Friday, December 9, 2016

Enrichment from Enemies

Years ago I managed a low-rent apartment building where two women feuded for a decade. Ms. Kelly, the first floor corner tenant, was old, wiry and irritable. Her arch nemesis, Miss Donna, reminded me a lot of Divine (of John Waters fame) and lived upstairs and one unit over. Donna not only had the upper floor, but also had the upper hand in the feud - a feud which mostly consisted of Ms. Kelly complaining to and about Donna, while the brash and bosomy Donna flippantly pretended to be unaware she was irritating Ms. Kelly - or that it was accidental. A perfect example was the time Ms. Kelly kept yelling up at Donna's unit from the back of the building, and was "accidentally" soaked by a bucket of Donna's mop water. 

One day Donna was found dead in her apartment, and Ms. Kelly was devastated. Her feud with Donna was familiar, comfortable, and part of her routine. She mourned her, and she missed her. 

I've thought about that dynamic over the years, how everyone in our lives has a role to play, and sometimes the right role for someone is that of an enemy or nemesis. 

One that comes to mind personally is someone I've known for twenty years, but who turned against me suddenly after taking offense to a joke I wrote for a roast.

It turns out that our current standing works out much better for us both than the friendship ever did. While the joke backlash (it wasn't about him, but a fellow roaster) was the first I knew he had anger towards me, I later learned he'd been complaining about me and the attention my stories garnered for a long time - despite posing for photos with the book, buying a $30 ticket to the book launch, and cornering me whenever he saw me out. 

I was his friend because of mutual friends, but thought he was insufferably dull. And when he saw me out, it wasn't enough to say hello. He had to pull up a bar stool and lock knees, making sure his face blocked out any distractions which might prohibit me from giving the undivided attention he found so hard to come by. 

After our falling out he got into a romantic relationship, and weeks after it ended he came out with a bizarre story about how I had used a series to fake profiles to manipulate them into breaking up. I found the story entertaining, although I was frustrated that a couple of seemingly-intelligent mutual friends claimed to believe him. He reconciled with the young man, and when they broke up again he posted twenty-five (or so) reasons why the relationship didn't work. I saw that as vindication - since I wasn't on the list - but those who defended his original story said I was a bully for pointing out the blatant inconsistency. 

Despite the back and forth, if I look at the dynamic from 30,000 ft it really is a win-win. His tall tales about me sabotaging him at every turn make him interesting to his friends, which is quite a feat, and I no longer have to feign interest when seeing him out. We never worked as friends, but we've settled into our new dynamic nicely. 

I'm almost always open and receptive to mending fences, but sometimes you look at a situation and think, "You know, I'm good." 

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