We'd met at work a couple years prior when Cali was still in her joke of a marriage and I was just breaking off my semi-engagement to Jeff. I helped give her the strength to leave her loser husband I suppose it was misery that initially sparked the friendship, but for whatever reasons we'd grown close.
Me and Cali and Scott. The bombshell, the princess, and the fratboy. "The Beautiful People," our other friends called us. We were a team.
"I took a test yesterday," Cali said tentatively. Her small frame braced for the reaction.
It was four in the afternoon and I was sitting in her living room, trying to be invisible. After I'd convinced her that she had to tell him, I'd agreed to be there for the inevitable scene.
Scott's tanned, handsome face went ashen. "What kind of test?" He tried to sound casual, as if he was asking her what kind of car she'd just bought. It wasn't working.
She glared at him. "A fucking math test! What kind of test do you think?"
They were projectile words that bounced off the walls of her small apartment and made me want to duck out of their path.
Scott spun around to face the couch, startling me. We were closer than he and Cali, something that had always bothered her. On some level, though, she knew she needed me there that day. He trusted me. I looked up at him, saw the raw panic in his eyes and had to avert mine. Unspoken confirmation.
He began frantically pacing around the apartment, ripped his expensive sunglasses off the top of his head and tossed them to the floor. Emptied out his pockets, the keys and loose change landing together with a tinny clank.
He pulled his shirt off and threw it, baseball pitcher-style, into the dried flowers on the coffee table. Kicked his shoes off and slung them into the wall. Stood there in nothing but his khaki shorts, gasping for breath. I'd never seen him so out of control and I sat riveted to the couch like a voyeur, afraid to call attention to myself by moving.
He told me months later that he'd felt incredibly "weighted down" and, in his frenzied state of mind, he was relieving the load the only way he knew how.
There was never any doubt as to what Cali was going to do.
She and Scott had partaken of a few too many cocktails one night, ended up in bed together and the condom broke. It was no secret that she'd nursed a monster crush on him for as long as they'd known each other, but she knew she couldn't have the baby. She never wanted him to think she'd done it to trap him. And even at 25, she wasn't ready for motherhood with all its necessary losses of freedom.
She and Scott agreed to split the cost and I made the appointment for her. Even though she knew she was doing the right thing, good Catholic girls don't schedule abortions.
They didn't want anyone else to know so I was their lone sounding board. Late-night phone calls flew, anxiety nipping at the wires. She was terrified out of her mind. He was worried she was going to change her mind. And I was concerned about losing mine.
Despite that, it felt strangely familiar. I'm always the one my friends turn to for support. I'm always objective, always even-tempered, always the pillar of strength. A pillar with cracks I show to no one lest I look "weak."
A few days before the procedure, Cali asked me if I would go into the operating room with her. Scott offered (albeit half-heartedly he can't even stomach the sight of a paper cut) but she said no, she wanted me there. It seemed an easy decision I've always been staunchly pro-choice, not to mention the fact that if there was ever a time my friends needed me, it was now.
I just didn't stop to think about who would be there for me.
I'd scheduled it for a Wednesday instead of a Saturday, since I knew the pro-lifers staged their protests on the weekends. As distraught as Cali already was the last thing she needed was to be dragged through a mass of zealots.
Eventually I was called from the waiting room to join her. I walked through the cool corridor, my Reeboks squeaking on the linoleum. It wasn't until the nurse directed me to room number five that the impact of the past three weeks hit me. And suddenly I froze in my tracks.
Me, everybody's rock. Me, who'd always been the "strong, level-headed one." I was having a mid-level panic attack and yet I was expected to walk into that little room and be someone else's courage. I wasn't sure I had enough to spare.
Me, everybody's rock, was starting to crumble.
I gave myself an imagination-induced slap across the face and walked into the room. Cali had the Walkman clamped firmly to her ears to block out the sound of the vacuum. Engima, I remember.
And in an extremely short amount of time it was over and she was safely in the recovery room. I called Scott to tell him the news and went out to the parking garage to have a cigarette.
Then I let myself fall apart. Slumped against the cold concrete wall, I cried. For Cali's pain. For Scott's panic. For the friendship we shared that I knew would never be the same.
And finally, for myself.
When was the last time you crumbled?