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Smell the Coffee: Friendship can’t overcome good deed

By Karin Fuller

For anyone keeping track, it was just two months ago that I wrote about being frustrated by having too many takers in my life.

I was struggling, but mostly I was feeling foolish. Still, after a bit of self-talk, I declared I wasn’t going to allow a few bad apples to make me swear off fruit altogether.

Now I’m feeling foolish again.

The very same week that column hit print, I was contacted by a former neighbor who I’ve known for the past 18 years.

Although she moved out of town several years back, I still counted her among my closest friends.

Her younger son even lived under my roof a few times.

Basically, this friend heard that my daughter and I had moved in with my boyfriend, and that my little South Charleston house was sitting vacant while we made repairs and improvements in preparation for putting it on the market.

The work was a bit overwhelming, taking more time and money than I’d originally anticipated.

Turns out this friend’s older son, age 29, was getting divorced and needed a place to stay.

He didn’t have money for security or utility deposits, so he and his three children had been sleeping on a friend’s couch. They were desperate for a place of their own.

Since he was a contractor and my house was sitting empty, it seemed a potentially ideal situation. He could do the work needed in exchange for rent.

I must’ve said no a dozen times before she found my weak spot by playing up the children and how hard the situation was for them.

In spite of my misgivings — borne of having been burned far too many times before — I agreed to meet up with her son after work.

My boyfriend went with me, and we showed him through the house, detailing the fixes that needed made.

“No problem,” he said, time and again. “I do that kind of work all the time.”

He was grateful and eager and willing to sign a contract, which I naively believed would protect me.

His mother was so happy. Thanked me over and over. Assured me I’d be thrilled with his work, and that if for any reason I wasn’t satisfied, she’d find a way to make it right.

I rushed to empty the rest of our belongings from the house so he could move in immediately.

Right about that same time, a real-estate agent neighbor of mine asked if he could show my house to some clients who liked our neighborhood.

Even though it wasn’t anywhere near ready to list, I said fine. They surprised me by making an offer — one that was contingent on certain work being done.

Work my friend’s son had already agreed to do.

For this wonderful, yet very brief moment, I felt golden.

Things seemed to be falling into place in a way they seldom do in my world.

But yeah, whatever you might be guessing now — you’re probably right.

First, my new tenant wouldn’t do any work whatsoever, and then what little he did was so bad it was near comical.

And it didn’t end there. One day, I arrived to discover they’d been smoking weed in my house; the next I returned to discover they’d gotten an 8-week-old Doberman pup.

When I called to beg his mother for intervention, she said the problem was between me and him.

This from my friend of 18 years.

My boyfriend and the real-estate agent helped get the squatter to move, and then I had the good fortune of finding a dream of a contractor, Tim Shamblin, to finish the work.

While everything is coming together, I’m still stressed and hurt and out a bunch of money. Much of what we could’ve done ourselves over those two months we ended up having to hire out in order to finish in time for the closing.

It seems odd how, in the midst of all that ensued, the part that sticks most in my craw isn’t what the son did, but his mom.

That she could so easily and comfortably hang a friend out to dry after all we’d been through over the years broke something in me.

When I originally started writing this column, it began differently. It started out, “I want to tell a true story about a stupid woman. She’s OK with her story being told. Says she deserves it.”

I really did think, for a while, that I deserved it.

Figured that’s what I get for having put myself out there again. I mean, how many times does someone have to learn the same lesson before it sticks? Yet I don’t want to become the kind of person who is mistrustful and bitter and expecting the worst from others.

I will tell myself, over and over, that for every bad I encounter, there are far more who are good.

I believe that. I really do.

I just wish I believed it as much as before.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at

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