What you are about to read comes from the Man-Behind-the-Curtain: the writer with the pen name Irving Podolsky, and the author of the character, Irv Podolsky.
I’m also the guy who works in the media industry with a different identity. And I’m the man who got so brutally fired last May, that I’m still healing from the emotional wounds, which means I’m still thinking about my ex-business partner who set me up and let me fall. His name is Steve.
The last day of my employment, Steven walked into my office and said, “Thank you.”
“For what?” I asked.
“For being you,” he said.
“What else can I do?” was my final reply. Then he walked out.
Those were the words spoken. They were not the conversation. The following was the real exchange:
Steve: (“Thank you.”) …for not pummeling me with rage. You know how defenseless I am when it comes to confrontations. I run from them. That’s why I didn’t stand up for you. Yet you’re not accusing me. Thank you!
This Writer: (“For what?”) Steve, we both know what this is about so admit it.You spread a lot of hurt around. But no, I’m not going to make more of it right how. I’m too numb, depleted and unfocused. But since you brought it up, tell me why I’m a better man than you.
Steve: (“For being you.”) You just are. I know my weaknesses and you know them. And yet you’ve never use my faults against me.
This Writer: (“What else can I do?”) Steve, it’s just not me to kick a man when he’s down. And it’s not the time to bring you into my pain, either. We’re both beat up and all I want to do is get out of here. But I’m not letting this go, Steve. I’m just tabling this confrontation for later.
As I already wrote, Steve then left my office. So did I ten minutes later, thinking about a retaliation.
Over the next weeks my wife reminded me that I had unfinished business with a man I’ve known and loved since 1978. We’ve had a long history together and a long separation and then a reunion in 2006. Steve’s pulling away had nothing to do with me. It was his own garbage and it created an irrevocable divorce from his friends, his family, even his step children.
Just one brother remains in Steven’s universe, a younger sibling who constantly begs him for work. Steve hires his brother and for that, he retains contact with one family member. Beyond that, there’s just me, his ex-friend.
“So why aren’t you calling him?” my wife kept asking me through the summer.
“Because what I need to tell Steve has to be said eyes to eyes. I don’t want to give the man a place to retreat. He needs to hear every word and understand that his final betrayal cost him his last friendship, and that he continually makes self-serving choices that serve no one, including himself.”
“But you’ll tell him how much he hurt you, right?”
“Yes, I’ll tell him that.”
“At work, when I see him.”
I remind my wife that Steve and I have offices opposite each other and there is no way he can open his door without my hearing it. I will then ask him into my space and lock us inside. He’ll know what it’s about. He’ll sit on my couch and wait for my verbal punches, and they will come.
Steve will cry, because he has in the past. But tears will not deter me from taking him down, because he deserves it and he knows he deserves it.
The summer speeded by me. I came into my office two, three times a week, closed my door and waited to hear Steven’s approaching footsteps. I know his walk like a dog knows his master’s whistle.
My office is situated at the end of hall. There are four other doors within eight feet of my own and they all make the same sound when moving. So it’s Steve’s gate that tells me which one is his.
So over these past months, whenever I heard the Ka-Chunks of turning locks, I listened more closely to the sound of shoes on tile. None were Steven’s.
Then, four weeks ago, I noticed a change.
Walking down the hall, I saw that Steven’s wall mail folder had been emptied. The thought shot into my mind, is Steve in his office? Maybe, but knocking and blasting him in an ambush was never what I had in mind. I’m not a hit man. We were friends once. Maybe he thinks we still are. After all, I never said I wasn’t, at least in words. But I never called him either. And he never called me. Back in June he sent one impersonal email about a concert. No words, just the attached advertisement.
I didn’t respond to his email but I went to the concert. If Steven went too, I never saw him. Maybe he saw me.
Over the next few weeks I asked my office neighbors, “Have you seen Steve?”
“Oh yeah,” they answered,“He’s around,” and I thought, why haven’t we run into each other? Could it be, that I’m no longer waiting for him with a vengeance? Could it be that I too would like to avoid the confrontation, that my anger and resentment evaporated, that I’m just not pumped for punishment?
Doesn’t matter, I reasoned. I don’t need emotion to do what I have to do. The closure will happen no matter what. And it will come by my saying, “Was the betrayal worth it, Steve? The project flopped. So what professional boost came out of it? Do you fully comprehend what you used to buy yourself another credit no one cares about?”
He’ll shrug, hands in pockets, and then I’ll say, “You sold me out, Steve. Ever think about that? Do you think about how you keep making the same mistakes over and over again? Do you realize you have no friends left?”
Yes, I will say those words because Steve needs to take responsibility for what he did, not only to me, but for all the people he abandoned over the years.
Last week I sat in front of my computer thinking about my next job – when will that happen? The four-week project I expected fell through for lack of funds on the client’s part. They wanted me but they couldn’t afford my company and its overhead.
The industry has radically changed with budgets going down and schedules getting shorter. To compete, Steve and I honed our skills and speed, removing wasted time and resources. Together we brought more to the table than we did separately. And now, estranged, neither of us have worked since our last horrendous project together.
This is what I was thinking with my door open, gazing at Steven’s office across the hall. And then I heard that familiar Ka-Chunk. Steve stepped into the corridor, his eyes locking onto mine.
He didn’t flinch, nor did I. He closed his door and turning to me he said, “Oh, hi Irv. How you doing?”
And I said, quickly reviewing my arsenal of words, “Okay.”
Then he walked out of my sight and down the stairs. I have not seen him since.
Why didn’t I shoot him? He was in my sights. I had him cornered. I knew he would die.
Guess I’m not a hunter.
But it’s more than that. I knew, and Steve knew, that the take-down had already occurred. Our book closed the moment he thanked me for being me, fourteen weeks before. And I now realize he was also saying “goodbye” if I chose to make it that way. And I had.
So when Steven asked, “How you doing?” that was code for, “Are you still mad at me?”
And when I said, “Okay,” which we both knew was a lie, he knew we were finished.
One word finalized our divorce. “Okay.”
This is sad. But I will move on a bit wiser, a bit more resilient, but also more skeptical about friendships.