Wacky Wild Bewildering Linda
My best friend. Yes, maybe an unpopular choice for such but she wormed her way into my heart. At first, Linda just pissed me off causing lots of eye rolling. Her sense of crazy was off-beat and bold. With no shame she would sneak up behind elderly men whose only support to stand upright was a walker, and approach while licking her lips slowly moving her tongue around her mouth as she thrust her arms forward waving her fingers as if to say in a husky voice, come to me. Once the unsuspecting senior felt a presence close to them and turned to inquire, she would quickly stand up straight and flick her head sharply the other away. The challenge of this outrageous behavior was to push the insanity as far as possible without being seen by the victim.
I met crazy Linda while working at an iconic luxury retail establishment. The expected behaviors for employees at this elegant institution was that of refined sophistication. We were to embody luxury and grace. All purchases were stylishly wrapped in globally recognized packaging. The setting was formal, quiet, subdued. But Linda embodied a disruptor as her inner most desires were to reject the hoity-toity airs of the bourgeois management. “It’s all a front”, she would interject. “The people who work here are not socialites, but merely players within this theatre.”
Often, I would witness a reprimanding as eyes were always upon us. Cameras strategically concealed, everywhere. She was secretly being watched as she was secretly making maneuvers on the unsuspecting guests. Breaking into a wild dance on the sales floor, just for the fun of it or singing at the top of her lungs. When management would confront her, she would argue back unleashed, citing it was all in good fun. Her outrage was equal to theirs. She just couldn’t see why her fun style was not embraced.
I struggled with her unfiltered outbursts. She had no fear and said everything that came to her mind. It never mattered how outrageous or insulting, as she saw it, it meant nothing. “All in good fun,” she would say repeatedly. Her signature move was following the very elderly men around the sales floor and approach whoever would listen and share obscene comments about her phony illustrious desires. After a year of watching these behaviors, you would suspect these antics to be tired and old, but somehow it became endearing. She made us laugh. She took a bunch of stodgy people and broke us down. Once she garnered an audience within the staff, the fun making expanded beyond older gentlemen, no one was off limits.
Management was still not having it. She received warnings that if her behavior continued, she would be fired. Fantastically, no guest was ever the wiser. They all adored her friendly and casual demeanor. She was highly offended by the threat of being fired but continued her behaviors and outbursts as she apparently had no control over these actions.
I often wondered what type of jobs she held before and if this style was seen throughout her life. As we found common ground in our Judaism, our friendship grew to the point that I no longer found her behaviors outrageous. It was just her. It was wacky Linda. We all grew to love her. Somehow, she broke through. I would tell her how much I thought she was awful before I got to know this tortured soul. We laughed at that. I learned that she had a sister that passed away at 16 years old from complications associated with the flu. This was in 1955 when Linda was 12. It destroyed her family dynamic. Her parents refused to speak of her sister or her death, ever again. Linda lived in a household of silence and pain. Linda was 65 years old when I met her, but she looked much younger. Petit in stature with a round bottom. Her face was unlined and youthful. I was shocked to learn her age.
Her family moved away from the suburban home that she grew up in after her sister’s death as she cited too many memories in that house. They moved to New York City to a luxury apartment building where she would eventually go on to raise her own family as a single mom, within the same building. Her parents remained there till their deaths. She had a son and a daughter. Linda grew up befriending New York City socialites and at one time held that label for herself but there was to be a major loss of finances, reducing her status and forcing her to re-enter the workforce at the age of 65. She was offered the job at this establishment as one of her oldest and dearest friends was on the board of trustees and was held in prominence within the New York Community.
She held a part-time retail job at a clothing boutique on Madison Avenue shortly before coming to work at the luxury store. There she would close the shop at night alone. One evening an intruder entered as she was closing and forced her to the back room. She was sexually assaulted by this intruder but was able to break free which probably saved her life.
Learning of her background and frailties started to make sense why she was so extroverted. She was a joyous person on the outside but the pain that she held within was unbearable. She hid her life details using a mask of outrageous behavior to cover the disquiet within her. Eventually she was forced to move out of her NYC apartment as the rent was abominable. Searching for a suitable place to live and needing a roommate to share expenses, she engaged her ex-husband with whom she had no contact with for over 30 years to become her roommate. He too, was under water financially and welcomed the opportunity. They had a contentious marriage and were happily divorced from one another, but serious times calls for serious concessions.
It was not long after she moved into an apartment with her ex-husband citing, it's only platonic, that she was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Her ex-husband took care of her till her death at 75 years old. He became a godsend as he bathed her and fed her and cared for her as if they were never apart. She was estranged from her daughter, and they never said goodbye to each other even though her daughter was aware of her prognosis.
I learned a lot from Linda, we shared so much laughter. Yet I am left with many questions and a sense of confusion. I understand how life experiences might alter our behaviors and values and the rationale for refusing to conform as she experienced firsthand how our individual journeys can suddenly be cut short. The need for a freedom to be who we are, and to lighten our loads might be apparent, but at what point are we on self-destruct? Can we take our life journey and the suffering that enters our world as a license to do and be whatever we desire? Or did I get it wrong and was Linda so introverted that she acquired this façade to hide more than her pain.
While attending my daughter’s wedding, Linda had a full-blown panic attack. The warmth of the family unity and gathering inadvertently caused an emotional flash of pain to surface placing her in an emotional space that she normally avoids. Suddenly, she rose from her seat, and ran out of the venue. Quickly I followed trying to understand what prompted such an obviously torrent reaction. “It’s too much happiness, she stated.” “This highlights all that I have missed in my life. I can’t handle the pain.” She drove off. We didn’t speak for 2 weeks after that day. I didn’t know whether to be angry or sad or both. Creating such a disturbance on one of the most important days in my family’s lives, was almost unforgivable. In time, I came to see her point of view and empathy was all I could feel.
Sadly, Linda was ready to pass away. She was offered chemotherapy and did try one treatment. It was so difficult that she refused to take anymore. She said, “I’m ready to die. It’s been such a hard life.” We talked and talked about her decision, but she wasn’t open to anymore, in this life. I begged her to try and reconsider but she said emphatically, “I want to die.” I said to her, “You’re going to leave me here?” She joked and referenced her dying in such a light-hearted way, it brought great confusion to me. She took the precious gift of life to a place that lacked seriousness, just like her very necessary job. I did understand that being an extrovert for Linda was an avoidance to deal with the truth and pain in her life. I think I always sensed that about her from the first day I met her, it just took me a while to want to let the reasoning behind her extroverted behavior into my life. I became her sole confidant. She told me that she never had a friend like me before. Her friends and her world were made up of people that cared for one another superficially, and the fact that I reached down into her life and gave of myself was so unique and unfamiliar to her. She wasn’t totally comfortable as she was so used to living closed off and in secret. Her antics brought friendships in a very surface way. She was the fun girl. I was her only friend to visit as she lay dying.
As she neared the end, I sat by her bedside, stroking her hair, trying to offer warmth and comfort.
She pushed my hand away.