Eden (not her real name, for reasons that will become evident) is one of my oldest friends. After being paired as perfect roommates in college, we remained part of each other’s lives, meeting up in Colorado, Paris, L.A., and always writing letters. She settled on the West Coast, making a life for herself among friends and dogs and fellow writers. Like many women, she loved men dearly, but never chose to marry.
Though she went through some tough times, Eden always landed on her feet. (As my mother put it, “She always comes out smelling like roses.”) She even seemed to prevail over the hellish experience of being stalked by a very persistent, very threatening stranger. She moved often, enlisted the police, and bought a magnificent dog. I’d never thought of Eden as a woman needing a guard dog, but I was glad when she found Tess.
Soon after Tess died, Eden moved into a house where she rooms with her landlady. All seemed well until Linda, as I’ll call her, began to act weird. It seemed she was reading Eden’s email, for one thing. Linda worked in tech, so it wasn’t too far-fetched to imagine her hacking into Eden’s account. Their relationship seemed strained, at best.
So I was concerned when her letters grew shorter and less frequent; the last one, sent over a month ago, with the subject “Fast fast fast,” said only, “Sorry to be quiet for so long. Nothing catastrophic but things aren’t great. Still alive, for whatever that’s worth.” I had continued to write, to ask how her job, dog, health and living space were doing, but all I got was that.
As my worry escalated, it was tinged with anger. Not at Eden, but at the situation confronting her. She works freelance, earning too much to begin taking Social Security until age 66. While she is fit and active and as beautiful as ever, an accident years ago left her with physical ailments that require professional healthcare. Freelancers don’t get benefits, so she’s used credit cards to pay those bills. Even for someone as smart and educated as she, these conditions too often leave a person backed into a corner with no way out.
As much as I wanted to believe she was okay, I wrote her a letter, a real one this time that would be delivered to the post office box she rents. At least Linda couldn’t read that one. I began, “I am writing because I am very, very worried about you. I have tried emailing you, but your replies have become first very abbreviated, and now, nonexistent. I have no idea if you are all right or not.”
I went on to apologize if my worry annoyed her, pointing out that I remembered how irritated she would get when her mom – who’d had five miscarriages before this only child – would worry out loud. I told her how much our friendship means to me, something I’d never really said. I wrote, “As much as it would grieve me if you want to break off our friendship, it would be a relief compared with the nightmare fantasies marching through my thoughts lately. If I sound like your mom telling you ‘Be careful! Watch out!’ well, so be it. That’s something friends do. They express their concern and if it annoys us, too bad. They hang in there. They want to hear a few words now and then.”
My mom used to enclose a list of questions with her letters when she found my own insufficiently detailed, written on a stamped postcard I was instructed to complete and mail back. I sent a short list to Eden, asking only for a “true” or “false” via email:
- I am fine. Just busy with work and making money. Everything really is okay
- I had to leave Linda’s house in a hurry.
- I will tell you everything within a week, I promise.
- I’m afraid our friendship is over, but I’m fine.
I don’t believe the friendship is over. I included question 4 only because her silence has cranked up my worry to full-blown dread. I ended the letter with this: “If I’m being overly dramatic, well, my dear friend, you were stalked, and that wasn’t you being dramatic, any more than my being beaten by my first husband was. Bad things do happen to good people. All I want to know is that you are all right, and it would be nice if you tell me this convincingly, so I won’t go away wondering if Linda, or some other villain, put you up to it. Damn it, Eden, I want to know you’re okay. We’ve been friends for a really long time. I love you. Please let me know what the hell is going on.”
Another single friend, Elinor, posted on Facebook a troubling article from U.S. News & World Report titled, “No Spouse, No Kids, No Caregiver: How to Prepare to Age Alone.” Elinor is my daughter’s age, with parents still alive, but Eden is on her own. That article cites a study showing one-third of 45- to 65-year-olds are single, and 15 percent of 40- to 44-year-old women have no children. Who will care for these “orphaned” elderly?
So many of my generation are without a support system, whether from family, friends, the government, employers, or attentive next-door neighbors. Eden’s mother would be sick with worry if she knew the risks her daughter faces now. Do you have a friend who seems to be taking care of herself with no visible means of support? Take a closer look. Better to nag than to let her think you don’t care.