Yesterday afternoon my cell phone rang. I look at the caller ID… It’s a friend who I haven’t talked with in over a year. You know, one of those lifetime, childhood friends who lives out of town. Not a best friend, but the kind you can ‘pick up where you left off’ with when they call. You stay with them when you visit the area they live in, they call you for lunch when they come back home to visit family. Not necessarily the kind of friend you’d socialize with regularly if they still lived in the same town as you, but a still a friend you would count on if you had to. At the same time, the kind of friend you hold at arm’s length, never getting too personal because you’re not sure how much you can really trust them. Does this make any sense?
This particular friend – I’ll call her Katie – is that kind of friend. She’d always had a reputation for being prone to exaggeration. Putting on airs. Most of the things that happened to her seemed so fantastical that none of us ever really believed her. I don’t remember ever calling her on a story though, it was just a part of who she is and a pretty good source of entertainment most of the time… “Hey, did you hear what Katie did?” It’s still that way – every conversation has a fantastic story.
Katie has lived in the south for more than 20 years now and I’ve visited her three or four times. She’s been back home a half-dozen times in those years with her family and we’ve seen each other then. Her husband Wayne is a peach of a guy and they have three girls.
In the time I’ve known her, Katie’s had a myriad of mysterious physical problems. She was always sick.
Congenital defects in her knees requiring a series of surgeries when we were teens. It never slowed her down, she’d roller skate or drive with casts on her legs.
Accidents. After the knees got fixed, she was in a bar and a big, drunk guy fell over on her. Both knees got messed up again.
Asthma, and other conditions requiring steroids.
Three very rocky pregnancies. Actually, she wasn’t supposed to have any more children after the first.
Big weight gain or loss. It seemed like every time I saw her I was shocked by her size, whatever it was.
Katie was underage when the guy fell on her knees so the family sued the bar and she got a big settlement. Because of the money, she’s never really had to work much and has been an artist and collector through the years, dabbling in art shows, antiques and eBay.
The last time I visited her was in the fall of 2001. I’d gone to a conference in her city and stayed at her house. She was mostly bedridden and had blown up like a balloon again. She was having problems breathing and getting around. No definitive diagnosis, she’d told me over lunch at RoadHouse.
Since then, I’ve talked to her only a few times. Chit-chat and catch up, ending with “Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well (again), I hope everything goes okay. Take care of yourself.” Despite knowing that she does have problems, I’ve not ever taken her too seriously because of her history of exaggeration. As terrible as this sounds, I always figured if she was really at death’s door, I’d hear from her husband.
The last time I talked to her before yesterday, I found out she’d been in town for nearly three months and hadn’t called me. She’d come up here because her 85 year old dad’s girlfriend of 22 years had died, and she was taking care of him for a while. Then she got sick(er) while she was here. At the time I was a bit suprised that she hadn’t contacted me and gave her a bit of jesting grief over it.
Yesterday on the phone she told me that after we’d last talked that she’d gotten so sick that she was truly at death’s door several times. I’ve lost track of how many times now that she’s actually been rescusitated over the years. But, the doctors have finally been able to diagnose her problem: It’s h y p 0 – g @ m m a – g l 0 b u l i n – @ n e m i a, a rare bl0od disease. Phew. She tells me that as long as she has special treatments (g @ m m a – g l 0 b u l i n – i n f u s i 0 n s) for it, she can function okay most days.
So then, after she’d gotten well enough to function, her dad came to live with her. He’d been living with one of his former partner’s daughters but now that Katie was well enough, he should live with her. I don’t recall if Katie mentioned whose idea this was – hers, her dad’s or the partner’s daughter.
Some time passes, and Katie’s been seeing a counselor for the issues she’s had with her illness and in her marriage. Then one day, Katie tells me that her 12 year old daughter Susie asks if she can go to see the counselor with Katie. At the counselor’s office, Susie tells her mother that grandpa molested her. (Holy shit. I can’t believe she’s telling me this on the phone.)
Katie drops Susie off at a friend’s house and immediately goes home to get her other two daughters, and takes them to a friend’s house. Then she goes home and has her dad arrested. (Now I am fuzzy on the details of what she said because I was too in shock over the fact that an 85 year old would do this to his grandchild.) Apparently, he spends the weekend in jail, then sees a judge and posts a small bond to be released. He then leaves town, skipping subsequent court obligations and is now basically a fugitive. Supposedly, he came back north here and Katie tried to have him arrested here but there was some jurisdictional problem and he has since disappeared. She doesn’t know where he is.
I asked Katie how she confirmed this happened before she had her dad arrested. He admitted it when confronted, she told me. Then Katie tells me her mother, who is currently in a nursing home with a broken hip, told her that her dad has had this “problem” for years. That he is, in fact, a confirmed ped0phile. Katie said it also made sense in light of the fact that the daughter of the partner seemed anxious to have Katie’s dad out of her house. The woman also has a 12 year old daughter.
I said, “Katie! What about when you were a kid? If your dad had this history, did anything happen to you?” She doesn’t remember if anything did or not, but “you know that my house was weird,” she said. She speculated that this might have been why she lost her closest neighborhood friend Abby. They were both 11 and best of friends, then one day Abby wouldn’t talk to her anymore.
I remembered going camping with Katie and her parents once when we were pre-teens, but nothing happened. I remember her dad as being pretty nice but her mom being pretty pissed off about something the whole weekend.
I’m like, wow. Then Katie has to hang up, and we promise once again to “keep in touch.”