A friend in need… needs a friend, indeed.

One of my many regrets in life is not being a better friend to others when I was growing up. I think of people I picked on and worry about what lasting damage I did; of certain people I ditched for what I thought was better; of people I lost contact with out of lack of effort. I often feel that my current situation is a justly deserved punishment for my failures.

I tried to be better about friendship in high school. I can’t remember if I ever wrote about her, but I did have a best friend. She was loud and unruly and I found her obnoxious. Timid freshman that I was, even I was annoyed enough to turn around and tell her to shut up. Somehow we bonded over something and became close friends. While total opposites in many ways, we were nonetheless on the same intellectual level and could just be ourselves together. She was one of those super-smart kids who couldn’t act like it.

She… tended to get into trouble. I was never there for any of her escapades; she knew where I stood on certain extracurricular activities and didn’t want to involve me. I can say, to my credit, that I was never an enabler. And she knew that, and in retrospect I know she deeply appreciated that she had one friend in her life that didn’t go along with things or act like everything was great. I had no problem telling her if I thought something was wrong. How is someone a good friend if they happily assist you on your way to your own demise?

I went on to college and she did not, but we stayed in contact. I always called her on her birthday. It was in 2009, the summer between my junior and senior year, that she pulled her worst stunt yet. I was so angry that I decided not to talk to her for a couple months until her life was more settled.

Not long after, through a series of bizarre coincidences, I found out that she had passed away. No one had bothered to call me. They say it was an aneurysm, but given her lifestyle, I don’t quite believe that was the case. I wasn’t able to attend her service. And I hadn’t called her on her final birthday which was shortly before her death. I never had any closure from it and it continues to dangle around in my memory. I think I have a picture of her from the prom she talked me into attending, but I may have sent it to her parents.

At the time this occurred, I was deep into a committed relationship and never really made any close female friends after that, except for a few awkward friendships that fizzled out. I think it is partly because of my satisfaction with my relationship and partly guilt that prevented it. If I had only called! I had finally done so well as a friend, and then dropped the ball at the critical moment. And I can’t recall the exact date anymore! I know it’s early July sometime…

Throughout my life, I have attracted troubled people. When I have a missed call from the local mental hospital, I have to call around on the pretext of saying “Hi” to figure out by process of elimination who it might have been. Due to previous experiences I prefer not to discuss right now, I shy away when people make heavy emotional demands on me. But they always find me somehow. Why don’t they realize I can’t give them what they want? I can be your listening ear but, oh, please, don’t tell me I’m your only friend in the whole world or you’ll send me scurrying straight under my bed. Please don’t think I’m a selfish, uncaring monster–it’s true I’m selfish, but I do care, quite a bit, but after certain incidents (not involving anyone mentioned in this post) of emotional blackmail (“If you don’t talk to me, I’ll kill myself” sort of a thing), I get very nervous. And then the guilt of not following through with the phone call and the guilt of retreating and the guilt of other past failures kick in and I feel very unworthy and incapable of friendship. Because it’s like, there you go again, leaving people who need you in the lurch. But my chest constricts and I panic at the thought of some of the trouble I’ve gotten into.

So why am I reflecting on these things now? There’s a friend of mine in need, of course. Well, there’s a couple, but there’s one on the front burner at this particular moment.

I met her when I started working at the shithole over ten years ago. I estimate that she is older than me by around twenty years. Age or other demographics don’t pose much of an issue in the way of friendship. She worked for years in the intimate apparel department and I wound up there, too. I liked it because most people didn’t want to work in that area so no one bothered you. The customers were little old ladies that you could battle with over coupons with no repercussions because we didn’t have surveys in those days. Men rarely ventured in there, and were at a distinct disadvantage when they did, which was fine by me because I don’t like waiting on male customers.

My friend and I bonded over our cats and our work ethic. Judging by the state of department stores today, it might be hard to believe, but at that time, salespeople actually gave a damn. She was one of the top saleswomen in the store. Unfortunately, people found her to be a bit off, though she is never unkind or displays any negative characteristics besides a slight secretiveness. She moved around with a lot of nervous energy. The “Enter” key on the register was broken from her hitting it so hard.

Well, I suppose she had and has her reasons for being secretive. A few years into my tenure there, some sort of personal crisis I won’t get into occurred and she had to leave. Luckily I had her phone number and was able to maintain a tenuous contact with her over the next couple of years. However, at one point this contact was lost and I couldn’t get in touch with her for a long time, possibly a few years.

During that time, another series of life events and coincidences led to my converting to Catholicism and attending the local church attached to my childhood grammar school. It was at a daily Mass one Friday evening that I recognized her sitting in the transept of the church. I do not know what illness she suffers from and if I did, I don’t think I’d disclose it out of respect. She was with her elderly mother, who later had to go to a nursing home.

I know my friend tells her about me, and her mother tells her how lucky she is to have me as a friend, and I cringe because I’m not a very good friend. I sometimes dodge phone calls because I’m afraid of getting involved in something that I am not equipped to assist with. I know this from experience. What happens is that my heart bleeds for someone and then I get into a situation that is way out of my league to handle.

I have a terrible effect on certain types of people by which we hold hands and (not so) merrily circle down the drain together into a slough of despond that I can’t extricate myself from without help. Therefore, I now restrain myself from ruminating over my own issues with someone else. I do not place too much of a positive spin on things, because that’s dismissive, but I also don’t revel in misery, either. When she used the dreaded “B” word, “burden,” I told her that she has to get that word out of her vocabulary. In the past, I had spent many a night crying myself to sleep under the oppression of that cursed word, but I can’t commiserate about it. Instead, I have to carefully not reference how I feel while also not dismissing how she feels. It isn’t helpful to say to someone, “Oh, no you’re not,” and then move on in the conversation because it’s uncomfortable. It’s important to be sympathetic so they know they’re being heard and not left cold.

To kindly deal with someone who, let’s say, has fear of abandonment issues, is a challenge for one whose instinct is to run for cover. If you can’t tell by now that I have a built-in guilt complex, then I don’t know what else to say. I want to be there for them but at the same time I want to cower in my closet and hum very loudly to drown out my fear of blackmail.

Now, my friend is most certainly not blackmailing me. I know the difference very well–too well, perhaps, to the point of being gun shy. I remember one night when we were leaving church, that, moved by the reading of the day, she revealed something to me with tears in her eyes and I wanted to sink because I felt so inadequate. It is difficult not to be disgusted with myself. Others can rise to these occasions but I panic for the nearest exit. I want to die, die, die, because I hear the threats from my distant past and I don’t ever want to go through that again, though facts and logic tell me it isn’t the case now; rather, I am only transferring it.

And at the same time, I can’t be someone’s best friend, their savior, because I feel sorry for them. That’s not fair–who, in possession of clear thinking, would even want that? So, I don’t insult people that way. I would want a sincere friend who cares about my well-being, not one who is trying to score martyr points. Well, I never pretended not to have a martyr complex.

This afternoon, after a few missed calls, I took one. There were a few things that were as I feared–cryptic statements about things no one would understand; but there was also a story of today’s visit to the neighbor of their childhood home, and idyllic images of raspberry bushes and pear trees, old photographs, and a kindly old couple to whom I was very grateful for having shown her kindness.

55 thoughts on “A friend in need… needs a friend, indeed.

  1. You’re story is opposite of my own. Where you feel you were a terrible friend, I on the other hand was taken advantage of every single time.

    Except for that one time, there are always exceptions, for which I’m glad. I wouldn’t have a best friend for the last 12 years otherwise.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m sorry people took advantage of you. Probably doesn’t make you feel better but they usually only take advantage of decent people (I know you’re a villain so I hope your ego isn’t harmed by that comment). If I understand your second paragraph rightly, do you mean you’ve had a best friend for twelve years?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wasn’t a villain back then, so I’m not harmed. And to be honest, even as a villain, I rather hear your honest thoughts, no matter what I think about them.

        Yes, he is friends with me for twelve years. We met in the boarding school in 2010, and we’re friends ever since. He’s the only one from that time I’m still in regular contact with, rest I’ve dropped because they were a toxic bunch, and whole lot of discouragement for writing / programming route.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My life has unfolded in such that each time I tried to make a BF or A BFF something happened, like I would move, they would move, and it just never lasted. And then I just gave up on the whole thing. I am not the best of friends, I can’t call and meet up every so often. I used to. I don’t know , I am an introvert and really need my space. I have a friend who just gets me, and we can have long stretches of no speak, but when we speak we carry on like there was no gap.

    I find when we have friends with emotional issues, it just best to hear them ou – aka listen and given them healing vibes and good energy; and not think we have to solve their issue. Because they probably just want to let it out. Yes, sometimes they want help – but if we feel we cant help them – just sending positive vibes whilst listening can be helpful.

    Sometimes to be a good friend is hard, especially when ones own life is a mess.

    Nice post, lots of important points to think about and consider. Always written beautifully.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I find that as I get older, the long stretches between interactions don’t mean anything bad, and that you can pick up just fine. I’m an introvert, too, and I think you get so used to your own ways of living and thinking that too much communication can almost feel intrusive. It’s almost like your social battery drains faster than other people’s. That’s why the heavy stuff wears me out easily. But we can’t just fix things for someone so everyone feels hunky dory in five minutes.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never had friends, But Hetty what you’re describing sounds perfectly normal. When you get wound up over others troubles it becomes a weight around your neck. That’s what my son is. I see his number and all I think is what does he want now. It doesn’t make me a bad person, it jus makes me a realist

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s funny, I had one of those experiences with someone recently, when I got really wound up in worrying about someone I had just become friends with, only to realize they like to make new friends, dump all their gory and graphic baggage onto them, and then move onto a new victim. It was a relief, actually, to realize I’m not responsible to keep them from jumping.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I find all of this extremely admirable. What you’re describing is knowing your limits and learning and living by your boundaries accordingly. By doing this not only are we kindest to ourselves but to others too. Everybody benefits this way.

    I think a lot of my family issues stemmed from (besides other things) close family not being prepared or equipped (or both) for certain things, but responding with silence or dismissiveness or annoyance instead, when all along I would just appreciate honesty and realism and communication as an equal. It’s about letting people know where you stand (which doesn’t have to be verbal). People in your life know that you do care.

    What happened with the close friend in 2009 was extremely unfortunate, and in a parallel universe wouldn’t have gone such a way as to end up with you feeling that kind of guilt about it. Everything you did was sensible given the circumstances. I would’ve made the same decisions. At the same time I know the feeling will remain nevertheless, understandably so, regardless of rational explanations. But that’s also extremely healthy— you’re not dismissing your own feelings because they’re uncomfortable.

    The healthiest thing we can do is to face feelings and allow them to shape who we are and how we live today. We’re neither free of nor bound by the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All this makes a person want to be a hermit, huh? Sometimes I wish I could hit the ctrl+alt+delete of life and go do something else, or at the very least hop on a train and never look back. I think it’s good that you realize now that family members were not equipped/prepared to understand you. It makes it easier to not let it hurt too much. The more intent we attribute to others, the worse it gets. We can say, “That was shitty of them to do to me,” or, “Well, they’re stupid.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes indeed it’s much more powerful to try to understand it in a rational way. When you have an abundance of empathy to begin with then it’s possible to do it. At the same time there were definite intentional things like gaslighting and re-ordering of events that were genuinely spiteful, so I’ll never understand it all.

        The solution to the hermit instinct is intentionally surrounding yourself with other supportive empaths :). It makes all the difference in the world.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “One of my many regrets in life is not being a better friend to others when I was growing up.” Yeah, imagined living my youth over once again with my consciousness now, where I would tenderly cradle and gaze in pure amazement at every friend, relative or loved one I ever experienced. OMG! I shoulda appreciated it then! OMG! I didn’t know what I had! OMG! How did I not know?! Well, that boat has sailed and all you can do is BE the person you want to going forward and let that past go. And guilt? I never converted to Catholicism, I was raised Catholic! Guilt was biggest albatross I had to lose. Finally, the Church of the Infinite Void is up if you’d like to drop in. You don’t have to…it’s not a commitment…don’t feel guilty if you don’t…no need to scurry under your bed…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, you had me cracking up with that first bit about lovingly gazing! Yes, I think that would be a bit much. Gotta draw the line somewhere. I don’t know what it is about the guilt thing, some people can’t wait to throw it off, others can’t let it go. Maybe it’s partly a personality disorder, who knows. In fact I’ve been feeling very guilty that I haven’t visited the Church of the Infinite Void, I believe a pamphlet was published recently. I haven’t forgotten, I am just so behind. I’ve been afraid to come on because of you-know-who.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Let me back the truck up, beep, beep, beep, so as to load all that baggage.
    Pretty cool that you seem to be your own psychiatrist. I wonder how many blogs have become these reflecting pools where one’s own Id, Ego and SuperEgo battle it out, rings of introspection expanding into the void that is the web. I know I’ve used it as a sounding board, from time to time.
    Does it help?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Honestly, I think you are a bit hard on yourself. I have always been that person who everyone calls in the middle of the night to fix everything. You are good at caring and setting limits which are very good skills to have. Empathy for others and yourself is what humanity is should be about.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It is so true. I do what I can for others. I have a a very troubled friend who I always have a an ear for. I had to set a limit on the phone calls because of our time difference. I tell her to get it all out in an email and I will call at a reasonable time, Empathy is so needed.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. You’ve brought up a very important point that I’ve been thinking about recently. In that I’m not only a terrible friend, but I make for a terrible person to take care of my loved ones. As they say, I gotta light up my own candle before I try to light others’, so here’s my finding ways to light myself up. Not an easy process though, and perhaps I should go down a blog of self-exploration like you just did. I admire your honesty for sharing your weaknesses for all to see!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve already shared much worse on this blog, believe me. The loved ones thing is tricky because there are layers upon layers of baggage that come with family which would take an entire book to explore. You’re right about how we must first be “light” ourselves before we can light the way for others. It’s like the Biblical admonition to love your neighbor as yourself. I used to think that sounded selfish somehow and thought you could still love others while denigrating yourself. Which turns out not to be true at all.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I warn people regularly not to tell me anything I shouldn’t know. If they continue, I listen. If they invite me to bloviate profusely about my eccentric views of drama and trauma, I can get lost in the process of story telling. I have far too much to share. If I can keep my wits about me, I simply believe in providing small acts of kindness and expect never to receive the same. If I do recieve kindness from others, then I am blessed and grateful. I will mourn their inevitable departure. This has taught me to forgive. To forgive myself and others is a powerful tool to a peaceful mind. Compassion requires bravery bordering on heroic sacrifice at times. No wonder we drive by the troubled souls like car wrecks. Loyalty and trust are marriages that come with a hefty dowry often unaffordable. There just isn’t enough lifeforce in us for all who need recharging. This is why I choose kindness. It is the easiest help I can implement on a moment’s notice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I fall into the camp of doing the kindness and not expecting anything in return because it makes things much easier that way. I am not a superwoman by any means, though, so I take what I can get from reliable sources. That frees me up to give attention to other people without it turning into a quid pro quo. Getting older seems to help with it, too. There’s less need for reassurance. Maybe that’s a sad thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It seems you have a profound ability for reflection and introspection. These are important traits for resolving our past with our present. Not needing as much reassurance from others while expanding self assurance is the growth of confidence which is a good thing. Of coarse, in my view of the modern Yin and Yang of everything confidence has its opposite or shadow effect on each end of the spectrum. One can be over confident or lack any confidence and that person will experience undesirable results. To the person like yourself, who is sensitive and aware, the ability to balance life is always available and incredibly important. I will confess that I will willingly bear great suffering for those I love and care about, but am less inclined to accept the burdens of those who will not attempt to accept responsibility for themselves, learn from their mistakes, and fight for their own well being. In this case, such a person is far beyond my ability to make a difference and it’s best to admit it to myself and the other person. But, I can help them seek the help they need. That isn’t a burden to me. Our collective kitchen table here is a welcoming place and we all seem to offer our collective thoughts in genuine ways here. That wouldn’t be possible if you weren’t such an excellent host leading the way, opening doors to our innermost guarded feelings, emotions, and thoughts inviting us through sharing your own vulnerability and humbleness. In the end, that’s a good thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you for your compliments to the blog. I’m very lucky for the thoughtful comments I receive. I always hoped for such a thing, a place where people would feel free to share things. I think I’ve only gotten openly mad a couple of times, which in over two years is a decent track record, I think. Being reflective brings its many pains, but happiness at the same time, because you feel you’ve earned the real thing once you come out on the other side.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You are welcome Hetty, and well earned. I agree and credit you and other blogoteer friends of the pen for inspiring me to tell my own story of struggle and redemption. I’ve been struggling with a few pesky health issues but hope to fire up the adventure again soon. It’s evolving as I go along into more than just my routine exploits into the backwaters of civilization. “Because you feel you’ve earned the real thing once you come out on the other side.” It would take me twelve paragraphs to describe what you’ve written in one elegant sentence. This is where I’m at now, on the other side and it feels good. Here on your blog and across WP, we find kindred spirits and our journey together is much more sure of making it to the other side.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. That’s why I’m so happy I found WordPress two years ago. You really do find kindred spirits. I don’t see anything weird about having online friends. Some people think it “doesn’t count” because you’re not physically doing things together, but I believe it counts just as much–online you can cut through all the small talk and go straight to the soul stuff.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. I feel the same. The inconvenient boundary crashing isn’t so prevalent among people here that feel a connection. All conversations tend to be convenient and when we desire it. Otherwise, we are free to go about our day. The soul stuff is the deeper connection and can be equally bonding as with any good friend physically present in our life. I tend to sense when people are genuine and authentic and when they are having fun or when they desire a more serious exchange. Of course, if anything goes terribly wrong, there is always the multilayered firewall one can use. It’s much harder when someone is on your last nerve in your living room. One might have to resort to verbal baseball battery to force a hasty exit. Here, we can just put our phone down, switch to YouTube, or call it a day. I appreciate my friends here equally if not more than those I see regularly.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. I’ve probably said way too much on this blog, but it seems so easy somehow. Maybe too easy. Perhaps it’s because of that firewall you mention. If things go bad we can just put down our phone and pretend it didn’t happen. But the genuine connections across time and space are very much worth it. If we send out enough radio signals, someone will tune in.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. I think so too. I haven’t experienced one ounce of loneliness or abandonment with my blogoteer buddies always there when I need them. It’s like our own neighborhood pub where we hang out and do cool stuff.


  10. “My friend and I bonded over our cats and our work ethic.”
    Truly beautiful yet often misunderstood, prejudged and unjustly despised animals, cats are. And only when overpopulations of unwanted cats are greatly reduced in number by responsible owners consistently spaying/neutering their felines, might these beautiful animals’ presence be truly appreciated rather than taken for granted or even resented.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s sad how many people believe the nonsense myths about cats being vindictive and malicious. They’re not aloof, they’re either scared or you’re giving off vibes you don’t want to get to know them! They’re like people, you have to put effort into a friendship. People forget they’re not just predators, but are also prey themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. Contrary to their oft misperceived worthlessness as pets by many people, cats can actually be very pleasant and amazingly attached to you if they sense enough genuine affection, including verbal attention, directed at them.

        In regards to good companionship and health, I’ve found that pet cats, as with dogs, are often a case of owners basically receiving what they put into their pets — or fail to. ….

        Whenever I observe anxiety in the facial expression of my aging mother, a typical senior, I can also witness how that stress suddenly drains and is replaced with joyful adoration upon her cat entering the room: “Hi, sweetheart,” she’ll say.

        I know that countless other seniors with pets also experience the emotional benefits of their animals’ presence. Of course, the animals’ qualities, especially an un-humanly innocence, makes losing that pet someday such a heartbreaking experience.

        Many of us can appreciate the reciprocally healthy — perhaps even somewhat symbiotic — relationships that can exist between pet cats and their loving and appreciative human hosts, especially physically and/or mentally ill hosts. They have a beneficial influence over humanity that many people still cannot fathom; and this beautiful reality of their positive effect on their human hosts can also be beneficial to the animals themselves.

        [Personally, while I like to listen to a cat’s purring, I especially find soothing the feline’s trilling; and a combined purr and trill is delightful, too.]

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I agree 100%. From age thirteen to about thirty, I had a beloved cat. I swear he had almost human expressions cross his face. You really do get what you give. Nothing is more heartwarming than being greeted by the trill. I love one during a yawn, too.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Nothing I read in this post would make me believe you’re a bad friend. You just have boundaries which are what good friends have. No one can be anyone’s savior. Friendships and really all relationships are all two way streets, no one is making them stay friends with you or keep calling. I can only assume she is calling again because she actually finds you to be a good friends. I have many friends I very rarely keep in touch but I do really cherish the moments when we do connect. Also this reminds me to text back a friend I have ignored for the last few months.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know very well she thinks I’m a good friend, that’s what scares me. Oof, now you just reminded me I have a couple of other people (former coworkers) I need to reach out to because they attempted to contact me but I wasn’t home and then let it go.


  12. I feel like WP Reader was doing wonky shit and I nearly missed this post! I’m so glad I found it and read it. It is so real. There’s a lot here that I identify with – the wanting to be friends, but not wanting to be too involved, the regret felt about being a good-but-not-good-enough-friend, the challenge of balancing friendship and protecting yourself from emotional blackmail (do not feel sorry about doing this – it is so necessary), regret upon losing a friend to distance (physical or emotional), time, and/or death…so much here, and I feel it and I feel for you. I think you are a good friend. Friendship is harder than people really appreciate. You are a good friend. Don’t beat yourself up so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WordPress has been indeed weird–in fact I found this very comment of yours in the spam bin! I’m happy you can identify. I know I’ve read posts of yours regarding friendships. I think we both beat ourselves up a lot unnecessarily.


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