Skeletons From the Closets of Old Friends

By Hasti J. Ahangi

Disclaimers: The following story is a fictionalized retelling from a compilation of intern experiences and does not reflect any particular case or client. The names have also been altered in order to maintain confidentiality.

“But they used to be best friends” exclaimed Sara, the daughter of an elderly lady named Jenny, who simply could not understand how two people that used to be so close allowed their friendship to turn this sour. Sara was sitting next to Jenny on the couch, and I could hear her whispering, “Mom, please, please try to calm down” as her mother stood up and began yelling at Tina, the landlord and neighbor of her apartment complex. The two seemed armed and ready for battle as they walked into the mediation room, three weeks after Sara had called our office asking for help.

I picked up the phone and from the start, it was obvious that Sara was deeply concerned about her mother’s relationship with her landlord and old friend. She explained that Jenny and Tina used to be very close and even baked together as she was growing up, but that during recent years, it was practically impossible for the two ladies to walk past each other without making a snide comment to hurt the other one’s feelings. Sara continued to explain that even though Jenny was facing eviction, she still refused to sit down and talk to Tina. I began to explain that the mediation service that we provide at the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center is completely voluntary and that we would need Tina to want to open a case with Jenny. Sara provided me with a number for Tina’s daughter, Lillian, and asked me to contact her.

The next morning, I contacted Lillian, who quickly said she could not understand why her mother and Jenny were acting so aggressively. She agreed to convince her mother to come to mediation with Jenny and mentioned that she thought it would be better if she and Sara joined the session, so that they could each try to keep their mothers calm.

These mothers, however, had a completely different plan. It looked like each of them had carefully picked various people that they wanted to join their little army. These people ranged from in-laws to neighbors and friends that were supposed to loudly rally their cause. These women seemed headed for a bloodbath and did not care that their feud was affecting other friendships – such as that of their daughters.

After some serious convincing, both Jenny and Tina agreed to attend the mediation session with a predetermined “plus one” invite, their daughters. The day came and even entering the room was a problem. Who would walk in first? It is quite interesting how a fight can take even the sweetest and most well-mannered people and take turn them into immature children.  Even after multiple sessions, I could not get Tina and Jenny to have a civil conversation with each other, and most sessions resulted in the two women being separated into caucuses (a caucus is when the mediators separate the two parties and talk with them individually as well as communicate messages back and forth). Even their daughters’ reasoning and pleading for civility did not convince the two to settle down. We continuously tried to figure out what originally brought this fight forth, and both of the ladies refused to share and insisted that the other “knew what she had done.”

Weeks passed and to this day, I still do not know what happened, and neither does Lillian and Sara. All we know is that sometime 18 years ago, their mothers got into some sort of an argument and through time, this argument elevated into a hurtful feud that affected both them and their children. A few weeks passed by and Jenny and Tina eventually agreed on a way for Jenny to move out without penalties. Seemingly, this was the only way for these two ladies to move on with their lives.

It is unfortunate but sometimes stubbornness and anger can bring out the worst in people, and sadly, this situation showcased just that. A beautiful friendship shattered into a thousand broken pieces and the people involved did not allow themselves to put it back together, even with the support of their loved ones.

While working on this case was often quite difficult and at times frustrating, there was a take-away point that we should all remember – sometimes things simply do not work out the way we want them to.  Through the process of trying to reconnect their respective parents, Lillian and Sara rekindled their own friendship, and while it was saddening to see that the mothers could not do the same, they instead found a way to move on with their lives by physically separating their homes. Another point to take away from this situation is that sometimes an apology can make amends and resolve the problem quickly. What might have happened if both women had solved their problem 18 years ago by having one person apologize to the other or exchanging apologies depending on the situation? Maybe they would have had a much richer life due to having a wonderful friend by their side all these years.

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