Tag Archives: friends

That Fateful Day

When people ask how my husband and I met, I tell them the Reader’s Digest Condensed (clean) version: At the Philadelphia Folk Festival, introduced by mutual friends. Which is true, as far as it goes. But it fails to capture the essence of the experience.

I’ll never forget my first sight of Dan. He was wearing a t-shirt that said Dr. Demento (which his coworkers at the psychiatric hospital had given him) and a patch over one eye. The patch was to cover a missing glasses lens, but it gave him a certain piratical air, and I’m known to have a weakness for pirates.

We were introduced by mutual friends, who had come with Dan to the Festival. We were all in front of the Alferd G. Packer Memorial Food Tent. (If that reference isn’t familiar to you, Packer was the leader of the Donner Party of explorers, who got lost and made a meal of one another. But I digress.)

Dan and I were on committees to help us pay our way, but we were on different ones. He was on the grounds committee, which had access to any part of the festival area and helped construct stages, booths, and the like. By the time the festival started, they had done their work and were free to enjoy themselves.

I was on the camping committee, which patrolled the tented area and its borders, making sure that no one set their tents on fire by letting their campfires burn out of control. (There was also a security committee, a tickets committee, a medical committee, and there must have been a food committee who set up the food tent, but I don’t want to think about that too much.)

I was also at the Festival with a group of friends, including Uncle Phil, my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Rex, and a good friend from college. Uncle Phil was the catalyst for all that ensued, as he was the person that nearly everyone in both groups knew. We and several other friends and acquaintances had tents around a shared, large campfire, where at night we talked, drank, made music, and sang.

That night at the campfire, Dan purposely sat next to me, though I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Later, when he had to excuse himself for a moment, he leaned over and kissed me. I clearly remember thinking, “Why is this man kissing me?” (I was a little slow, or maybe both fast and slow.)

That evening Dan invited me to take a walk with him, and his all-access Grounds pass got us into Dulcimer Grove, a small, isolated venue where small, intimate concerts and workshops were given. This time when Dan kissed me I had some idea of why. We were there a long time before we rejoined the campfire.

After that, Dan and I were inseparable (which mightily pissed off a number of the friends that we were there with). Dan even got me into the Grounds Committee compound, which had the marvelous amenity of a shower. An outdoor shower, but still. It was a luxury that existed nowhere else on the Festival site, to my knowledge. Of course, since he was so nice as to offer, I availed myself of it.

By the time the Festival was over, Dan and I were a couple. My by-then-ex boyfriend left for New Jersey with my college friend. I borrowed money from everyone I knew to get busfare back to Ithaca. Dan drove me to the bus station and gave me two gifts: an enameled necklace and a bag of banana chips. I don’t know what happened to the two people Dan had been there with, except that one of them eventually forgave us.

Dan and I saw each other again the next weekend. I had invited him to a large house party. Neither one of us attended it, which, believe me, was the better choice. Most of the same people from Philly were there, and it seemed best not to stir the pot. We had to make ourselves a little party of two, occupying a friend’s attic while the friend went to the house party.

Then we went our separate ways, he to Philly and me, soon after, back to Ohio to live. We maintained our long-distance relationship with letters, phone calls, and the occasional visit. (This was in the days before cellphones and texting.) Eventually, Dan moved out to Ohio (as I knew he would) and after a spell of actual dating, we married.

We have since been back to the Philly Folk Festival a few times, most notably on our honeymoon, but we have never made it back on any of our anniversaries, as jobs and such made it impossible to get away at the right time. Maybe for our 40th anniversary, next August.

Missing My Friend

Last week I received an answer to a query. An agent I had contacted about my mystery novel had asked to review my complete manuscript.

My first thought was, “I have to tell Robbin about this!” But I couldn’t.

No, Robbin doesn’t have COVID and she isn’t dead. But she had a severe stroke last month and is in a nursing home. I can’t visit her or even call her on the phone. 

Robbin has a limited range of motion on one side of her body. With the other hand, she keeps trying to pull out her trache tube, which has made her life a tennis match between hospital and nursing home. Hospital to insert the tube, and back to the nursing home until she pulls it out again. Evidently, the nursing home does not have personnel able to put in a trache.

Robbin’s daughter and husband have had “window visits” with her, and now Stu is allowed to visit her in person. Stu and Kelly phone me frequently to give me updates on her condition, though there isn’t really much to tell, except transfers to and from the hospital and occasional infections and fevers. The latest update was that they’re now treating her for pneumonia. None of it is in the least encouraging.

I fear I will never have my friend back again.

Robbin and I met when she applied for a temporary job at a publishing company where I was working. I remember seeing her credentials and editing test and thinking, “We’ve got a live one here!” She only worked at the company for a few months, but it was enough to bond us.

Robbin has been my partner in crime, my commiseration buddy, my writing cheerleader, and my test audience. We have compared notes on our mental and emotional states, bitched about our husbands, given each other gifts, talked for hours about everything or nothing much. We have crashed parties together. We have made rum balls together. (My contribution was to taste them and advise, “Needs more rum.”)

She has taken me shopping and dressed me up like her own personal Barbie. Until she came along, I didn’t know there were any colors other than beige, olive drab, and camo. She took my husband shopping too, when he needed a suit for his class reunion.

When a tornado destroyed our house and my husband and I were stuck in a Red Cross shelter, Robbin and Stu gave us a lift and the use of their credit card to get us into a motel, where we stayed for a number of weeks.

I gave Robbin the first cat she ever had (Norman), thus starting her on a long career as the local Crazy Cat Lady. We’ve supported each other and cried our way through many a feline illness and death, and reminisced about our little friends afterward. I know her cats and her little chihuahua Moochie are missing her too. (This cat would surely remind her of Sandy, or one of the many others she opened her heart and house to.)

Robbin has never been good at diplomacy. She says what she thinks and doesn’t sugarcoat it for anyone. You always know where you stand with her. She has a generous heart and a raucous laugh that I fear I will never hear again. Her absence is a hole in my life that no one else can fill.

I know that the odds are not good for her to recover from this, the second stroke she’s had. I know I will likely never get my friend back the way I knew her. And I know my feelings are as nothing compared to those of her husband and daughter.

But I wish I had the Robbin I knew back, even for just another phone call.

Someone You Know Is Mentally Ill


Let’s say you have five people in your family and another five who are close friends. Or four and six – enough to make up ten people in your life, anyway. Statistically speaking, two of those people will experience mental illness at some point in their life. Or the person experiencing mental illness could even be you. The National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that one in five – or maybe even one in four – people will experience mental illness. That’s 20% to 25% of Americans.

Don’t assume you know who those two people are. Many people with mental illnesses never talk about their difficulties because of the stigma attached to living with a mental disorder. Many others are high-functioning, able to have relationships and work and lead a relatively normal life, especially if they receive proper treatment. 

So, what are we talking about when we talk about “mental illness”?

We’re not talking about the person who straightens pictures and has a neat desk.

We’re not talking about the person who is sad after the death of a pet or grieving after the loss of a loved one.

We’re not talking about the person who is overly bubbly and laughing most of the time.

We’re not talking about the person who always seems to be on a diet, no matter how thin she is.

We’re not talking about the person who has some mood swings.

We’re not talking about the person who’s afraid of spiders and germs.

We are talking about people with serious mental conditions like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), major depression, mania, anorexia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. (There are other psychiatric illnesses, but they are much more rare.)

For harmless habits to be actual mental illnesses, they must persist over time and usually interfere with people’s abilities to accomplish the ordinary tasks of daily living. If a person’s depression lasts for weeks or months (or even years), he may have Major Depressive Disorder. Some of the symptoms are low mood, isolation, feeling hopeless or helpless, and changes in appetite. Of course, all those things happen to most of us at one time or another, but if they last for a long time and keep a person from going out or doing their work, they may be signs of a serious mental illness.

This is not to say that you can diagnose mental illness on your own. A psychiatrist or psychotherapist is needed to tell whether any condition is severe enough to be called a mental illness. And only a doctor can prescribe the medications that can alleviate the symptoms, lessen the effects, and help the person back to stability or mental health.

But if you do have a friend or loved one experiencing mental difficulties – and you probably do – what should you do?

If you are sufficiently close to the person, you could gently express concern and suggest that he might want to tell a doctor what is going on. With an acquaintance, it may be best to simply be understanding and supportive. Don’t be offended when she cancels an outing or can’t make it to a party. Her disorder may be preventing her from going, much as she would like to.

If the person seems to be in danger of harming himself, definitely have a talk with him. Tell him how worried you are and how you’re upset to see him suffering. If the situation warrants, make sure your friend has the number of a suicide hotline or knows that he can call you when he is having excessive bad feelings.

The best thing you can do, though, is to educate yourself about mental illness from reputable sources like NAMI. You’ll find that mental illness is treatable and not likely to lead to violence unless it is very severe. Don’t joke about mental illness. Once I did and it prevented someone with depression from speaking about her condition. Sharing our stories with each other might have brought us both connection and comfort.

Think of a mental illness the way you would think about a physical illness. If a person you know had a broken leg, you wouldn’t ask him to go skiing. If a person you know had cancer, you wouldn’t make jokes about it. If a person you know had the flu, you would understand and might offer to run errands.

Dealing with mental illness is not easy, but it is important. And I assure you, someone you know needs help and support. Think about how you can provide that. Then follow through. It’s often lonely having a mental illness. Do your best to be a good friend. That will help, even if your friend or loved one doesn’t acknowledge it at the time.

 

 

New Year’s: A Kiss, a Clink, and a Shaky Wallet

There are plenty of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day customs out there. A lot of the traditions don’t work for us. Over the years, we’ve kept a few but mostly arrived at our own.

One superstition says not to let anything leave the house on New Year’s Day, except for people. Evidently, this means one should take one’s garbage out on New Year’s Eve.  Now, I don’t know about you, but we can’t leave our trash just sitting out. We live in a wooded area and the possums and raccoons are more than capable of ripping open the bags and festively decorating the cul-de-sac with the contents. On the other hand, there’s also a superstition about avoiding paying bills on the holiday, which would be much easier and more pleasant for us to carry out but would mightily piss off our mortgage company.

And forget football and parades. We spend the entire football season as well as the parade season avoiding them religiously. I don’t really mind the giant balloons and the floats made of flowers, but if I hear one more pop song played on tubas, my head will explode. Forget Polar Bear Plunges too. All my Christmas gifts this year were things designed to keep every part of my body warm.

As far as celebrating New Year’s Eve goes, one of our celebrations has been to have a celebration at all. When my friends and I were all 18, my family invited one particularly close friend over to spend the evening with us for pink champagne, snacks, music, and general frivolity. She enjoyed herself so much that she gave up her previous New Year’s Eve ritual, which was babysitting for more fun-loving couples.

The same friend also gave us another memorable New Year’s Eve when she acquired a boyfriend. None of us had ever met him and we didn’t know how serious it was. Midnight at the party was an exercise in yoga. My husband and I had to kiss and clink our glasses at midnight while craning our necks trying to locate the new couple in the crowd and peek to see if they shared a kiss and if so, what kind. (Happy ending alert: After a few years they married.)

Another of our friends liked to share her own personal tradition with us. A small group gathered at her house to polish off her leftover Christmas cookies. Then we adjourned to her porch at midnight, where we serenaded the neighborhood with “Oh, Danny Boy.” I never did figure out what she had against “Auld Lang Syne.” Most likely, neither did the neighbors.

In the years that have gone by, my New Year’s Eves have gotten less and less festive. I just can’t stay awake that long. And my husband works third shift, so he’s not home at midnight. I generally sit at home, New Year’s Eve Grinch-like (or whatever the equivalent is), drinking champagne by myself and clinking the bottle with my glass, maybe listening to a little music, and going to bed at nine or ten. If that sounds pathetic, maybe it is. But it’s my tradition and I’m sticking to it.

My husband’s family has a New Year’s Eve tradition that to my knowledge he’s never missed. Every year he calls his mother at midnight (after sneaking away to the break room) and the two of them shake their wallets (or purses). This is meant to ensure prosperity in the coming year. Spoiler alert: It has never been known to work. Yet they persist. Since I don’t generally take my purse to bed with me, I miss out on the shake-your-money-maker fun.

The next day Dan insists we have pork and cabbage, but I participate only if there’s cole slaw involved.

I loathe even the smell of sauerkraut. I don’t care how traditional it is.