Combichrist Week: Former Friends

We all start off in life believing that everything will last forever. It isn’t our fault, we have nothing to tell us otherwise. We can’t be told differently, it’s like learning that a hot stove is hot. We have to put our hand on it one time to learn what “hot” means. We believe that everyone will live forever. We believe that all couples last forever. We believe that the things we love will be the things we love forever. We believe that we’ll be friends with people forever. Time and occurrence shatter these illusions one by one. People die. Love fades. Interests change. Friends grow apart. It’s that last one that I’m going to focus on. I have had many people I would call my friend in my life. Some of them have stood the test of time. Some of them have simply walked out of my life the way they walked in. Some of them became enemies. Some of them simply went in a different direction. As they come up, I will talk about these people. This won’t be like the long, rambling list of failed lovers I subjected you all to a few weeks ago. This will be a continuing series, as musical cues provide for it. For the inaugural post of this series, I’m going to talk about Mandy. Please bear in mind, all of this is through my own lens. This is about my perception, and not necessarily the truth.

Mandy and I probably crossed paths before we knew each other. She was a frequent fixture in the goth/industrial scene at Outland back when I went there occasionally. But we didn’t meet then. The first time I saw her, it was at a work function. We were both assistant managers for resale stores. She was part of the teen branded Plato’s Closet family of stores, I work for the housewares and electronics store called New Uses. I noticed her primarily for how she looked. Most of the attendees of this meeting were in some form of business casual, even her fellow Plato’s Closet peers had fashionable Abercrombie or American Eagle sweaters or Gap button-ups. But she was obviously a little more alternative than the rest. Hair and makeup were flawless and screamed Rockabilly. The thigh high leather boots were not what I would call professional, but she made it work, nonetheless. I was impressed, and a bit jealous. Here was someone who felt she could be herself, no matter the surroundings. I have trouble being myself at home some days. We didn’t talk to each other on that occasion, either. We weren’t part of the same store groups, and I was a bit intimidated by her. I’m intimidated by anyone who shows that much confidence.

It wasn’t until Mandy started working as an assistant manager at the store my girlfriend (now wife) managed that I actually got to know Mandy. I knew her professionally, mostly, but not personally. But my wife does not believe in not being friends with her co-workers. So we went over to Mandy’s apartment to have dinner with her and her boyfriend Nate. I was still intimidated by her. Again, she was confident, and that intimidates me because in most areas of my life I am not. But we had a nice dinner, and then hung out and talked for a while after. I think we played Apples to Apples, but I can’t remember for sure. I ended up forgetting my cell phone there, so they brought it by our house the next day. We sat on our porch and talked for a while longer. I got more and more comfortable, telling funny old stories and listening to theirs. And so, we started to become friends.

From the start, Mandy and I had music in common. We both liked a fair amount of music in the goth/industrial scene. We would talk about KMFDM and Velvet Acid Christ and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and Ministry, all the classics. We’d talk about newer music, too, like Hocico and Faderhead. We both had a soft spot for the craziness that is Hanzel und Gretyl. As we had more and more of these conversations, we became better and better friends. Heather, since she was her manager and worked with her four or five days a week, was also becoming friends with her. I became friends with her boyfriend Nate, who years later would get me my first tech job at Rescentris where he worked. As time went on, Heather and I got closer and closer with Mandy, and she would invite us to parties at her place with Nate, and later to parties with her next boyfriend Travis. I always felt a little awkward and out of my league at these parties. They were usually filled with people from the Columbus goth/industrial scene, and I always worried that, even though we liked the same music and had a lot in common, they would see me as some kind of uncool poseur who didn’t belong. Imposter syndrome is strong within me. But I was never exposed as a fraud, and the relationship continued to grow. Mandy became part of our “inner circle” of friends, invited to the most important events and becoming friends with our close friends from outside of work.

Around this time, Heather and I were becoming close friends another of her co-workers named Jenn. So was Mandy. spending 30-40 hours with the same people in a less-than-great (and sometimes downright shitty) job has that effect on people. Jenn was going to marry her high school sweetheart, Kyle, in a moderate ceremony down in southeast Ohio. Heather became a “wedding planner” of sorts, Mandy was the maid-of-honor and I was the officiant (not officially, I was not ordained at this time). It was an insanely hot weekend, and we all bonded over the struggles with heat and torrential rain. That’s a longer story for a different post. But we had a fun time regardless. One of the best memories of the weekend was Mandy and Heather doing a passionate lip-sync to Journey after the reception.

Mandy and Travis broke up around that time, and Mandy moved out on her own. She had a couple more relationships and flings, and a couple more apartments. She got a dog, a cute but dumb French bulldog named Ruby. Eventually she moved to a duplex on the near north side of town. She was also pretty ingrained into our friend group at this point. She was also crushing on my best friend Josh. She drove with us to Josh’s younger brother’s graduation party on the west side of the state just so she could flirt with him. After an awkward and short courtship, they started dating. Soon after, Josh moved in with her. Josh had been living in his friend’s guest bedroom, so didn’t have to worry about a lease. Mandy had just kicked out her roommate, due in some parts to the awful guy she was dating, in other parts to the dead puppies she found in the freezer one day. I’m not going to go into depth on that story, it’s not a fun story, more of a WTF story. So Mandy needed someone to share the rent, and Josh, being the chivalrous and upstanding guy he was, rushed into the situation. They dated for a while, and we double-dated with them a few times. Mandy was going back to school at this time, and was getting her Bachelor’s degree in social work. She scaled back her responsibilities at Plato’s Closet and took a second job at Moochie & Co. in addition to her class load. Josh ended up traveling a lot for work, then, with projects that would take him to Dallas or Phoenix for weeks at a time. Their home life began to suffer, and this, along with a bunch of other reasons that are not mine to talk about, led to their break-up. This put us in an awkward situation. Josh is my best friend, and he’s Heather’s best friend as well. But we had both become quite close with Mandy, as well. We really didn’t want to pick sides, and we really didn’t want to lose either of their friendships. Thankfully, we were never forced to decide between them, and after several months of awkwardness between them, everyone was able to move on. Unfortunately, this would be a harbinger for future issues.

Another harbinger of future issues came when Jenn, who had become very close with Mandy, moved to Arizona and started an all out flame war with Mandy on social media. Since I wasn’t directly involved, I’m not going to get too deep into this. The long and short of it was that Jenn somehow betrayed Mandy and Mandy predictably struck back. Hurtful messages went back and forth, and friends were forced to pick sides. My relationship with Jenn was already disintegrating, not for any reason other than different priorities and goals, so it was easy for me to figure out whose side I was on. But I only ever got Mandy’s side of the dispute, and her side was about Jenn being cruel, irrational and venomous, with Mandy as nothing but a victim of an unprovoked attack. I have no way of knowing if this was true. I believed it at the time, but have come to doubt it since. The Jenn and Mandy feud eventually cooled down, partially because of distance, partially because they both moved on to other things, mostly because they both learned how to use the block button on Twitter and Facebook.

After dumping a guy who she called “Big Dumb Thing” that none of us liked, Mandy started dating a guy named Jacob. Jacob was a good guy, and he and Mandy seemed to be very happy together. We welcomed Jacob into our fold, and we all became friends with him as well. We went to parties that they threw at their apartment. We helped them move to their new place on our side of town. Even Josh, who still had some lingering feelings for Mandy, liked Jacob and they hung out without Mandy on several occasions. While Jacob and Mandy (who we shortened to the couple name of Mancob at some point) were attending a funeral for a family member of hers who had died tragically, they got engaged. They did it to, as they would tell me later, bring some happiness to a very sad occasion. We all had our doubts going in to it. Mandy was emotionally volatile, and Jacob was sometimes very unreliable. But love is love, and you never know who is the right one for someone, so we all went into it with full support. Josh, his younger brother Peter and I took Jacob on a bachelor party weekend to New Orleans (story for another time). Heather was one of the bridesmaids for the wedding (there was some debate over the “maid of honor” title, so it was shared among all three bridesmaids). I was the officiant for their wedding, this time legally able to perform a marriage. I wrote what I still consider to be a beautiful ceremony, and received many compliments on it afterward. It was a snowy January wedding in Mansfield at an art gallery. The power went out a couple of hours before the ceremony, but came back on in time for the official parts. Guests arrived in the dark, lit by battery powered candles and emergency lights. The power came on thirty minutes after the scheduled start time and we did the rest of the night as normal.

Mandy and Jacob were a happy married couple for a few months. Then in November, things dramatically fell apart. A tearful call from Mandy had her and Heather having a long conversation in a diner about her leaving Jacob. She was unhappy with his inability to hold a job. She was unhappy with his drinking. She was afraid of his temper. To our knowledge at this time, he had never hit her, but Mandy feared him anyway. Jacob did have quite a temper, and we had been privy to a couple of their screaming matches. He also drank a lot, and made very bad decisions when he did. She drank just as much, but never made any decisions when she did. All the things we had feared would tear the relationship apart were now tearing the relationship apart. Our immediate reaction was to be supportive, and to get them apart from each other as fast as possible. We offered to let Mandy stay with us for a few nights to help sort this all out, but instead she told Jacob not to come home, and after some more screaming (and some encouraging from me) went along with the request. This was a very unpleasant Thanksgiving. Things only got more complicated from here. Once again, Heather and I did not want to pick sides. No one cheated on the other, no physical violence had happened, and they were both equally verbally abusive to the other. We were all friends with Mandy, but we were also all friends with Jacob. To complicate matters, Heather and I got engaged just a few weeks later (a plan that I had hatched months before all of this happened), and we wanted both friends in the wedding. The next year presented a long series of awkward moments. We tried to remain friends with both parties, but not at the same time. We never invited both of them to anything, frequently favoring Mandy and only inviting Jacob if she declined (although that was reversed once or twice).

By the time the wedding rolled around in October, we had hoped that enough water had gone under the bridge to make them okay in the same room. After all, Mandy was the maid-of-honor, and Jacob was one of my groomsmen. We were wrong, but they both thankfully hid it for one day. All told, the relationship ended so badly that I don’t think the wounds would ever heal for either of them. It wasn’t until months later that we knew how bad it really was.

Mandy approached us with accusations that Jacob had been threatening her. She demanded that, as her friends, we could not be friends with Jacob and we needed to support her. This had all of the same overtures as the Jenn dispute years earlier. We were, in the beginning, only hearing one side of it. But unlike Jenn, Jacob was not miles away and we could talk to him. When confronted, Jacob explained that Mandy was blowing it all out of proportion. He even copped to some things he did do, some angry texts and inappropriate posts on Mandy’s Facebook page. When we returned to Mandy with this, her response was that he was lying and that there was so much more, though no proof was ever produced. You probably think I’m horrible for looking for proof, but I have not detailed all of the other times Mandy needed our support because she was the victim. She was always the victim, and whether it was a friend, a boyfriend, her mother, a co-worker, a corporation or her boss, the story was always the same. And I suppose I was tired of it. I stopped believing it. I mean, how many times can all of the forces of the universe be aligned against the same person? I was no longer buying what she was selling, which was unfortunate because this was more real to her than many of those times before. I no longer thought that she was being honest with me, and I hated her for using her mental illness and troubled past as a crutch each and every time. This is the point as which Mandy and I diverged.

The last time I talked to Mandy was to try and sort out the whole mess with Jacob and to figure out why she was blaming Heather and I for it. We had a long conversation on a bar patio on a gray afternoon. I made what I thought were honest and caring points, and didn’t push hard on the points I knew she would blow up at. I held back the anger I felt for her inability to change her situation or her way of thinking about it. I held back my judgement when she claimed to be the innocent victim once again. I tried to be a friend, not just by telling her what she wanted to hear, but also by telling her a little bit of what I felt she needed to hear, like it or not. I may have been wrong. I may have been right. I don’t think I’ll ever know. But that’s when Mandy and I had had enough of each other. Heather’s friendship with Mandy lingered a bit longer, as she’s better at working on those types of things, but eventually faded just as mine had. I feel bad about how it all went in the end. I could have been more supportive, but I don’t know if I should have been. I don’t know how many times the villains were actually at Mandy’s door and how many times it was just her blaming someone else for things not going her way. Mandy and I shared a lot of the same neuroses, including depression and anxiety. In the end, we were dealing with these challenges very differently though. My methods seemed to be working, hers just seemed to create more outside oppressors for her to blame. Again, I can’t speak the accuracy of these ideas, they are just perceptions.

Though it ended badly, I still have many good memories of Mandy. She got me concert tickets for my birthday two years in a row. The first year was Hanzel und Gretyl, the second year was Combichrist. The Combichrist show was really awesome, though they didn’t play the one song I really wanted them to, since it was my birthday. I had a great time at her wedding. I had a great time going on vacation in Hocking Hills with her among many other friends, and hiking the trails and falling in the ditch on our way back home. I was so happy she was a part of my wedding, and so grateful for everything she did for Heather as maid-of-honor. She got me cheap drinks when she was bartending the My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult show that Josh and I went to at the second incarnation of Outland. She got me into the Frank Black show at the third incarnation of Outland and I got to meet Frank Black himself after I helped load the tour bus. That show was okay, but that was mostly because it was summer and the air conditioner at Outland was busted.

My favorite memory of Mandy was the time we drove all night around the back roads of southern Ohio. It was a crisp autumn Saturday night. I drove her car, because she had broken her wrist a couple weeks earlier when she failed to negotiate a baby gate she had put up to wrangle her dogs. We took her car since we could smoke in it. We drove around with no destination, taking as few main roads as possible and ending up on a lot of narrow gravel roads and two covered bridges. We listened to KMFDM the whole time, and talked mostly about mental health. When we reached the Ohio River in Portsmouth, we got gas, crossed into Kentucky just to say that we did, then headed home. It was a great night. The coolest part was the pitch black road that, when you went around a curve, went parallel next to some train tracks. It was so poorly lit and poorly marked that I would have ended up on the tracks if there hadn’t been a train there. We drove alongside it for a couple of miles, the road was only ten or so feet away from the tracks. Just us and the train and KMFDM, plodding southward into the darkness that my headlights barely cut through.

I’m sad about how it all ended with Mandy, and sad that I don’t actually miss her. Regardless of the emotional drain of how it all fell apart, I still think that it was the right thing. We were diverging, but had too much history to accept it. We were bound to split apart, but neither of us had the self confidence to allow ourselves to lose a friend. I hope that she’s doing well. I’m hoping she worked through some of her issues. I’m hoping the demons finally stopped beating on her door, and that she doesn’t see enemies constantly anymore. But mostly, I hope she’s happy. She’s earned more than just a rest from the monsters of the world and the monsters in her head. She’s earned contentment.


Mr. Tooduloo

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