Today my dearest and closest friend - actually the only person I called friend amidst a sea of acquaintances - left town. For how long? Unknown. What happened to cause her to flee in fear so abruptly? Unknown but I have my suspicions. Will she return? Unknown. Do I want to find out what becomes of her? Unknown but I have my leanings as of this writing. This is a front row seat to a friendship unraveled, crashed and burning.
Care to read on? Well then, read on.
I met Amie in 1996. We went to the same non-denominational church for a while. (I joined in 1993, Amie in 1986.) We ended up in the same bible study group, started talking after these groups met and really hit it off. She was not in a happy place in her life and I was one of the rare people (her words) who really knew how to listen and not hit her up with bible passages, or advice to fix her. Just listened. I too was not in a happy place in my life and she was willing to listen to me and not try to fix my life or spout bible passages as a band-aid to the deep wounds I'd suffered with career and relationship collapses. We enjoyed each others company, movies, going out to dinner, theater, museums, walking around the Reservoir in Central Park and catching brunch to catch up. We also loved to talk politics, current events, and fashion. She had been in high end retail, knew a ton about it so I always learned from her about the latest trends. And she loved to shop! She was a frequent flyer at Century 21 downtown and Filene's on West 79th Street before they closed their doors. Me not so much but I indulged her passion and went into these places with her sometimes because we were friends and that's what friends do for one another. We also took a few trips together that were tons of fun: to the Shore in Cape May in '04 and Orlando in '05. We were "next door" when Katrina hit. Good times before the tragedy in New Orleans.
In 2003 I left that hellhole of a church because I was convinced that place was draining my life from me. Best thing I could have done for myself at that time and I counted that day in March as me truly being born again. Amie stayed on for another year because the hellhole was undergoing massive shakeups and she wasn't sure what to do or where to go. I'm glad she came to her senses and got out of there. The dogma, oppression, hopelessness and shaming to keep the flock "faithful" was something I'd witnessed and spoken up about on a number of occasions. I got leveled by leadership, marginalized and my reputation there was sullied because I dared speak up and tell the truth about what ways the flock WASN'T living according to the bible. Or more to the point: leaders had their own set of rules and the peons had the punitive rules. I stayed for 10 years (1993 - 2003) because through that experience of utter oppression I was finally able to stand up for myself and speak out and I really bought into the notion that the place was the so-called "one true church". I no longer believe that and see it for the controlling bunk that it is. Also I had started therapy in 1999 and felt strong enough via my many sessions to stand up and speak out. I really needed to face down the damage that emotional, physical and sexual abuse I had suffered from ages 4 - 14 had wrought. I was blessed with a great therapist and got the job "done" well enough by 2008 to stop going. Nine years? Yep. Let's just say I had some pretty awful moments as a kid. But moving on...
To the best of my recollection it was around this time that I either saw things in Amie that I'd never seen before, or she had started to change, to spiral downward ever so slowly. These downward trajectories rarely hit at the speed of light or sound. Nor are they so obvious that you can walk away saying, "Whoa, something's up with Amie!" Alas these revelations or witnessed changes are subtle so that in the moments when they happen, linger there until time moves them into the past, then slip into memory, I found myself thinking, "Hmmm..." Not a "Hmmm, Amie just revealed something disturbing about herself," or "Hmmm, Amie seems to be changing as a person." It's just "Hmmm..." Food for later thought.
It was on one of our Sunday walks around the Reservoir in Central Park around 2005 that I noticed Amie was like a dog with a bone and wasn't about to let go of it. To her detriment. She had sued for gender and racial discrimination and settled with her former employer, a high end retailer with stores around the globe and deep pockets. I thought the mere fact that she fiorded the streams of this suit - and it got pretty rough at times - and won a settlement was a good thing. Great, now she could take that money and move on. As the Fates would have it, about two weeks later, a high profile celebrity was discriminated against by staffers at this same retailer and it was all over the news for a little while. Then it went away. But I think Amie felt like that settlement ship had returned to port and surely NOW she would be able to get even MORE money because she was never convinced her original settlement was anywhere near enough. So she looked for ways to mount another suit, or to try to sue the attorney she had originally worked with when she got her settlement, theme and variation ad nauseum. She also made the naive assumption that she would be able to find another job in the high end retail industry as if nothing had happened. She applied for roughly a dozen positions before she realized a pattern was emerging and that she had been blackballed. I suggested that she take her settlement money, go back to school and start over again someplace as far, far away from retail as she could get. This was the beginning of the many, many times that she went deaf to helpful, wise counsel from a friend. Instead of moving on she consulted attorney after attorney, firm after firm to see if these potential employers or her former employer could be sued again. I suggested that if she spent as much time on finding a new career path as she did on trying to sue someone she might be able to start over again sooner and that it would be a more productive use of her time. Of course she didn't listen.
These efforts to both try to mount lawsuits while still applying for high end retail and regular retail jobs continued for about 18 months. Thus was the emergence of Lawsuit Lady. I shook my head at the time and thought "How sad but maybe once she gets a job things will be different." Not so.
Amie was able to land a gig selling life insurance and studied and got two of the Series Exams certifications to be able to be licensed to do so. I thought things were looking up. She lost that job because her mentor and boss took a sudden dislike to her. Amie felt that it was because she was jealous of her. I'd met her boss and agreed that was most likely true. She landed at another life insurance and financial investment vehicle concern and things there went from bad to worse. I really can't divulge details because it's very likely some type of open investigation into that particular firm is still open. Suffice to say Amie moved on. She was of course very, very discouraged and I once again suggested that she go back to school, reinvent herself and start all over again. She had enough of a nestegg to be able to be able to do so and my sense was that the time was right. She needed time to step back, regroup and then move on.
She started seeing her mentor at the second insurance and financial investment firm, a millionaire mover and shaker type who was very successful in his sales career, and was a bundler who bundled tons of money for the Obama campaign 2004. Amie was smitten and wanted me to meet him. After he left - pretty much in the middle of brunch for a meeting - she asked me what I thought of him. I told her she wasn't going to like what I had to say but she wanted to know anyway. Basically I called him a scumbag in a fancy suit. I told her I thought he was disrespectful, condescending and borderline rude and bullying to her at brunch and if that's how he treated her within five minutes of meeting me - then I can't even imagine how he'd treat her when in private. I further told her I have a bad feeling about this guy and no wonder he's so successful in sales: he bullies people more subtly of course into buying product from him. Needless to say, at some point after he had beaten on her on three separate occasions, she left him. I never said "I told you so." I was her soft landing.
So now I add Dangerously Naive Taste in Men Lady to Lawsuit Lady. Two disturbing things I never knew about or saw in Amie before. She was totally incapable of handling the real world after that hideous "church" experience. Or maybe in general.
Sometimes you just never know what people are going to become obsessed with, or nearly obsessed with. I knew Amie had a years-long ardent desire to own her own condo. It was her dream. Sad how the worm can turn.
Somewhere around late 2006 or so, roughly a year after Amie got her settlement an opportunity to enter a lottery to bid on a brand spanking new condo up in Harlem appeared. She put her name in and got "lucky" and won a 'ticket" to bid on a new condo. I think that was about the time when any rational, objective thinking when it came to this shiny new treasure and dream come true left Amie. Completely and utterly. From the get-go I thought it was a bad idea and I told her so. She did NOT have a job with a steady stream of income at the time and was just barely starting to get established in a life insurance and investment vehicles career/job. She showed me pictures of the place and told me that the studios were all sold out, that the only places left to sell were the 2-bedroom units. I never could get a ballpark price on them so I stopped asking. I suggested she wait 3-5 years, until her client base was established and growing before she make a commitment like the condo. I told her there would always be places to buy in New York City. Of course my words fell on deaf ears.
Amie moved in to her 2-bedroom condo in Harlem, with onsite gym and other nice amenities in the spring of 2007. In 2008 the real estate bubble burst. She still wasn't working a salaried position not for lack of trying to find something and was living off her nestegg and unemployment. She would become one of the 99ers. And more. Much, much more. Times got tight. Amie blew through most of her nestegg and ran into some real trouble with credit card debt. Over time she revealed that she had six cards with balances in addition to monthly mortgage and maintenance fees that were getting harder and harder to pay. She applied for and was able to find some relief through food stamps and food pantries. Creditors started calling. Amie quit answering the phone. First the calls were about credit cards. Then the mortgage people started calling. Amie still didn't answer the phone. She also was unable to pay maintenance on the condo.
That's when things got more difficult for me to understand how or why Amie was making the choices she was making. Her mom suggested she take a person in to rent out the second bedroom she had in the condo to help her at least pay maintenance fees, if not the mortgage. No sale on that idea. Her reason? She wanted to live by herself. I thought it was crazy and silly that Amie wasn't willing to bite the bullet for a while but she thumbed down that idea entirely. She gave refinancing the place some thought. She couldn't refinance for two reasons: 1) she had no viable stream of steady income to pay the NEW mortgage and 2) she complained that the value of her property had tanked so she didn't want to take the loss on it and wanted to wait til the real estate market corrected. Whatever.
When she started to get delinquency notices of no payment on her mortgage, instead of pounding the pavement to find ANY kind of job (waitress, nanny, hostess, bartender, barista at a coffee place, etc...) she started to delve headlong into what her legal rights were as a homeowner and someone who had been DUPED BY THE MORTGAGE companies into purchasing her condo. I could barely believe what I was hearing but there it was. She called attorneys of all stripes presenting herself like she was some sort of victim and surely there had to be a way out. Firms and non-profit organizations alike got the Amie story. I suggested to her that if she spent half as much time hitting the streets, picking a neighborhood and at least trying to find any kind of a job, then she could possibly do bankruptcy as a way out.
Amie didn't hit the streets and knock on doors to find a job but she did consult a bankruptcy attorney who told her she has to have some type of income stream ( i.e. A J-O-B) in order to even begin to qualify for bankruptcy. And again, Amie's complaint was by the time the creditors got paid she would have very little to start over again with. I told her that even a little would be better, and you'd be out from under that burden of callers right? No sale. Amie dug in even harder to find some way to take action against the loan company/s and insisted that she was being unjustly treated.
Don't get me wrong I know that times are tough out there, very tough. But I do know that Amie would spend far more time looking for legal loopholes and ways to blame someone else for her troubles. I got very, very sick of hearing the self-serving woe-is-me story. And I told her flat out one day that she shouldn't try to peddle that story to me. I reminded her that I told her to wait, to NOT buy the darn condo. Who even thinks about buying a condo when you have no steady income? Reality check. She didn't want to hear that. Even up to a few days ago, she was still talking about how the bank abandoned it's fiduciary responsibility to her by approving a loan/mortgage she couldn't afford. I said are you kidding me? The buck stops with you. You had no business ever, ever, ever even thinking about buying a condo back then.
Amie had to start making appearances in court. First for credit card debt to see if she could get it wiped off her record, some of the charges were very old so she was successful in some way. Then she also had to begin appearing because she was had not been making mortgage payments. Long story short: as of Sept. 2011 no settlement agreement had been reached so it could go to a foreclosure trial any time now. It's been more than a year so my guess is there's such a huge stack of foreclosures before her that they haven't gotten to her yet.
Here's where the worm turns and we get into weird scary turf. For some time maybe spring of 2011 Amie insists that she is being followed, that she has had electronic surveillance devices planted in her condo, that staffers have unfettered access to her place, things and monies have been stolen, that she has experienced burning sensations when she lay in her bed, used a face cream and put on a shoe and experienced seriously bad burning sensations. She did contact the cops but there is no evidence to support what (may) be happening.
I want to believe her. This whole thing is going way weird and crazy. Is she being harassed so she leaves the condo? Who's to say? But even after suggesting she do what she needs to do to get out of that place, she still stayed on. That is, until Monday morning.
Last weekend, Saturday to be exact we spent time together. We grabbed a burger at one of our favorite haunts and then did a movie. When Amie got to the table she asked the waitress for a piece of tin foil. When the waitress handed it to her she proceeded to pop out her cell phone battery and wrap it in the foil saying, "Now they can't find out where I am." I got the strangest knot in my stomach that never left me the whole visit. Amie thought a couple from the restaurant was following us. They weren't. She also thought that some weird man followed us in the movie theater. He didn't. Although he was a bit odd. She thought a couple lingered too long outside the restroom and that she was being followed. She wasn't. After the movie, I walked her to the bustop, gave her a kiss on the cheek, told her to call or txt me when she got in so I know she made it there ok, and made sure she got on the bus. I shook my head, saddened and unsettled that my friend was so paranoid. She called and left a voicemail message letting me know she made it in ok and that she lost her glasses in a way that intimated someone at the movie theater stole them on purpose. I couldn't help but think none of this would have happened if Amie had listened to any of my advice. She never did. Not once.
Monday morning I received a series of frantic, fearful texts from Amie. She let me know her mom and her uncle were going to pick her up and drive her down to MD. Could I send her the cash I had been holding for her? (Condo people had stolen about $500 or so in cash from her unit.) She was so rattled that at first she txtd mail it. Then she said no let's meet. Then no let's NOT meet because "they are desperate to separate me from my parcel". Then she txtd she would pick up her money once her mom and uncle pick her up, and she would swing by my job.
My stomach went into my feet and I could feel the adrenaline sting the sides of my cheeks. I left work, hopped the subway home, collected the cash, prayed for a cab which was right there for me when I walked out of my building. I rode to the post office, did money orders (NO cash through the mail, ever!) and sent it out via USPS Express Mail to the address Amie gave me to her mom's house. When that was done I txtd her back saying DO NOT COME TO MY JOB and letting her know I sent postal money orders via USPS Express Mail to her mom's address in MD. I told her that if anyone approached or accosted me with regards to her whereabouts I would let them know her mom's address and that I wanted no part in this madness anymore. I told her once she confirms that she got the express mail envelope DO NOT CONTACT ME. And do not use my name as a reference. Her reply? "OK sorry 4 that."
I don't know what happened to freak her out between Saturday night when I left her until Monday morning when she txtd me that her mom and her uncle were supposedly picking her up somewhere outside the neighborhood of her condo on Tuesday morning. It's only a guess. Whatever it was was frightening enough to flee and as quickly as she could possibly arrange it. So far no confirmation about whether she got the envelope or not. I pray it made it there ok so I can put some distance between me and this situation. I pray she, her mom and her uncle made it safely to MD. I'm going to wait to hear from Amie. At least for now.
I don't know if I'm in any trouble or not with whomever. The harassers I mean. Amie sounded scared to the point of paranoia last time I saw her. Was she being harassed? If so by whom? Do I need to be concerned for my safety for merely being her friend?
I really tried to be a good friend over the years, especially after things started to fall apart for her. But I wonder: is letting go of Amie the best thing? I think so. She needs therapy. I don't understand how someone can be so obsessed with something that is clearly destroying them, utterly and completely and not LET GO. I really never knew Amie. I never knew she'd ruin herself and start to pull me in too. I wanted to pull out many times but I hung in thinking "I'm the only friend she has left." That was probably stupid. Stupid and sentimental.
Sorry for this super long diary. I really needed to get this out in writing. If you went the distance and got to the bottom of this diary. Thanks.