Friday, February 17, 2012


The weekend challenge: Take a famous story, poem, book, or fable, and retell it in exactly 33 words.

The Titanic

An early and tragic testament to the Power of The 1%. Only 25% of the third class passengers who board the ship just before noon on April 10, 1912, will survive the ride.

I invited her in ...

I'm still angry and sad about last Saturday's hostile exchange with Kathy. And, unfortunately for my readers, this is where I come to work shit out. I write. It's what I do.

As I reflect on my 30 year friendship with Kathy, it feels a little like the 90s movie Single White Female. Allie advertises for a roommate and finds Hedy. At first they get along well. Then Hedy cuts her hair like Allie, starts dressing like Allie, insinuates herself into Allie's career and sleeps with Allie's boyfriend. I know this comparison is unflattering and unfair to Kathy, but right now, that's how it feels.

I suspect Kathy is really angry at me because my life doesn't work as well for her as it does for me.

Example 1: Ever since I left home, I have lived in this same village. It borders Chicago, which makes my commute to the city very easy. It's racially diverse, supports three libraries, and I have a shopping district and a 7-screen movie theater within walking distance. It has always felt like home.

When Kathy and I first met, I was in my mid-20s and she was a newly-single working mom in her mid-30s. Her teenaged kids remained with her ex in the far western. very Republican/homogenous suburb they grew up in while she moved to a garden apartment in the city. She loved teasing me about how suburban I am, how long I had lived in the same town, how that sort of thing just isn't for her. I tried to explain to her that the town I live in is much more progressive and livable than realized. No, no, she said, always with a smile. She's more of a free spirit than I am, she craves more diversity of experience. She's done with burbs and was now a city girl, through and through. Small town life as I lived is simply not for her.

Then guess what. She not only moved to my town but onto my very street! Just one of those "Kathy things," she said.

Example 2: In the 1990s, after a heartbreaking break-up, I decided to go through training and officially join the church I'd been attending. It felt like the right thing to do. I wanted to make a commitment, to myself and to God, after all the comfort the church provided me when I needed it. I feel comforted and fortified by the congregations emphasis on "Glory to God and service to man." Kathy used to tell me that this sort of thing is OK for me, but she is so much less conventional than I am. To hear her tell it, this Gal requires structure and a patriarchal view of God and religion, but her spiritual life is more creative and more imaginative. She tweaked me about it for nearly a decade -- I remember because she wasn't sure she wanted to go to the 9/11 community prayer service with me right after the attack on the Twin Towers.

Then guess what. I read in the bulletin that she was one of our new congregants. This time she was actually embarrassed when she told me it was one of those "Kathy things," she said. So now she's on my street and in my church -- two of the places she made fun of me for being. She also started going to my dentist (who she took forever to pay) and my accountant.

Example 3: When we met in the 1980s, we were both in-house writers for the same major midwestern company. I left first and found, once I got away from that first job, that my interest turned from hard partying to working hard. I won a couple of awards and found that the encouragement gave me confidence. To my own surprise, I found I had leadership abilities and presentation skills, too. I began my career ascent, developing areas of expertise that would make me more marketable in a competitive industry. Kathy took a different path. She went out on her own as a free-lancer. Saying that she's just a freer, more adventurous spirit than I am. I tried to be supportive. When I had my wisdom teeth removed, I recommended Kathy sub for me over 3 days. It didn't work out. I don't know what happened, exactly, (after all, I was home with stitches in my jaw) but Kathy had a hard time conforming and taking input/revisions. After two days my account team told here they didn't need her anymore, and then asked me to come in on Friday, chubby cheeks and all.

Kathy told me there were no hard feelings, but there were. This was when the digs began. Working in a constrictive agency setting is OK for me, but Kathy sees herself as a free spirit, hungry for a variety of clients and work experiences that my place of employment just doesn't provide.

Then guess what. Kathy's free-lance business went under as my star rose. She wanted to be a staff writer again, perhaps at an agency. Instead of asking me to review her resume, she asked to see mine. Remember that: She asked to see mine. Her response to it was bracing. Perhaps my approach is OK for someone like ME, who is all ambitious and wants to make a six-figure salary, but Kathy is an artist, after all. She writes because she loves writing. She was implying that I was a crass sell-out. I was very hurt by this.

Example 4: Our careers then took us down different roads. Once I got the title of creative director, I realized I didn't want it. I don't have a college degree and, as I said, began my career without any serious aspirations, so I wanted to see if I could do it. If I could reach that goal. I was in that role for about three years and found myself completely burned out. I needed time to think and reassess. I got very, very lucky. The agency I was working for needed to make deep, deep cuts and when asked who on my team I thought should go, I said "me" and they bought it! I laid myself off and got a sweet severance package, generous enough to enable me to pay for COBRA. I also had enough connections that I was able to cobble together free-lance assignments and keep the wolf away from the door for a year and a half, until I decided what I wanted to do. (That's how I ended up in this job.)

By now Kathy was in real estate. Agents are independent contractors and again, she didn't have benefits. She and I were both having "woman problems" at that time. I had painful uterine fibroids, with bleeding so heavy and constant my doctor told me I was in danger of becoming anemic. I had a uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), a successful and comparatively non-invasive procedure that worked like a charm. I knew Kathy was struggling in her real estate business so I asked her if she'd cover for me with my free-lance writing clients. After all, she'd been a writer herself almost as long as I had, and all she'd have to do is make any required edits and pass them along to the art director.

She never found out the cause of her pains and bleeding. I suspect it was because she didn't have insurance. Anyway, she actually advised not to get the UFE, saying that she would never just run to the doctor with every malady like I do and become a puppet of the male medical establishment, like I was. I was furious. I told her this was the time I needed her support, not judgement. And, to be fair, she did cover for me without taking a cent and gave me a deck of playing cards to keep me amused during my short recuperation. But this was an important foreshadowing of last Saturday.

Example 5: I have always lived with cats, from the time I was a little girl. My big old tub of guts, Joey, is sitting beside me as I write this. I love animals and I have a way with them. They not only make me happy, I believe that because I have a natural affinity for them, it's my duty to give forever homes to as many as I can, as often as I can.

Kathy always teased me about this, too. It's OK for me to have cats, but she's really a dog person (like I don't love dogs? Really?) and besides, she's too free to be held down by the responsibility of pets. Besides, unlike me, she had children, remember? She gets her fill of nurturing in that way.

Then guess what. She got two kittens. Before they were very old, Kathy found herself over 60 and financially busted. She lost her apartment and had to move in with her adult daughter. Her daughter refused to let her bring the cats. By now I was getting sick of Kathy's lack of responsibility, but my biggest concern was those cats. Pets are like corks on the water, they just bob along where the tides and our lives take them. Why should they suffer?

So I called all the vets and animal shelters I'd had contact with over the years and found one, near my mother's house a few towns over, that was very sympathetic to Kathy's plight. They agreed to "foster" her cats, keep them together in the same cage, until she got herself together and could afford to reclaim them. They charged her nothing for this, but they did expect her to do volunteer work.

The cats had a dormant virus in their systems and, after a few weeks, the stress of being in the shelter environment made them sick. Bobbie, the shelter manager, wanted to protect the other cats in her care and put Kathy's cats down right away. But she was sensitive to how much Kathy loved them so she called and asked her if she wanted to say goodbye to them. Bobbie moved them to an animal hospital, where they were kept alive on fluids for days, waiting to hear from Kathy. According to Kathy, she never got Bobbie's message -- her daughter took the call but didn't think it was that important and forgot about it. They died before Kathy could see them, but not before running up a sizable vet bill. I found out Saturday that she never worked it off. The shelter is too far away and it was just too difficult, geographically and emotionally.

Example 6: John. I met John first, back in 1981, and he introduced Kathy and me. John is a character, a very dear friend, who has always just taken me as I am. We both love celebrity gossip and music and movies. We both fall for the wrong men. We both like to party. We're good and enduring buds.

Kathy and John have been friends almost as long but nowhere near as smoothly. For Kathy is in love with John. Never mind that he's gay and 8 years her junior. She actually tried to seduce him once in her car, begging him to kiss her. ("It was such a kiss!" she told me.) She believes that his homosexuality is a choice, that they share a bond that transcends conventional ideas of gender roles, and she wants him. She also wants him to stop partying and is very vocal about it.

John believes he is who is he, and that while he loves Kathy as a friend, he has no interest in her sexually. None. This puts a strain on their relationship.

Now that she lives out in the faraway burbs with her daughter, Kathy has few opportunities to see John. He and I see and email and talk all the time. We're part of one another's lives. (Who else could I discuss Nancy Grace's sudden Whitney Houston obsession with?)

I think that's what set her off last Saturday. I reminded him about the book I lent him and he commented on my new hair streaks and that I was wearing pink (a color not prominent in my wardrobe) she seemed to feel left out. John and I are both in our 50s, she's 65, I promise you we weren't playing "Mean Girls" and trying to exclude her.

MY TOWN. MY JOB. MY CHURCH. MY HEALTH INSURANCE. MY HOME. MY CATS. MY FRIENDSHIP WITH JOHN. I think she just envies my life. And I'm tired of it.

Especially because it's not real! I have been very honest on this blog. My life is not perfect. I have my struggles, faults, fears and foibles. But I am responsible for myself and I built this life. Just as Kathy made her choices, and now she has to deal with them. And if seeing my life fills her with such envy that she can't behave well, then she can't be in my life.

I'm no longer Allie to her Hedy.


Saw American Idiot last night and I loved the music. But oh, my, all those strobes! The flashing actually hurt my head. I blame it on my sinus infection. Or maybe it's just my advanced years.