Short takes

When a friend betrays you: My dilemma, your advice, my decision

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jul 12, 2012

In 1989, a close friend told a series of lies that almost took down my career. I’ve never confronted her. Recently, an event and the power of Brandi Carlile’s new CD re-opened the wound. And I thought, after all these years, I might tell this woman that I know what she did and that — I like to think I’d mean this — I forgive her. And then I thought: get a second opinion. And why not from you, the smartest people I sorta know?

A torrent of responses. I couldn’t thank you all personally — there were that many. More than the number of e-mails, though, was the thought and caring that went into them. Thank you, all.
 
Many of you said I should contact this person. Some had very good reasons. Some were funny: “Drag her by her hair into a locked room and don’t stop yelling till she’s promised you a lifetime of servitude.” Most of you who favored communicating were, I think, led astray by my careless wording. I described this woman as “a close friend.” I should have said: a former close friend. Our worlds no longer intersect. She doesn’t read Head Butler. By her definition of success, the life I have is a failure. So, no, I have no interest in repairing the friendship and strolling into our sunset years together.  
 
Interesting: None of the writers who encouraged me to contact this person shared a personal experience in which they’d successfully confronted someone who had wronged them.
 
In contrast, many of those who urged me to “let it be” wrote from experience. Let me share two:
 
“On a Saturday morning in 1987, I went to my law office to get some work done. I started down the hall to make coffee when someone stepped out of an office behind me and shot me twice in the back with a .45 caliber handgun. Both shots got me in the spine, and I’ve been in a wheelchair since. Seems like everybody in the world was offering advice as to how to live out my life. What I learned is that no one is smart enough to tell another how to live his life. By the first of the following year I was back trying cases in a wheelchair. Now retired. No frustrations, no anger or hostility. Enjoying life. Sitting more than I like, but get good parking.”
 
And then there was one from a woman whose husband worked in the World Trade Center. He died there. She was pregnant. She leaned into forgiveness. And it worked. I thought: If she can…..
 
Many of you smacked me upside the head. Sample: “You’re giving someone who wronged you 20+ years ago a heck of a lot of power over you. You’ve done well, you’re happy, you do what you want to do with people you want to be with. That should maybe be enough.”  

There was no “best” response, but this, from my true friend Peter, is the one I most want to share:
 
There is really no Other who screws or betrays us — or praises us, either.  It’s a closed system. There is only you and your consciousness of the world, like a flame and its light. You’re nobody’s victim.  And if we truly understand this, the question that arises is: Why did I let myself be wronged?  What attracted me to that person and situation?  And how do I feel whenever I remember it?  Which I do over and over, year after year.
 
Let me put it more personally: a business partner once screwed me royally. And without excusing him for what he did, I see that I was secretly complicit in my own screwing.  Or as they say, you can’t cheat an honest man.   
 
The older I get, the more pointless and unproductive it seems to me to argue with reality, or to even find fault with it. Pythagoras said, “If the wind bloweth, adoreth the sound.” I could spend the rest of my life counting the billions of things that I think “should” or “should not” have happened. But whenever I do that — create an alternate “should” reality and compare it to the real one — I feel bad. And since I’m a closed system, the anger and resentment I direct at others always returns to me in the end.
 
So give it up.  It’s been too long. Forgive the person for whatever you think they did and move on.   
 
And, Jesse, I’m writing this as much or more to myself as I am to you.
 
In the process of reading your notes and thinking hard about them, I got one more revelation: I’m just at the point in my novel when the man, who many will think is me, makes a mistake and is crushed. In other words, a mirror of this dilemma. So the answer to my problem — the real answer — is to put my head down and write. And spoil the child, care for my wife, serve you. I know my 1989 hurt will resurface. But other than work on compassion, I’m not going to do anything about it.