Names have been changed in this story to protect both the innocent and not-so-innocent.
I’ve had a former friend on my mind for several days. You notice that I said former. I had worked with this woman in both Beaumont and Wichita. In Beaumont we were only work acquaintances. When we transferred to Wichita we became friends.
Ever since I’ve known “Betty” she has used a power chair; in Beaumont we called her Speedy because she never went slowly anywhere. Management tagged her enough in Wichita that she had to slow down. As the years passed we went from work acquaintances to friendship. I had other friends in Wichita, too, so Betty wasn’t the only one I talked and socialized with.
Betty and I both had some health issues and some losses of family members, Betty more than me. I was there for her through one round with breast cancer and a scare of a recurrence; through the loss of her favorite brother and the grief of her son deciding to move away from her back to Texas; through her annual hospitalizations for pneumonia; through the turmoil of her friendship with another co-worker, Tess, whom I couldn’t stand but tolerated anyway.
When Tess died suddenly, Betty was left with the task of notifying Tess’s only remaining family member and taking care of clearing out the apartment. Three days after Tess died, Betty collapsed, ended up in the hospital again and almost died. When she woke up, she realized it was time for her to finally go on disability and move back to Texas. Not too long after she made that decision, the postal service announced they were going to close the Remote Encoding Center where we worked. Because I was physically unable to hold any other job in the postal service, my only options were to take a transfer to Salt Lake City or take early retirement. I really did NOT want to move to SLC for many reasons and taking early retirement would give me the chance to return to Texas.
Betty’s mother, Linda, came to Wichita to care for her daughter and stayed to help with the packing and moving preparations. When Betty was well enough and the mountain of governmental, bureaucratic paperwork completed, her sons came from Texas and Florida to move her back to Texas, teasingly telling her this was the LAST time they would move her. It was a beautiful, warm day in April of that year when the U-Haul was fully loaded, we took a few pictures, exchanged hugs and said our goodbyes, knowing I would also be moving back to Texas before the end of the year.
Long before the postal service announced the closure of the REC I was making plans for the day I could take full retirement and return to Texas for good. Moving back to Southeast Texas was not part of the plan because I didn’t want to live around the refineries and chemical plants and all the chemicals they spewed into the air. After my mother died, though, I decided because of my age and health issues it would be smarter to move where family would be nearby if I had any problems and I knew the area.
Betty and I were both excited and talked often as the time neared for me to move. She had moved into an Over 50 housing complex and put in a good word for me so I was going to move into the same apartments. Betty let me stay with her for the two weeks until my furniture arrived. She had made several friends at the complex and there was a near constant flow of people in and out during the day. After a week I began to notice they were dropping in less and less often but really didn’t think much of it. Betty said she was glad because it was tiring having people around all the time, yet she complained because nobody would come and clean her apartment.
Within the first six months after I moved, almost of all the people Betty was friends with when I arrived had quit coming around or calling. By that time I was noticing that she was changing from the happy, active woman I knew in Wichita into a semi-recluse who could be vitriolic when she perceived someone had done her wrong. Because she was my friend I always sided with her but, to my shame, I found myself acting in ways I would not normally. When I stood up for her after her alcoholic brother stirred up a ruckus at her apartment and I basically ripped him a new one by text, I was a bit discomfited when she took such glee in the conflict it caused between me and Linda (who sided with her son), even though she stood up for what I had written and why.
Betty was also a diabetic, but ate all the wrong foods; it was not uncommon for her to return from Wal-Mart with not just one, but three, double fudge bundt cakes. I tried repeatedly to get her to watch her diet and take better care of herself, to get out more than just to go to the grocery store or smoke shop. Although she talked constantly about joining the YMCA so she could swim year round, she never did. A little more than a year ago Betty ended up in the hospital with pneumonia once again. When she was well enough, the doctor transferred her to a rehab facility because of both the breathing problems and an injury on her leg that would not heal. Even though I was already beginning to have second thoughts about the friendship, during those two months I continued to visit her in the rehab facility and ran errands for her.
When Betty was finally released from rehab, I really began to struggle to keep the relationship. She had already chased away all but one, Vicki, of her other friends and then Vicki died suddenly. Betty’s depression seemed to be deepening and I was increasingly disturbed not only by the fact that she hardly went anywhere, but she stayed in her recliner all day and watched TV. Though it wasn’t far to either the kitchen or the bathroom, she would not walk even those few steps, but instead got in her power chair and rode those few feet. Most nights she slept in her recliner, too.
I had long since noticed that although I always remembered her on her birthday and at Christmas, it was never reciprocated. The point of gift giving is not to get something in return, but it hurt that she never even remembered my birthday with a card. Another thing that was weighing on my mind was that I could never engage her in a stimulating conversation. Everything was about TV shows, her troubles, her sons, etc. I craved stimulating conversation about current events and other things, but every attempt to engage her in such discussions failed.
Although I had not lived in the same complex for some time I had visited Betty regularly. I began to visit less and less and when we did talk by phone I was always the one who called or texted, never the other way around. When I had neck surgery and was not able to drive she repeatedly told me she would come pick me up and we would go eat or to the park, but she always had an excuse at the last minute about why she couldn’t. Needless to say, being laid up from surgery, unable to do much and having no company (everybody was gone to work during the day), I had lots of time to really think.
After I was finally able to drive again, I went to Betty’s apartment a couple of times and once treated her to a meal, but nothing had changed. Reluctantly, I decided I needed to end the friendship. Being someone who avoids conflict, I kept putting off telling her. I also didn’t want to receive any of her vitriolic texts. Weeks went by with no contact from her at all. Then her youngest son’s engagement blew up and I kind of got caught in the middle because I was friends with Abby and Joe, too, so Abby called me to blow off steam.
In Betty’s eyes, Joe could do no wrong so she quickly decided that it was entirely Abby’s fault the engagement ended. Abby had a four-year-old daughter whom Joe loved and adored and he wanted to continue being able to see her, despite the breakup. Betty made up a bunch of lies that caused Abby to temporarily lose custody of her daughter without limiting Joe’s ability to see her at her father’s house. Until then, Joe and William had never gotten along. Suddently, they were best friends.
In an effort to stay out of the fray, I unfriended Betty and her sons on Facebook, as well as blocked them from seeing my timeline or contacting me. Unfortunately, it never occurred to me to also block her mother and her stepfather. Betty tried to check my timeline to find out if she hadn’t heard from me because I was in the hospital (she couldn’t call?!?). When she couldn’t see my timeline she had her stepfather see if he could look at my timeline, which he could then, and she found out she was no longer in my friends list. Betty finally called me late one night and wanted to know why, if it had to do with Abby and Joe, which it didn’t. I told her the friendship was over and I was too tired to talk about it at the moment but would call her the next day and explain why. She angrily told me not to bother explaining, that I better be careful who I chose to side with and hung up.
Although I realized that the relationship with Betty was toxic and ending it was an act of self-care, it still bothers me that I never had the courage to write Betty a letter and explain why I chose to end the friendship. Maybe part of that reluctance was that deep down I knew that I would be “wasting my breath.” As I had seen in the past, she’s going to believe what she wants to believe. Ironically, once the worst of the dust-up was over, Abby no longer called me, but that didn’t particularly bother me as we had never been very close.
Yes, there are days when I am lonely, especially since I no longer have a car so I can get out and go places when I want to, but when I think about Betty I don’t regret letting the friendship go. A side benefit is that I began to widen my online horizons and started my blog. So good came out of the bad because I have made friends through blogging that I would never have connected with otherwise, every one of them a treasure in their own way.