For reasons unknown to me, I will, on rare occasions, refuse friendships. If you know me, then you know this is out of character. I generally like to be friends with everyone and only discontinue a friendship if I have been repeatedly, passive-aggressively needled. I am not one of those stingy, closed-up persons, who only love the handful of people whom they worship or who never let them down.
When I moved into the house I currently live in, I was quickly introduced to my next-door neighbor, Gilda, an ancient slip-wearing, poorly-fitting-red-headed-wigged, very loony female writer. She caught me in the backyard and from across our shared fence, she offered me a thin slice of homemade, frozen fruitcake in an aqua-colored ziplock bag in the middle of July as a welcome offering. I grimaced, thanked her, and hurried from the introduction. I tossed the slice in the trash, announcing to my then husband that, “The fruitcake gave us fruitcake.”
Now, I love crazy people. I love eccentrics. I like old people. But for whatever reason, this woman would receive my rare cold shoulder, for years. Maybe it was the tiny hairs rising on my neck indicating she’d be a pain in my ass, asking me for things I didn’t have time for since I already had a husband with an ex-wife, a step-son, a toddler and a nursing infant, each one leaning on me, sucking me clean of time and compassion.
A few months back Gilda, who has a sharp wit and a pretty voice, called me one day as I was working from home. I answered sweetly, heard her voice and became slightly cold, slightly detached.
“Hello Ingrid, could you please tell me the name of the lead male character in the Shakespeare play, “The Taming of the Shrew?”
“Sure, hold on.”
(I look online) “Petruchio.”
I hung up, aware of and ashamed that I had such an icy boundary with this woman. Nobody ever called me with such good questions.
Just this past week—the week of giving, spending, massive guilt, realizing how poor and rich we are, etc—my mother reminded me to grab a gift for my 70+ uncle. So while I got him and his girlfriend flowers, I decided to get some for Gilda.
On Christmas Eve, I walked next door, rang the doorbell and entered Gilda’s house, a house which can only be described as every weirdo’s dream. She has a dummy dressed and seated at a chair to look like a real, live man (with empty bottles of wine laid at his feet), incredible nude paintings of herself from many decades past, Asian art and furniture that I know is not just interesting but very pricey. There are so many odd knickknacks all over her living room and carved oak bar that seats 10, that I stood there and thought, “This lady is like a dinosaur and she lives right next door to me. I know phony hipsters that would kill to have a 1/100th of this lady’s sincere kookiness. Why do I shun her? Why am I being so weird?”
I gave her the flowers, made my kids hug her, and told her the next day was Christmas, which she didn’t know. I left, feeling stupid and cruel and, worse, exclusionary. And that is, to me, the worst human trait of all.
Keith is a person with whom I have many friends in common, friends we’ve shared since we were both in our teens. Keith, like Gilda, was the lottery winner of my rare, icy shoulder since I was 17. Keith, to me, could be described as one of those wordy, clever guys who made the mistake of reading Nietzsche in their late teens, those who drop out of college to work at book stores, who only date girls whose parents have enough money to cover the rent, and who weakly dabble in homosexual thoughts. I have actually thought of making a short film called, “Did Nietzsche ruin your life?” in which I ask someone—like Keith—straight forward questions about the hard life of a misfit coffee shop philosopher.
Keith has, on and off for the last 20 years, tried to become my friend, and each time I have declined. A few weeks ago he, again, requested my Facebook friendship. Trying to turn over some new leaves, I decided to write him instead of just ignoring him.
I am not sure if I should accept your FB friendship. Part of me says “sure, why not?”, but the other part of me, that has continuously unfriended you for almost 20 years, thinks that, at this point, we should remain unfriends.
I encourage you to either tell me to fuck off or convince me to just drop the act. It was always without reason. Well… except for that time you hit me at a party.
He quickly replied.
Because, after a message that wry, sophisticated and frosty, it would be simply ruthless to refuse me. Regardless, I will not tell you to fuck off, you Goddamned hellcat.
Cordially grateful and devoted,
He then sent me a draft of a pretty good book he is writing, told me he always admired my capacity for contempt, and apologized for hitting me that one time. I still haven’t accepted his FB friendship, but I did read his drafts and give him my comments. I’ll admit I liked being called a hellcat as much as I liked Gilda’s drunken, stuffed, indoor scarecrow.
Human beings are wired in such complicated ways, myself included. I am looking into my uncalled-for and brisk shunning of Gilda and Keith. I don’t really like that I do that. It’s my own manifestation of ugliness. Maybe my own indoor scarecrow, trying to shoe off the blackbirds I should befriend instead.
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