Thursday, December 17, 2009

Friends

When I was young we lived in a neighborhood filled with families. They were mostly Catholic families with lots of children. It was so easy to walk outside and just jump right into a game of jacks or kick ball.

My first BFF was Beverly. We went to summer camp together at St. Mary of the Pines in 1974. She came to all my birthday parties. We were like peas and carrots.

The following year government housing projects sprung up like a malignant tumor adjacent to our neighborhood, effectively destroying our little hamlet. In the wee hours our next door neighbor was almost raped and homes were broken into. It was terrifying. Me and the other kids were bussed to a predominately black school. While riding the school bus, the black kids would stroke my hair and get their friends to join in to feel how soft it was. I felt like a monkey in a zoo. The last straw was when strangers pounded on our door late one night demanding we let them in. Like the white flag of surrender, my mother promptly put the FOR SALE sign in the yard the next day.

When we moved from Monarch Street, I was heartbroken. And I never saw Beverly again. My mom moved us into an apartment close to the LSU campus which had a mix of crazy college kids and bookish professors. Everything I had ever known dissolved overnight.

The move was a step up socially from north Baton Rouge and my mother felt safe. But I felt alone, as though I had been dumped onto an alien planet without any earthly comforts. I cried deep sobbing cries every morning before school for weeks. My mother offered little comfort except to encourage me to go out and meet new kids. How? There were no yards like I was used to. Just a sea of apartments that looked like glorified hotels. Was I supposed to stand outside and wait for someone to come out? Even if I did the few kids I had seen hanging around didn't seem the type to let anyone just join in whatever they were doing. And at 13, I was way past riding bikes, jumping rope, or roller skating.

In order to fit in, I finally figured out that I should change my wardrobe. The tomboy stuff I was wearing wasn't up to snuff with the "cool kids". After much begging, I got some big bell bottom jeans and platform shoes with embroidery on the sides. I worked hard to fray the ends of those bell bottoms, too. In those days you had to distress your own stuff by LIVING and miles of walking.

Eventually, I made new friends. Unfortunately, they were the wrong kind of friends. They were dope smoking little delinquents from broken homes, no supervision, and no money. At least I had finally found a bond with other kids. And my mother, being completely clueless and the most naive mother in Baton Rouge, had no idea what I was getting into or who I was involved with. She went to work every day, cleaned our little apartment every Saturday, and went to Mass every Sunday. That was her life, but I thought it was boring and didn't want that to be my life.

Jo became my next best friend. She was the only one of my friends who did not come from a broken home or live in an apartment. Her parents were on their second marriage, so they were older than most of the other parents. They doted on Jo. I remember her mother serving us breakfast in bed on Saturday mornings. Her father would drink gin and tonic while reading the Bible. He seemed peaceful and adored Jo.

Jo became pregnant at 16. She begged me to be with her when she told her parents. They were livid. "YOU ARE NOT HAVING A BABY, JO!" Her parents forced her to get an abortion. Jo became pregnant again at age 20 and married the guy. I was her Matron of Honor, 8 months pregnant with my second child. Unfortunately, her new mother-in-law thought a baby was a bad idea to start the marriage and talked Jo into an abortion. The marriage didn't last.

Many other friends came and went though the years, but the next significant one was Carrie. We met on the local tennis league. She had flaming red hair with a temper to match. But fun! Oh, we had so much fun. Carrie was divorced with two kids and struggling financially. I was remarried by then, but Double D worked the night shift at the hospital which left me a lot of free time.

Carrie and I would spend hours on the phone every night having the most lively conversations. We'd go out to eat and shop every weekend. I wouldn't even think of going to a mall or a restaurant without her. Avid tennis players, we once tested the speed of our serves on a residential street using one of those police radar signs. To my dismay, she had the harder serve. Oh, and margaritas. We loved our margaritas and Tex-Mex food.

Several years into the friendship she started having some sort of mid-life crisis. Constantly whining about needing a man and bored with her job, she began to dress and act inappropriately. She would come to pick me up in midriff tops with her stomach exposed. I winced inwardly. Carrie was short mind you — about 5'1" and on the plump side — so this was a little embarrassing. Next she began to talk about getting her belly button pierced which was all the rage at the time — for young girls — not middle aged divorced mothers. I think I remember telling her that if she did that, I would not be seen out in public with her. She told me I was square and acting way too old for our age. Carrie also thought it was cool to go commando with her short little jean skirts. She became like an annoying, impetuous little sister. And it wasn't cute.

Carrie was obsessed with our tennis instructor. She spent hours devising ways to get him to notice her. She threw a party at her house in an effort to seduce him. With the aid of alcohol it worked, but she admitted that he wasn't really into her and acted like he couldn't wait to get out of there the next morning. I felt so bad, but also worried that she would get pregnant. During all of this I transitioned into some sort of mother figure instead of a friend.

One day I noticed her wearing a toe ring. I made some jokes about it, not really meaning anything by it, but she took severe offense and cussed me out. Later, she called to apologize, but this began a series of her dressing and acting inappropriately, then getting angry when I didn't fawn over her latest fashion statement. She wanted so badly to be sexy and attractive and I wasn't giving her that validation because I truly thought she looked and acted ridiculous. I was left scratching my head like WTF happened? Where's Carrie?

After more than ten years of friendship I was forced to reevaluate. The phone calls lasting hours were no longer fun since they were reduced to being all about her needing a man and her general unhappiness with her life. At the time, my 20 year old son had fallen six stories from a hospital parking garage. After three months in hospitals and rehab, my dining room was turned into a hospital room for about six months, complete with porta-potty. I was an emotional wreck. My life was in such a severe state of chaos that I seriously could not devote another ounce of energy anywhere else. Added to that, I had started working a second job. Did all of this make Carrie put her needs aside for me? Uh, sadly, no.

Once I made the decision to end the friendship she basically cussed me out and accused me of being jealous of her. I hung up the phone. Shortly after, I sent her an email and blamed myself, saying that I wasn't in a position to be the kind of friend she needed right now, but I wished her well and had no hard feelings. After things settled down, I felt enormous relief.

That was in 2002 and the only time I heard from her was a few years ago when she called to let me know that a mutual friend had died. I tried to ask about her family and her, but it was awkward and strained. Plus, I noticed that she had blocked her phone number making it private, so clearly, she did not want me to contact her. Fine. *sigh*

I miss having a best friend, but either I have bad luck in the people that I cross paths with, I'm terrible at choosing friends, or I am not a good friend myself. As I get older, it seems that making friends is not as easy as it used to be. So many women have come and gone throughout my life and I think now I'm just TIRED. Tired of pouring effort into building relationships only to have them disintegrate later, or see them move to another state, or worse, die.

I'm hoping that I will meet some nice women one day in my old age. I still have the occasional night out with an old tennis friend and others, but it's not that close BFF feeling. For now, I'm really pretty happy hanging out with my kids, husband and dogs. I hope that's okay.

4 comments:

Kittie Howard said...

Wow! What a story...girl, you've been to hell and back...oh, you poor thing...my heart goes out to you, really! Yes, it does get harder to make friends as one gets older, there's just less magic to doing chick stuff and having fun...and that can be kinda sad at times, but such is life...I think you've just had back luck with people...you seem to be more realistic about what's going on around you, more willing to accept life's transitions...I know that area near LSU, not exactly a fun place for a kid...and drinking a gin and tonic while reading the bible, lol, that is sooooo Louisiana...and Mississippi, except it's vodka there...hang in there, Gail, it's a New Year comin'...!!!

Louisiana Belle said...

Thanks, Kittie. We lived on Highland Road, just a few miles from the campus. One night some college kids made a bonfire out of the apartment signage and another night they busted our front window in a drunken haze. It was quite an area to live in - not the quiet residential scene the apt. complex promised my mom. My gullible, naive mom. :)

Kittie Howard said...

Belle, didn't remember until later...but I read, about two months ago, that studies show that people change friends every 7 years...exit old, enter new...thought this might make you feel better...Merry Christmas!

Louisiana Belle said...

That does help! Thank you. :)