Not so long ago, a woman that I called one of my best friends lived in a city I had always wanted to visit. I’ll call her Maggie. She and her husband only lived there during the summer. All three of us were college professors and we taught the other nine months of the year. To my delight, Maggie invited me to spend a week with her one summer. I could manage five days away and took her up on her offer. We made our plans.
Maggie and I had met each other more than 15 years earlier when we were both students in a doctoral program at a major university. We were in training to teach on a university level and do original research in our respective fields. It didn’t take long for us to become friends. Maggie was a little hard to get to know, but over time, I thought we became good friends. We had a lot in common due to our careers and much that we enjoyed discussing. Maggie had some issues, both personal and family, that were unfamiliar to me. There were serious mental health issues in her family. She suffered from depression. That’s all I knew at the time and for years afterward.
When I went to visit, Maggie and her husband, Ron, picked me up at the nearby airport and we made our way to their home. Maggie was driving. I had seldom been with her when she didn’t drive. She was a self-proclaimed control freak about some things and driving was one of them. She seldom even let her husband drive. As we drove, Maggie complained about the big vehicles on the road. I don’t mean the very large trucks. I mean normal-sized SUVs. She said she didn’t like them and talked about their energy inefficiency, how their drivers were bullies, how they took up the entire road, and more. There I was, in the back seat of her van, the proud owner of a SUV. Something Maggie knew. I didn’t know quite what to think.
I didn’t understand why Maggie was difficult when we were at home. She talked very little to me. She shut herself off in her bedroom for hours on end with the door closed. Picked fights with Ron. If I tried to start a conversation with this woman with whom I usually talked so easily, she didn’t seem to want to participate. Ron was very quiet and only talked with me when Maggie did. I found myself wondering why I was there.
Before I took a shower on the third morning of my stay, Maggie asked me to please not wear cologne or use any shower gel or soap that had any scent. She said that all scents caused her to have headaches. I had been with Maggie hundreds of times. That was the first time she had ever mentioned this to me. She had stayed at my home. We had carpooled together and shopped together. Never had there been mention of this problem. I was baffled.
On that third night of my stay, one of Maggie’s neighbors was giving a cocktail party for Maggie and Ron and she asked me to join them. Of course, I said that I would. If it hadn’t been for the upcoming cocktail party, I was going to ask Maggie what was bothering her. Had I done something I hadn’t realized to upset her? Since we were going to the party, I didn’t say anything.
Off we went to the neighbor’s cocktail party. I met many of Maggie’s neighbors, all of whom seemed genuinely fond of Maggie and Ron. A man sat down beside me and struck up a conversation. Shortly after that, Maggie came over to me and asked to speak with me. Laughing, she said that she had been interested in that particular man. After that, I tried to stay away from him, but it felt like everywhere in the room I went, he appeared.
Soon, the party was drawing to a close. As Maggie, Ron, and I started to leave, the hostess asked me if I was Dr. Carlson like Maggie and Ron were both Dr. Smith. I saw Maggie’s face turn white. I told her just to call me Rosemary. I realized why Maggie looked so startled. Even though we went through the doctoral program together, she didn’t finish her degree. She had left the impression with her neighbors that she had and she was afraid I would blow her cover. Of course, I would never do that.
After that, we walked back to Maggie’s home and she was extremely angry with me about talking with the man she wanted to talk with. I knew that most of the problem was her fear that I would tell someone she had not finished her degree.
The night ended with Maggie and Ron going into their bedroom and not coming out. It was clear to me that I was not welcome there and I didn’t want to make Maggie uncomfortable. I got my things together, called a taxi, and left for the airport. It took eighteen hours to get on a standby flight.
When I got home, there was an email waiting for me from Maggie. She told me that she had no desire to continue our friendship and she gave me a list of my “sins.” I wrote her back and got a nastier email in return. It was like talking to a stranger.
I still don’t know why Maggie was upset with me. She issued the invitation and then, clearly, she didn’t want me there. Our so-called friendship ended. I was left feeling like we were never friends at all. I’ve never heard from Maggie again. My contention is that this experience was a function of Maggie’s depression. Unfortunately, I’ll never know.