"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Emma (not her real name) is a Friend I've not yet met.  Friend with a capitol "F" as in yes, you guessed it, Facebook; we came together as two residents of the same state who were (and still are) highly incensed by a precedent-setting case of animal cruelty a couple of years back.  Since then we've hit it off on other issues, and today, Emma posted this on her page:
"I have been told many times in my life that I need to stand up for myself, and if I am upset about something someone is doing or saying to me, I should say something about it. Every time I have done this, though, even if I've said something in a pretty subdued way, the other people involved have had an extreme response, such as not speaking to me any more, screaming at me hysterically, deciding they don't want to be friends with me any more, or in one case, even pulling out a gun and threatening suicide. Wow. What can I take away from all this? (I am really asking myself that here.)"
I figuratively staggered away from this post with my jaw dropping.  Aside from the horrendous gun incident she describes, it may as well be me talking.
I've never had a problem speaking my mind, once I learned how to do it diplomatically and without morphing into Attack Mode.  (I am one-fourth Italian, after all, with a good dose of the Scottish Highlands thrown in.  Don't tread on me.)  For the most part, however, I usually sidestep it (read: let other people leave some heavy footprints on my person).  Why?
A couple of reasons.  One, the older I get, the harder it is for me to stand up for myself/correct someone in a NICE way.  As*hole overload, I really think.  Too damned many of them out there.  Gets exhausting.  And I don't trust my own temper.  So I take a LOT of crap.  Two, read Emma's post again.  Yep.
I do not get it.
A few years ago I became friendly with a woman who walks her dog past my parents' house.  I'll call her Diane.   My father had mentioned to her that I was a dog-sitter, and one night she gave me a call.  An eccentric person, she was a gifted artist, estranged from her husband and fighting an addiction to alcohol which had resulted in her losing her license.  She loved books, astrology, and vintage.  I had dinner with her several times or hung out at the house to watch a movie.  She wanted someone to look after her spaniel while she spent an occasional few days in NYC networking.  I'd drop her off and pick her up at the station, taking the pooch with me for the time she'd be gone.  It worked out fine.
Then she got a dog-sitting job of her own -- on Martha's Vineyard.  Could I take her to the ferry at Woods Hole on Cape Cod?  If she paid for gas?  We'd do something fun when she got back.  Sure, I said, why not.  I wrangled my mother into coming along for the ride.  We set out for the gas station where I asked Diane to put $30.00 in the tank to top it off.  I'd only ever been to the Cape once before in my life, and this was an impulsive side trip with a friend on our way to the Eastern States Exposition (the "Big E") in Springfield, Mass.  Naturally I headed that way on the highway but Diane, sharply, asked me where I thought I was going.  "Oh...," I answered sheepishly.  "Wrong way I guess."  I got off the next exit and reversed direction.
So up through the eastern tip of Connecticut I drove, through Rhode Island and finally to the ferry.  The trip was completely uneventful and actually not at all unpleasant.  I was to come back in a few days.  The SUV I drive ate some gas, though, so on the way home I pulled into a station in Falls River, Mass. and plunked another $50.00 in the tank.
Dutifully I went to pick Diane up a little later that week.  On the way back I told her about having to get more gas in the tank and that it turned out to be around a $75.00 round trip.  "Oh," she said icily.  "Well, you told me $30."  I didn't catch on.  "Yeah," I said, "but we had to fill up in New Bedford.  I have the receipt here for you -- you want it?"  "Of course not," she snapped.  "But you knew you were going so why..."  Wait, are you kidding me?  "I didn't even know which WAY to go," I replied in disbelief. 
It was entirely beyond my comprehension, but Diane was apparently offended by my asking for the rest of the money to cover the trip.  ENTIRELY beyond my comprehension.  She was going to shake me down.  Lord knows what she'd just gotten paid by the folks on the Vineyard, but she was "broke right now," she said.  "If that's okay."  What a discernably icy atmosphere blew through the car.  I tried to keep it pleasant.  "Your pup's waiting for ya!" I said.  "Can't wait to see him!" she said, smiling tightly through her teeth.  
That was a few years ago and that's the last conversation I ever had with Diane.  I don't know if she eventually recovered her driver's license or even if she still lives in that same house.  I have seen her walking once or twice as have my parents, but with an entirely different dog.  I felt really sad about getting stiffed and I really missed the times I'd had fun with Diane in her odd, retro little house in the woods.  So after a few weeks I wrote her a card.  "It's okay," I wrote, "if you don't pay me the money -- I don't want money to come between our friendship.  It isn't worth it."  I never heard a word.  So I can only speculate...maybe she found someone to do her favors for free.  Not a trait I'D want to be known for.
Truth is I felt tremendously deflated.  Not only had I believed Diane had liked me for the person I am, I thought I had been valuable to her.  Coming from as eccentric a family as I do, I'd simply accepted and overlooked stuff I suspect the average Joe -- or Jane -- would find trying in a friendship.  I thought Diane and I were new pals and I'd been enjoying her company.  It is, of course, way better I found out what a weasel she is early on in the friendship.  I mean, she IS, right?  A weasel?  Because I didn't do anything wrong.  I don't think.  I'm pretty goddam sure.
So that's what happened with Diane.  With Lori it was so much worse.  Lori and her sister Helene and I have been friends since grade school.  Their kids are around the same age.  Lori's daughter Ellen is a CNA -- Certified Nurse's Aide.  Tough, tough work.  Lord bless the people who do this.  Helene's daughter Cassie is married with a 5-year-old and living at her husband's great-grandmother's house.  Gram is in her late 90s and has dementia along with a host of other maladies, but Cassie takes great care with her, despite the accompanying difficulties -- and it's her frustration at these difficulties that Cassie vents on Facebook.  Cassie is often beside herself with Gram's lying, bull-headedness and insults, much of which is apparently NOT related to her advanced age and confusion.  Well, Ellen got mad at her cousin.
"There is such a thing as elder abuse," Ellen posted.  We all took a step back...whoa.  "If she saw what you were saying about her she'd be embarassed."  True, no doubt, but unlikely to happen.  Well, Cassie didn't take this statement kindly.  That's understandable; elder abuse?  And then, through Ellen, Lori became involved.  "My mother says we might need to contact the authorities," Ellen wrote.  I was bowled over.  I have no reason nor desire to become embroiled in another family's arguments, but I simply couldn't take that sitting down!  "You guys should have no fear," I wrote, "Cassie may be frustrated by Gram at times, but the care she is providing is top-notch.  Every time I've been there Gram is clean and well-fed, and Cassie does her best to engage her in activities.  Her health and well-being are not in any jeopardy, believe me -- the old girl is very happy!"
That's all it took.  "You are no better than HER," Ellen wrote.  Then she launched into a rather cruel public diatribe involving Helene, whom she ripped into even though Helene had no involvement in the situation at all.  And then she "un-Friended" all of us, as did her mother.
It isn't at all wise to air family grievances on Facebook and we should all have known better.   Nonetheless I thought I was being diplomatic when defending Cassie.  I didn't insult anyone, but I did stand up for what I knew was right.  I wasn't going to let Ellen say such things about Cassie when I personally knew better and felt terrible.  I'd known both girls since they were babies and you just can't say that kind of stuff in a public forum, so I countered it in a public forum.   I'd certainly have done the same if the situation had been reversed.  Lori and Ellen had never been to Gram's house; Helene and I had been there several times, and we knew the meticulous care Gram was getting, often involving assistance in bodily functions we are all better off not knowing about.
As close friends -- damned near SISTERS -- will do now and again, I was dumped.  But I had no reason to think it was anything but temporary, so I wasn't too invested in the situation.  And then time went by and nothing happened.  So I wrote a private message to Lori on her Facebook page.  "Somebody somewhere has to be the grownup!" I wrote.  "You know that by defending your niece I meant nothing against your daughter.  So let's call all this nonsense a day!"
Nothing.  Weeks.  Months.  Nothing.  Then I ran into Lori at the supermarket.  I walked up to her to say hi as I'd done a thousand times.  She would not look at me.  I asked her how her summer was going so far.  She turned her cart abruptly and went in the opposite direction.  
This fall, more than a year after the whole thing started, I was going through some drawers in my old bedroom.  I found a lovely card from Lori with a heartfelt message, something she'd sent me way back when and I'd kept.  I made a photocopy of it, wrote a long, loving letter, and sent them off.  When two weeks went by without a word I realized, to my hurt and horror, that this was bad.  Possibly permanent.  Downright awful.  And totally, unequivocably unfair to me.
Since then Cassie, Helene, and I have been completely ostracized by Lori and Ellen (who has since moved out of state).  Poor Helene took the high road and her other daughter Riley was completely out of the loop.  Nonetheless the three of them have been excluded from family functions that involve Lori.  She's convinced other family members that we done her wrong, I guess.  And she won't go to any parties or events if WE are invited.  Or even if she THINKS we may have been invited.  Wisely, I think, we haven't bought into it and are treating the family as we always have, with no elaborating on the situation.  It wouldn't pay.
I think time is on our side.  Recently we were all invited to a holiday party at another sister's.  It was a nice night out, and we were enjoying it -- then, Lori walked in.  She didn't look at me though I yelled hello along with everybody; she wouldn't go near Cassie either, but she DID go hug her sister.  I figured it was best to stay my distance from LoriShe'd pretty much made it apparent that this was her preferred state of affairs.  Helene told me later she figured the hug was nothing but show.  She said she couldn't trust Lori.  I just felt grave concern for Lori myself.  Was she going through a mental breakdown of some sort?  Cassie maintains that Lori is a "horrible, miserable person" and has ALWAYS treated her thus.  She is?  She did?  This girl I grew up with?  How foolish she was acting.  If you have something to say to me -- some beef with me -- tell me to my face.  Get IN my face.  This was so ludicrous!
These two examples just scratch the surface of the propensity people seem to have to TURN on me if I stand up to them.  So Emma, it ain't just you.
I don't feel any better, of course, if I just shut my trap (in fact I don't doubt my blood pressure goes up exponentially).  And I don't feel very well when people go -- well -- batshit on me, either, just because I stand up for my rights, or speak my mind, or defend an innocent.  So I'm stuck.  I'm just stuck.
Diane is a weasel, I know that now.  Lori, well, I was hurt to the core at first; life is short, lifetime friends are rare.  Now I'm just plain puzzled.  But there is nothing more I can do on that front.  I miss our friendship terribly.  She couldn't come to me and say "Hey -- maybe Ellen was out of line, but you can see why I got mad when you contradicted her, she's my daughter.  I know Cassie takes good care of Gram.  I'm sorry."  Nope.  You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.   And that makes me feel very helpless.  
So.  What is it, what is it, what to do.  I may resent it from time to time when someone calls a spade a spade and it involves me, but too bad for ME.  I have to say I've never overreacted in this manner, not that I can ever remember.  Guess I'll have to take it on a case-by-case manner.  If it matters very much to me that a certain person stays appeased and doesn't take up arms against me, then I'll bite my tongue.  If I don't care, I'll speak up.  It is tiresome, unfair, and downright strange.  But Emma, I just found out it's not quite as rare as I'd thought.  And I guess you did too. 

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