The Least Likelys
Finding Real Friends During a Recession
I once had a cozy studio apartment filled with all my favorite stuff (books and jazz mostly, baseball memorabilia here and there) just for me. And an almost dream job utilizing my Theatre Arts degree while meeting fantastically creative people. I ran a marathon and climbed some cliffs. I slept under the stars of a desert sky and never felt afraid. I flew a falcon in Ireland (never mind the silly Irish boy). I wrote. I read, saw films. And watched an awful lot of television. I made a website. I wrote some more. I sang in a choir and had a personal Catholic ceremony. I spent a lot of time in New York.
Eight years later it all went away. No more apartment, no more job. My car was totaled, squished between two SUVs. Me inside. I was once again caught in the once-a-decade disruptive life change cycle. The first one took nine and a half years to come around to devastate me the very same year the planes destroyed the towers and our worldview. This lesser one, the second worst one, took me straight into Summer of Suck. Whatever makes us stronger.
No longer able to afford my independent life, I moved into a cramped house with, um, two roommates, two cats and two dogs. Gave away my furniture. No more room of my own, Virginia.
Then under a management change, my job was suddenly in jeopardy, during a recession no less. I hadn’t had a raise in five years and was driven out in what felt like a second divorce. Eight years in one job – who else can say that these days?
Taking one of my infamous leaps of faith, I quit my job and drove to Seattle to see a friend. And think. When that surreal year-in-a-week was done (complete with overnight hospital drama), I moved in with a least likely. A least likely is someone in the periphery, someone you probably never think about, of if you do, only in passing. (Did anyone think “Frasier” would be a good spin-off of “Cheers”?) The least likelys so often turn out to be the surprise you never knew existed, the miracles right in front of you, that I try not to rule anyone out anymore. Trying not to piss off the Universe. Again. Life comes to you no matter what else you’re planning. You just have to close your eyes and open your head. And your heart. Oh and practice forgiveness – mostly with yourself.
My least likely and I had loosely kept in touch through the years, but I hadn’t seen her in forever, when I idly called her. Just so happened she was going through a bad divorce. Just so happened she’d have a room available when I got back from Seattle. Just so happened I’d been divorced as well, so in a been-there-done-that sort of healed way, I was the ideal guru for her road to painful recovery. I could tell her how normal she was, that every feeling was right on schedule, that her insanity was circumstantial (unlike some actual crazy friends). That when we went out to eat, I knew that watching everyone else casually being able to digest food and carry on actual conversations was an assault to her mind. That it was almost impossible to grasp that people around her could breathe in and out like that and not fall down screaming. That it was nuts they could all act so calm when your world is so inside out. And upside down. The overwhelming hurt changes your brain chemistry so you think you can never feel like yourself again. The PTSD is real.
Wasn’t just the divorce though, for my friend and roommate. She ALSO got a concussion, her oldest daughter was run over by a car (fine now, thank God), she was fired from her job TOO and a million other little crazy life things she’d normally be able to handle, but of course was too numb to understand. However, having another adult in the house stabilized things somewhat. Someone was there to share rent (eventually anyway) and housework, to listen. My cousin taught me rock-climbing when I desperately needed a distraction so I paid it forward and distracted the hell out of my suffering friend.
In return, I got my own room. In Pleasantville where everyone knows your name (see that callback I did there? thanks improv!) I essentially went from a peaceful, but adventurous single life to a life of full-blown teenage drama and chaos. All females too – even the dog (and later another stray – boy dog from the barrio). But it was also a transition into warmth and love, a house of healing and every once in a while back then, a little laughter too. More of that now. A time for quiet and a time for noise.
A full summer of no income took off some pounds and the stress raised my cholesterol but never had I felt so supported and welcomed. The horrors of months of unemployment (including appearing before a judge who clearly hated me) were balanced by a mom preparing dinner for me again. Someone who is still very much in the throes of theater so I saw everything she directed and choreographed, every dance recital and musical her kids were in and we all fully participate in the suburban community. They love her here. She’s taught pretty much every at-risk kid some kind of drama so visiting the earthy local farmer’s market gets you a “Hi Mrs. B!” about every five minutes. I’ve driven her kids to practice and made dinner enough times to fully earn the Aunt title. For life. And no one wants me to leave. Somehow we survived Summer of Suck where every week some more bad news would crash in (extra mortgage payments, less alimony, more unemployment). Yet we could still always laugh.
So we both found new and better jobs. I had food when I was penniless and she had someone new in the house to change the memories in the hallways. My stuff is all over now, instead of the ex’s and her plus one is now a fantastic boyfriend (super happy for her) instead of an aching void. I have a full house to come home to and the people in it are here to help me if I fall again. I’ve lost count of all the miracles that happened to me in the past few years, which came with the worst. That dammed ying and yang thing. The best advice I got was to stop thinking about myself and just to help others. But of course a writer will always internalize, so everything that happens around me gets written into my perspective. That’s the other thing – I rediscovered my writer voice. I guess focusing on someone else’s problems accidentally fixes you too. And I’ve got that listening thing going for me too.
So we continue to inspire and encourage each other. I am still me here; I haven’t disappeared into someone else’s version of the world. I still adventure. Walking the streets of Edinburgh, petting wolves, getting a tattoo, learning to juggle and to drum - all that started here. The women in the house have all learned from one another and exchanged friends and family – we are all mixed up in each other’s lives now, in such easy transfers of camaraderie. Who’d have thunk? Seems it takes a recession (or private hells) to find out who your friends really are and if you would have told me where I’d be right now a few years ago, I’d never have believed you. It’s warm here. Leftover ice all melted. Think we saved each other’s lives.
No past, no future. Just the present. Only way to live.
Kate West Reviews Online Hub Pages Since June 2008 All Rights Reserved