My name is John Mickle. I was an IT consultant at BCBSA from November 2005 until August 2008, when I was abruptly dismissed in the middle of a quarterly contract. Incredibly, I wasn’t even told the reason for that, but subsequently I learned the generalities through my contracting firm, TEKsystems—my longtime friend and coworker, Anita Lopez, had filed a complaint against me. I want you to try hard to picture that: you’ve been at a company for nearly three years and one day your manager comes by and says he’s got to escort you out immediately but he doesn’t know why. It was like something out of Kafka’s
The Trial.

In our final year as coworkers and friends, Ms. Lopez and I spent a lot of time together, mostly on long lunches and walks back in the evening (her subway stop is on the way to my train station). We spent so much time together that several coworkers asked me if we were dating. One even teased me that we were going out for nooners over lunch. That always made me laugh because it was just about the last thing she would ever do with anyone. I did that with Alma a couple times, though—talk about hard coming back to work. Oops, that’s a double entendre, but I’m going to leave it because you’ve got to have some fun in life. I’ll even throw in a Hello, Mama!

For me, all of this was consistent with a longstanding, comfortable friendship. For her, it seems to have been consistent with a comfortable financial situation, one with the prospect of even greater financial reward.

What started out as our having lunch together every couple months eventually grew to once a week, and in the last month it got to the point that we were having lunch together almost every day. I spent all that time with her simply because I enjoyed her company. I spent all that money on her because I knew money was tight for her and I didn’t want her or her young daughter to have to go without something in order for she and I to have that time together. But for her, I think it was just that her financial situation had gotten so bad that she could really have used a free lunch every day.

For years we had what I felt was a special friendship. I gave her cards and gifts on her birthday, on holidays, and on special days such as when she closed on the purchase of her house; I filled Christmas stockings and Easter baskets for her and her daughter; I brought in unusual homemade or purchased foods for her to try; I made music CDs for her to listen to; I brought in prints of photos from my travels for her to share with her family; I brought in flowers for her when the lilacs were in bloom at the train station or when I felt she could use some cheering up. I did all those things for her because of the warmth I felt for her—for me, every one of those things was a small but very good connection to the warmth—and because, for most of the time I knew her, she had no one else to do those things for her.

Eventually I included her daughter because I felt that, with all the time Ms. Lopez was spending on dating and home remodeling, perhaps she wasn’t spending enough time on her daughter. She’d told me her daughter would often sleep over at the sitter’s house, and that for reasons of safety she didn’t want her daughter to be around when she was remodeling on the weekends. I’d neglected my own children somewhat when I was divorced and living with Charleen (there’s more on her to come), and I didn’t want to see Ms. Lopez make the same mistake I’d made; it’s a mistake that lasts forever. She’d also told me she’d given legal custody of her son to his father a number of years ago, and that later she had to litigate in order to regain custody. I didn’t know her daughter, but I knew Ms. Lopez and that was enough to make me want to make their lives better. And I got something out of it, too; doing all those little things for her and for her daughter made me feel warm...a happy little bonus, but a necessary one. There’s always got to be something in it for you; even if you go so far as to sacrifice your life for someone, you’re doing it for a reason. Selfishness isn’t to be found in your getting something out of your actions, it’s to be found in the quality of what you’re getting out of your actions.

If I’d been looking for anything from her, I’d have gotten out of that friendship a long time ago. In all that time, the only thing she ever did for me was to treat me to lunch one time. Never so much as a card on my birthday or Christmas. That showed that she never really thought of me, but it also showed that she wasn’t trying to pretend to be something she was not. Sadly, that changed just after the first time she asked me for money.

It’s one thing for a person to take what you freely give them, all the while giving you whatever it is they have for you, no matter what it is, no matter how much or how little it is. But it’s another thing for a person to take all that you give and then to ask for more when they’re giving you absolutely nothing. Then they’re simply using you. By not telling you that all they want from the friendship is stuff, they’re trying to take advantage of you because that’s not what one would expect from what appears to be a friendship.

After she first asked me if I’d be willing to help her financially, I think she realized that ours was not the kind of friendship where it was natural for one person to ask the other for money. So she began saying things I later came to believe were calculated to make her seem the kind of friend to whom I could safely loan money. Not a romantic friend, but a real friend, a long-term friend; romances come and go, but a real friend is forever.

Once I said that since the weather had finally gotten nice, we should have lunch outdoors some day at one of the restaurants that have sidewalk seating. She said she’d just been thinking about the rolling coolers she’d given as Mother’s Day gifts to the women in her family, and that she could bring one in and we could have a picnic lunch. That never happened, probably because she would have had to get one of the coolers and make some things for us to have for lunch, and those were things that would have cost her something in terms of time and money.

Once when we were coming back from lunch, she wanted to sit for a while in the sun before going back to work. There were landscaped areas out front where we worked, and she sat down on the wooden seating that formed the perimeter of those areas. She asked me to have a seat, and I said I never sat on things like that because they’re always dusty. She said it was clean. I took out a handkerchief, wiped off an area next to her, and we sat for a while. That was nice, but again it was something that cost her nothing in terms of time or money.

When I moved into a new apartment, I sent her an e-mail with some photos and I invited her and her daughter to come for a visit and go for a swim. She said they’d do that, but that, too, never happened.

In retrospect, I think this is when she first started using me. She knew she wasn’t really a friend to me and yet she set out to get more stuff from me. And because of the things I’d told her over the years, she knew exactly how to do that. The past year, I’d told her in a Thanksgiving card that one of the things I was particularly thankful for that year was our friendship; it really was so nice then—the evening walks and a long lunch every week. She knew that the way to my wallet was simply to pretend to be a friend to me. And so she started lying to me, just as men typically lie to women in order to get into bed with them. Some people will lie to get what they want if they can’t get it another way, or if lying is easier than the other ways. It’s sad to think that it was easier for her to lie to me than simply to be a friend to me.
What kind of person is that?

Our friendship began to unravel in mid-July 2008, when for the second time she asked me for an unsecured loan of a substantial amount of money. Subsequently I did not loan her the money because I had come to feel that she wasn’t the kind of friend whom I could count on for repayment.

Shortly after that, I stopped treating her to lunches and walking home with her in the evening, and that probably made her feel bad because it showed, both to herself and to our coworkers, that I was no longer giving her all that nice attention. That in turn would have made her feel it necessary to come up with a reason for that change, preferably one that made her look good and me look bad. And what better way than to get me fired?

She accomplished that when she refused to take another look at the work she initially did on my project. Perhaps she feared that the poor quality of her work would become known and would reflect negatively on her; perhaps she wanted to get even with me for not giving her the money. I don’t know her true motivation, only that it was unjustifiable for an employee to behave that way. What I do know is that she asked for money, didn’t get it, and then she got me fired.

Afterwards I wondered why she did it. You don’t—
you can’t—do that kind of thing to someone to whom you were a friend just last week. Then I realized I could have said the same thing all along—about all the lunches and the money—and I knew that she’d never really been a friend to me.

Still, while I’d always known her to be weak and self-absorbed, I’d never known her to be mean-spirited. I suppose she simply felt the workplace wasn’t big enough for us to coexist in. For me, that wouldn’t have been a problem. I would have just done my work and interacted with her when it was necessary either for her work or for my work. Perhaps in time we could have found our way to a lighter friendship—lunch a couple times a year, each paying our own way.

Then I remembered a story she once told me, from her college years. She was at her parents’ house, helping her father move her brother, who was inebriated. She injured her finger in the process, but she filed a claim through the college, telling them her injury had occurred there and had therefore been the college’s fault. Not a big thing, but it shows she’ll lie in order to make things easier for her. Fast forward twenty years, and there it is again. People rarely change.

Over the years, she told me a number of stories about her children. In those stories, she’d always say
my son’s father or my daughter’s father. One day I asked her if her children had the same father; she said yes. I was pretty sure she was lying but I couldn’t see why she’d lie about something like that because it was a lie that would be hard to maintain. Perhaps she just took the easy way out because she didn’t want to get into all that then. Perhaps she was embarrassed to have had children by two men to whom she was never married. I didn’t see anything wrong with that kind of familial situation, but it made me wonder what else she would lie about. Now I know.