It started when, in a very hectic and busy moment one afternoon, my cell phone rang.
I glanced at the phone number, which was coming from a 407 area code – the Orlando region. I didn’t recognize the number, so I answered the call.
A very familiar male voice said, “So Mike, why have you been avoiding my calls?”
And I froze.
Anyone can understand, and easily relate to, moments like this. It’s kind of like getting caught changing clothes in your bedroom when a surprise party barges in. Or like having someone walk into the bathroom when you’re in there at the very moment when you desire privacy above all else. It can be embarrassing, and make you grimace, and leave you feeling totally humiliated. It’s one of those massive “Ooops” moments.
I had mere seconds to come up with a snappy response.
So I reverted, as quickly as possible, to the only thing I could think of doing: faking it.
“Hey, how are you doing?” I said, with so much forced, fake enthuiasm, so much phony Wow it’s great to hear from you cheer that I knew instantly how lame I sounded. So did he.
“Why have you been avoiding my calls?” he said again, his anger barely concealed, and I suspect the reason he said it was because … well, it was true. Wow, was it true. His number safely registered in my cell phone with his name on it, I could see when he was calling and conveniently refuse to accept it. If only, I thought, some folks could be good at taking hints, it would all have been so wonderfully easy for me.
Who would have thought he would have called under a different number that I didn’t recognize. I was cringing.
So I went to plan B: change the subject.
“Yeah, I haven’t heard from you in a while,” I said, again with as much fake sincerity as I could muster. I knew this one wasn’t going anywhere, either. I stumbled through a few more words that my tortured brain has mercifully blanked out by now, only to have him cut me off and then counterstrike. He laid on the guilt, in spades, about how in his hour of need I was avoiding him, cutting him off, abandoning him …
Then he reverted to the litany of delicate problems he was going through, the trials and tribulations that no one should have to endure …
So I finished this delightful torture session of a phone call in the only way I could: a complete and total act of cowardice — and surrender. I pledged my complete loyalty to him. When he called from now on, I swore passionately, I would definitely answer and be there for him.
Then I hung up, and felt like sobbing.
I’ve never been addicted to anything – cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, pills, gambling – so I have no idea what it feels like to go cold turkey. The closest I’ve ever come is trying to give up drinking coffee every morning, only to experience a week of caffeine-craving headaches that brought me dashing back to Dunkin’ Donuts in record time. But I suspect that with strong determination and plenty of aspirin, I could lick that one, too. Problem is, I love coffee.
Now I feel like I am going cold turkey after all. Not on coffee, tobacco, booze or hard drugs, but something else: friendship.
Talk about a weird feeling.
I’m blessed in this world to have a lot of friends, and I’ll admit, a lot of them give generously of themselves to me. And a lot of them don’t ask for much in return.
Having friends who are relaxed, well centered and drama-free is quite nice. Being with them is like sailing on a boat across a lake; the waters are always calm and smooth. Sometimes the conversations get a bit dull and repititious, because they don’t seek out problems in their lives, and calamities avoid them as well. We chit chat about pleasant surface stuff. There are worse situations.
But since these tend to make up the bulk of my friendships, I wonder sometimes if I occasionally look for friendships with people who … well, bring more to the table.
They can be exciting. Unpredictable. A bit wild. And, in their best moments, irresistably fun to be with. They take you to places you haven’t been to before. After spending so many days on the quiet side of town, it’s unbelievably exhilarating to walk on the wild side for a change.
But for every high moment that comes down the pike, you learn all too quickly that the drama doesn’t stop. And it isn’t all fun, either. The drama continues … in a lot of ways you never expected, or ever wanted to experience.
And you find yourself becoming the one they repeatedly turn to, sometimes in desperation, every time they step in it and can’t conveniently scrape it off their shoes.
I have three friends who seem to go from one manic crisis to the next. One of them I couldn’t abandon no matter how much trouble he gets into. Another one I’ve wanted to strangle for the past four years. And the third one – the one who called me in that underhanded manner, using a phone number I didn’t recognize – finally prompted me, in almost complete desperation, to make that fatal decision: It was time to go cold turkey.
It’s not easy. But after the umpteenth crisis phone call, followed by the heartfelt plea outlining his fears about the future and the tortured worries about the latest mess he’s gotten himself into, I found myself struggling to stay on the phone. I could feel the guilt soaring through me – why do such bad things happen to people I like and care about? What can I do to help? What if I drop everything and concentrate solely on helping him –
Wait. Hold it.
And then, waking up at 3 a.m., and lying there in bed in the darkness, feeling the tears roll down my cheeks, I knew I was in over my head. You can get too emotionally involved sometimes, for all the wrong reason. And I knew it was time to cut ties.
I did ignore his phone calls for days. I wanted him to get the hint. I couldn’t take his crisis-filled existance anymore. I couldn’t deal with it, emotionally, at this time in my life, being the constant support system that always comes to the rescue. Call it selfish of me … except everyone else I know has been telling me to cut ties with him ages ago, before he drags me down with him. Rather than telling me I was cold and heartless, my drama-free-friends were cheering me on. So I finally took their advice.
I figured it would be easy. Avoid him, he takes the hint, he goes away, life becomes sane again.
Until he tricked me and caught me off guard. Then he hit me with that tormented voice, about the troubles he’s confronting and the help he needs so badly …
I turned chicken. I threw in the towel after one crummy phone call.
Now I do know a bit about what addicts go through. Going cold turkey is rough. If it’s a friendship that you want to end, but your friend doesn’t, it’s painful knocking that monkey off your back. It clings to your sturdy shoulder … passionately, and quite mercilessly.
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