The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
I Unfriend You
I threw her a life preserver, only to snatch it back in again.
She was a friend who lived 1700 miles away in New York City. We had talked on the phone and emailed, but had never met face to face. I met her through my young niece who was working in a small cheese shop that Lynda frequented. She was there the day my niece got fired and while consoling her out on the sidewalk, Lynda learned of my niece’s difficult living situation with her not-so-nice boyfriend. Concerned, she got my email address and contacted me. Over the next five years we had discussed many issues, past and present, and I always enjoyed our talks despite the fact that our lifestyles were different. She enjoyed the big city lights, whereas I ran from them. My idea of a heavenly day was to drive up into the mountains and hike; whereas she was thrilled to walk to Starbucks and spend the afternoon in the heart of the city.
Lynda’s building was located just a few blocks from 5th Avenue, touted as the most expensive shopping street in the world. A famous film producer lived in the high-rise next door and movie star sightings were commonplace. She managed to live on her social security check and still maintain a lifestyle of someone much wealthier. Finding the free and discounted perks in the city was a skill she’d honed, such as which beauty school offered free haircuts, which food market had complementary gourmet food samplings, and where free computer usage could be found.
A few years ago, Lynda told me that her luxurious rental apartment had been sold and the rent-controlled status, which she’d enjoyed for the last 42 years, was being threatened. Her rent would now soar to over triple the amount she was used to paying.
I could only listen and marvel at her ability to navigate the system and find free legal assistance when her landlord started proceedings to evict her. The battle consumed her. Lynda contacted numerous city
agencies and even wrote a letter to Mayor Bloomberg pleading her case, but to no avail. Then she’d gotten more creative with her fundraising and managed to wrangle a couple of thousand dollars from a cousin in Texas.
For some reason, Lynda didn’t have any friends or family she could count on. She’d related the saga of her parents’ divorce during the time they lived in Beverly Hills. Her father got custody of her sister
and then proceeded to turn the rest of the family against Lynda and her mother. She never explained why. He’d been a wealthy attorney, but when he died he didn’t leave her a cent. She hadn’t spoken to her sister in half a century. I never heard any stories about boyfriends either. I was strangely fascinated by her life.
I felt badly upon hearing her so upset. “ We have an extra bedroom, ” I said. “ You can always come out to Denver.” I had a caring family and circle of friends whom I offered as well. Lynda countered with gratitude and insisted that if she did come out, she would stay at a hotel – not wanting to infringe upon me. Besides, she couldn’t stay in a place where she had to share a bathroom with two other people.
I analyzed the culture shock Lynda would face. Denver would seem like a cow town to a big city dweller. She didn’t drive and had no intention of learning, but she had done her homework and knew which parts of our fair city would suit her. Cherry Creek. Downtown. Maybe even up in the mountains; she had read about Aspen. I didn’t want to appear pessimistic, but had to keep gently reminding her that those rents would be much higher than the $1,000/month she was used to paying. And no, apartments around here didn’t come with a doorman.
Time passed. I hadn’t heard from her for a few weeks. Then I got her harried voice mail on my phone. She had lost her court case.
“Don’t call me, I’m too upset,” she instructed. “I’ll call you.”
I honored her request. Two nights later, she phoned me again.
“I’m coming out to Denver. I hate New York. The judge in my case was corrupt. They’re all corrupt out here. I need to stay with you for two weeks.”
I almost dropped the phone. She hadn’t asked, she just informed me. I covered the phone and told my husband the news. There wasn’t time to discuss it. This was a crisis. She would be out on the streets if we didn’t help. Homeless.
“And I’m shipping 15 boxes to your house,” she added.
I started cleaning up the back bedroom. We bought new sheets and hung up paintings. I even got Lynda a blank notebook in case she wanted to start journaling. It felt like I was preparing a nursery for a new baby’s arrival.
Meanwhile, she called and reported that doormen from her apartment were helping her throw belongings into boxes. Although she would be out on the streets soon, she mentioned that she’d stayed the last three nights at a $400/night hotel down the street from where she lived.
Huh? Nothing was adding up.
Warning bell #1.
The week progressed. I coached her through buying an airline ticket. She hadn’t flown in years and had to find a travel agent and pay cash because she didn’t have a credit card.
Warning bell #2.
She found a storage unit for the bulk of her things and a ridiculously expensive shipping company that charged $3,000 to send 15 cartons? It didn’t seem logical. I knew my sister had just shipped cartons across country for around $500.
Warning bell #3.
During one of the times we talked, Lynda mentioned that if the shipping company should call me, the order was under the last name of “x” — a name I’d never heard. The various cards and letters she had
sent me throughout the years had preprinted address labels with another last name.
Warning bell #4.
By this point my feelings toward her were beginning to change. Now we would snap at each other during our conversations. Every time the phone rang and her name popped up on my phone screen it triggered my already jittery nerves.
I began to picture a typical day with her here. I visually scanned our house. Only one bathroom. (“I only go once a day,” she reassured me.) Our evenings revolve around watching TV in the family room. My husband has his designated chair while I normally sprawl out on the couch, so where would she sit? Would she eat the same food we did? Would her feeding schedule jive with ours? My husband and I could go for an hour or more without saying a word to each other, even in the same room, if we were busy reading. I’ve never been one to feel that silence was a be like. My concerns were beginning to surface.
“We’ve never had a house guest before . . . ” I said to Lynda.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll just stay in my room and read,” she replied.
During the week, I consulted with various girlfriends. One kindly offered to put her up at her duplex for a week, depending upon how things went with us. But, then she warned, “You need to arm yourself.”
Huh? We had a gun, but was that really necessary? “Legally,” she clarified. “Don’t you know a lawyer you can talk to?” But I didn’t want to arm myself and turned a deaf ear to her warning.
I phoned a new friend who’d spoken to me about recently evicting housemates and what a nightmare the process had turned into. They wouldn’t leave. It was uncomfortable for her to be around them, yet
she didn’t trust them alone in the house with her belongings. Although their background checks came back satisfactory, they turned out to be heavy drinkers who lived to party.
She admonished me. “After the first day, tell her to get a rental car and start looking for an apartment. Get everything in writing.”
Everything what? The fact that she is coming to camp out at my house rent free and with my permission?
“Don’t let her store boxes in your garage; you’ll never get her out,” warned.
“But, she doesn’t drive,” I responded weakly.
Since I couldn’t afford a lawyer, I thought I’d better attempt to ‘arm myself’, so went online to do some research. What I found was in certain states, that if someone enters your home and stays with your
permission they will be classified as a licensee. This status grants the person more rights than a general guest. To revoke the permission you gave them to remain on your property, you must go through the
steps of a formal eviction to legally remove them. This news troubled me greatly.
I called Lynda and started rambling about how I was having second thoughts and that I felt two weeks would be pushing the limits of my patience. “Two weeks? ” she exclaimed. “Oh, no. I’ll need to get a job in order to find an apartment.”
My mind was racing. She’d been looking for work as long as I’d known her. Her idea of job hunting involved calling on select boutiques to inquire about part-time jobs. Working 9-5 involved getting up too early, she’d once explained to me. “I’m thinking it should take six to eight weeks,” she added. I was stunned.
Ding. Ding. The warning bells were deafening now.
Two days until the arrival.
My sister counseled. “You don’t need this aggravation. You can’t afford to let your immune system get compromised again. Just tell her no.”
Now I was torn. I’d felt so noble, rescuing her from a life full of impersonal and downright mean people. She would shed her high heels and don hiking boots out here. She would see the logic in my values and embrace them. I’d be gaining an older sister – albeit a dependent older sister. One who didn’t have a job, a car, or even know how to drive. I asked my real sister about some friends of hers who had fixed up a small apartment in their basement.
“Would they be willing to rent to her?” I asked.
“No, she responded, “they keep it for needy people from their church, not runaways from 5th Avenue.” We both chuckled, but then I felt guilty for laughing at a time like this.
By this time my worry had blossomed into full-fledged anxiety. My hands felt feverish. The thought of eating nauseated me and I couldn’t sleep. I found a Valium in my medicine cabinet, a souvenir from a trip to Mexico over 15 years ago. It helped for a few hours. My husband said he had never seen me so upset, not even when I received my cancer diagnosis. Then, I started stressing more because I knew that all this upheaval could make me ill again.
The morning of the arrival.
Despite my lack of sleep, I did manage to formulate one small plan of action in the middle of the night. So, when I woke at 4:30 am, I dragged myself over to the computer and found a website that offered
an instant background check for a mere $19.95. I typed in my credit card information, but when I tried entering in the last name I had known her by, nothing came up. Not until I submitted the different
last name she’d recently given me, did information come up:
Five alias names
Liens – 25 to be exact
No wonder she didn’t have a credit card. My mind was racing. Who would rent to someone with such bad credit? In the past when I had suggested looking on Craigslist for a housemate she’d always scoffed saying that she needed to be with people who were friends of friends. My friends, that would be. Now, my heart was thundering.
I waited until 9:00 am New York time and phoned. “Who is this?” she asked.
Duh, I’m sure my name came up on her caller ID the same way it had for the last five years. I told her what I’d discovered and her coming out to stay with us wasn’t going to work. My speech came out fast and furious, because now, I was furious. She responded by frantically asking for the phone numbers of my various friends whose names I had mentioned throughout the years, people who didn’t even know her.
I hung up and felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. Then I felt guilty. Where would she go? I was picturing her laden with garment bags (Who uses those these days?) filled with clothes on padded
hangers trying to check into the local homeless shelter.
I couldn’t put her out of my mind that night. I tossed and turned in bed. I still felt nervous and jittery. My mind was churning over past conversations I’d had with Lynda. A couple of years ago I had
mentioned flying out there to check on my niece.
“Would it be alright if I stayed with you for a few days?” I asked Lynda.
“Oh, no,” she quickly responded. “My place is a mess. My bathtub is filled with my clothes.”
Odd, I thought.
Then came the questions I posed to myself: Just because you trust someone does it mean they’re trustworthy? Had I lost touch with my gut feelings to the point in which I became naive?
The flight she had planned to take was scheduled to arrive in Denver at 10 pm. Would she come anyway? Would she take a cab and be knocking on our front door at 11? Would I have to call the police? Would she go to our next door neighbor’s house? They didn’t like us so that that wouldn’t be good.
The next day.
When I opened my eyes the sun was already streaming in through the translucent tangerine colored curtains. Our two birds were happily chirping loudly in the sunroom. The cat was at her food bowl,
crunching the dried mixture that constituted her breakfast, lunch and dinner. I smiled. This was the familiar routine. My husband had already made coffee and handed me a steaming mug as I walked down the hall and sat down in front of the computer. With a couple of mouse clicks the umbilical cord was cut. I deleted her name from my email address book and then I unfriended her.
© Diane Malk July 2014
dianemalk at gmail.com
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• Diane Malk
Like a fireman summoned to the scene, I raced across town to my friends’ house in response to a panicky phone call the night before. Could I help them pack? Gayle and Hal wondered.
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