#395: Jessi and the Struggle to Make Meaningful Friendships as an Adult

Parody of Baby-Sitters Club book cover, #395, titled, "Jessi and the Struggle to Make Meaningful Friendships as an Adult."

I did not intend to go to the “intervention” that my friends planned for Kristy. In fact, I wanted to wash my hands of Kristy Thomas. Unsubscribe from her Facebook updates, ignore her text messages, the whole deal. I even considered referring her to another pilates instructor. That’s how much I wanted her and her drama out of my life— I was willing to give up a couple hundred bucks a month, and probably all the referrals she sent my way.

Yet, somehow, just a few weeks after deciding to swear her off for good, I ended up gathering with my oldest friends at Kristy’s gym, in a sort of fucked-up surprise party. And it went exactly as one would expect: she came in, arm looped around She Who Must Not Be Named (SWMNBN), Mary Anne pulled out her letter and started reading aloud, and SWMNBN threw her cell phone at one of the brand new windows, shattering it. 

My husband— who insisted on coming because he has an admiration for Jonathan Van Ness that, to be honest, makes me a little worried for my marriage— immediately went deer-in-headlights and stopped responding to all stimuli. 

I drained my wine and turned to Mallory, saying, “Well, this is a shit show.”

She, meanwhile, looked a bit like a sad puppy, probably brought on by the emotional turmoil of a situation where she couldn’t please everyone. Thankfully, the camera crew (whose brilliant idea was it to film an intervention, anyway?) remained locked on the unfolding debacle. I didn’t think that Queer Eye was that kind of show, but maybe they’d sell the footage to TLC or something if they couldn’t make it work for their schtick. Who knows. 

“Out! OUT!” Kristy yelled, at nobody in particular. I took the cue to scoop up my purse and drain my champagne and motioned to Ben to do the same. Our friends looked around awkwardly, as though this turn of events was wholly unexpected. Then, as they started gathering their things, Kristy spun around and glared at us, growling, “Not you.”

SWMNBN, by the way, sniffled away in the background, arms wrapped around herself, bottom lip jutted out and trembling. While I understood the reaction, it did seem a little put on for show, even though the camera crew had begun to pack up their things, one of the producers pacing back and forth while he talked on his cell phone.

As all my friends froze in place, I thought, Why do I keep trying with these people?

But let me back up. I should explain why I was even there.

That day we helped Kristy move, Ben and I escaped to the car, me still fuming at the gall of SWMNBN, him nodding and calmly agree that yeah, she crazy. 

When I took a break in ranting, he said, “Well, there’s always that Jackie chick. Or you can find a book club. Or what about those ladies from your moms group? When did you last see them?”

I grimaced. Our midwife had introduced me to a group of women in the area who were giving birth around the same time I was, and for about the first year, we met periodically to chat about the babies and parenting. And it was fun at first, having these people to commiserate with when adjusting to having these tiny humans in your life who sporadically pooped on you and screamed until your ears hurt and yet you still loved them more than your dominant arm. People who happily debated how disgusting the concept of a NoseFrida was, and if the disgust negated its usefulness. Who always had another tip or trick for when you worried about your lactation or how well the baby slept through the night.

Otherwise, we didn’t really have anything in common. They were nice, mind you. Very, very nice. Like, remember when you mention your aunt having a cold and then text you out of the blue to ask you how she’s doing a week later. Always have snacks to share. Etc.

But all they wanted to talk about was their babies. You could ask them if they liked Shabu Shabu, and they’d turn the conversation back to exposing your kid to spices or soy, or restaurant noise and babies’ hearing, or whatever nonsense. You couldn’t just, like, have a conversation like a normal human being.

Don’t get me wrong. I love talking about my baby. Love it. He’s the best damn creature in the universe. But except for the first three months of his life, when I was functionally brain dead because of sleep deprivation, I have always had other things I wanted to discuss, too. EG, the Veronica Mars reboot and why she got so angry. My love/hate relationship with Misty Copeland (because I should have been the first black principle dancer for the American Ballet Theater, but I’m glad it happened at all). How to turn any vegetable into a tot, and at what point the quantity of cheese in the recipe negates the benefits of the greenery. The continuing lack of quality YA fantasy and sci fi books starring girls of color. The fact that it’s totally acceptable for a 35-year-old woman to read YA fantasy and sci fi.

So when we hit year one, and the mothers all went our separate ways, I didn’t fight to keep the group together. We lived in Stonybrook, for crying out loud. You couldn’t spit without hitting another mother. I would find people to talk to about Davie.

Ben, of course, knew all this. He saw the grimace and said, “Okay… So. Jackie. Book club.”

I nodded. “Yeah. I know.”

Why did I hesitate? I had no interest in putting up with the Baby-Sitters Club continuing drama, nor did I want to spend the rest of my existence friendless and alone, one of those people who called their kid their best friend. But I had also started to feel like maybe I had become an incurable bitch, the Ebenezer Scrooge of friendship. Where was that girl who learned sign language for her babysitting charge? And helped out that kid with cancer? And that other girl with anorexia? 

I used to be such a caring person.

(Actually, maybe I DID understand why Veronica Mars got so angry in the reboot.)

I picked up my phone and scrolled through my contacts until I saw “Jackie Dance” (I didn’t know her last name). The last time I’d texted her was ten months ago to ask about money for our instructor’s Hanukkah present. So that should tell you how close we were.

Hey! I typed. Want to get coffee sometime? I feel like we haven’t chatted in ages.

She miraculously responded immediately, with, Yeah! That would be great!

Okay, I thought. I could do this. I could make some other friends.

That’s how I found myself two weeks later, sitting across the table from this woman I kind of knew, like we were on a not-quite-first date. Like, second or third. You can recognize each other in a crowd, but you’re still on good behavior, trying to make yourself sound as cool and funny as possible.

Jackie and I knew each other for these recreational dance classes we took twice a week. She also worked, a professor of something in the social sciences, and had a daughter a little older than Davie. She was white, of course, and I could hear my aunt Cecelia muttering something about how I still only hung out with white people, about why I didn’t bother to get more black friends… but I squashed that voice down because, hello, I just needed friends right now. Period.

So we sat there awkwardly, until I blurted out, “I like your poncho!” It looked supremely cozy, knit in deep green with some sort of intricate detailing and a cowl neck. 

She looked down at it, spread out one arm so I could see the pattern more— diamonds and a single diagonal stripe of cabling that went across her shoulder to her ribs. “Thanks. I like it too. I almost didn’t wear it because,” she sighed and rolled her eyes. “I came out wearing it this morning, like, hey, I’m just in the office today, meeting a couple of my grad students, but nothing I need to dress up for. Then Emma looked at me and said, ‘Mama, why are you wearing a blanket?’ And I explained that it wasn’t a blanket, that it was a sweater. And she said. ‘I think it’s a blanket. You need to change clothes.’ So I said it was a sweater again, then she started badgering me for the rest of breakfast, ‘Why are you in a blanket, Mama? Why can’t I wear a blanket?’ On and on. I ended up taking it off and then put it back on after I dropped her off at daycare. I got peer pressured by my two-year-old.”

I laughed. “Yeah, Davie’s not at the fashion advice point yet. He’s really into Thomas the Tank Engine right now, and he spent all of our breakfast just yelling out, ‘Gordon! Gordon! Gordon!’ Because that’s his favorite character.”

“Kids are so fucking weird.”

“Right? My husband calls them tiny drunks.”

Jackie slapped the table and leaned forward, eyes wide. “EXACTLY. YES. THEY ARE.”

We laughed more. And that was how the rest of the conversation was: easy, light, funny. We talked about our love of Hallmark Christmas movies and bizarre in-law stories. She did a spot-on impression of our dance instructor. The heaviness and worry that had been hanging over me floated away. I wasn’t a bitch. It was just time for me to move on to people who were more my speed. Like Jackie.

Then the end of the evening came. “We definitely need to do this again sometime,” Jackie said.

“Yes! Definitely,” I replied.

“Can we schedule something now? I feel like if I wait, it’ll be, like, eight months until we can meet up again.” 

“Totally!” I looked at me phone, giddy with potential. “What about four weeks from today? The 15th? Do the same thing, go to class then get tea after?”

She frowned and shook her head. “Can’t. I have an eight-week short course that starts the beginning of October. I’m teaching Tuesdays and Thursdays. I don’t even think I’ll be able to get to dance classes. Except for… Saturdays?”

Now I shook my head. “I teach. And Davie has swim lessons at the Y.” I scrolled through the calendar, noting all the parents’ nights, MyGym outings, private clients, and, oh, look, a single date night with my husband in late November. “Sundays?”

She shook her head. “My colleague and I record our podcast that night.”

“For real? That’s cool.”

“Yeah. Getting tenure is a bitch. But we have a million listeners.”

My eyes widened. “Wow.”

“Yeah. It’s pretty cool. It’s a big field, so.”

I nodded. I chewed my lip. 

She wrinkled her nose, then sighed, continuing to stare at her phone, scrolling up, then down, then up again. Finally, she looked me straight in the eye and put one hand on my forearm, “Listen. I really want to hang out again. Let me look at my schedule more at home, and I’ll figure out some times that might work, and text those to you.”

“Sounds good!”

We parted ways with a hug. The next day, she texted me six different days and times. And, of course, none of them worked for me. We went back and forth a few times, but eventually gave up.

Meeting with Jackie at least re-energized me on finding friends. In the afterglow of our outing, I found an ad for a book club at the local library. One of those fliers like we used to use for the BSC, with the little tabs that you could rip off with contact information. In large type across the top, it read, #OWNED. The description continued, Do you have a stack of books you keep meaning to, but never get around to reading? Join our book club! Each month, one member selects a book from their to-read pile, and we all read and discuss. Procrastinate no more!

My to-read stack was actually the same height as my night stand. Periodically, Ben would look from it, to me, back to it, his eyebrows raised, because I’d banned him from asking me when I planned to read them. I would inevitably pick one up, start reading, then fall asleep by page ten because, I don’t know, apparently I’m narcoleptic when I’m reading. Doesn’t matter what time of day—morning, afternoon, night. I start reading, I fall asleep. I got through maybe one book every two months. 

But, maybe if I had an incentive to read more, I would stay awake. This could be perfect.

So I emailed them, and they replied with the first book, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, and the meeting place.

I will be honest here: I am not a classic literature kind of gal. I mean, I like the ones everybody else likes— Pride and Prejudice, A Farewell to Arms, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird… But I generally don’t go for books by people who’ve been dead for significantly longer than I’ve been alive. 

Let me tell you, this book was a doozy. I actually went to the Wikipedia page to figure out what the hell was going on with it because it was so dense. I mean, I got the general premise— guy can change genders and lives a long time, which, admittedly, is pretty culturally relevant right now— but the ins and outs of the plot weren’t sticking with me. Even the movie, which I made Ben watch with me, was dreadful. Tilda Swinton? Ugh. The last time I’d hated a book this much was when I took a postmodern lit class in college, which seemed to be a celebration of books full of hateful characters and zero plot.

But you know what? I stuck with it. I gave myself a number of pages I needed to read each day, and read every day during my lunch break and before bed (making Ben poke me in the arm if I started dozing off). And I did it! Not going to lie, I felt very accomplished. I even texted Mallory to brag. (She responded, I’m proud of you? Question mark?)

The night of the book club arrived. I got to the woman’s house, a cute little Tudor on the other side of town from ours. The hostess, Emily, was a white lady my age or a little older, dressed in jeggings and an oversized sweatshirt, a bottle of unopened wine in her hand. “Jessi?” she said. “I’m so glad you could come!”

She led me into a room that looked pretty much like something out of a movie about a book club: more white women in various styles of business casual and casual casual, all perched on overstuffed couches around a coffee table laden with cheeses, charcuterie, and wine glasses. It all seemed very proper, but, you know what? I wanted friends who acted like adults, and adults drank wine and ate cured meat.

Welcome to the future of Jessica Ramsey, certified grown-up.

“This is Jessi!” Emily exclaimed. I gave a small wave, and the others’ eyes brightened as they also exclaimed “hello” and “nice to meet you.” One woman with straight, brown hair and a corduroy blazer scooted over so I could have room on the couch next to her, so I sat down, book tightly gripped in my hands. 

Emily pointed around from face to face, “This is Becky, Gabrielle, Dana, and Jen.” 

I nodded like I had taken in the names, and offered my own stiff, “Nice to meet you!” Don’t let the fact that I run a dance studio and meet with a hundred people a week fool you: I find new people in social situations terrifying.

“So are you new to Stonybrook?” Corduroy Blazer asked. She had one of those big, eager grins people have when they’re trying to be welcoming. 

“Oh, no. I actually moved here with my family when I was eleven. I went to college in Boston, but ended up coming back to be close to my parents. I own a dance studio downtown.”

“Oh! I know exactly which one you’re talking about!” said one of the other women, blonde with a very large necklace with craggy lavender gemstones, like something Claudia would wear. “I was thinking of sending my daughter there.”

“You do?” I grinned. While I’d had the studio a couple years now, and it WAS in the center of town, it was still exciting to have people say they knew about it. The hard work I’d put into developing the business paid off. “That’s great. We just started classes, but I’m happy to squeeze her in, depending on what level she’s in.”

“What studio is this?” Emily asked.

“Oh, I’m not sure if I’m saying this right. Kiz-um-bo? Is that right?” Big Necklace replied.

I could feel blood rushing to my face and my ribs tightening. “Oh, no. Uh. Madame Jessica’s. The one on the square?” 

She blinked rapidly, taking in the information. I could see the calculation: the black woman isn’t running the African dance studio? 

She probably meant well, I reminded myself. So I responded in as bright a tone as I could muster, “No, my background’s in ballet. I took an African dance class in college, which, like, covered a dance from a different culture each week, but nothing formalized beyond that. The woman who runs Kizumbo is actually this white hippie lady in her sixties.”

Emily crumpled her brow. “So that’s kind of appropriative.” 

Oh, God. This was not a can of worms I wanted to open right now. “Yeah. I mean, I see it both ways. It’s a little weird she started the studio, but I’m pretty sure she hires black instructors, which is better than some places. And I suppose it’s good that she’s trying to bring awareness to the culture?” I rubbed my neck and clenched my jaw. In truth, I knew embarrassingly little about any style of African dance. And no, maybe I wasn’t comfortable with this woman having the studio, but she’d actually spent, like, a decade in Nigeria, and I had spent zero years outside of the US and was teaching an Italian/French dance style when I was very much not Italian or French. Obviously, our two situations weren’t the same, but that brings me to the most important detail: I didn’t want to have this discussion with a group of white women I’d just met five. 

“I can see how it must be hard for a woman of color, though.”

I shrugged, wishing fondly for my NoseFrida discussions of yore. I grabbed a slice of some sort of thinly sliced, salty pig, stuffed it in my mouth so they couldn’t ask me any more questions. When everybody continued to watch me— had these people never had a conversation before?– I asked, “So what did everyone think of the book?”

Emily gave a bashful smirk. “So, this is kind of embarrassing.” She looked at me and put a hand to her chest. “So this was on my to-read list. I’ve had it for maybe five years now. And I just COULD NOT get into it, you know?”

I nodded vigorously. “Yeah, this was a tough read. Even the movie was hard.”

Big Necklace’s eyes went large. “Oh, yeah. I watched about twenty minutes of that.” She shook her head. “Could not get into it.”

“Oh. My. God,” crowed a woman in all LuluLemon. “Me too. I got, like, three chapters in.”

Corduroy Blazer slapped her book on her leg. “Five chapters.”

Everybody admitted that they couldn’t even get halfway through the book, until they all turned to me. “I… Uh. Read it all.” I did not add: Isn’t this a book club about reading books you’ve been putting off? I just quietly clenched my fists under my legs and tried to glaze my eyes over with a generic placidness as they told me how “impressive” I was. 

And that was it. Nobody mentioned the book for the rest of the evening, instead talking about the inane details of their personal lives. And I spent the night seething about all the time I’d I wasted.

As I was leaving the house, vowing never to return, no matter how desperate I got, Mallory texted. Can I ask a huge favor?

What’s up? I replied. I should be very clear— I love Mal like a sister, and as mad as I was at the group of friends, Mal was generally low-drama. Eccentric, reclusive— yes, very much so. But not a reality television star in the making.

So the Kristy stuff has escalated. She explained how Monica created a huge mess in Mary Anne’s living room after she “caught” Dawn giving Kristy a massage, yet somehow the two were spending even MORE time together, and how the rest of the group wanted to have an intervention. You know, because the best way to fight drama is with more drama. Do you think you’d be willing to come? This seems like a terrible idea. I need someone for emotional support.

Why don’t you just not go? I replied.

You know I can’t do that. A moment later, she added, Please? Then, Pretty please? With cherries on top? 

Then a Bitmoji of herself as a cupcake with a cherry helmet and the words “Pretty Please” in bright pink script.

I sighed. Okay. Sure. When is it?

I watched the ellipses pulse in the chat window as she composed her reply. 

Saturday. But there’s a catch.

Which brings us back to the intervention. As Kristy paced in front of us, SWMNBN wibbling in the corner, I wondered silently if either of them realized she acted like a character out of a poorly written fanfiction. Did she have any control of her emotions? How on earth had Kristy hired her in the first place?

Finally, Kristy stopped pacing. “Listen, guys. I don’t know what to tell you. I really care about Monica. If you don’t like that, fine. You don’t have to be in my life anymore.” Then she looked at Mary Anne, who had already turned a sickly grey. “That includes you. If you really don’t like this relationship, which is the longest relationship I’ve been in for ages, mind you, then I can move back out. I know Dawn would be happy to have the room.”

Mary Anne started crying at this point, rocking back and forth. Claudia and Stacey gave each other sideways glances, and Mallory was staring at her feet while clicking a retractable pen in and out, in and out. I wondered why I still had to be here.

Nobody said anything. 

Finally, Mary Anne rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her palms. “Listen. I’m happy you’re actually viewing this as a real relationship now…”

She didn’t get to finish the thought, though, because there was a soft thump, like a bag of laundry dropping, followed by the quick cascade of plates and champagne flute crashing to the ground. 

I looked back. Ben lay crumpled against the table which he had knocked into when he— I don’t know what. 

“Ben?” I said, but he didn’t move. So I said, louder, “BEN?” And he still didn’t move. 

I dropped down to my knees, and started patting his arm. “Ben? Ben?” But he still didn’t respond, so I kept saying his name louder, and louder, patting his arm harder and harder. “This isn’t funny, Ben,” I said. Shouted, really. 

But he still didn’t open his eyes.

I couldn’t breathe. Except, no, I was gasping. My eyes blurred. My fingers clutched the fabric of Ben’s shirt, this purple gingham button down he’d chosen specifically so he could impress the Fab Five, and God, he didn’t even get to MEET the Fab Five because they had already left for their next destination. He just wanted to meet Jonathan Van Ness and now he was on the ground. Did he lock his knees when he was standing? A girl in my fifth grade choir did that and passed out. Maybe he just locked his knees. But wouldn’t he be awake right now?

A pair of hands grasped my shoulders. “Jess. Jess. Stop shaking him.” I couldn’t let go of him, though. The same voice said, “Someone go wait outside for the ambulance.” Then, to me, “Jessi, can you tell if he’s breathing?”

I couldn’t tell anything. He was just so still. Why was he so still?

The hands left my shoulders. 

Kristy appeared on the other side of Ben, tipping her head down to his chest. “Yeah, he’s breathing.” She had been the one talking. She was still here? 

She put a couple fingers to his neck. “Pulse is a little weak, but going. Can someone help me roll him onto his side? We don’t want him to choke if he vomits.”

Stacey knelt down and helped Kristy roll him onto his side. I kept clutching his shirt. Why hadn’t he woken up?

Kristy leaned over and rubbed my arm. “It’ll be okay, Jess. The ambulance is coming.”

©2019 Kat Setzer. This page has no affiliation with Ann M. Martin, Scholastic, or any other entity involved with the Baby-Sitters Club Series. Original stock photos ©2019 Cookie Studio and Monkey Business from Adobe Stock Images.

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