Thursday, June 05, 2008

You can't blame the train

It happened so fast. You didn't see it coming. You missed the warning signs. They were obvious but you relied on trust and love and got burned. It's like that song. If you saw the train coming and you heard the whistle and didn't get off the tracks, you can't blame the train. It's that way in love and in friendship; you have to keep your eye on things and pay attention. It's the old story of whether or not you can trust a cheater not to cheat, and I'm not talking about diets.

If a friend talks about another friend as if they're dirt or lower than maggots in a dung hill, you need to watch your back. If the same friend trashes a friend over and over one week and then the friend is back in their life the next and everything is beer and skittles (lather, rinse, repeat and repeat and repeat), what makes you think they will treat you any better? You're delusional. This is who they are. Pay attention. Someone who has nothing good to say about their friends isn't going to say anything good about you when the time comes -- and the time will come, or rather the train is coming. Get off the tracks.

There's a big difference between someone who gets angry at a friend and says something nasty in the heat of anger but then apologizes to the friend and to you and doesn't do it again and someone who trashes the friend one moment, gets back with them the next, and trashes them again over and over, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. That is a seriously disturbed person and you cannot trust anything they say (unless it's self serving) because the behavior is a deeply ingrained pattern. It's who they are and always will be.

For instance: Someone I once knew had been best friends with another woman since before they went to kindergarten. When I met the woman and became friends with her, she regularly trashed her "best friend in the world" constantly. At first, it was subtle, little complaints about who brought more food to a joint picnic, whose gifts cost more, how much weight she had lost in comparison, niggling things I brushed off. As we got to know each other better, the complaints got bigger and were more frequent until I wondered why they were still best friends. The other person sounded like she was crazy and delusional and evil so when the woman told me she was spending a week's vacation with her best friend I wondered why. "She cornered me and I couldn't say no." Okay, I can see how a nice person would feel obligated to be nice to someone they've known since childhood. I rationalized.

The train was coming down the tracks.

It bothered me that the woman was nice to people's faces but brought out the claws the minute they were gone as she spilled dirty detail after dirty detail of how they had hurt her, lied about her and destroyed her life (even though she continued to live quite well). With one guy, she said he creeped her out but she continued to invite him over for dinner or out for drinks and dancing and went over to his house on occasion when he hosted dinner. The minute he left, she was on the phone telling me how he disgusted her.

The whistle's blowing and I'm still on the tracks.

She didn't have one good thing to say about anyone, so when I met one of her colleagues from work I was ready for the devil incarnate. He was a personable, intelligent man she greeted with squeals of delight and hugs, sitting down next to him and taking his hand. She batted her eyes at him and giggled at his jokes as though she were a school girl in the presence of a matinée movie idol. This could not be the man she claimed was Satan and always on the make. He seemed uncomfortable every time she sidled closer and touched his hand or his shoulder. He smiled, but it was an awkward, uncomfortable smile as he politely disengaged her hands and shifted his chair away. If the evening had been longer, he would have been shifted out the door of the restaurant.

When we left, the claws came out. "Did you see how he pawed me? I wish he wouldn't do that. It makes me uncomfortable. He knows I'm involved with someone else but he won't listen. He doesn't respect me." I suddenly felt like Linda Blair in the Exorcist when her head spun around.

The train was closer. The whistle was blowing. I was still on the tracks.

I bumped into her colleague when I was having lunch alone one afternoon. There wasn't another table available and he was waiting in line when he recognized me. I invited him to sit since there were three empty chairs at my table. He sat. We talked. We laughed. He walked me to my car and I drove back to work. I didn't know it but the woman saw us.

That night as we ran lines for a play we were both in, I mentioned I saw her colleague at lunch. She acted surprised. The train was gaining speed and I was looking the other way. I heard the whistle but ignored it. "I thought he was nice, very personable," I said.

"Watch out. He just wants another notch on his bedpost. But you should be safe. He prefers thin women with long, thick blonde hair."

The next thing I heard was that I was having an affair with the colleague and trying to force him to leave his wife of ten years and their 5-year-old twins. I hadn't seen him since we had lunch. I called the woman to see if she knew where the rumor started. I got her voice mail. I emailed. No answer. The engineer was hanging on the whistle as the train thundered closer.

I saw her during the tech rehearsal and asked her during a break if she'd heard anything. "I thought you were different. I didn't think you were a home wrecker." She walked away. The prop master pulled me aside. "I heard what she said. Look no further for the source. She's been telling everyone you went after him and have been seeing him at his cabin upstate on weekends." The train hit.

I blamed the train even though I had plenty of warning to get off the tracks. I just didn't think it would hit me. I was naive and trusting and stupid. I've been hit by that particular train a few times and it took me quite a while to figure out why. It's not the train's fault; it is mine. I ignored the signs. I wasn't paying attention. I thought I was safe, but no one is ever safe when they're standing on the tracks in the path of a speeding train. I'm more careful now. I get off the tracks when I heard the whistle blowing.

When someone trashes their friends, even when the venom is hidden in offhand remarks and so-called jokes, they will have no trouble putting you on the list of people to trash. It's what they do. It's the scorpion and the frog. It's the train blaring its whistle while you're still standing on the tracks. They will turn on you just as surely as they turn on everyone around them. If you don't think so, ignore the whistle and stay on the tracks, carry that scorpion across the river on your back and you will find out. I just hope it isn't fatal.

Someone who has little or nothing good to say about people they supposedly love and care about will have nothing good to say about you either if you get in their way. Count on it. Heed the whistle. Get off the tracks because the results won't be pretty and you might end up on the dung heap with the maggots. You can't blame the train.

That is all. Disperse.

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