Old Friends

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to hook up with my best friend from elementary school. We had been out of touch for easily 20 years. I looked forward to seeing her.

As a child, I had not known that she was badly sexually abused by her father. I knew her father was mean to her and everyone else, but I didn’t know about the sexual abuse. As an adult, I certainly realize now the signs were there.

Now, she had a husband and a daughter the same age as my daughter. I drove two hours to visit with them and spend the night.  It was enjoyable, but I was a little creeped out. Her husband and daughter treated her like she was a complete idiot…and she would just laugh it off. I felt like Goldie Hawn in “The Banger Sisters.”  I wanted to scream at them and tell them, “This woman is awesome!  She is smart!  Stop making fun of her.”  But, I didn’t. It was her business.

As time went on, she wanted to come visit me in the city, but there was always a problem caused by her husband, Dr. XXX (PhD, not MD). Something came up and he couldn’t drive her in or her daughter made plans so she couldn’t come. When she finally did come to see me, I had my elementary school yearbooks for her to see. Her father had thrown hers away while she was at college.  We spent the evening going over yearbooks and memories. Suddenly, things changed. She got on Facebook on my computer and spent the rest of the night messaging our friends from elementary school.  It was weird–I thought, “Maybe her husband doesn’t let her use the computer at home?”

Then, I moved out of the area and lost touch. I texted her a few times with no replies. I assumed she was just busy with her life and would get back in touch when she had time.

I finally checked to see if she was still on Facebook and there she was. But, I had been “unfriended.”  Ugh. This is awkward. I sent her a message, “Hey, how are you…blah, blah, blah.” Just ignoring the unfriending.

I received the following reply:  I’m glad you are well. But I can’t help but feel it’s inappropriate for you to contact me after not even letting me know you were moving.You had my cell number & as much as I reached out to you, trying to develop a stronger friendship, you couldn’t even return the kindness with a short call or text.It really hurt & saddened me.Friendship is so much more than Facebook. I wish you & yours the very best.

Odd. Because I had sent her messages. Then it hit me. The husband. She has married her father. A controlling, manipulative man who makes sure they have only one car so she can’t go anywhere on her own without his permission. Who puts her down so that she has such low self-esteem. Who makes sure they move frequently so she never develops any real friends.

The only regret I have is not being Goldie Hawn that weekend. At least I would have felt I had done my part.

The Man Who Would Have Been Great

I met my friend in undergraduate school.  He was a double major psychology and concert piano and I was a double major psychology and theatre.  It was apparent from the beginning that he was brilliant.

After college, we went our separate ways.  I didn’t see him for about five years until I ran into him while I was working at a psychiatric hospital.  I was working in admissions; he was a program director.  Since we had seen each other, he had earned his Master’s in Clinical Psychology.

Over the next 20 years, we would be great friends in many ways.  I was a support to him as he moved up the career ladder and earned an MBA.  I fixed him up with single friends.  He came to our home for dinner frequently and became the Godfather of my daughter when she was born.

Eventually my friend became the CEO of an influential managed care company.  He was now seriously successful.  Unfortunately, he also began to take himself a little too seriously.  He became critical of everyone around him, including me.  It became clear to me that his personality was changing and he was becoming a bit unstable.  I soon found out that he had a serious addiction to prescription pain killers.  Within just a few years of reaching what he considered to be the pinnacle of his career, my friend was fired from his job, escorted out of the building by the police.  He had become so unstable that he made verbal threats to his subordinates.

I tried to talk to him about his addiction, to explain to him that his behavior was becoming a problem.  He said he didn’t have a problem; it was under control.  When I pointed out that he drooled on a professional colleague while talking with him, my friend said that wasn’t true, even though I was sitting in the next chair and saw the whole thing.

I took the final step of putting an end to our relationship when he stole my son’s prescription pain medicine.  I thought ending the relationship would show him how serious his problem was.  I am not sorry about this, but I never dreamed I would never see him again.

You see, my friend died last summer.  He would have turned 47 tomorrow.

It was painful for me to hear that my friend died of a drug overdose.  I had watched a brilliant man spiral downward and lose everything that he ever wanted because he made the fatal mistake of living a life that kept him from being a transparent person and a transparent leader.  He led a double life and the pressure of keeping his two “selves” compartmentalized dealt him a crushing blow.

As leaders, we owe it to ourselves, our families, our customers, and our employees to be people of integrity.  To have nothing about ourselves that keeps us from being transparent.  If we can’t, then we are morally obligated to step away before we implode and take those around us down with us.

Rest in peace, my friend.  I’m sure your advice to me would be not to write this blog, that it would somehow show weakness on my part.  I’m ok with that.  Because I am transparent about this:  I really miss you on your birthday.