Just because everything is different doesn’t mean anything has changed. — Irene Peter
I’m not the type to mount a soapbox and demand credit for my accomplishments, but in this case, it never could have happened without me; for better or worse, I accept full responsibility. As with most life-altering occasions, this one began with an exchange of information, and I was the one doing the exchanging.
“Jen’s looking for a new place,” I said, interjecting the nugget as a non sequitur amidst the conversation my friend Ollie and I had been having about the improbable abundance of lint in his belly button.
“No shit, huh?” Ollie has always been adept at following the sudden lane changes on my subject-congested talkways. “I wouldn’t mind moving into a bigger place and splitting the rent,” he said. Until that moment, I hadn’t considered the possibility of my two bestest friends living under the same roof, but once aware of it, I realized no other living situation would do.
The next day, while walking with Jen back to my place after a jaunt through the zoo, I extolled the features of Hillcrest. Since I’ve known her, Jen has lived between 20 and 50 minutes away. It would be much more convenient to do those things we love to do together — catch horror flicks, go hiking, and visit the zoo — if she lived closer. As we passed one manicured apartment complex after another, I told my friend how great it is to have so many unique restaurants, coffee shops, stores, and clubs within walking distance and waxed rhapsodic about how pleasant it is to visit Balboa Park regularly without having to deal with parking.
Once I felt the prepping was complete, I commenced phase two of my plan. “You know, Ollie told me he’s looking to move out of Meth-ville,” I said. “He said he’s thinking about getting a place around here, maybe going in on a place with someone.” Ollie had actually suggested a handful of hoods he’d be willing to move to, but I saw no harm in a little self-serving embellishment.
“Huh,” said Jen. When she’d finished processing my words, she said, “I bet Ollie would be a good roommate.”
“I know he would,” I said, jumping on the opportunity to position Ollie as the thoughtful and considerate, quiet and mindful chap I knew him to be. Jen took this in with another “Huh,” and by the inflection of this one, I knew she had begun to take the idea seriously. The seeds were planted. Now nature would take its course, and all I had to do was sit back and wait for the harvest. I smiled inwardly and changed the subject, so as not to overplay my investment in my friends’ future residence.
For a few weeks, they kept me in the loop. Jen told me she emailed Ollie to confirm his interest, and Ollie told me he and Jen had agreed a roommate situation would be mutually beneficial. One Saturday, after they’d spent the morning looking at apartments, they met up with David and me for lunch. When we parted ways — David and I back home, Ollie and Jen back to hunting — I was left with a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
I went about my business, oblivious to the subsequent Saturdays during which my friends narrowed their search for a new apartment. The day before I left for Spain, I was chatting with Ollie on the phone when our conversation turned to movies we wanted to see. “This How to Lose Friends and Alienate People one looks interesting,” I said.
“That’s what I thought, but it was crap,” said Ollie.
“You’ve seen it?” I said, allowing more astonishment to slip into my tone than I’d intended. Despite my cognizance of my friend’s…let’s call it “autonomy,” I tend to consider him as belonging to me, in a way I like to think of as more loving than dysfunctional; I’ve always assumed a sense of ownership over my friends. I am reluctant to use the word “possessive,” but when Ollie responded that he had caught the flick with Jen, that nagging feeling returned. My two BFFs — two people who had previously only spent time together when I’d invited them both to the same event — had gone to a movie. Without me. Finally I had a name for that nagging feeling — it was foreboding. The new dynamic I’d created was going rogue.
Once on the plane, I suppressed my consternation. While David and I tooled around Spain and Portugal for two and a half weeks, I liked to imagine my friends sitting in their respective homes, doing absolutely nothing that was remotely fun, waiting for me to return so that their lives could continue. But such was not the case. By the time I got back, Ollie and Jen had not only agreed on a place, they’d already moved into it.
My disappointment dissolved the moment Jen explained to me that her new apartment was only three blocks away from mine. This was what I wanted — my favorite buddies within walking distance. Taking advantage of this new convenience, Ollie and Jen walked over to my place one night to hang out and watch a movie; after a few drinks and much commentary on how unsatisfactory was The Golden Compass, the two walked back to their new place.
The following morning, again capitalizing on her proximity to me and to Balboa Park, Jen suggested we explore some of the newly marked hiking trails. We were sliding down a dirt path above Pershing Drive when Jen started to giggle.
“What?” I said.
“Oh, nothing, I just remembered something that happened last night,” she answered.
“Tell me,” I said.
“Well, it probably won’t seem as funny to you, but for whatever reason, Ollie and I were in stitches over it.” Jen went on to explain what was, indeed, an unfunny story about her walk home with Ollie. They had stopped off at a dive bar called Pecs for a pitcher of beer; while walking the remaining block back to their new home, Jen warned Ollie not to step in a pile of noodles, which reminded them of the dog poo Jen had stepped in the day they’d filled out the application for their place, and from there, it was all cackles and gasps. “We just couldn’t stop laughing,” she concluded.
“Yeah, you were right,” I said. “That’s one of those ‘had to be there’ sorts of things.” Now they’re establishing their own inside jokes, I thought, and increased my pace for a heartier workout.
I knew it was silly of me to feel so uncomfortable about two of my friends developing their own friendship with one another. What was I afraid of? It was as though I had regressed to eighth grade — it was in that school year that my group of friends had a secret meeting and decided to oust me for no other reason than (as I later discovered) one of them wanted to test the strength of her influence. Certain insecurities — especially those that are reinforced in adolescence — are hard to shake.
“Do you think that Jen and Ollie are going to become best friends and then not want to hang out with me anymore?” I tried to sound cavalier, but David was able to read the sincerity in my question.
“No,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m just kidding anyway,” I said.
I made the mistake of bringing it up with Ollie over the phone. “You guys aren’t going to be excluding me from stuff, right?” I did it with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge tone of voice, but Ollie smelled the blood in the water.
“We already have,” he said. My heart sank. I knew it, said the little girl in me. But then he continued, “We went to Disneyland and saw the fairies. We rode unicorns and talked to mermaids, all kinds of stuff. We’ve been scheming to push you out of the trio. Actually, right now I’ve got to head out; I think Jen and I are going to go pet really fluffy baby animals. Not sure where; she said she met someone this week who had a farm or worked in the zoo or something.”
“You’re such a dick,” I said through a smile.
“Yup. Oh, and we’re going to get a pedicure by a duck pond too,” said Ollie, relishing his new torture device.
“Now that’s just cruel,” I said.
In a show of mercy, Ollie said, “Actually, we’re watching Freaks right now, but we’re about to pop in Female Trouble; Jen’s making me eat pepperoni pizza with hot sauce and strawberry jam on it. Why don’t you come over?”
Excited at the prospect of weird pizza accompanied by an even weirder movie with my friends, I hopped to my feet and said, “I’ll be right there.”