Expiration Dates, Part III: A Faded Memory
Cut out of each other’s lives: friendship was a casualty of illness, money problems, and divorce.
A Short Story in Three Parts. Featured in Rita Watson’s nationally syndicated Relationships blog: www.ritawatson.com
Julie grew more angry and distressed at the strain of the mortgage, taxes, and unanticipated household repairs.
I dropped hints: “You could rent out your house and get a nice one bedroom and pocket the change,” I said. “You could refinance. You could use a roommate service and screen candidates. You could place an ad.”
Julie vetoed all suggestions. She was not going to move, and she was not going to get someone in off the street. Candidates referred through friends proved unacceptable: “I don’t want someone else’s – stuff – all over my house,” she spat.
Every time I talked to Julie things were worse. She descended into panicked thinking. Instead of paying $75 to have someone look at her broken dryer, she hauled wet clothes to a Laundromat for months. Why didn’t she get her new boyfriend (a handyman) to look at the malfunctioning appliance? She didn’t want to be “dependent.” My husband invited her to my 40th birthday luncheon. I should have told him not to, because it was held at a gaudy, overpriced restaurant, attended by prosperous people whose ostentatious materialism, I knew, she would loathe.
My best Wall Street-era girlfriend boasted of having just bought two mink coats. Noting the acid downward curve of Julie’s mouth, I thought, I ought to have told her not to come. She hated these people, and she was starting to hate me, with my marital compromises, stay-at-home life, my new blond highlights. About six months after Julie sent Dave away, she began to talk about her neighbor’s husband. “Don’t waste your time,” I told her, “flirting with married men.” This wasn’t what I expected when I handed her a check to help speed up her divorce.
More than half a year passed without a dollar repaid. My husband and I had money stresses of our own by then, and I had to come out and ask for my loan back. Julie had just spent a weekend with millionaire friends. As I’d been talking about our own unexpectedly huge tax bill, I assumed she’d got the hint and arranged her visit to relieve me. I was wrong. Julie was livid.
“Look,” I said in my defense. “You’ve had a boyfriend for six months. Why can’t you ask him for a loan, or to move in and help with the bills?”
Julie hung up on me, furious. Within a month, I got a check for the full amount of my loan in the mail. We had no contact for a year. I finally called and learned that her handyman boyfriend was long gone, and her ex-neighbor’s husband was living with her, and that he, too was divorcing.
Sounding upbeat, but hardened, Julie dismissed my good wishes for her new relationship; she had no interest in marrying this man. He paid his share and did things around the house. His ex was awful, took the kids back to Maine. She would make use of him till the expiration date ran out.
Hanging up, I thought back to Julie’s wedding — the white dress, the lilies, the dark cathedral, the hopeful, holy words, the peacock bursting into full plume. I thought of the dance performance the night she announced her divorce.
I suppose I often see myself in marriage, indeed, in any relationship, as the Minotaur – stumbling along, half an awkward hybrid body, struggling to reconcile the ugly with the sublime. I easily forgave Julie her bad temper and outbursts at the time of her divorce, but could not forgive the home wrecking, nor could she forgive my judging her dark side.
Naively, I’d thought our friendship would outlast our marriages; I thought it would flourish forever. But like the peacock’s fan, its glory was short-lived. I thought of her declaration: “All relationships have expiration dates.”
Ours, apparently, had run out. ~~~