Walking up Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati on a cloudy January afternoon, I saw her standing there on the sidewalk. I was rushing to the bus stop while she was talking to a man I didn’t know.
I wasn’t sure if she had noticed me or not, but a text message on my cell phone later that night told me she did. Her message saying “I miss you” hurt a little, but the reality is I don’t miss her. I’m the one who walked away from the friendship.
We met one summer night in a bar in Clifton about two years ago. She came in and sat down on a barstool next to mine and ordered a bud Light. In a good mood and eager to talk, she told me her name was Kelly.
Kelly had short blondish hair, blue eyes and a small nose. She was fairly tall and thin. As I was talking to her, I was guessing she was in her early forties. I was attracted to her. I thought she was sexy.
She said she was waiting for someone to come in — somebody who was going to talk to her about a job opening. She was excited about it.
As the night wore on and as it became apparent this person wasn’t going to show up, Kelly’s happy mood turned dark. She told me she needed this job desperately. She also told me she only had enough money for two beers. I paid for her drinks.
After that night, we started going out for dinners, for drinks or to movies. When Kelly wasn’t moody, she was fun to be with. She had a wicked sense of humor.
Kelly was staying with a friend in Clifton. She eventually moved in with somebody else in the same area, someone she said she didn’t like. I quickly figured out that Kelly really didn’t have a home.
She told me she was a painter — an artist who admired and liked to do abstract paintings. I have no evidence of this, because my many requests to see her work were quickly dismissed.
Kelly also told me she liked to write and was working on a novel. I wanted to see some of the words she had written, but none were ever offered.
What she did offer was sex. While I found her attractive, something inside me knew that would be opening a door that I would want to close. Something didn’t feel right. I told Kelly I wanted to take the relationship slow.
When I knew her, Kelly was always unemployed, but she told me of various jobs she had in the past — mostly as cashiers at various grocery, drug or department stores. She also told me she was once a receptionist at a hair salon, one that I happened to go to.
One time when I got my hair cut, I asked my stylist if she remembered Kelly. yes, she did. She said Kelly would often come to work depressed — so depressed she couldn’t greet customers. Once, my stylist said, she came to work and went to the back of the shop and just sat there, unable to cope with the people coming in.
Kelly and I continued to go out every so often. I continued to buy her drinks and dinner. I was spending a lot of money.
The summer turned into fall. Still jobless, she found herself relocating to Covington to stay with yet another friend. Her mood was darker than ever.
She was now asking me for money. At first it was $20 every few weeks, then $50. It was becoming clear to me the relationship was turning into one of not friendship but one mostly about money.
On a late fall night, at Washington Platform downtown over dinner, I told Kelly it was time for me to move on. I told her giving her money wasn’t addressing what her real problems were. I suggested she needed help with her mood swings, the kind of help I couldn’t give her.
She thanked me for my honesty and we promised we would stay in touch from time to time. If my words upset her, she didn’t show it. My words to her also didn’t stop Kelly from calling, leaving me voice mails still asking for money. Those calls left me feeling a bit used. I never returned them.
If I had to do it all over again, instead of giving her money or taking her out to dinner or for drinks, I should have found somebody — a doctor — to help counsel her for depression. I don’t know what kind of depression she had and probably still has, but looking back now, clearly something was wrong.
I still think about that text message from her in January and the temptation is to respond to it and see what’s going on in her life. After giving it some thought, I’ve decided I won’t be doing this. I have no desire to try and start over again with Kelly.
Anyone who knows me knows I take friendships very seriously — but with friendships there are no contracts, no friendship license or even a verbal agreement. Really, it’s all voluntary.
I’ll always wish Kelly well, but sometimes walking away is the only thing left to do. Sometimes it’s the only way to deal with a friendship you really don’t know how to fix.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]