Opal’s Old Friend

Sam Spade2

It seems like when I am both bored, and I have a little time on my hands I stumble across information that is a combination of freeing and sometime saddening all at the same time. I am the proverbial Pandora who will open that box, knowing the likelihood of it unveiling painful truths outweighs any possible good.

It’s how I found out my stepfather had died, alone in a nursing home. The upside is through his death I forgave him the not-so-minor infractions I had cast upon him and carried around with me like a brick for years. I’ve located a mugshot of an ex that I can’t scrub from my mind. The list could go on for the people I’ve located and at times I like to think I am my own kind of special Sam Spade, but the truth is patience, and Google can locate almost anything, or anyone. Facebook helps too.

There is an exception for my master techniques;  three people who have seemingly slipped through the cracks. Two are from my childhood, and finding them was never as great of importance as it was great curiosity. But one — one was a friendship that slipped through my fingers about 16 or 17 years ago, in a haphazard, “Oh I’ll pick that up in a moment” kind of fashion.

That last one I located today. Sort of. I’ve located the information to confirm she died at the very least a few years back.

I suspect if my amateur detective skills could have held out a little longer, or she could have held out a little longer for those thin gossamer web strings to finally envelope her we might have reconnected. But those are the pipe dreams of someone who wasn’t ready to say goodbye forever like.

I write about her without saying her name, because I feel like the glass will break and the finality will be dirt and stones, if I say out loud that “She has died”. Plus even in death I really strive for not calling people out specifically both past, or present.  This way, I can emotionally still be looking for her, like I have all these years. That’s me, denial in its truest fashion, weaving fairytales to keep the boogeymen at bay.

2015-01-23-NOTOXICITY-thumbI have written a ton on the No Toxicity rule in my life, and the magnet I am for whacked out people who flock to it. I rarely write about those who have rescued me, knowingly, or otherwise from these situations. I’ve had three deep toxic relationships, all with other women, and all in platonic ways. This isn’t the story of one of the three, Opal we will call her, but of the un-seeming hero who unknowingly rescued me afterwards.

See sometimes good things come from bad times, everything happens for a reason.

There are those rare individuals who for reasons none of us will ever know are professional Shit-Stirrers. Toxic Narcissists.  People who create chaos just for the hell of it. Bored housewives (in my cases), emotionally unstable, drama seeking sycophants.

The details on Opals actions are irrelevant. Suffice to say she mind-fucked me for reasons as I’ve listed above I just don’t understand. Some of it was very weird small stuff, and some of it was pretty big. Regardless, I was deeply entrenched in Opal’s life, as she was in mine. Our families were deeply connected. All sorts of stuff. Plus I was in a pretty vulnerable position, emotionally, physically and financially.

When it all came to light, and for some odd reason when this stuff  really does comes to light, you simply cannot un-see it. You can’t brush it under the rug and pretend the psycho sitting next to you is someone normal, unless you yourself are a bit twisted too. No, generally speaking you have to make large sweeping arcing motions to remove them completely from your life. Grab it by the root and tug the hell out of it until you’ve banished it from your world.

So despite how this was going to affect me including cutting me off from most everything I had grown comfortable with, everything I had learned to depend on – I made the healthy decision to grab this root and burn it.

It wasn’t easy.

When the dust settled from this chaos and I looked around my life, things had definitely changed. Most of it would be 100% for the better, but at that moment I wasn’t aware. I only knew that for the first time in a very long time, I felt very small and very alone. But in the dramatic fashion that this tale is spinning, there stood this figure in the distance. A figurative bloodied and battle-worn casualty in her own right, having fought the same dramatic war, with the same drama prone Opal, just on a different battlefield.

I had known her for years, as she was Opal’s other best friend. When my youngest was born, they both came to visit me, bringing sweet gifts. There were a couple of social situations that we hung out together in, but we were just a tad wary of one another. Frankly she intimidated the fuck out of me. Aggressive, blunt speaking, and self-confident. (Which by no coincidence I have been called as well) My daughter who knew her as a wee babe described her as a thin version of Roseanne. It sort of hits it on the head with that one.

How does that saying go; Any enemy of my enemy is a friend? I can’t recall the exact circumstances of our first solo meeting, but neither of us were aware initially that Opal was out of the other’s life, so we treated each other in that same superficially friendly manner. I had no reason to begrudge her, but neither did I trust her. The feeling was mutual.

Of course the story would go nowhere if we didn’t quickly figure out that things had disintegrated for both of us with the same person. We quickly compared notes, war stories, the whole lot. I laugh to think what a big deal it was back then. One would have thought us high schoolers for all the drama, not the 30-something women we were. But I think in retrospect it was highly important for us to have each other.

There is a saying that people come into your life for a reason, and in consideration I think we came into one another’s lives for a very important reasons. Opal had been her best and almost only close friend for decades. Opal had been in my life for about half that time, but I relied heavily on her as a friend, a confidante – she was practically family for both of us. The betrayal, and hurt we were both going thru – it was crucial that we had an ally that understood. Not a husband, or an outside friend who could comfort us, but someone who would let us tear the proverbial carcass of this unhealthy relationship to shreds, sit there licking our lips, and our wounds – until we were bloated and exhausted.

And that’s exactly what we did for each other. In ripping thru the being of who Opal was, it helped us heal.

We also found that one reason we weren’t closer over the years is that Opal had whispered secrets, and untruths into our ears about one another. Once the indignation of “She said WHAT?” wore off, we actually had fun comparing all the things we had been told. Of course like the emotional school aged children we acted like, we relished in the thought of what our new found friendship must be doing to the psyche of the banished Opal. Maturity wasn’t our strong suit when we were in pain.

Fortunately the friendship that was founded in this pain, wasn’t completely built on it. We found once the character ripping of our common enemy had ceased, that we had this true common core of a friendship. The things that intimidated me about her, I soon found out frightened her about me. No surprise there. I mean not now. We spent so many hours in her kitchen talking and laughing. Her laugh was infectious. Her whole body shook and she would throw her head back.

Damn I had to stop there for a moment as I remembered her. Sitting in her kitchen/dining room, her smoking her thin dark More cigarettes, while we drank gallons of coffee with the swamp cooler blowing frigid air on us. Comparing stories, pain, happiness, life lessons.

She was a few years older than me – less than ten but close to it, and I soaked up what I could from her. She had a stunningly happy marriage with a very handsome man who equally adored her. She was the first woman who taught and lived by the rules that your husband came first. Before kids, before friends. Through this, their marriage was probably one of the strongest I’ve ever seen. I don’t think to this day, I’ve ever seen a woman who was seriously so happy to see her husband when he got home at the end of the day. He felt the same about her. They lived a comfortable life, enough for her to afford not to work, which was a good thing because she was terminally ill.

Yeah I purposely didn’t lead off with that.

She had a rare autoimmune disorder that her doctors and a few lawyers had agreed she most likely contracted in the 80’s when more than one set of silicone implants broke inside of her. A slow leak of poison absorbed into her bloodstream not once, but twice and left her with a nearly unpronounceable disease and a mastectomy scars that a woman her age should never have. Surprisingly enough her original implants weren’t a vanity set. She had suffered breast cancer at a rare and very young age that had led to a complete full mastectomy. When it was all said and done, after two botched implant surgeries, she was still left with those mastectomy scars. Horribly ironic isn’t it?

So because of this disease which primarily affected her muscular system, she didn’t have to work. Now me, I was working and driving to hell and back with whatever small piece of crap car I could afford back then trying desperately to make ends meet, and not always having a successful time at it. I decided at one point that I would start my own housekeeping business as a second job to supplement my income.

Looking back on that, it might not have been where I should have leaned. I wasn’t the best at this new venture. I mean sure, I knew how to clean MY house, but as any housekeeper can tell you, it’s really about those spaces that we forget about. I wasn’t good about cleaning those.

I had three new clients right off the bat. My brother was managing a small apartment complex and hired me to clean the old units that were recently vacated. I don’t think he appreciated the work I did, which was the first indication that my business idea might not have been the best one. The second was a friend who had more time and money then she knew what to do with, and found the oddest jobs for me to do like cleaning the crystals on her chandelier.

The third was this friend. She lived in a pretty decent sized home. Not palatial, but large. She immediately fired her current housekeeper and hired me on, which definitely led to the pressure of getting the job done correctly.

I had decided at the beginning of this sojourn my best bet would be to charge by the hour unless it was a straight job like the ones my brother was offering me. A house her size with the items she wanted should have taken me about 3-4 hours to get done. Except that every 30 minutes or so she’d declare I needed a break, and so more coffee was drank and more cigarettes were smoked and the swamp cooler took care of my now sweaty brow. About six hours would pass, with at least 2 ½ of those break times and finally the house would be done in time for her husband to get home. She’d always have him pay me for the full six hours, and then throw another ten or twenty on top for a tip.

To be honest, I am betting that her old housekeeper did a much better job than I did.

After about six months, finances started to get better and I was able to hang up the shingle to the housekeeping business. Thankfully because despite my efforts with flyers, business never really did pick up further than those three clients. But you know? Her help – her generosity, put groceries in the house for me and my kids more than once. I kept my dignity without taking a handout, and she dealt with a relatively clean home with top-notch chit-chat for six months.

After the housekeeping gig ended we still remained tight. She was more than just generous with her money, but with her time. When life and work started to pick up for me, she stepped in and took care of my youngest on those odd days where day care wouldn’t work out. In fact her mother became a pseudo grandmother for my wee one. Eventually, as it happens at times, life started to get in the way. Her health would take small dives and she wouldn’t be up for company. No sooner would she get better, then life on my end wouldn’t afford me the time for her.

We slipped up and lost complete contact when I made a move in the mid 90’s, Weirdly I don’t recall how now, but somehow we located one another. We made plans to get together and I was so excited to see her. She had new boobs, saline this time, she told me. She bought those along with her new house when she won the lawsuit no one expected her to live long enough to see, for those botched silicone jobbers. Unfortunately at this time, I suspected pretty hard that her health was declining.

Yeah, that terminal illness that had given her five years to live? She had surprised everyone by living double that, and they expected more with new advances. But the toll from the medications she had taken, and the disease in  general had placed its mark on her. But – the boobs did look fantastic. 😉

That instant connection we had all those years back – it faltered this time. It didn’t feel forced, but we didn’t slide right back into things like old times. I think that is normal in some friendships. We got together a couple of times more, and then things got quiet as they were prone to do. A year or so later, I made another move, and didn’t tell people. Not on purpose, just life. A year or so later, I sent out Christmas cards, only hers came back with that yellow sticker that say “Occupant has moved”  and a new address was listed. The holidays were past, so I just tore the sticker with the address off and placed it in my phone book, figuring I would reach out the following year.

I think I stopped sending Christmas Cards out that year.

Some might wonder why, knowing she had fragile health issues, why I didn’t stay in better contact. I don’t really have an answer for that. Some denial. Some forgetfulness.

Enough years passed by that by the time I wanted to reach out to her I was hesitant. You’d think that a person who has dealt with her share of death would understand that it’s okay to say the words out loud,  but I was terrified of bringing those words back into her husband’s home. Like her husband wouldn’t have recalled this on a daily basis forever. I simply didn’t want to remind him. So I hemmed and hawed over writing a letter, finding different excuses.

Outside of the address I had on that paper – I wasn’t certain it was even current anymore. Years passed, technology improved, so I started by looking them all up on the magical internet. I couldn’t locate him. Or her daughters. Not a sign on Facebook. LinkedIn. None of the social sites had a whisper of them, at least not to my prying eyes..

But every few years I’d still try. Type in her name. By now I added the word Obit to her name. It was a relief to never get a match, and I shakily pictured her holding on, showing those doctors that 5 years could turn into 20.

And then today I found one of them. Surprisingly through Opal who I stumbled upon. Finding one easily led to a door that found another and another door leading to another, until the entire family was there. Monumental moments in pictures that would have required her presence – she just wasn’t there. The husband who adored her so much, now has his arm draped around another woman. A much less attractive woman in my eyes, but who am I to judge?
It didn’t hit me as a shock. More of like a sad eye-opening realization. The wondering off and on through the years was quietly closed with a soft click. I thought of this rough, harder than nails woman who scared everyone, when in reality had the softest emotional side to her. Who  was such this little dynamo of a friend who made me laugh and laugh; who unknowingly took such care of me emotionally when I needed it, not to mention financially, when I probably needed it the most, and the tears were there. It’s a stale sadness if there is such a thing. Something I think I’ve known for years but couldn’t express because I wasn’t certain. It was my lunch hour, so the tears could slip without being seen or heard. At one point I titled my head back, an old trick I learned when I was about ten that doesn’t really work, as eyeballs don’t reabsorb tears.

It’s weird in closing because I can’t say “Oh I’ll miss you …” because it’s been so long. I guess I feel this lump in my throat for who and what she was to me at one point in my life. I slipped a tear or two more when I saw her youngest is married with a child. That would have made her very happy.

I was happy my daughter recalled her, even in that Roseanne Barr kind of way. Children’s perceptions can so often be sharper than our own. I guess in ending this, I need to remind myself to be that friend to someone, even if it’s for a short time period.

You never know the last mark you’ll make.

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