Dear Amanda and Jane,
I really really don’t want to write this letter. I have a lot to do: I’m packing things to send back East where I’ll be attending grad school in three months. I just mailed my patchwork quilt today (twenty-five dollars) then wondered how I’m going to afford sending my warm clothes and shoes over there as well. I need to catch up with my writing (am working on several projects) check in with my father (he’s eighty-two and lives in a Cal Vet Home) be irritated with Unemployment (they won’t let me file a new claim with them until August) and so on and so on. But I’m taking time out to write this letter because a person has to speak out.
Amanda: did you choose this headline: My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing or did an editor at XOJane pick it out? Of course it’s clickbait; it made me want to say huh? What the heck does she mean? I thought your friend had cancer so of course it made sense her death was a blessing.
No, your friend suffered from mental illness. You describe how the friendship was stagnant, then came alive again when you two both moved to LA:
Leah and I reconnected when we were both living in Los Angeles. There was always something about her that wasn’t quite right. While I was admittedly, for a while, not the best adult, there was something about her mindset that had had just stopped evolving after high school. Her apartment was always filthy and her bedroom had clothing strewn about everywhere. She didn’t take pride in her home or respect her own property.
So here’s the thing: I’m an incredibly messy person. Right now my bedroom is full of boxes. Clothes are hanging from my dresser. Man, I must not respect my own property! No, it’s because I’m getting ready to move cross country, figuring out what to keep and what to save. If a friend of mine judged me like that, I would say “Hey! I get overwhelmed sometimes. If you want to help me pack or take a box to the Post Office, that would be great.”
Then we have this humdinger:
She also didn’t have real boyfriends or go out on dates. While dating in L.A. is hard, I feel like she probably had no concept of how to be in a relationship.
Or maybe she wanted to be alone! I know, crazy. You said she tried to hook up with someone you had a crush on. You don’t mention in the essay if she knew you were crushing on the guy. That’s a huge detail to leave out. Did you ever give her the benefit of the doubt that she flat out didn’t know?
The final straw was when I got her a job working for the same company I did. Sure, it wasn’t the greatest job, but when you need money, you work. Of course she really didn’t have to work because her parents gave her whatever she wanted. I think this partially due to her sister’s death. When Leah quit the job shortly after being hired, I was really angry with her because I felt it made me look bad. I told her I didn’t want to be friends anymore. In all fairness, I could have been more patient, but I was going through some of my own difficulties. I blocked her on social media, moved on with my life and didn’t really think of her for years.
Where do I begin? Okay, I get the fact it might’ve made you look bad. But the thing is, some people can’t handle certain jobs. Or they can’t handle working forty hours a week, the job won’t accommodate her, on and on. And you told her you didn’t want to be friends with her anymore? How old are you, twelve? You might say hey I need a break, but come on.
Then you talk about unblocking her on Facebook, and noticed she was posting things that “didn’t make sense.” She was in the sex business, and made angry phone calls to her parents:
But perhaps none of this was as shocking as her posts about her angry phone calls with her parents. They obviously knew what was going on because she didn’t have a job other than the occasional webcam girl gig. I can’t understand how a parent would let their child go on like this. Clearly, she was suffering and severely ill. If her disease were physical, would they have let her deteriorate to that point?
All righty, here’s the thing: Unless you’ve walked in those parents’ shoes, you have no right to judge them. I remember Teresa McGovern, the daughter of George McGovern, who froze to death in the snow one night because she was too drunk to get up. No one would dream of saying: “That George and Eleanor McGovern. If they had been better parents, they would’ve taken better care of their daughter.” Their daughter was an alcoholic. Your friend was mentally ill. It’s something that (in certain cases) parents and loved ones don’t have any control over.
Then we find out Leah died. You wrote this:
It sounds horrible to say, but her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was. Her sister died when she was in college. Schizoaffective disorder robbed her of reaching her potential. There were some other things along the way. She was alone and terribly unhappy when died. Leah with the big heart didn’t deserve that. Judging Facebook pages, we all compare ourselves to other people, what they have, what they don’t, and their accomplishments. This girl had nothing to live for.
I realize there are plenty of seriously mentally ill people who take meds and get better. I don’t think the prognosis for all people diagnosed with severe mental illness is death. There are people who learn to manage and live happy and productive lives, but with parents on the other side of the country and no local support system, Leah would never be one of those people. What would the rest of her life been like? She would have either been institutionalized or a major burden on her family. There was just no way she would have survived on her own. Drowning to death was relatively painless compared to what she had to endure in life.
Now I’m going to stop being polite.
What the hell is wrong with you? How can you say that? Let me tell you something: You never ever say someone has nothing to live for. Life is what you live for. Do you understand? Maybe she would’ve found the right meds and could’ve been happy. I didn’t see you had a degree in psychology. Plus did it ever occur to you that her parents would read what you wrote?
Many people were very upset about the essay, so much so that you Jane, had to issue an apology. Reading the essay again, I get even more angry, especially at you. You must’ve known the essay was going to get clicks. You knew it would enrage people, get people talking. Sure enough, Amanda has gotten offers to be on TV. All right! Free publicity for XOJane! Personally, that makes me see red. I’ve been working on a story the past two years about a girl who was murdered thirty-six years ago. Her killer is still out there. It has gotten media coverage, and I am very grateful. But man, maybe I was just being too nice in the article. Maybe if I said something obnoxious and clickbaity, I would be on my way to Good Morning America to chat with Robin and George. What was I thinking? People should be awarded for bad behavior! After all, one of our presidential candidates is getting away with it!
I know it’s sour grapes, my resentment above. But there are times when even if you think something in your head, maybe even writing it in a diary, it doesn’t mean you write and publish it. Both of you should know better.
Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons