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Lions Roar : July 2009
60 SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2009 the Snake With two Hearts An X-ray of a snake that has swallowed two lightbulbs. A shiny heart-shaped sticker is affixed to each bulb. a month after the birthday party, Julia invited me to dinner. “you know what’s wrong with you?” she suddenly spat out. “you’re not a real feminist.” Her eyes were cold and glittering. She quizzed me about my past, dismissing every bit of evidence that i offered that, why, yes, i was a “real feminist,” whatever that meant. She was enjoy- ing herself. clearly, she’d been planning this moment. i left as quickly as i could, not engaging, keeping up a veil of politeness. days later, Julia sent me a card saying that she merely wanted to “blow my cool.” “you’ll forgive me, won’t you?” she pleaded. “i don’t want our friendship to change. i want it to be like it was.” We went to a piano recital. it was in the woods, at one of a collection of hand-built houses occupied by artists and musicians. On our drive through the countryside, Julia kept up a steady stream of complaints about how we were lost and how i didn’t know what i was doing. after the recital, we went to a restau- rant for dinner. Julia tried to pick a few more fights with me and, failing that, she lit into the waiter who didn’t serve her quickly enough. My friendship with her became like living with an alcoholic. i avoided restaurants. i was careful not to make any changes in scheduling and to arrive at the exact time that we’d planned—not that it made much difference. She misremem- bered the hour and chewed me out anyway. it was like tiptoeing through a minefield where someone kept moving the mines. Julia could be a generous friend or the cru- elest of enemies. i never knew which person i’d encounter. Over lunch one day, she thanked me for giving her the best seat. We had a real conversation, as two close friends might, about our complicated feelings for our mothers. Of- ten, she offered me clothes, lamps, paintings, money, saying, “take this, take this, you do so much for me. How can i pay you? take this.” Or, her edge became a sword she wielded with- out warning, slicing me off at the knees. She was raging against the dying of the light and the rest of us still in the sunshine. Ultimately, there was something wrong with everyone. they were “age- ist,” or “shallow,” or “materialistic,” or “classist,” or “too sensitive,” or they “took advantage of people.” With Julia, familiarity really did breed contempt. i struggled with what i should do versus what i could do and what boundaries i should set. What was my obligation to my friends? Which friends would i do anything for and which friends would i only go so far for? dress rehearsal A dressing room filled with actors putting on makeup and donning costumes for the stage. Julia considered moving to a retirement community, where she would have regular meals, safety, and some social contact. She decided and un-decided, signed the contract and ripped it up, agreed to a tour of places and then refused to go. Her god- daughter from connecticut, her ex-lover from canada, and local friends in north carolina all searched for a place for her. finally,