So, we’ve come to the final installment of this series. This is probably the hardest one for me to write because it’s difficult to examine a person you once considered your friend, know all the reasons for the spiral out of control they experienced, and still not want to rekindle that friendship now that they’ve got their shit together. But people have been asking for this part. So, here I go.
After Cathy had finally left town for good, it was up to Sams’ friends to help pick up the pieces. The problem was, so many of us had our own pieces to pick up and not all of us were on the same side.
I did my part my part by being emotionally on-call fulltime. Eleven o’clock at night and Sam needs a shoulder to cry on? I’ll get out of bed and race right over. Middle of a family event? Sure, let me excuse myself to have a long phone call. Was this healthy or fair? Probably not, but there isn’t a handbook for how to deal with the wake left by such a toxic person. Plus, I carried an incredible amount of guilt over the fact that if it hadn’t been for me, Sam would have never met Cathy in the first place. I felt crushed by the responsibility.
Unfortunately, around the same time, I got sick. I developed Fibromyalgia shortly after the birth of my daughter and I had surgery to remove a softball-sized tumor from my neck and spine. My husband quit his job to care for our kids and myself. The fact that we were both at home all the time looked to most people like we were living in some kind of trouble-free paradise, so when Sam’s house flooded––he hadn’t realized his new rental was in a notorious floodplain––some of our other friends called on us to help move his things and to adopt his four cats.
“We can’t break them up,” one friend explained to me on the phone. “They were littermates and they need to stay together.”
At the time, I had three cats of my own. “I can’t afford to have seven cats. Not even temporarily.”
I was seen as unreasonable and uncaring for putting my foot down and stating that I would not take on four additional animals while I recuperated from surgery, struggled with an undiagnosed illness, and took care of a new baby, all while my husband was out of a job and I was the sole earner for the household.
We were also unwilling to help move him. Again, this was seen as unreasonable because Sam and Cathy had helped us move from our Grand Rapids apartment and into our house. But I’d already said that after having helped Sam and Cathy move from a house to an apartment to another house to Sam’s house, we were done. Even without my physical issues, I refused to engage in the near-constant game of musical rentals Sam had become mired in.
At least, he had a place to go. He’d begun dating a woman who owned her own house and had no issue with him moving into her spare room since her roommate had just moved out. I questioned the wisdom of this arrangement. The woman, we’ll call her Anna, had severe Cathy tendencies of her own, fuelled by the alcoholism that was enabled and encouraged by her own circle of friends. I hadn’t met her, and Sam asked if he could bring her to dinner at our house.
“She’s really, really allergic to cats. She’ll die from even a little bit of cat hair,” he explained.
I looked around at my three cats. “Maybe this isn’t the place to bring her, then?”
“No, it’ll be fine. Just clean up and vacuum the furniture.” Sam had begun to sound a little more like Cathy every day. But I wanted to stay friends and help him through his tough time, so I scoured the house and eliminated any bit of cat hair, closed my cats off in a room, badly burned my hand making a huge dinner, and waited for Sam and Anne. They came separately, with Sam arriving before Anne.
“I don’t get it. She was right behind me,” he said. He called her and found that she’d taken a wrong turn, despite never having to turn off the state highway to get to my house in the first place. Sam explained, “She’s really bad at directions.”
But it wasn’t the directions that had been the problem. Anne turned up reeking of alcohol. She’d gotten lost because she’d been driving drunk, and she’d brought an unopened 750ml bottle of Sailor Jerry rum with her, as well.
Sam passed it off as her being “buzzed.”
With my burned hand wrapped in gauze, we sat down to dinner, just Sam, Anne, my husband, and I. Anne barely ate anything, but she drank the entire bottle of rum in under twenty minutes, after which she ran to the bathroom to vomit. She came out and belligerently blamed it on my subpar cooking. She wanted to leave. Sam drove her back in her car, thank god.
When I tried to talk to Sam about Anne’s drinking and driving, he justified it by saying she did it all the time and had never had an accident or any trouble. I suggested that getting so drunk she’d gotten lost while following him was an instance in which she did have trouble, but he wouldn’t budge. He used the old “safer driving drunk than sober” excuse and I realized any further discussion on the subject would be fruitless.
Sam’s relationship with Anne didn’t last very long but he did continue to live with her. In the meantime, he had casual sex with some of our platonic friends, which was a thing that just happened and nobody really found weird; we’re all pretty sexually free people and before I was in a monogamous relationship with my husband, I’d had a lot of casual sex, myself. Never with Sam, though I was beginning to feel that he saw it as only a matter of time, even though I was married. I’d begun to grow uncomfortable with remarks he made about our female friends, but again, my guilt at having introduced him to Cathy forced those feelings aside. I had ruined his life, I reasoned. I had to stick it out and try to fix it.
While still living with Anne, Sam met a beautiful, funny artist who I am still friends with and very fond of to this day, and whom I will refer to as Becky because it’s a name that doesn’t fit her in any way and will protect her identity. She was everything Anne was not. Namely, sober and invested in Sam’s well-being. She encouraged him to draw, a passion that he’d had to somewhat abandon during his relationship with Cathy, as she’d dismissed his endeavors as pointless. He and Becky shared a sketchbook, passing it back and forth between them in funny art challenges.
But he kept having sex with Anne.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked when he admitted this to me. “Becky doesn’t deserve this. Anne is a mess. You need to move out and cut ties. And you need to be honest with Becky.”
I can’t remember if he ever told Becky that he’d been cheating on her, but he did move out, into a house with no roommates. Things seemed to be getting on the right track, but Becky realized that the relationship would be far more work than she was willing to invest. After trying several times to make things work, they broke up.
This set the stage for a parade of girlfriends that lasted a few weeks each at most. With each one came the expectation that I would become close friends, as close as I had been with Cathy. But I knew they weren’t going to last and frankly, I became very rude when faced with them. He brought one along to my house without warning me he was bringing anyone, then launched into a sales pitch for her. I cut him off and addressed her directly. “I’m sorry, but I have enough friends right now and I’m not looking for more.”
As expected, two weeks after they’d begun dating, Sam told me they were “working on their relationship.”
“If you’re two weeks into a relationship and it’s already requiring serious work, it’s not going to be a successful relationship,” I warned him. I found myself passing out that warning a lot. Everyone in our social circle was tired of the routine, and we were tired of trying to spend time with Sam only to have him glued to his phone in long text conversations with whatever woman he was dating at the time.
Going to breakfast? Sam was going to spend it obsessively checking his phone.
Going to the movies? Sam would have to excuse himself several times to check his phone.
Having a party? Sam would definitely be there, but if his flavor of the week couldn’t attend, he’d spend the entire time sulking on your couch, phone in hand, texting like mad and ignoring everyone around him.
But we all understood that he was hurting. We tried to ride out this self-destructive phase and offer support. For me, the fatigue of listening to his constant romantic woes was starting to outweigh the guilt I’d felt over introducing him to Cathy. It was clear that what he was looking for was an instant leap back into the level of intimacy he’d had in his marriage.
For a moment, it seemed like he would get better. He started a podcast and had success booking some fairly well-known comedians. He moved into a smaller apartment so he could afford the recording equipment and investment of his time. He went back to school.
Then he met Cathy Two.
“I met the most amazing woman online,” he told me. She lived in Seattle. She had a huge apartment downtown and an incredibly successful white-collar career. They shared many of the same interests and were already talking about a cross-country visit.
There was just one problem: Cathy Two was married. She was separated from her husband and in the process of getting a divorce, but they still lived together.
“How long have you been talking to her online?” I asked, expecting to hear that they’d known each other for weeks, or maybe longer. I wanted to think she was the reason he’d made so many positive changes.
“We met on a message board this last weekend and we talked on the phone last night for five hours,” he gushed. “We’re in love.”
The end of our friendship moved very fast from that point. Once again, he tried to force interaction between Cathy Two and I, only relenting when I accepted her Facebook friend request. He went to Seattle for three days to meet her. When he returned, he informed me that he was moving there to live with her.
I exploded. All my frustration at his recent bad choices poured out of me. I realized I was no longer supporting a friend through a difficult time but enabling someone who was making incredibly destructive decisions and I’d had enough.
“This is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done,” I told him. “You want to break into comics or acting! If you want to make a big change, move to L.A. or New York. Not Seattle. Not to live with a woman who isn’t divorced yet and who you’ve only known for a couple of weeks!”
Then I hung up. Instantly, I started receiving Facebook message notifications.
A lot of them.
It was Cathy Two, scolding me for being a bad friend and hurting Sam’s feelings. I was trying to hold him back. I was jealous. I wanted him for myself. I’d never been a good friend to her (we’d never met in person and had never spoken, even to comment on Facebook statuses in the week since I’d friended her). I was unhappy in my marriage so I was trying to sabotage their relationship. She wouldn’t let me take Sam from her. Message after message, growing more and more frantic and threatening, at such a rate that the sound effect for the notification couldn’t keep up. It stuttered and interrupted itself until my computer crashed.
By the end of her tirade, she’d sent me over a hundred messages. In an hour.
I finally managed to get my computer to work long enough to block her. Then I called Sam, absolutely furious.
“She loves me and she’s trying to protect me. What you said was very hurtful.” His tone was incredibly cold.
“You’re really going to throw away fifteen years of friendship because I’m the only person who’s willing to tell you the truth?” I demanded. And in that moment, I realized that it didn’t matter anymore. He didn’t matter to me anymore. The person who was once my friend had become a one-sided obligation, wanting everyone around him to give him endless sympathy for the problems he continued to create for himself. And everyone was giving him that validation that he craved. We were no longer friends and hadn’t been for a long time. I’d just been a crutch.
A couple of weeks after that fight, one of our mutual friends tried to persuade me to patch things up with Sam. “I know that chick kind of Swim Fanned you, but he’s not even with her anymore.”
I was shocked, as you can imagine.
After our friend-breakup, I started hearing from some of his recent exes. One of them told me that Sam had made comments about how I would “eventually” have sex with him. Another said he referred to two of our mutual friends whom he’d slept with as his “mattresses”. This was a side of Sam that I probably had seen but simply hadn’t wanted to acknowledge. I’d been so caught up in blaming myself for bringing Cathy into everyone’s lives, I’d been making excuses for the cheating and the terrible, almost deliberately destructive choices he’d been making.
I closed the door on our friendship and never looked back.
Recently, someone told me that he’s gotten remarried to a woman who is great for him. He is healthier, mentally and emotionally. His life has completely turned around.
“That’s great,” I said. “I still don’t want to be friends with him.”
A few weeks after I started writing the series on Cathy, Sam sent me a message through my public Facebook. All it said was, “I miss you. I’m sorry.”
That’s great. If you’re reading this, Sam, I still don’t want to be friends. “I miss you. I’m sorry,” is not an apology. It’s saying that you want back into my life because of negative emotions you feel. You want to be rid of those negative emotions and absolved of your guilt. I don’t owe that to you by rekindling a friendship that became toxic and untenable. If you recognize and regret the behavior you displayed toward me and the other women in your life at that point, I’m glad. You should. Hopefully, you’ve corrected those attitudes.
I’m not angry at you. I’m sad that a person I considered a friend only considered me useful in his life until I acted the way a friend should act by cautioning you away from a bad choice. I’m sad that our friendship ended the way it did and that I brought Cathy into your life. I will forever be sorry for that, for the physical and mental abuse you endured from her. But you apparently spent most of our friendship seeing me as a sexual goal despite knowing I was happily married and despite the fact that my husband considered you a trusted friend. You degraded other women, ones who had trusted you enough to have sexual encounters and relationships with you. That means I can never trust you again, no matter how much you may have changed.
I still don’t want to be friends. Please, never contact me again and don’t come here to read my page. I found your timing creepy and invasive.
A note to my readers: I will forever be grateful to the friends I made through Cathy, the support we were able to show each other, and the friendships we have now. That chapter is thankfully behind us.
I wish I didn’t care about whatever Cathy is doing now, how she’s undoubtedly hurting other people. I heard through the grapevine that she’s had more children. Hopefully, she leaves them before they’re old enough to remember her, so they don’t experience the trauma her first son did. But I’ve learned a hard lesson through all of this: I can’t save the world from toxic people. Cathy is still out there. She’s probably still destroying lives. And there are millions of other Cathys doing the same thing.
I hope that next time, I’ll be able to recognize the signs. And I hope this story might help some of you recognize them, too.