This is a piece about several endings.
Whenever I went out for lunch or dinner with a lady named Bonnie*, I always knew when the meal was over. Her purse would snap open and she would draw out her lipstick like a magic wand or a light-saber bent on conquering the world. She would apply it with an air of self-confidence I always envied to a mouth out of which words came that I did not always envy. Bonnie could make me laugh until I wet myself or cut me ‘til I bled all over my soul without a second thought. And she never seemed to realize that she was funny or that she was sometimes hurtful. She was just being herself. She was being honest.
She had a bird, a cockatiel that had his own room in her house. I found all birds amazing and I thought he was stunning. Even when he was dive bombing my head or biting my toes, I thought he was beautiful. And she loved that I was the only person who cared about him. She called me on the phone weeping the night he died. I drove over in the darkness on a freezing cold November night. I took with me a special decorative box I had emptied some special keepsakes from. I knew we would need an appropriate coffin. Under the light of a full moon, I helped dig a grave in frozen ground in her back garden. I stood with her while she said a few words about him. Then in true Lucy and Ethel fashion we wrangled a large boulder to cover the grave so that wild animals would not dig it up.
Years later when her husband died, the love of her life, she announced it to me by text. I would have to say that is one of the biggest pieces of news I’ve ever received by text. I had to read it several times before I believed it. I know from personal experience that sort of news can be difficult to say out loud. For her it was also a challenge to face the questions and the condolences. She was angry with him for dying. I went immediately. I was “family” in her eyes and so in my mind I had an obligation to go to her. This time I didn’t need to bring a box or shovel, thank goodness.
For the four months after his death, I was there for her two to three times a week, baking her sweets because she wasn’t eating, taking her out to lunch, going to the movies or watching television with her – pretty much doing anything that might help her not be alone with her grief. These bad things had happened to her at a time when my life was turning around. I was figuring things out about myself. I was changing. My changes didn’t always fit well with her grief. I was no longer willing to accept things she said to me that were hurtful. Her negativity had deepened and my positivity was growing. It was an unstable combination.
Over the years I had just taken a lot of her verbal hits shrugging them off, telling myself “Oh that’s Bonnie, she doesn’t really know how she sounds.” Or “She doesn’t mean it the way it sounds.”
“Your bag looks like a piece of shit,” she once told me sneering at my much loved hobo bag from a consignment shop. She gave me a used but designer purse as a birthday present. It looked ugly to me and too dated even for someone my grandmother’s age. The only thing about it I found useful was it had an old Xanax rolling around in the bottom. I accepted it as graciously as I could and buried it in my closet.
“You’ll never know what real love is. You don’t have children,” She said to me once in the car. That one was hard to keep my bare lips silently pursed for, but I did. “After all Bonnie doesn’t know how she sounds.” Thank goodness we were at a red light when she said it.
Over the years she criticized my clothes, my makeup, my hair, my car and pretty much anything else that came up. As I began to change I realized, as I had with my father, that I did not want this negativity in my life. But I was her friend and she was my friend. You don’t throw away friendship, right? She’d suffered a great loss, the love of her life. I needed to be there for her. I wanted to be there for her.
Five months after the funeral, she decided that she would go on a trip to help her feel better and that she would let me watch her dogs. I did not want to be there for that. But she hadn’t asked me to watch the dogs, two extremely overweight elderly retrievers that were both in ill health, she ordered me to watch the dogs in front of other people and somehow made it sound as though she was doing me a favor. I suggested that I could cancel my client meetings for the planned week, cancel those billable hours at a time when I needed the money. I pointed out quietly that I would have to drive home each day (an hour each way) to take care of my own pets. I could manage this for seven days, I said to myself, because she needed me. I had talked myself into it.
In the weeks before her trip, she called regularly talking about the plans as they became closer and more concrete. At some point it came to my attention that the week long trip had stretched into nearly two weeks. I held up a virtual hand for attention and pointed out that it was not a week long trip anymore.
“Well, I wasn’t counting travel time,” she said in response. I was, I thought.
One day she called with what she thought was great news! She’d found someone to watch the dogs on the weekends so that I could go home and do my own thing those days. I made the mistake of opening my mouth to point out that I didn’t work on weekends and I generally stayed in, so it was the better time for me to be at her home.
“It would really help me out if they could do Tuesday and Wednesday?” I said. Look at that I was speaking up for myself. I was asking for something for me.
“Of course they can’t do that,” she shrilled at me over the phone line, “they have real jobs.” Oh right. And I didn’t in her eyes. I froze. My head felt bigger than it was and it was completely empty. I couldn’t seem to open my mouth. I hung up.
I failed to say good bye or I had to go or you inconsiderate cow….I just hung up.
The next day I got an email. There was no subject, but she never wasted time with subjects. The email itself was short and sweet.
“I can’t take anymore of your petty bullshit,” it read, “I’ve found someone else to watch the dogs.”
That was that. I should have been elated and somewhere in my mind I was, but I was stuck on that one phrase, like a splinter the size of a redwood tree had just been rammed underneath a fingernail and absolutely nothing else could take attention from it and the throbbing it was causing. “your petty bullshit.”
I did what any other completely insanely pained person would do, I picked up the phone to have this conversation full of emotion in person. She didn’t answer, of course. Damn her, taking all the power again. I was left with the voice mail and I managed to get out a rather lengthy message. I believe I covered the high points of all the petty bullshit I’d experienced for nearly eight years. I don’t even recall what I’d said fully. I was shaken and angry and finally speaking up for myself. It was like moving muscle you hadn’t used in such a long time. It ached and moved awkwardly but felt good to stretch it out. I had to take responsibility for allowing her to treat me the way she had all those years. It was my own fault. But she was going to hear what petty bullshit really was. It was quite a bit of stretching.
When I hung up and I knew that a weight had been lifted and I was free from a friendship that never really was one. I’d never felt anything quite like it. It was an amazing feeling. It was at that point that if I wore lipstick, I would have opened my purse and pulled it out and applied it with confidence knowing that this dinner was over. It was a dinner I would never have to eat again.
*name changed for privacy