The Rewrite

The Rewrite

I feel I need to warn you, this is a sad story, with no good ending, really no ending at all. I am in limbo. Many months ago a friend of mine died. And I have been heartbroken since, about her death, of course, but also about my memories and perceptions and beliefs about our friendship. Katie and I had been out of touch for over thirty years until she found Bruce at his company’s website. Many things and people fell away after Bruce and I moved from Kentucky to New York; keeping up friendships was so much harder then, without email, Skype, WhatsApp, or mobile phones. Out of the blue a reunion! Katie was back in our life for only short two years before her death, but in that time Bruce and I traveled back to Lexington, and wrote and called and shared our memories and lives. It was happy at the start. Soon though, she was in crisis – multiple crises escalating and compounding in a never-ending cycle. Her house was in bad repair to the point of danger, the state was threatening to put her grandchildren in foster care, those same children were kicked out of a well-reputed private school, her daughter worked irregularly and together their incomes could not cover the usual and extra expenses. I consoled her, we sent money, we packed a truck with all of our unused household items and drove them to her, and Bruce made essential repairs to the house while we were there. I wrote and edited letters for her, to the state, her lawyer, to school administrators. We spoke almost daily at one point, as I tried to keep her steady. Somehow we got through the worst of it. The state relented and released her grandchildren from foster care, Katie began to maintain and improve her house and property, painting, buying new appliances, bartering yard work. Our relationship was strained, but I thought all we needed was time to catch our breath, and then the usual, affectionate, sharing ways of friendship would reassert themselves.

But they never did, not really. Katie was constantly needy. A new crisis surfaced regularly, and we were endlessly called on to help. She was always without money, despite the facts that she had a secure and longtime job with the city of Lexington, and that her daughter made thirty dollars an hour working for UPS. Katie was showing herself to be a master manipulator, never asking directly, just hinting and wheedling, crying wolf. And despite all the advice I offered, she continued to make the bad decisions that led her into terrible trouble, creating avoidable and bewildering chaos. I felt helpless to effect any real change in her circumstances. For I am of the belief that adults are required to be self-sufficient on the whole, and rely on others only when catastrophe strikes. When it did for her we pitched in without hesitation, but now, afterwards, with a clearer view, we feel swindled, cheated, used, and it hurts. Her way of living was to depend on others, and I could not school her out of it. There is no other way to understand it, no way to show things in a better light. I cannot pretend. The friendship I thought I had was a con.

Many things have come to light since Katie died that reinforce my bad feelings. Her daughter has been relaying the unending mess of Katie’s estate. All Katie’s assets were borrowed against – pension, retirement, house, life insurance – and she had other large debts, among them a car loan balance for the van that her daughter Megan drives. Little is left to pass along to her daughter or grandchildren. Megan has never learned to take care of herself either and she struggles to parent her three children alone. I cannot imagine where Katie’s money went – her house was a wreck, the grandkids made do with hand-me down clothes and toys, she never traveled or went out, except for the rare supper with Meg, when they could find a sitter. It is hard to blame a lack of life skills given her laudable work history and apparently strong long-term relationships. Did she suffer from ADHD or some other impairment? Bruce wonders if she had a gambling problem or addiction that was hidden from us. I think we will never know. Her family – so unloving to her in all the time I knew her – nevertheless is tight-lipped and careful to paint a rosy picture.

How do I remember her now? It is so hard to reconcile all the lies and maladaptive behaviors with what I want to be true – that she cared for me and for Bruce, that her affection was real, that we were bound by spirit and sisterly love. That her needs were simply those of someone –anyone – caught in a bind, beset by out-sized troubles. These things may not be true. Like so many drowning in deep pain and gasping for air, grasping at any life-saver, she was too desperate to be loving, too preoccupied to be generous, too unwell to be sincere. The currency of our relationship was need. Even so, I recall the brightest things about her: she was witty, and fun to be around, acutely observant of herself and those around her. Although she hid so much, she was unabashed about who she was, giving little thought to the perceptions those in her closest circle might have – in many ways, she let it all hang loose, freeing the rest of us. She was creative and crafty – we both sewed and loved making things. She was loyal to her family, even though loyalty revealed itself as fealty at the end, and an unhealthy protection of image and reputation. She was dedicated and committed in her work, too, as the many remembrances at her memorial testified. Katie was reliable in those two situations and she gave of herself in other ways. But not to me. Our relationship was one-way, all the energy pouring out of us and into her and her surrogates. I suffer now from compassion fatigue, and from the loss of a friendship that maybe, probably, never really was.

This is not the hardest part, though. I am faced with the spiritual problem of caring for her grandchildren, whom we have come to know and love in the past few years, and who need us and want us. Katie’s daughter shows all the traits and behaviors of her mother (needy and manipulative, and immature). To help her reflexively is to enable her dysfunction. Megan works as little as possible, relying instead on every manner of government, faith-based, and friendly hand-out: it is her life strategy. I guess the acorn didn’t fall too far from the tree. Of course I am desperate to save the children, who have the tender, unsullied promise of the very young, wanting only good health, love and instruction to bloom. That is all we want for them, but it is not what they are getting. We can do little from eight hundred miles away, and Meg is recalcitrant. She is insistent on her disastrous ways.

She failed to get her son vaccinated and he fell very ill with the flu. The oldest daughter has ADHD, and the middle child severe dyslexia, but there is no counseling or interventions anywhere outside of school, which would only help the the oldest anyway as the other is not yet enrolled. Megan has a strep infection of the skin, she is in trouble at work for attendance, she is angry because her cousin and family are taking a vacation and she can’t. All of these events are reported to us, in a bid for attention and and money and intervention. I think, is it Munchausen syndrome? Munchausen-by-proxy? The kids eat cereal, cookies, and soda when they are hungry, because that’s all there is. Meg only buys what she likes: cereal, sweets, white bread, and cheese. She herself is diabetic, just shy of needing insulin shots, but will not amend her diet. She will not change any of her ways for any reason, not even for the children’s sake. She can’t see or recognize the error, or logic out the bad results of her doings. She gets angry when I challenge her. She denies consequences and culpability, cause and effect. While Katie was alive, the family belonged to the Y and took some advantage of its programs and facilities. But no longer. Meg says the three children are just too much trouble for her.

What am I to do? What can I do? I am watching a train wreck in the making, horrified and impotent. I have considered calling Protective Services, but I can’t go through with it, knowing the children may be even worse off in foster care. Everyone I share this with tells me the same: Walk Away. Could you? I have no doubt the state would remove the children from their home. I know Katie’s family would not step in, and I doubt Meg would release the children to us or that the state would allow it anyway. The only weapon (yes, it is a fight, I am fighting for the kids and their future) I have is tough love, and Meg has yet to respond positively. All the while the children slowly and surely unravel and wither, condemned to the same chaotic,  dysfunctional hell those adults most responsible for them selfishly refuse – and refused – to forsake.


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