Malcolm by
(304 Stories)

Prompted By Ex-Friends

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I never imagined that after decades of friendship we and Malcolm would become estranged,  but regrettably it happened.

He and my husband Danny roomed together in college and remained very close.  Mal was the most sophisticated one in their crowd  – he bought his clothes at Brooks,  went to Dunhill’s for his pipe tobacco,  and for years rented shares in summer houses in the chic Hamptons.

After college Mal went to Harvard for an MBA, and then worked as a business consultant,  eventually running his own firm.  He dated many women over the years but never married and lived a peripatetic life,  traveling on business a good part of every month while living with his widowed mother in the New York suburbs.

When he was not traveling he’d often meet Danny for lunch and just as often we three would have dinner together.   After his mother died we’d invite him to join us for holidays,  and when he sold her house I helped him pack for his move to an apartment in the same town.

Then a dozen or so years ago Mal suffered a stroke and could no longer work,  and it seemed his life began to spiral down.  He’d refuse our invitations and we saw him less and less.

Then one day Mal called to say he could no longer manage on his own,  and was moving to an assisted living facility,  As he had no family and considered us his closest friends,  he asked our help with the move, and hoped we’d find a home for his cat Lily.

Of course we said we would,  and arranged to meet him at his place.  Over the years we’d seen him at our home or at restaurants,  and so when we arrived at Mal’s apartment we were shocked to see that our once fastidious friend had become a hoarder practically living in squalor.

So unexpectedly we found ourselves handling not only the packing and the logistics of his move,  but hiring a company to thoroughly clean out the apartment.  Mal then told us he owed many months of back rent,  and in fact was broke.   And so we paid not only his moving and cleanup expenses,  but his back rent as well,  and found a home for his cat.

But the day we helped Mal move into the assisted living facility was the last time we saw him.  He made it clear that our visits would not be welcome,  and since then has rebuffed all our overtures,  and stopped responding to our calls and emails.

At first I was angry at his seeming ingratitude for all we’d done for him.  But I realized of course it was Mal who was angry –  at his own helplessness and dependency,  and at the loss of the accomplished and active life that had once been his.

And so for all those years of friendship we had shared,  I forgave him.

– Dana Susan Lehrman 

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Friendship
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a difficult story, Dana. The stroke had left Mal a different person – not the man you and Danny were so fond of. You had done so much for him. I understand how difficult it must have been on both sides – for him to be embarrassed to seek your help, but then for you to see him in such diminished circumstances. Then he just couldn’t continue to be seen in that way by his oldest friends, no matter how much help you had offered. Your observations seem valid, as painful as they are.

  2. Reading your writing is time well spent.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    What a sad story. Mal may well have felt too embarrassed to have you come visit. I wonder, if he is still there, if his feelings have changed and if a card or visit would be more welcome now. You have already understood and forgiven him so if you are rebuffed, you could understand that too.

    • You’re so right about all you’ve written Khati, and in fact this happened just a year ago and Danny has been in touch with the social worker at Mal’s residence since.

      She tells us Mal has not adjusted well and has antagonized other residents, but we know he’s being well cared for. His birthday is approaching and we’ll try again to connect with him, will see how it goes!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Forgiving him was the right thing to do. It sounds like there may have been some cognitive or psychological decline. You were good friends when it mattered most.

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    Watching someone we care about decline mentally, emotionally or intellectually is one of the worst things that life can hurl at us. So heartbreaking. You remained a good friend to Mal despite his changed nature, which is lovely.

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