I was once friends with a girl named Janet. I say girl because she was quite younger than myself at the time. I was in my early 30’s, and she was only 26. We had been coworkers at the cleaning company I worked at. I had been promoted to a team leader, and she had been assigned to be my partner.
We hit it off almost instantly. She thought I was hilarious and told me so constantly. We worked like a well oiled machine together from the get go, and soon after starting our fledgling friendship, we exchanged phone numbers.
I have to stop here and share an important fact. Up until this point in my life, I considered myself completely straight. I have always been attracted to men, and never questioned my sexuality. So my experience with Janet was a first. To this day, I am still at a bit of a loss about the entire thing.
There was something about how her glasses always fell down her nose that I found amusing. She would push them up with her pale, nicotine stained finger, and squint at me. She had bad eyesight, and her lenses magnified her blue eyes.
I started looking forward to work most days, because we always had so much fun cleaning rich people’s homes together.
Her laugh was infectious. She was everything I wanted to be. Fun. Spontaneous. She was a rebel, a single mother of two boys, who lived for the moment.
She never stayed anywhere long, she had told me one day while we were cleaning a gigantic bathroom. As soon as a job had passed its prime, she quit. She would take a couple of months off and end up getting evicted. She would crash with her cousin, which was her only family. She started over again each time, burning bridge after bridge in her wake.
She made it sound wonderful, that nomad life, living on the edge. I romanticized it, I realize now. I was brought up to always have a roof over my head, and a general idea of where my next meal came from. You had to have a job, always. Bills were paid, and an eviction notice was an embarrassment. You just didn’t do such things, and especially with small children tagging along.
We started taking our new friendship outside of the workplace, going to a bar after work on Fridays. It had been her idea, and since I had tip money burning a hole in my pocket, I agreed instantly.
One hot and hazy summer afternoon, we sat outside at the bar and talked for two hours, about everything we could think of. She told me that she was bisexual. I shrugged it off, and actually asked her who she found attractive among our coworkers. She laughed and said that she normally found the athletic type appealing. I laughed back and inwardly drew a sigh of relief.
Her oldest son was close to my daughter’s age, so we decided to start doing things together. We went to the drive-in, to the lake, out to eat, and finally to each others homes. The kids had a crush on each other, and we all had our hearts warmed by the 3-year-old, who enjoyed running around naked.
I felt maternal towards her, which isn’t unusual for me. Ask my dearest friends, and they will more than likely agree with that statement. I wanted her to move to a better neighborhood, and went with her to the leasing office of my own apartment complex. She didn’t get approved, which I should have known. I wanted her to stay at the maid service, and if she didn’t show up for work in the morning, my heart would start to race.
And to be honest, it sank a bit. This is around the time I realized that my feelings for her were beyond how I normally felt about my female friends in the past.
We both ended up quitting that job, but continued to talk often. That winter, she had moved again, but this time to a much better area. I was relieved and excited to finally see her away from the shit hole that she had been living in. My daughter and I went over for a visit one evening soon thereafter.
We played blackjack, and she drank her beer while I nursed a wine cooler. The kids played happily in the bedroom. The air felt strangely charged every time we looked at each other, and I remember being nervous for the first time in our almost one year friendship.
The kids came running into the dining room. It was snowing hard, and maybe we could have a sleepover, they begged us.
Janet smiled in that way she had, winked, and told me that she wouldn’t mind sharing the bed with me.
My skin prickled. I excused myself and went to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet seat for a moment, and thought it through. The idea of doing more than possibly kissing her made me feel very uncomfortable, and I knew in my heart that I was not gay.
There was something about her, though. I still have no idea what.
It just was.
When I came back out, I told my daughter that we had to get going before it got really nasty outside. I apologized to Janet, just a quick I’m sorry. She didn’t seem that fazed until a few days later, when she said that maybe we shouldn’t hang out as much anymore. It didn’t take long for us to stop talking daily, but as hurt as I was, I imagined that she must have been worse off than me.
Her youngest sons father was a bastard, and even though she had a restraining order against him, he always figured out where she lived eventually. He would then drive by her house slowly, just to scare her. It had happened the night I last talked to her. She was frightened, and I offered for her to gather the kids and come to my apartment, but she declined. She said she was going to call the cops, and then call me back.
But the call never came.
I sent text after text to her, and I don’t even know if she ever read them. I wanted to drive to her house, but something stopped me from doing so. It haunts me now. I should have done more to help her. I cared about her very much, and I was surprised at how emotional I got writing this, taking many breaks to regroup my thoughts.
I think some people are just meant to surprise you, to shake things up once in a while.
I used to assign ringtones for everyone back then. Foxy Lady by Jimi Hendrix was the one that I had given her.
I hope wherever she is now, things are better for her.