Thursday, August 5, 2010

Close Encounters of the Reality-Checking Kind

I was hanging out on Facebook the other evening, neglecting cows in Farmville and burning food in Cafe World, when up popped a chat window - a mom I know, sort of, or did until I moved my daughter out of the local public school.

"Did you hear about Patrice?"

Um, what? I haven't seen any of these people in a year. Haven't you read Emily Post's Guide to Suburban Etiquette? Chapter 17: If you move to another school, you cease to exist. It's after Chapter 16 (Baked-goods recipes you must master, but not actually consume), and before Chapter 18 (Standardized test scores: A measure of your parenting skills).

 "She died."

I blinked stupidly at the chat window and had one of those moments where the brain synapses just won't fire. She was young and in perfect health the last time I saw her - but that was over a year ago.

Me: "What happened?"
Mom 1: "I don't know."

A synapse fires. This isn't "Hello! I want to share information with you," but rather, "Hello! I am gathering information, do you have any?"

I checked to see who else was on chat and issued my own "Hello! Have-you-heard-about-Patrice-and-if-so-what-can-you-tell-me?" message.

Mom 2: "Yes, it's too awful."
Me: "What happened?"
Mom 2: "Suicide."

I spent some time going back and forth between the two chat windows as the horror of what happened became clear. Patrice divorced or separated about a year ago, began drinking and partying, evidently became persona non grata among the Sorority Moms she had previously hung out with, and then last week, committed suicide. Among the people who found her was one of her three young children, a sweet ten-year-old girl who I last saw two years ago, building fairy houses with my daughter on a Girl Scout camp weekend.

I remember Patrice and had several encounters with her that made an impression. The first was at her daughter Haillie's birthday party, which was held at an upscale swimming pool and involved pretty much every Sorority Mom in the neighborhood, all their kids, and us, for a grand total of some 75 or so painfully well-dressed people.  I was among the first to arrive and Patrice greeted me warmly but then became busy attending to children, swimsuits, and pool toys. I sat on the bleachers, which gradually filled with other moms and dads, all of whom knew each other and none of whom knew me or attempted to alter that fact.

 After a while, numerous pizzas were delivered, and it became apparent that Patrice was overwhelmed trying to serve slices not only to all the children, but to all the adults as well. I came over to help, as did Patrice's husband, and we had a pleasant exchange as we served everyone on the bleachers while Patrice and her mother served all the children in the party room. It proceeded like that through cake and ice cream.

When the party ended, I realized not one person other than Patrice, her husband, or her mother, had said a word to me, such as, for example, "Thanks." There were moments when conversations almost happened - for example, one mother sat right next to me and sighed irritably several times when I ventured controversial topics like "How are you?" This confused me because there were plenty of other places she could have sat - but of course, had she sat in one of them, I would not know for certain that I was being snubbed. 

I sent my daughter to say "Thank You" to Patrice for the party, and Patrice's slightly overwhelmed look brightened as she smiled back and thanked my daughter for coming and me for all the help.

As I drove home, all I could think was, "These are her friends? Why? She seems like such a sweet person."

Not long after that, she invited me to a party at her house, the purpose of which was to sell me stuff. I went because I had some extra money and felt like spending it there might be worth it for the time it would buy me getting to know someone who might be friendly to me next time I found myself sitting on the bleachers. As it turned out, I got to spend a lot of time with her, as I was one of two people who showed up - three if you count her mother. As I left, she hugged me and said, "Thank you so much for coming, it really meant a lot to me."

I called her a couple of times after that, and when I extended an invitation, she would accept it. We took our girls to the movies together - once. We went shopping together - once. When I saw her at Girl Scout functions she would come over and chat in the friendliest possible way, but it became clear that she socialized quite a bit with the Sorority Moms, and I was not included in that social circle. Although I would have gladly accepted any invitation, none were forthcoming, and so I stopped making efforts to be friendly, and our interactions ceased except for the occasional hello at school - although more often than not, she simply waved to me from the window of her freshly washed Mercedes-Benz as she picked up her children and then drove back across the street to her house. 

I knew she was on Facebook; we hadn't friended each other but she kept popping up as a suggestion and I could see all the names of the people she had friended - Sorority Moms and irritable sighers. Her Facebook page appears to have been removed, but a memorial page was set up, with posts by a whole crew of people I knew but many I had never heard of. Some of the comments:

"I'm sorry I didn't return your call last week."
"I'm sorry I left you but I will always be here."
"Sorry I was distant."

I later learned that her original Facebook profile had been removed because her children could see it, and other neighborhood children** were posting comments about how sad her death had made their own mommies - and including graphic details of Patrice's death.

For three years, while my daughter attended that school, I watched these women from the outside and felt so lonely - because they would not accept me, no matter how hard I tried. I tried to be friends were her - and several others - because I saw the looks in their eyes and sometimes listened to them voice the frustration of their disappointment at being let down by these friends, repeatedly. Apparently, it was lonely on the inside, too - but in the end, they chose to continue those relationships while I chose to walk away.

I wish I could say I feel vindicated somehow, but in the end, I just feel sad.

**10-year-old girls with Facebook accounts, because even though the Facebook user agreement says you must be 13 to sign up, what could go wrong with a little girl lying about her age online?
Please note: Names have been changed to protect the family's privacy.


  1. What a terrible tragedy, especially for those children.

  2. A biting commentary on the quality of friends this person chose, I'm sure. Yes, a tragedy for the children and father. Sad too for the Mom to be so unhappy and self absorbed to feel there was no other option. Yes, self absorbed - because what caring Mother could look her children in the face and make the choice to abandon them to the vagaries of life without their support system? I wonder why humans so often make a pattern of self destructive choices? They usually only end in tragedy. May God rest her soul.


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