[Editor’s Note: All names but mine are changed in this post, because that’s polite. While I might be a bitch sometimes, I’m always one for etiquette.]
A friend had passed away. A boy I knew in high school, a good guy who had grown in to a great man, died on December 15th. We got the news on Facebook that he was in the hospital four days before. The information was sketchy at first. Brad rode a motorcycle to work, more than a 60-mile roundtrip commute on the congested freeways of L.A. But it wasn’t an accident. Thank God for that, I thought, in the split-second before the rest of the sentence could be uttered. We didn’t have the best of luck when it came to accidents.
It was a heart attack. A serious heart attack. Perhaps more than one. The information I was getting from friends (in real life, not Facebook) painted a serious picture. Abby and I sat on the phone with gaps of silence. A strange thing for two wordy women. We set about hoping and praying for good news; a full recovery because, dammit, it was time for the good guys to win. We promised to keep each other up-to-date. Meaning, she would call me, because I’m always the last to know.
When the news came via Facebook that Brad had passed, it hit everyone who knew him hard, because he was so full of life. In this case, it’s not a cliché. He was full of love and passion, talent and joy. The kind of guy that should have made it through because he deserved a long and happy life. We all had to come to terms that was not to be. We thought of his wife, his daughters, his family and posted on Facebook our loving sentiments.
Facebook can be both wonderful and awful for that. You get to view the true nature of people. And, sometimes, that true nature is repugnant.
As the posts of sadness and condolences went up, photos were shared. And that’s where I saw it. A photo of six friends from our junior prom, three of which were now gone. Dell, was the first we lost — I’ll tell you about him later; Joan, our darling lost in June 2012; and, now, Brad. They were the brightest stars in the photo. The ones you were drawn to. They had that light, that aura. It was the kind of photo that hurt to see but that you didn’t want to stop looking at, made even more poignant because it was posted by Dell’s mother. Three beautiful people we loved, gone. And then I read the comment:
“I’ve had a handwritten note from Brad to give to Joan’s mom since Joan passed away. But, every time I go by her work, she’s not there,” Katie wrote.
I blinked and read that again. Huh? You’ve kept something like that from a grieving mother for 42 months? Then, I looked once more. Four people had “Liked” that comment. Four classmates from high school actually gave that a thumbs fucking up. WTF?
Katie was someone I only knew by name, face and a few stories. We had been in school together since junior high, but probably never exchanged two words with each other. That was about to change.
At that moment, Joan had been gone for three-and-a-half years, Brad just a day. I was staggered over the fact that Katie had kept something important, something that doesn’t belong to her for that long, then had the audacity, or idiocy, to post about it almost boastfully. There’s something wrong with that person. (She also made a point to post that she had gone to the hospital to see Brad and it had been a little awkward what with everything going on… You think?)
All I could think was of Joan’s mother, and the conversations she would never have with Brad, all the questions she might have wanted to ask him about her daughter and their time together in high school. How more than three years of opportunity for that to occur, or not, was stolen by someone so selfish as Katie.
I emailed Joan’s mother the next day to let her know of Brad’s passing and to mention that, if she was in contact with Katie, she might want to reach out and ask about that letter. Joan’s mother, Edith, thanked me for my email. Another classmate had told her about Brad but she wasn’t in touch with Katie and would very much like that note. Edith is hungry for any connection with her daughter and I will admit I have be awful about keeping in touch with her.
My own guilt aside, I went about the business of getting that note from Brad to Joan’s mother from Katie to Joan’s mother. First, I replied to Katie’s comment, incredulously asking why she had kept that note that long. She said it hadn’t been three-and-a-half years. I assured her it indeed had been.
In life, you are really only a banana peel away from falling back into high school.
I reached out to two friends who were also friends with Katie to see if they had her number, and if they would call her to ask WTF and get the note to Edith. It turns out that the one Katie had painted as a close friend on tagged Facebook posts didn’t even have her digits. We were put in touch via the worst thing in the world: Facebook Messenger.
Katie is a strange bird. After Joan passed, I recall her post, in which Joan was tagged, asking if anyone had anything they wanted to say to Joan’s mom; she would collect these sentiments and get them to her. Katie’s mother lives in the same coastal town as Edith.
To my knowledge, outside of an awkward coffee a year before her passing, Katie did not have a relationship with Joan after high school. They had been neighbors at one point when Joan moved to our town in elementary school, but their friendship was limited to a Facebook connection after that. Why Katie took it upon herself to collect these sentiments is one thing. To hold on to them for years is another.
That’s what I couldn’t wrap my head around: How hard could it be to get something like that to a grieving mother? Katie made excuses. She said that she had driven by Edith’s place of work, but Edith was never there. (Of course she wasn’t. She and Joan’s father had relocated to Joan’s town to be nearby; they were in the process of moving back.) Edith’s co-workers didn’t know if she would be back, so she didn’t leave the note there. (That sounds reasonable enough, except for one thing: Did Katie leave her contact information for them to pass on to Edith? Nope.)
Katie told me that she continued those drive-by’s in vain. Never once thinking that, hey, maybe any or all of Joan’s actual friends would be able to help her get in contact with Edith. No, that’s not something Katie would think to do. That might lead to actual progress.
Our exchange on Messenger got a little heated — from my end. My tone was quite direct. It was the Saturday before Christmas and I suggested that she get her blonde self to the post office, stand in the line no matter how long it might be, and mail the note from Brad to Joan’s mother, because that’s who the note belonged to. I had given her the mailing address Edith provided, let Katie know that Edith was anxious to get it. How hard could it be to put a letter in the mail, certified or otherwise? Evidently, it’s impossible.
Katie said she had reasons as to why the note was not given to Edith, and that she was not obligated to tell me about those reasons. She questioned my faith (because I taunted hers, letting her know mailing the letter is what Jesus would do) and suggested I needed prayer. (I’m a Buddhist, by the way. I don’t need prayer; I believe in karma.) She asked if I would take down my negative comment from Brad’s wall. (Nope. First, because it wasn’t negative, simply factual and, second, I wasn’t letting her off the hook.) She pulled quotes from a note Brad posted on Facebook about a year before, as if that would explain it all. A lot of fluff instead of action, which I found to be annoying stall tactics. Just. Mail. The. Note.
Then, her story started to change. It wasn’t really a note, more like a group card. Not really a group card, but emails people sent her that she printed out and put in an envelope. I didn’t care what it was but, if she had it, it wasn’t hers. Get it to the person it belonged to. Now.
There were still excuses. And a lot of FB Messages. Abby suggested that maybe I had better things to do with my time. Not really. I was on a mission.
What I was gleaning from all of Katie’s admissions is that was Katie’s an attention junkie. She wanted to hand the note to Edith in person so she could see the look of gratitude in Edith’s eye and feel the power of being a hero. That’s just gross. So, I told Katie, if she wanted attention, I would give it to her. I set a time limit, gave her until the end of the day to get that note/card/collection of emails in the mail to Edith and, if she didn’t, I would go public.
This is where I banana-peeled back into life’s high school quad. I’m not at all proud of what I did next. But, fuck it. I was sad, I was pissed, and I couldn’t believe she still had that damned note.
I wrote a post on Facebook asking all my friends: What did you do today? What all did you get done? Here’s what Katie did not do: Katie did not take the note she has had from Brad for Joan’s mother for three-and-a-half years to the post office to send it to Joan’s mother.
Then, to make it so much worse, I tagged every one of our mutual friends — except Brad and Joan (they didn’t need this bullshit, but Katie did) — and demanded that they all let Katie know that it’s not okay that she is keeping that note.
That went over pretty much like you’d expect it would.
Best part? I got called a cyber bully. Cyber bully? Please. If calling someone out on their bullshit makes me a bully, I will live with that. But, let’s be clear: I didn’t fabricate, I didn’t exaggerate; I stated facts. If the facts make Katie look like an asshole, whose fault is that?
One former friend said in a comment to Katie, “You should call the Facebook cops on her!” Wait. They have Facebook cops? Does that job come with a pension? Because I would totally apply.
Another classmate said in a comment that she had lost a son, that Katie was a good person and she must have her reasons for not giving the note. I expressed my condolences for her loss, then asked her to imagine if her son’s friend had written her a note that never got to her until after that friend had passed, and all of the conversations she and her son’s friend could have had were now gone all because someone chose to keep that note from her. How would that make her feel? She didn’t reply to that.
Because that’s what Katie did. She robbed both Brad and Edith of a chance to talk to each other about Joan. Brad knew Joan well at a special time in high school. I’m sure there were stories Brad would have loved to tell Edith, and I’m sure there are questions Edith would have loved to ask Brad. All that is gone now, because of Katie. Only because of Katie.
People were pissed that they were tagged. Understandable. I knew it was a bold, bitchy move. I’m the bad guy. Got it. But keeping a note from someone in mourning for over three years is hunky dory. And “liking” that she has it is also cool. (I just need to be able to frame the logic, then I can follow along.)
But the other reason I was so upset is that Brad’s passing ripped open the scab going from him to Joan and all the way back to Dell.
We lost our first friend the spring break after high school graduation. I was still eighteen and Dell, the best and brightest of us all, was gone.
Dell was a photographer. An amazing photographer, not for his age but despite it. He had a talent that was almost otherworldly. Dell taught me to see. After school during the beginning of our senior year, I would go to his house and, while MANHUNTER played on VHS, he would hand me a contact sheet of black and white stills and ask which I thought were the best ones. I was never correct. Either I was off in contrast or composition or exposure, but he wasn’t smug about it. He wanted me to see what he saw. I got better, guessing at first. Then I could argue why I preferred that one to this. It was a victory when I would get his lips to spread into a smile. I loved being his student. He taught me well. I loved him very much. But, in spite of our connection, it didn’t happen for us. I took his trepidation as disinterest and ended up falling for a drummer. A drummer I met through Brad.
Dell’s death shattered me. The pain of it ached through me for years. With him went my innocence. I remember the day after he died being so mad that there were still songs on the radio. Didn’t they understand that an important person was gone? Shouldn’t there be at least one day of mourning? We lost someone special and that should be recognized. Dell was beautiful and talented and intelligent and good and deserving of a wonderful life. The world should stop for someone like him. Mine did for a time.
One of the more upsetting aspects to Dell’s death for me was that I never knew about the car accident until I learned of his death. The friend who was charged with telling me didn’t. For those four days he was in the hospital, I just went about my business, as eighteen-year-olds do. She only called, after it was too late, to tell me he was gone. I was gobsmacked.
In hindsight, I knew there was nothing for me to do during that time. Yes, I could have sent flowers or a message. To go to the hospital would have been improper. That’s family time and space. But, I could have reached out to other friends and connected. By that time, I was a ghost, doing my best to disappear. Unlisted phone number. New address. I wanted to be hard to find. But, the fact that someone who was in touch with me chose to keep that information from me, I found it unforgivable. Her heart might have been in the right place — she didn’t want to upset me, she said; she was waiting to give me good news, she said — but her head was squarely up her ass. It was not her place to shield me from the facts; it was her responsibility to tell me.
I know I’m not the only one who was shattered by Dell’s passing. We still talk about it and him. We still miss him to this day. He’s never far from our thoughts.
Joan and I talked about Dell often. She was a good friend of both Dell’s and Brad’s. I had known Joan since seventh grade, when all the local elementary schools fell into one junior high. We had various classes together. Our last names, for a time, started with the same letter and, in high school gym class, we would chat while doing warmup kicks in the back row. The basketball coach, who served as supervisor — with drill team prep serving as our gym credit — would admonish Joan and me for talking and not warming up properly. I, always the smart alec, would say, “But I am warmed up,” dropping into a front split, sometimes painfully, because I wasn’t really warmed up, to which Joan would crack up. I would only show my pain to her. She found that hilarious. Our dance that semester was to “She’s a Beauty”, which remained “our song”.
Joan and I were in different social circles that would sometimes intersect. I would either have classes with her or her best friend, and we’d meet in the parking lot to gab before or between classes. Hang out sometimes on the weekends. I was with her when she had her first car accident — a stop sign tap that wasn’t a big deal, but she took it to heart. I adored her from the time I met her. She was smart, fun and beautiful, and could go from hilariously funny to deadly serious in a blink of an eye/change of subject. You had to be on your toes with her. After the graduation cruise, I lost sight of her. She was off to do great things. I was still dealing with the drummer.
Joan and I reconnected on Facebook in early 2008. Later that year, she would be diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. I would go up North that first year to stay with her and her family after chemo treatments, to hang out and help out. She would come down and stay with me for doctors appointments, or to celebrate my birthday. Her visits were extended slumber parties.
Joan, too, was beautiful and talented and intelligent and good, deserving of health and life and time. Yes, we were able to prepare and come to terms with the fact that her life had a briefer limit than we’d like. Still, her passing was just as unfair. No one so happy and loved, with a wonderful husband and amazing young son, should be taken that soon.
By the time we got news of Brad’s hospitalization, we felt that we were deserving of a victory. Like I said, it was time for the good guys to win. A full recovery, to go home happy and healthy and whole; we expected Brad to have that. We so wanted that.
Not only were these three extraordinary people gone, some of their histories were disappearing. That note not only belonged to Joan’s mother, but to Joan’s son. The conversations Brad and Edith could have had would one day belong to Joan’s son. What Katie fails to see is that she took something away from Brad and Edith, and Joan’s son.
Katie and I continued our comment exchange, then brought it back to Messenger. Her tone started to change. She said she would send the envelope (wherein, I was told, all the notes were collected). She asked for Edith’s street address, but I told her I only had the P.O. Box she had given. Katie started to ask me personal questions. Where did I live? Would I be attending Brad’s memorial? It was peculiar, but I answered her questions honestly and told her that my attendance at the memorial depended on the day it would be held. She said that, if I did go, I should say hi to her. I said I would and wished her a Merry Christmas. Seeing that the mission was nearly complete, I untagged everyone from that post and hid it in my timeline so only I could see it.
Three days later, I sent Katie another private message asking if, by chance, she had sent the letters to Edith, so I could let Edith know they were on their way. I immediately saw that she had read it, and then I was blocked.
I kept an eye out for Katie at Brad’s memorial. Only to say hi. Really. But, I didn’t see her. Not at the church or at the reception after. Maybe she was there, but I have my doubts.
Yesterday, I got a call from Edith. Two more months have passed and Edith still hasn’t received anything from Katie. And I think that says everything.
In my opinion, Katie is a ghoul who likes to insert herself in sad situations to make herself seem or feel important. If she does have those letters, if they even exist, she won’t let go of them. That would be a loss of control and power. She would lose some of that importance.
I feel sorry for Katie. I do. Clearly, she has issues. But that doesn’t change the fact that she is an asshole. Something we learn in preschool: You don’t keep something that doesn’t belong to you. Period. You don’t have the right to take away an opportunity you may not even understand is there. If you insert yourself into someone’s life, you have an obligation to follow through on your promises, to act honorably. Katie has done neither.
People may think that I’m an asshole, or a cyber bully, or that I’m completely batshit. That’s fine. Losing my shit on Facebook was far from my finest moment. But those who know me understand that I keep my word. That I stand up for my friends. That I don’t tolerate bullshit. And I don’t shy away from the truth.
If you know Katie in real life, encourage her to get help. And to get that envelope to Edith, even if it only contains an apology. Because, at this point, that’s the least she can deliver.
For those I offended when I lost my shit on Facebook, I do apologize. I’m sorry I dragged you into it. It wasn’t cool. It wasn’t okay. But, I would do it again. Because when I see something that wrong, I want to set it right. You may not agree with what I did; maybe now you’ll understand why it was done.