Thursday, July 26, 2007

Death of A Friendship

We could not name the truth. What used to brag
lies in your cupboard under lock and key.
You care no more
for angels or the underdog,
translating all the terms we used
into intolerance. Your world
now clusters round
the emulation of the rich.

-- Harry Guest

I am in mourning. I am grief-stricken by the death of a friendship. Shannon is still alive, but our friendship died. I feel like wearing dark clothes. I’m in the soberest of moods. I am withdrawn and quieter than usual…

I met Shannon the summer between sixth and seventh grade, 1961… thirty-six years ago. We were inseparable for years. If I didn’t see her at least once a day and talk to her on the phone multiple times a day, I felt cheated.

My family moved from a farm to a brand new subdivision in the city Memorial Day weekend, 1961. Every family in the neighborhood was starting at the same place. We moved-in the same time—enjoyed new streets, new houses and new friends. I’m guessing it took just 6-8 months to build all the houses and move everyone in. There were no established friendships to break in to. There was something very egalitarian about it all.

Our house was the fun house. We had a basketball court, ping-pong table, rec room for the winter and a clubhouse in the summer. The clubhouse was a small barn-shaped two-story shed. My dad ran electricity to it so we could have lights, watch TV and play games there.

All the neighborhood kids flocked to my house. My parents liked the idea of having lots of kids around; if we all were at my house, we weren’t getting into trouble somewhere else. It was not unusual to have 15-20 kids in my yard at dusk, all under the watchful eye of my dad who was usually holding court (he was famous for his stories) on the tailgate of our station wagon parked inside the garage.

The neighborhood was a mix of people who made their living by the sweat of their brow, lower white-collar workers, and military families who worked at a nearby base. The kids rode bikes and played in the dirt piles that occupied the still-being-built homes. After dinner our parents stood outside talking to one another and watched us grow. We became a community. If it sounds like a more innocent time, it was.

Shannon and I were instant friends. We had a lot in common. Our backgrounds were similar. Our families both emigrated from southern Europe. Our grandparents fought for acceptance in a country where swarthy non-English speaking people were restricted to the worst jobs. Her dad was a union railroad man, my dad worked in a union factory. Her mom got her first job at the lunch counter at the downtown Woolworth store and mine started as a stock clerk at the drug store in the shopping center across the street from the subdivision. We were the same age, wore the same size clothes, loved the same bands, and we were both crazy about the neighborhood boys.

I ate dinner at her house nearly every night; my mom worked evenings and her mom was a great (and I do mean GREAT) cook. After dark, no matter what house we were at, we would walk each other half the way home, and talk. We knew each other’s secrets.

I was talking to her on the phone at midnight December 31, 1962 when I got my very first kiss. Her mom would not let her come to the New Year’s bash my parents let me throw. All the gang was there except for Shannon. So, as the clock approached midnight, I picked up the phone on the wall of our rec room, slipped around the corner, closed the door, climbed up on the washing machine and called Shannon. I could not imagine welcoming in the New Year without bff Shannon. While we were talking, a neighborhood boy came through the door, closed it behind him. He said, “Happy New Year” and kissed me square on the lips. He quickly slipped back into the rec room without another word. Shannon and I spend the next two hours dissecting every minute aspect of that one-second kiss. God that was fun!

It really was a magical couple of years. The Ya-Ya Sisterhood had nothing on Shannon and me.

About half way through our freshman year of high school we went off in different directions. But, we still remained friends. During the Viet Nam war she fell in love and married a soldier; I was writing Nixon to end stop the killing. There is a scene Forrest Gump movie that always reminds me of Shannon. Forrest and Jenny embrace in the reflecting pond at an anti-war rally in DC. Like Forrest and Jenny, we had our own lives but, we still loved one another very much too.

We both married had kids and moved out of state. As happens in life, we lost touch with one another, but never completely. We sent annual Christmas cards with hastily written notes telling of our lives. For those years, we really knew little of one another. Email changed all that.

We both got computers early on, when few people had them. With email, it was as if the intervening years disappeared. Again, we shared our secrets, our pain and our joys. There is something about knowing someone for a really long time that is indescribably comforting. No awkward moments and no long explanations; we knew one another.

It’s hard to believe that email could kill a friendship, but it did.

After a few years of writing back and forth and a couple of face to face gabfests, I started getting those forwarded emails, full of hate, usually about Cuban and Mexican immigrants, any non-English speaking people, Muslims, Arabs, non Christians, gays, etc. Instead of reading them, I deleted them. My friend could not be a hate monger, she just wasn’t thinking about how awful these forwards are, I would tell myself. She and her husband are good union folks. They know working class struggles. They would not blame those with less for the world’s ills. She’s a good person.

As the standard of living for the middle class shrunk, the religious right was winning the war to move the country to the right. Shannon’s personal emails came less often and the hate-mail forwards more often. I let my husband deal with them, I could not. I was still in deleting mode. I did not want to know. Shannon was as close as a sister. Once in a while I would peek at a forward and then quickly delete it, feeling sick to my stomach.

My husband, Mike, and I are involved in progressive politics and recognize that this is the first time in our history when people with less get blamed for the country’s ills. The problem, as the right defines it, is with immigrants, welfare queens, poor people, non Christians, and non English speakers.

For example, one of the more mild forwards was a rant that 60-Minutes’ in-house curmudgeon, Andy Rooney supposedly delivered. The anti-PC email circulated was a self-righteous, mean-spirited rant about minorities and the evils of political correctness (the simple act of choosing using words that have neutral connotations). The whole thing, every single word of it, was never uttered. Another fact less urban legend designed to separate and disenfranchised the classes.

Rooney disavowed it. It’s been attributed to George Carlin, Dennis Leary and Ted Nugent. They all disavowed it too.

Shannon said she saw Rooney deliver it. We sent her the link about the hoax. She said she was sure she remembered Rooney saying those things. That’s the thing about hate. It clouds your judgment and blurs your vision. It allows you to see only what you want to see even if it isn’t there.

Shannon and my husband sparred about many of her forwards. I tried to stay clear. This was my friend of 36 years. We grew up and old(er) together. We went through menopause together for crying out loud.

Finally, I could no longer ignore those emails. I wrote her and said that I loved many of the very people she hated and encouraged others to hate in her forwards. That I felt I had to end our relationship, take a principled stand against hate. I asked her to no longer write me.

Her email back was angry. She was understandably hurt and confused. I thought it would be. She really didn’t understand what I was saying, or she just wanted one more chance to talk badly about people knowing it would hurt me. I’m really not sure which it was, but it didn’t really matter. It was over. She agreed not to write.

After nearly a year, she began writing my husband. She wanted to know if we could find a way to reconcile. Mike, very gently brought up the subject of reconciliation with me. I didn't see how it could happen. A little later I got a snail mail card asking if we could see if we could, “agree to disagree”. She promised never to send another forward.

Was that possible? Could we reconcile? I struggled for a few days about it; but problem was not about sending me forwarded emails; the problem was she believed them. Forwarding them was a symptom, not the illness. Could I agree to disagree? No, I could never agree to it. I emailed her back and said that. She responded one more time, with more hate for the same people I cared about.

But I didn’t read her last response. I was pretty sure I knew what it said. I asked Mike to read it; he confirmed my fears and deleted it. At my request, he emailed her back to say that I was done. No more.

Most whites don’t want to think they are racist. They often say they are color blind. That they don’t prejudge people; then in the same breath they say something like, “But those illegal immigrants are rapists and child molesters.” Glumping all illegal immigrants into that category IS racist and bigoted.

I have no doubt that some people crossing the border are rapists and some are child molesters. Some people who immigrant from Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Italy and Poland are rapists and child molesters too. There is a portion of the population anywhere and everywhere that are perverted sexual criminals. But, brown skinned people are easier to pick out… and easier to hate.

I will never understand why working class whites are so willing to believe and act outside their own self interests. Why is it that they, with their white skin privilege, believe they have less in common with the black or immigrant janitor who sweeps the floor in the building where they work, and more in common with the man who owns the company, up on the 23 floor with his multi-million dollar salary, stock options and bonuses? The only way I can answer that question is with this song/poem.

Only A Pawn In Their Game
Words and Music by Bob Dylan

A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers' blood.
A finger fired the trigger to his name.
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man's brain
But he can't be blamed
He's only a pawn in their game.


A South politician preaches to the poor white man,
"You got more than the blacks, don't complain.
You're better than them, you been born with white skin," they explain.
And the Negro's name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.


The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid,
And the marshals and cops get the same,
But the poor white man's used in the hands of them all like a tool.
He's taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
'Bout the shape that he's in
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.


From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks,
And the hoof beats pound in his brain.
And he's taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide 'neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain't got no name
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.


Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught.
They lowered him down as a king.
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He'll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.

As long as we working and lower classes fight one another, we take our eye off of the 20% who own 83% of the wealth. They, not poor people, are the major source of society’s ills.

That is why I’m mourning. It will be a long time before I’m over it.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've had the same issue break up a long-term friendship. It is very difficult. But you are right; many people who would never call themselves racist, do indeed do very racist things.

Max Waller said...

I a seeing a therapist,Mrs. Teru Kanazawa Sheehan,if you wish to investigate me call her at 1-310-463-1329. I am sabotaging my life since I Jodi Jean Sanders alive and well or she played a hoax. We met in 1978 at MacLay Junior High School in Pacoima and after graduation in 1980 she went to Verdugo Hills High in Tujunga California and I to San Fernando. We last spoke in-person September 1989. Mrs. Sheehan knows my website and another with my cousins about my ex-wife.

Max Waller said...

The last site was about my ex-wife. The one on this entry is about Jodi Jean Sanders from when I was six years old to when we last met. It has the most current points of contacts. I hope people become wise to someone or something. I reference to Jodi. Thanks