Life is so short and there are stories yet to be told. Stories, in the writing, that seem of no great worth, but nevertheless intriguing because they sketch human behavior in ways never anticipated.
Things happen that aren’t supposed to happen. Even the best of times are threatened by the instability of fault lines hidden somewhere that can shatter crystal, crack solid ground, and shake up security so that what once was, no longer is. Such is the situation in this story.
And so I tell it to show how deception can happen without a deceiver, and theft can happen without a thief.
I. THE NECKLACE AND THE PORTRAIT
It all started when girlfriend, Jane, and I were at Summer Camp. One afternoon we were sprawled on Jane's bunk having a merry chat when a Camp Counselor came to the dorm and announced that Jane was wanted at the grounds gate.
Now it may not be important to the story, but I must tell you about Jane. She could have easily doubled for Sophia Loren. She had large dark eyes, lovely tawny glowing skin, a tiny pinched waist, and massive hair that she back-combed and twirled till it was in an impossible state of casual muss and flattering beauty. She had a lovely figure, a very straight back, and she walked with delightful prancing steps.
So on this particular day, when the message came that she was wanted at the gate, Jane gave that massive head of hair another scramble with her slim fingers and pranced with her special grace of movement out the door.
I was curious who might be at the gate but I could only think that it was relatives come to bring Jane a message from home. I knew her Mother had been very ill and that the message could be dire, so I waited patiently where I was. Thinking that whatever the message was, it was likely to be a private matter. But when Jane was gone for such a long time, I finally went to investigate.
She was not at the gate but two younger children in the vicinity told me that a tall girl with too much hair had driven away with a ‘cute’ guy with blue eyes and blond hair.
Who? What? How could this happen? This is most mysterious. All Jane’s tribe are tawny skinned like her. With dark eyes and dark hair, so who could it be? Mysterious, too much — because obviously, if there was a fellow in Jane’s life, she would have told me. I knew that because Jane and I share every thought, happening, and minute of our lives, and she never told me about any blond fellow.
Considerable time passed. In fact I was back in the bunkhouse washing up for the evening meal when Jane finally came dancing in the door. Looking so pert in her snug sweater and blue jeans. But she had on something else that she was not wearing when she left. Around her neck was a glistening gold chain, and from that striking chain hung an even more striking green stone set in gold filigree.
I gasped at the beauty of Jane’s necklace as she twirled about the room in a frenzy of joy. Her emerald flickering and tossing around flashes of light.
“Where did you get that?” I asked.
As I said before, Jane and I were best friends. Our friendship was a strict synergy of two impoverished teenage girls. A friendship of two rooted in the same fruitless and insignificance that found meaning and import by clinging to each other. The whole context of our existence was in shared simplicity and sameness. And mutually it was well understood that we only get to look from afar at the finer things life has to offer. Neither, wishing for or expecting, dazzling gems like the one that now adored Jane’s breast.
In response to my question, Jane said simply but with too much gaiety, “Gary gave it to me.”
Now before I tell you how I reacted to Jane’s response and sudden rise in posterity with that necklace, I must first relate to you my own limited experience with “boy friends” and gifts.
Only a few months before the situation of the emerald necklace, I met a fellow, Matthew, at a friend’s house. There was no sparks, and I had no interest in him but I made an effort to be sociable and polite. And somehow out of that effort, came a long conversation between Matthew and I. About nothing more than paintings and abstract art. But somehow, from that abstraction, came an invitation for me to go to the movies with him.
I knew I shouldn’t go, but I loved that feel-good flush when I could announce to my friends, “Can’t go for a pop with you tonight. I have a date. We’re going to the movies.”
And then later, even more feel-good endorphins, when my friends show up at the movie theater to see if what I said was true, and it is.
So Matthew and I went to the movies and a week later he again invited me to the movies. Again I went, but this time, after the movie, when Matthew delivered me to my door, he passed me a lovely gift-wrapped package that I quickly opened with much excitement and anticipation while Matthew cautioned me to careful. “It’s fragile,” he said.
That anticipation was soon ended. I wished I hadn’t been so careful. Inside was a small teddy bear and an overly large framed photo of Matthew.
I was rather taken aback. Quite honestly, I was shocked. Rather than say anything untoward, I told him quite insincerely (though the tiny bear was cute), how beautiful his gifts were and took them home. But when I got home, and contemplated what was going on, I decided that obviously he was reading something into our friendship that absolutely wasn’t there. So a few days later, I called him and told him I needed to talk to him.
Now if there was any chance of me becoming romantically interested in Matthew, (which there wasn’t), it was certainly out the window when he gave me that picture of himself, with a gilded frame, looking way too elegant in a three-piece suit. I guess to some it would have been a nice picture, maybe to his parents, but it wasn’t to me. The picture set off a clanging echo in my head of someone with way to much ego to be a caring and authentic friend. So when Matthew came to my place in response to my phone call, I met him on the step with a brown paper bag. In that bag was the portrait and the teddy bear.
“Matthew,” I said, “I want to give these things back to you.” And then, trying to be firm yet dignified, I said, “My place is very small. I really don’t have a nice place to display them. So I would like you to take them back.”
Well nothing prepared me for what happened next. Matthew, a six-foot tall Hulk-Hogan, folded right there and began to silently weep and then softly sniffle and then actually sob.
‘Oh for cryin’ out loud. Now what do I do?’
Despite my astonishment and bewilderment I had a determination, and I must not let it be derailed. Not knowing what else to do, I pushed the bag back at him with a rather vicious shove. “Don’t drop it,” I said, “it might break!” Then I quickly ran back inside and shut the door.
Behind the curtain I watched him leave. I felt sad, bad, and yes, rather awed at what had just taken place as I secretly watched him shuffle to his car, mopping his face with his sleeve. Was I to blame for such a mix of misery and affliction or was this all a simple misunderstanding?
I suppose I was to blame for agreeing to go to the movies in the first place. But surely it was right of me to attempt to correct that error by doing the honorable thing and returning his gifts. Maybe it wasn’t even an error on my part. Maybe the error was his.
The stupidity of giving me a picture of himself. That made ‘the return’ a whole lot more personal than I wanted it to be. It’s not possible to explain why one doesn’t want a picture. How hard can it be to break up a casual friendship? It’s easy. That is, as long as there are no bloody pictures involved. The old phrases that work well for other things don’t work for photos. i.e. – I’m allergic to stuffed animals, neck scarves, and jewelry…and like, glass and photo paper?
There just isn’t a charitable way to return a photo without causing pain to those types that are bent on giving you one. You either give it back or tear it up. And even common vulgarity cannot deliver the wrenching blow that those acts deliver. But enough already, about Hulk Hogan and his tears. It’s bloody time to get back to Jane’s necklace.
So now, in response to my question of who gave it to her, she said, matter-of-factly, “Gary did.”
“And who is Gary?” I asked, wanting to yell and stomp my feet with frustration. I’m standing here with my closest friend, who has suddenly split, without notice or conscience, the weld that had for most of our young lives lent strength to both of us. And who neglected to share with me, despite our special alliance, any whispered details about a young man, obviously pertinent to her life, that she was involved with. And who didn’t think enough of me to introduce me to him while he was there. And now flaunting that necklace.
That is a lot of betrayals all packed in together. I suppose there isn’t much point in telling you I’m not normally aggressive, but in that moment I wanted to slap her silly.
She went on, “Gary is just a guy. Nobody special. But he’s crazy about me. He totally worships and adores me. Problem is—and that would be his problem, not mine—is that I don’t feel the same about him,” she added, as her bottom lip curled with visible contempt.
I suddenly felt as if I was having this conversation with a stranger that I had just met. Could such evil rawness be coming from my friend, Jane? I could hardly believe she could be so blatantly insensitive to a young man’s devotion and no doubt, naïve vulnerability. And, although at the time, I made no conscious connection in my mind between her situation and the unraveling of my friendship with Matthew, I suddenly felt a compassionate and aching sensitivity that focused on Gary. Even though I had never seen him, met him, or known him.
I guess even the mutual understanding, of seemingly kindred spirits, cannot alter the fact that young women are competitive with each other. Unfortunately, I had nothing I could compete with except the old stand-by of my own self-righteousness. So I curled my own bottom lip with a sneer while breathing a silent supplication that I was certain would make me feel so much better than her with her gleaming golden chain.
“Lord, let me find love. Let me be happy. But never let it be Jane’s way.”
It was truly unfortunate, but amidst Jane’s gladness, and my sadness, our close friendship was irredeemably altered that day. The trusting openness we shared left in tattered shreds.
And soon after that the Jane and Gary thing ended as well. It was not Jane who told me. The news came on some other incoming wind. So I didn’t know why or how it happened. I could only assume her deceitfulness tripped her up and eventually Gary caught on.
When circumstances make it quite impossible to compete with other’s successes, human nature offers us comfort and a counter-balancing defense though self-righteousness. Self-righteousness provides an internalization of soul-talk that whispers stroking words of adoration heavily punctuated with slanderous things about the competition.
And so now, I and my self-righteousness, jointly decided we are indeed pleased and fairly certain, that when the Jane and Gary thing ended, it was not Jane that made the cut.
…the saga continues…
NEXT POST: Dreams and Stardust