Miss Part 1? Read it here.
Note: While I believe “Cathy” was very likely mentally ill, I’d appreciate it if we could refrain from diagnosing her in the comments. Cathy was a terrible person and probably mentally ill. She wasn’t a terrible person because she was probably mentally ill.
Around the time my son was about to turn three, and when I was living in an entirely different city, Cathy called me from out of the blue. I don’t know why, exactly, I felt so happy to hear from her. Probably because despite making some wonderful friends in my new home, they didn’t have as many interests in common with me as Cathy did. That may have been due to a tendency she had to passionately adopt the interests and hobbies of those around her. It forced an intimacy between her and others, making it easier to manipulate them. I believe to this day that this was, if not intentional, at least something she was aware could work to her advantage.
I also didn’t have as many friends as I’d had before. Many of the people I knew from local theater had drifted away due to my association with Cathy, who had made bad impressions within the community. Other friends and acquaintances believed that I had shunned Cathy because of my then strong pro-life beliefs. At the time, I didn’t know this was the case. I’d simply thought that in moving away, I’d lost touch. Imagine my relief when an old friend had remembered me.
After we caught each other up on what had happened in the time since we’d last spoken, she said, “What I was calling you about was, Sam and I are engaged. And since you introduced us, I want you to be my maid of honor.”
I was so flattered by the request (and the idea that I had played matchmaker) that I accepted right away. I’d only ever been maid of honor once before in my life, at my mother’s wedding. My stepfather and his attendants wore cow-print vests under their tuxedo jackets and my mother went down the aisle barefoot under her giant Disney princess-esque dress. My grandfather gave her away with a shotgun tucked under his arm, and the whole thing took place in the woods behind my aunt’s house. I went into being Cathy’s bridesmaid woefully unprepared for what was in store.
The first alarm bell rang in that very phone conversation. I asked Cathy if they’d set a date yet, and she said it would be on July fifteenth, 2006. “July fifteenth, that’s my birthday!” I exclaimed happily.
There was a long silence.
Her voice went deathly cold. “No. It’s my wedding day.”
There was another long pause, in which I could hear my own breathing over the receiver. Klaxons in my brain went off frantically. What had I gotten myself into?
Then she laughed. “Just kidding!”
That was such a relief. Because obviously, even though I had seen her say whatever evil, selfish thing on her mind only to follow it up with “just kidding!” dozens of times before, she couldn’t possibly be using it that way toward me. I was her maid of honor!
Cathy and I started talking on the phone more often. By some stroke of diseased fate, Sam had a job working for an audiobook store that had two locations in the area. One of them was right at the end of our street, and Sam worked there every other Saturday. When those days lined up on weekends when they didn’t have Marvin, Cathy would come to Grand Rapids with Sam and spend the day with me. Most of the time, they stayed overnight so we could get drunk and play board games or watch movies.
A frequent topic of conversation was the wedding. Cathy would bring books with song and reading suggestions. “‘There Can Be Miracles’ from The Prince Of Egypt as a first dance song?” I asked incredulously, and Cathy quipped, “That’s what you play if two really ugly people were getting married.” We laughed so hard at some of the descriptions in the Pagan wedding book with vows that described the groom as “like unto Pan’s wild, sacred dance.” We had fun together. Sure, sometimes she said weird things, like, “What diet are you going to do to fit into your bridesmaid’s dress?” But I had come to terms with the fact that Cathy had inherited her mother’s lack of tact, and figured that the odd off remark was a fair trade for the good times we had.
Usually, I would send my son would go stay with a grandparent overnight so we didn’t have to bring him along on our outings. As I was a stay-at-home mom, I loved the days when Cathy and I could get out and do things that just weren’t as fun in mom-mode. We would go to new age stores, boutiques downtown, spend hours at Barnes & Noble or going to lunch somewhere that didn’t have a kid’s menu. It was such an important escape for me that it was a total bummer when I couldn’t find a babysitter for one Saturday. My son was very well behaved, though, so I had no problem bringing him with me to do our usual shopping and lunch date.
Cathy was sullen. “I’m sorry, I just consider this my ‘kid-free’ time,” she snapped. I don’t think she said a single word to my son all day, but she didn’t complain or act upset after her initial reaction. There were no major incidents during our day. My son rode in his stroller and occasionally needed to use the potty. Sure, he’d touched a few things and I’d had to remind him not to, but there weren’t any screaming tantrums or passive-aggressive seat kickings. So, it shocked me when, shortly after dinner that night, I heard Cathy bark a sharp, “no!” from the living room.
I looked in from the kitchen to see Mr. Jen picking up our son and taking him to his room, and Cathy and Sam scowling at each other. They didn’t notice me and tried to keep their voices down as they argued.
“Just chill out, okay? He’s three-years-old,” Sam whispered tersely.
“He was going to knock my bookmark out!” Cathy hissed back. “He’s been acting up all day long and she doesn’t do anything about it!”
“Oh, and you’re so great with Marvin.”
My jaw dropped. On one hand, I was furious that Cathy had yelled at my son for something as silly as almost knocking a bookmark out of her book. On the other hand, I was horrified that Sam would say something like that to her about her own child.
Mr. Jen came out of our son’s bedroom and said it would be better if we scrapped our drinking and trivia plans for the night. Cathy stormed off to the car, leaving Sam to apologize. “She’s been really stressed out over some stuff with Dan and Marvin,” he explained and said he would have her call me when she cooled down.
A couple of days went by before Cathy called. She apologized for snapping at my son and confessed that her visits with Marvin had been restricted by the court after he had been found wandering alone down a busy street downtown. When the police brought him back, Cathy had been so absorbed in reading a Harry Potter book that she hadn’t even noticed he was gone. “It was probably only an hour,” she said, as though losing a five-year-old for an hour was perfectly reasonable. “But now I only get to see him every other Sunday.” As a mother, I was horrified at the idea of becoming so distracted as to lose my child. I didn’t want to say, “I would never do something like that,” because I knew how disastrously brains could malfunction on tired parents. I’d once slept through my son flooding the bathroom by repeatedly flushing hand towels down the toilet. And I could sympathize, I supposed, with her lashing out at my son because she missed hers, or criticizing my parenting to feel better about her own. Our friendship wasn’t shattered by the incident. In fact, what bothered me most about it was how Sam had reacted, and how he’d used the incident against her the way he had. Sam was a dear friend to me, and I didn’t like the side of him I saw around Cathy.
Around this same time, I sold my first book. Cathy, an English major, was quick to remind all of our mutual friends that I’d written a “Harlequin.” My first book was a Harlequin. It was published by their women’s fiction imprint, Mira. I was and am still ferociously romance positive, so when she told me, “Oh, I thought you meant one of those secret baby books,” I was quick to inform her that I happened to like “those secret baby books,” and she insisted that she was “just kidding!” and didn’t judge anyone for what they liked to read. But Cathy did her best to downplay my first book sale. She told me she’d gone to my old literature professor to tell her the good news. “She remembered you! And she was so impressed that you’d written a book. I even told her, it’s just a Harlequin, but she was still really proud.” It was such a slap in the face, I convinced myself that I’d misheard, or Cathy had just phrased it wrong, that she was genuinely supportive of me but couldn’t express it well.
Around this time, my husband and I moved back to my hometown and bought the house I’d grown up it. Our son would have a big yard to play in, and we could even get a dog, something my husband had always dreamed about as a kid but, due to circumstances, was never able to do. Cathy and Sam helped us move, over the moon that we’d finally be close enough to their city to see each other more than a couple of times a month. We resumed our weekly karaoke nights with Sam and Cathy and our other friends. In May, Mr. Jen and I decided to get married.
When I told Cathy that we’d set a date for September, she grew icy. “But remember, my wedding comes first.” I was confused. Did she not hear me when I said we’d be having it in September? “I know. Ours is two months after yours.”
“No,” she replied. “I mean, mine comes first. You’re my maid of honor. You should be worrying about my day, not planning yours.”
I realized then that things were going downhill fast, and I had no idea how to get out. I could only hope things would go back to normal after the wedding.
Next up: Part 3, “The Bachelorette Implosion”