't find my homeroom. This school is freakin' huge. And before I find my homeroom, I'd better find a bathroom, because I honestly can't tell if I'm going to throw up or soil myself

Neither, but only because a bathroom showed up at the last possible second. I sat on the commode, not feeling commodious in the slightest. Homeroom. What the hell's the point of a homeroom? Westminster--HOME--didn't have homerooms. You just went to your first class. My first class is English. Why can't I just go there? Why is my homeroom an automotive shop? It's not like I have any plans to take automotive shop this year. And as far as I can tell, it's on the other side of the damned school from my first class. I just want to go back, back to London where I belaaaaarrrrrrgh! Another gut-cramp wrenched its way through, wringing my intestines. Deep breaths, Ken. Deeeeeep breaths.
Calmed somewhat, I stumbled out, got my bearings, and made it to my shop-class homeroom just as it was being dismissed. I stuttered apologies to the teacher. I'd never been late to anything scholastic in my life. Then I went off to English class...and was hit by lightning.
Getting hit by lightning was not in my plans for this day. Lightning was Darlene, forever and ever amen, and even if it was possible for someone else to wield the lightning-spear, it couldn't possibly happen here. Nor could it happen a scant two months after I'd tearfully bid Darlene goodbye.

But it did. I was really, truly aware of only one person besides the teachers that day, and I found out as the week went on that she shared five of my classes. I was besotted. Again.

Her name was Jen, and that had its own mystique for me. Aside from the nice rhyme (Ken and Jen, a rhyming couplet, awww, how cute), I'd quite simply never met a Jenny, Jennifer or just plain Jen that I didn't like. There'd been quite a few of them, too.
This Jen was indifferent bordering on hostile. No matter. I'd seen this before. (Well, maybe not this level of hostility. And with Darlene it had taken two years. I only had one to play with here. Still, it'd give me something to do to take my mind off the fact I wasn't at Westminster any more.
It took a year. We circled around each other five classes out of eight, me throwing occasional love-jabs, her responding with literal jabs (and scratches, on one memorable occasion) when I got too close. I redoubled my efforts. She trebled hers.
I learned she loved the library, so I started hanging out there over lunch every now and again instead of my own beloved music room.
One day out of nowhere, she presented me with lyrics to to a song she'd written, entitled "You Don't Need Me", and asked me to compose a melody for it. Well, shit. You think I cared before... I stared at the lyrics, thinking, oh, Jen, I may not need you, but God I want you.

That's how my friendships with women went in those days. For some reason I had to go through a lovestruck phase before I could settle down and grow up.
I grew up (in this way, at least) in the summer between the end of my grade 13 year and the start of university. It didn't surprise me at all when Jen called me at home one day in the middle of July and proceeded to talk my ear off for almost three hours. It was, I told myself, inevitable. At the same time, I actually recognized the immature crush for what it was and realized I had a chance here to secure a real friendship--infinitely more valuable.

And I did. We did. I played piano for her wedding (stifling an insane urge at the rehearsal to launch into "You Don't Need Me"--teenaged Ken, surfacing again). She stood by my side when I married Eva, and neither she nor I cared one whit how unusual that was.

There were things about our friendship that irked me, even early on. I could rarely get a word in edgewise, for one thing. Jen was (and remains) one of those people who can talk for hours without taking a breath. Ask her a question, any question, and her answer will come in encyclopedia form, with loads of backstory, episodes that stop, start, double back on themselves, and twist into incomprehensible pretzel shapes. When I first heard Toby Keith's I Wanna Talk About Me, I immediately thought of Jen.

But hey, that's minor, really. I know other talkative people--they don't bother me much. And so what if she thinks she can cook? She can't--she damned near burned her house down because she tried to make Yorkshire pudding with olive oil, and that's just one incident among many--but I'm sure I've got things I say I can do that I can't. Just another endearing quality, right?

It was only over time and lots of it that I began to realize how needy Jen really was. She had absolutely no self confidence, and the only way she knew to get it was to drain it out of other people. It was actually scary how unrelentingly, soul-suckingly negative she was. She could find the cloud stuffed deep within any silver lining. She'd make a choice, any choice, and then bitch when the natural consequences of that choice asserted themselves.
Crises occurred monthly, if not weekly. Every time I'd call, I'd be catapulted into a story of gloom and woe, a story with no beginning and no end, the story of Jen's life. I don't mind saying it wore on me. I wore it like a hairshirt at first. I figured I owed her that. I tried to be supportive, I really did. Eventually it dawned on me that I couldn't be supportive enough: no matter how much energy I invested in it, she'd take every erg and ask for more.
I seized on one post detailing how incredibly terribly busy she was (with only 29 hours of leisure time a week) to give her a little reality check. Actually, Eva did it first. At the time, my wife was working at least eighty hours a week between two jobs, also studying towards her third and fourth professional designations--and not complaining, let alone publicly complaining, about any of it. Did Jen realize how silly she looked, putting the details of her oh-so-rough, only approaching typical adult responsibility, life out there for all to see?

It's an understatement to say she didn't. She veered wildly between treating her blog as if it were a private diary under lock and key and complaining bitterly about how few readers she had. I couldn't blame people for not reading. If anything could suck the joy right out of your day, it was a visit to that blog.
Things blew up from there, and I...withdrew. It had been a hell of a long time coming. I think I owe whatever sanity I have to the conviction that surfaced that day and announced I just can't do this any more.

But I continue to read her blog. Because it's a train wreck: you want to look away, but you can't. Nothing has changed. She still complains every chance she get about everything that happens to her. (She doesn't do anything...things happen to her.) I'm far from the only friend who has deserted her, and she complains most bitterly each time another energy source somehow escapes the black hole of her personality, never seeming to realize she's at cause for her own abandonment.

Except now the really bad things are starting to build up. She lost a pet. People close to her are falling gravely ill. Things like that. The wolves she's been crying about all these years are actually circling this time, and there are fewer and fewer people around to care.

I've found some sympathy remains for the woman who used to be my friend, now that her crisis of the week would be a crisis to anyone else. But that's marred by a cruel and at times overwhelming itch to tell her she asked for this.

I don't bear Jen any ill will, and never did. Maybe, just maybe, she will seize on the truly awful things that are going on and make of them a crucible. She's sorely in need of one. Alas, only she can make that choice, using her own energy, not someone else's.


Rocketstar said...

Is she still married, does the husband see and try to resolve her issues?

Ken Breadner said...

Yes, she's married, but they live apart. Not out of any acrimony...she's in school in one city, he has a high paying job in a town a few hours away. As for whether he sees her issues--no idea. Somehow I doubt it.