Thursday, May 3, 2007

"Under Siege" Friendships

The Dutchman and I watched "The Last King of Scotland" last night. It was a very powerful, highly disturbing movie - the acting was excellent and I was fascinated by the way Forest Whitaker portrayed Idi Amin. As we were watching Amin's progression from a charismatic leader to a paranoid, sadistic maniac (perhaps he was always so), I got progressively more and more uncomfortable - not only because of the heightened violence in the movie, but Amin's paranoia and mental imbalance was making me restless. For those of you who've seen the movie, this might have struck you as well - this sense that you never knew what Amin would be like from one scene to the next - would he be affectionate and friendly? Would he scream and accuse and torture? There seemed to be a general downward spiral, but what struck me most was the constant flip-flopping from what appeared to be one extreme to the other.

Later that night, The D and I were still discussing the movie and I kept coming back to that issue - he finally said, "No wonder you're so bothered - it reminds you of JD!" I knew he was right - I was thinking about a friend I had during grad school - a relationship that went progressively more and more sour (perhaps it always was so) and that finally ended abruptly. Now, of course, this friend was not a murderous dictator (although given an army there's no telling what JD might do), but the psychological warfare over the course of about 4 years was accute. When the friendship finally ended I swore that I'd *never* get involved with someone like that again. Lately, someone we interact with has begun to take on similar attributes and I've reacted - probably overreacted - to it very strongly. But that's another story.

Without going into too much detail or whipping what is by now a two year old dead horse, JD was a close friend of mine in grad school. But I don't think she ever forgave me when I met the Dutchman. There was this weird sense of betrayal inherent to JD's reaction - one of my other friends suggested that the attachment might have gone deeper than friendship and that's where the betrayal came from. I still don't know about that - but I do know that there was, for the next 3 1/2 years, more and more punishment doled out.

The aspect of the friendship that I think took the largest toll was something similar to Idi Amin's personality - you never knew where you stood with JD. Did I do something or say something wrong the last time we spoke or hung out? Will today be a good day or a bad day? I gradually found myself indulging every whim she had simply because I couldn't take the fallout. It was like backing quietly away from the crazy person, nodding your head with a big happy grin on your face, and keeping sharp objects out of reach.

Then there's the next obvious question - why did I remain friends with this person for so long? Hell, why did I date my creepy ex-boyfriend for 3 years (my mom's still asking that question)? I think abusive friendships can sometimes be as hard to get out of as romantic attachments. JD and I were in the same department; we had most of the same friends; she would make me pay. JD had passive-aggression down to a fine science and, like an elephant, she *never* forgot. One example springs to mind. It was JD's 30th birthday and she was still being a complete ass to me - she wanted her closest "friends" (me and another person) to throw her a big party, but she wouldn't tell us what she wanted, who she wanted, or where she wanted it to be. Why? Because she was the birthday girl - it was our job (or actually, my job because I was out of favor) to use our super E.S.P. Spidey-sense to figure out what she wanted for her party. So, I did all the work - invited guests, got the cake, even stuffed a fucking pinata (hey, I loved them when I was a kid - I thought it would be tons of brightly colored fun!). The other friend did nothing but provide the venue. What happened on that magical night? She barely said a civil word to me the entire time - she very publically gave me the cold shoulder and (I found out later on) made snarky comments about me to some people that night. Not a "thank you" - not even a "fuck you!" - just silence. Not long after this, JD left the program and moved far away with her fiance.

What I was shocked about was the fact that I was asked to be in her wedding party - we'd sort of achieved detante before she departed and I thought things would just naturally fizzle out. I had tried once long before to engage with her about some of our issues, but she accused me of being "aggressive" with her and said that I was "making her feel attacked." Okay, so we don't try to make things better - we just move apart. Fine by me.

So, why did I agree to be a bridesmaid? I honestly don't know what I was sniffing when I said yes - I think I felt some kind of weird cosmic karma. Also, I'm from the south and if someone asks you to be in a wedding, you say yes. At least that's what my grandma would say. So, The D and I bought cross-country tickets for spring break weekend ($$$!) and I had the most hideous dress in the world MADE FOR ME because she couldn't just choose one off the rack. Keep in mind that the seamstress, like JD, was 4000 miles away. (For the record, I told my maid of honor at my wedding that she could wear anything in the world she wanted to - and she looked great in black!)

What happened next was nothing short of divine intervention. We were looking forward to a weekend of shotty treatment at this wedding. We'd already given them a sweet wedding gift with NO thank you note and only a half hearted "Um, thanks" over the phone one time when she called to tell me that I had to order my dress "RIGHT NOW!" JD was also making a stink about letting The Dutchman sit at the table with us at the reception because he wasn't in the wedding party. I had to beg and plead with him to come to the wedding - he finally said he would only because he didn't want me to have to go alone.

So, we show up at the airport at about 9:45 that morning (ugly dress and pissy Dutchman in tow) for our 11am flight. Our names weren't in the quickcheck database so we had to stand in line. When we get up to the counter, the lady looks at me like I'm crazy and says, "your flight left at 8:30 this morning!" Wtf? I was stunned - I looked at the itinerary again because I'd made damn sure that we got to the airport on time that day. Turns out I'd gotten the time we were flying HOME from the wedding rather than TO the wedding stuck in my mind (*paging Dr. Freud!*). When we hadn't made the first leg of our flight, they canceled our entire itinerary. Because it was spring break, there was NO WAY we were going to be getting to the state where the wedding was being held the next day! I stood there stunned and looking at the fucking bridesmaid's dress - the Dutchman was laughing his ass off.

Now, I'm sure there's a special circle of hell (or maybe Purgatory) reserved for bridesmaids who miss weddings, but I'm not all that worried because it was worth it. I called JD and told her I wasn't coming. She was furious I could tell, but she spoke with her typical calm acidity and said, "this is really...unlike you, MW." That was the last time we've ever been in contact and it's been over two years. I never called and neither did she. I'd already sent her a Save the Date for our own wedding later that year, but I never sent a proper invitation. It was over, finally.

So, the Idi Amin and JD connection in my psyche notwithstanding, "The Last King of Scotland" is a great movie. I'm glad that I no longer have the siege mentality I had when JD and I were "friends" - I swore I'd never have another friends like that and I'm hyper aware of it now.

What ever happened to the bridesmaid's dress? I donated it to the local Goodwill that had a special program for highschool girls who can't afford prom dresses. I found out several months later that a girl had come into the store and fallen in love with the dress (it was a green satin number) - I'm sure she wore the bad mojo off it!


Alison said...

I too have had some bizarre friendships that go too deep. At some point, it becomes like extracting yourself from a bad romantic relationship, especially when you've been through hell (i.e. grad school) together.

P.S. That Goodwill program sounds wonderful.

Flavia said...

Okay, so that story beats the hell out of my relationship with Nemesis (who also runs kinda crazy hot and cold, but whom I've never been close enough to for the kind of treatment you received).

I'm glad for you that it's over!

Hilaire said...

God, that's a hilarious story, with the missed flight. Although also really shocking. I know it's a boring, whiny question, but..."What the hell is the matetr with people?!"

squadratomagico said...

Wow, that's quite a saga. I've had a friendship sort of fade away, slowly, but never one that became emotionally manipulative and abusive like that. (My family is another story, but you can't choose them!)

How did you find out the fate of the gown? What a great consolation!

medieval woman said...

Yeah - 'twas quite a saga.

I actually knew the folks at our local Goodwill pretty well (poor grad students buy furniture there!) and they told me about the program. When I brought the dress in, she asked if it had ever been worn and I gave her a brief account of the aborted bridesmaid attempt. So, when we moved away from that city, we dropped a lot of donations off and we got to talking about the dress - she's the one who told me that it had just been bought (it was around May, prom time).

Dr. Virago said...

I know I'm commenting late, but this story was so hilarious (now -- I'm sure not for you then) that I had to comment. And I swear to god I saw a movie with a similar story it, or else I just got an odd sense of deju vu for some reason reading this. (Um, I'm not saying you stole this story from a movie! I'm saying there are other Idi Amin friendships out there, clearly, and that you could turn this into a screenplay!)

medieval woman said...

Good god, Dr. V - I'd never thought of that! I could turn it into a screenplay (if I knew how to write one of those) - it does sound like something from a movie, huh? :) The missed flight was hilarious and it felt so damn good to make the call and say we weren't coming. Hee, hee...revenge for the frickin' pinata....

Steve Muhlberger said...

Wow! Well told.