I’ve changed the title of his installment, as I realized I had swapped some things on the timeline. “It’s All Right Here Waiting For Me” will be the title of part ten.
On Cathy’s last day in Kalamazoo, she wanted to meet up to return some things she’d borrowed from me. Because my son attended school downtown, I suggested we meet for coffee. She arrived with my things, and an addition: copies of my books that I had signed and given to her, with personal messages about our friendship written inside. She didn’t need them, she explained, because she didn’t have room to take them with her. She needed that space for “real” books.
Two things happened during this meeting that made the entire ordeal worth it. The first is incredibly petty on my part, but I’ll never get tired of remembering it. Cathy, who prided herself on her intelligence and her vast knowledge of the English language, admitted that she had no idea what “dichotomy” meant, despite seven years of studying and writing papers on literature.
The second was…I don’t want to say it was magical. Because it was more horrifying than anything. But it did provide me with some small measure of intense satisfaction.
We met Cathy’s behavioral doppelganger. And she treated Cathy exactly the way Cathy treated everyone else.
Cathy was in the middle of recounting how she’d gone to say goodbye to her son and how he’d “manipulated” and “tried to trap” her by crying and clinging to her as she left for what would likely be the last time he would ever see her, when the door to the coffee shop opened and a woman a little younger than us stepped inside. She spotted Cathy. Cathy spotted her. And while it’s somewhat misogynistic to compare competitive women to cats, there’s really no other metaphor for the way they looked at each other, like two strays who don’t care for each other much and must maintain frozen eye contact to judge the other’s intentions.
After a beat of this very unfriendly glaring, both of them pasted on identical smiles and uttered extended, upward tilted, “Hey!”s of forced enthusiasm. They hugged like old friends and Cathy invited the woman to our table.
I don’t remember much about the other woman besides that she was blonde and had a lot of anti-capitalist slogans on pins and patches on her coat, but she was carrying a giant Coach bag. She––I’ll call her Tori, which I hopefully haven’t used yet––and Cathy had been roommates before we’d ever met, so they chatted a bit about mutual friends from days gone by. Of one of them, Tori said, “Oh, he got married to Maggie. But it lasted less than a year. Can you believe that? What kind of a loser can’t make their marriage last more than a year?”
My husband nearly choked on his scone.
It became obvious to me from the way Tori steered the conversation that she knew much more about what was going on with Cathy than she let on. “I heard you were moving,” she said, and then, with a laugh, “If you met him on the internet, can I slap you?”
Watching their exchange take place was like seeing the face of God and finding out that God is a huge a-hole. Because I was so entranced, I took notes on my Blackberry under the guise of answering an urgent email. When Cathy informed Tori she’d be moving to Colorado, Tori had to top her.
“Oh, well, I’m moving to L.A. on October first. And then my face is going to be plastered everywhere because I’m going to be famous. We just finished a new album and we’re going to release it when we get out there and wait for someone to snatch it up. It’s so good. Everyone who’s listened to it has just been––” Tori opened her mouth wide and made jazz-hands while imitating a choral “ah!” “––So, I’m pretty much going to be mega-famous.”
I looked up. “So…you’re moving to L.A. with your band and you hope you’re going to get a record deal but you don’t have one yet?”
She shook her head vehemently. “Oh, no, we already have a record deal. There’s a billboard and everything on Sunset. I would show you a picture, but it’s supposed to be really hush-hush until the record comes out.”
To this day, I have no idea how she thought I was going to buy that a billboard in L.A. would be considered hush-hush, but perhaps it is a truly different world out there. I also wasn’t sure how they already had a record deal but they had to wait for a label to pick them up, but I wasn’t about to stop her from digging. For once, I was able to observe Cathy’s species in the wild without danger of being mauled, myself.
“It’s not really a band,” Tori went on. “It’s just two of us. But I’m the cute and talented one.”
Unable to stand another moment of not being the center of attention, Cathy jumped in. “Well, I just finished writing my first book. It’s really long, it’s like eighty-two pages of poetry. I submitted it to a very small and exclusive press, and my old English professor says he knows it’s going to be published.” She didn’t mention that the small, exclusive press was her MySpace boyfriend’s zine. Or that the praise her old English professor––the one she’d been so convinced she would bed––had heaped upon her staggering work of incredible literary merit had been a curt, unsigned email warning her that if she continued to send him sexually suggestive materials, he would take action.
Then, with an indulgent smile, Cathy turned to me and said, “Just think, by this time next year you can come to Colorado and be an assistant to a world-famous author.”
I had to restrain myself from sarcastically gushing, “Golly, a real author with real books!”
Her purpose fulfilled, Tori stood and announced she had somewhere to be. She got her coffee to go and left, and once the door closed behind her, Cathy said, “Ugh, I can’t stand her. All she can do is talk about herself and how wonderful she is. But you know, I’m just like, ‘You win,’ because if it’s so important to her to be better than me, I don’t really feel like competing.”
It was, nearly word-for-word, something I’d said about an author I’d been on the outs with the month before. But that was Cathy’s way; she would hear someone say something, the repeat it to them weeks later as though she’d come up with it. Someone could say, “Cathy, I said that yesterday,” and she would insist that they were wrong, that it had always been her personal philosophy. Then, she would shake her head and smile fondly, as if lamenting the folly of her less enlightened friends.
We said goodbye. I forced myself to hug her. She promised she would call. I hoped that she wouldn’t.
Later that night, I met with Cristin and we compared notes. She’d seen Cathy a few days before to say goodbye, though she wasn’t as warm as I had been. It hadn’t seemed to bother Cathy, though. She’d chatted away as though everything was still fine between all of us, stating that it would “be nice” to see her son one last time before she left for Colorado, but, “If that doesn’t happen, well, I’m just really busy.” Though she’d claimed she was all set to attend the low-residency writing program in Massachusetts in a couple of months, her tune had changed slightly. “Writing is the most important thing in my life,” she had explained to Cristin. “If I’m too busy with this book, school is going to have to take a backseat.”
My theory is that there was no such thing as a low-residency writing program for people with associate’s degrees and in the days between leaving for Colorado and actually arriving there, her two fake worlds collided. Cathy prided herself on being the most intelligent, well-read, and educated person in our social circle. Though Cristin was a former journalist who’d gone from private school to a top 100 university, Cathy easily dismissed Cristin’s major as not “creative” and therefore not on par with her seven years studying English in a community college. I never completed my degree and grew up in a rural area, so I was the endearing yokel who thought she could be a real writer, bless my delusional heart. And Sam had been forced to withdraw from school in the wake of the divorce, so he was a “loser.” But her smarter, more urbane and witty friends in Colorado were all highly educated, with advanced degrees and had published papers in the fields in which she considered herself an expert. With no hope of topping their credentials, Cathy now dismissed formal education as an unnecessary, expensive, mind-numbing waste. The fact that this new attitude directly contradicted everything the people who’d known her for nearly a decade knew to be true didn’t matter, as she would be leaving and we would all cease to exist without her presence.
She’d also lamented the breakdown of her marriage, telling Cristin that people didn’t understand how hard Cathy fought to make her relationship with Sam work. They’d gone to counseling. It hadn’t worked, she’d explained, because he’d been unwilling to make changes like not spending enough time with her between his several jobs and classes. They’d been sexually incompatible, as she enjoyed rough sex, including choking, and he was never able to truly get into the spirit––a claim unsupported by anecdotes from female friends who’d enjoyed S&M activities with Sam. And, she’d confided in Cristin, she hadn’t been in love with Sam for over three years.
Total time of marriage and engagement: one year and five months. But she hadn’t been in love with him for three years.
She’d also vented her frustration over the fact that, due to their noncontested arbitration, she couldn’t demand alimony payments. Her plan had been to move to Colorado and immediately resume the assistance programs she was on in Michigan, but she’d learned that she would have to be a resident for six months before she could apply. Now, she wanted Sam, who’d worked sometimes three jobs to support them while she napped on the couch reading Harry Potter, to make court-ordered alimony payments, and the system was unfairly stacked against her. On top of it all, Sam refused to continue paying her cellphone bill, and she was in danger of disconnection. And that was very important because she’d already made arrangements to interview Warren Ellis over lunch when she arrived in Colorado. Interview him about what? Who knew. Why was he flying all the way to Colorado from England just to have lunch with Cathy, who wasn’t a journalist and who didn’t write for any publications? Don’t question it. And there was, of course, no connection between the phone bill, her sudden, important meeting, and the fact that Warren Ellis was one of Sam’s favorite writers.
The next day, Cathy left Kalamazoo with no fanfare and only what she could carry in a backpack. Though she’d told me she would call me to let me know when she arrived safely, she didn’t and I really didn’t care either way. As far as I was concerned, she’d dropped off the planet and life was the better for it. We were finally free.
Next Time: Part Ten, “It’s All Right Here Waiting For Me”