S. left Eugene the weekend of Father's Day. It was mid-June and her hopes of securing a summer teaching position had fallen through. She brought S. over to see me early Thursday morning, which was unusual. E. had a cold and was fussy. I was only able to hold her for a few seconds before she cried for mommy. And then they left, in a hurry to get on with their day. Of course I didn't know they weren't coming back.
S. called that Sunday, or maybe it was Monday. She was in Montana, visiting a friend. It was an impromptu vacation she told me unconvincingly. They were to be back in a weeks, and she was sorry she just up and left, but there was no time to call. (Yeah, I know.) Minutes after hanging up the phone, I walked over to her apartment. The front door was open, the place was bare. There was a U-Haul in the driveway and unfamiliar people walking back and forth with boxes.
In the days that followed I quickly realized that all of "our" friends were her friends. I had nobody to talk to, and quite frankly had no idea what was going on. I was too hopeful or naive to call it "kidnapping" but that's what it seemed like. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I realized that S.'s best friend, the one person in all of this who seemed good, seemed caring, and seemed to genuinely like me, had more or less--if not outright engineered--insisted upon this stealing away in the middle of the night. (I don't know if it was night. It must have been night.) It was, she figured, in the best interest of S. and E. I don't doubt she believed that but it can't make me wholly forgive her.
We see people how we want to see them, try to love them in the way that we want them to love us, and even those we don't necessarily get on with, we try to see in a not unflattering light. But all we have is light and absence of light, and the shadows are just the same as those fluffy clouds we look at: we find animals, we find a face on the surface of a distant planet, in the formless we seek forms that remind us of each other, of ourselves, and we want our best selves for others. We want others to be their best selves for us.
One day someone comes in and turns flicks the switch. Cleans up. We see the dust in the corners, the cracks in the walls.
When I write about this, I'm going to call this chapter the Great American Fake-out. Or the Friendship Juke. Or Humanity Pump-Fake. Or That One Time that My Kid Was Stolen and The People I Thought Were My Friends Were Actually Just Strangers With Kind Faces.
Portland artist / recluse Matthew Hattie Hein seems to understand how important appearances are, not just to others but to our sense of self, and how much we willingly buy into illusions of good intentions and good will. He sings:
"Thanks, it's nice to be invited. You look nice, or nicely lighted. / Are we going somewhere after this?"