A Friendly Reference

When I met Pam (not her real name) my first year of boarding school, I was immediately smitten with just about everything: her wardrobe which in retrospect was a bunch of solid Gap shirts, her boyfriend (by Thanksgiving I was dating his roommate), her Grateful Dead collection and the way she navigated the school. After her graduation when she moved back to the Midwest we did not communicate regularly except for our annual birthday calls and occasional letters then emails, and a handful of reunions but she still held a special place in my heart.

As she shared stories of just how far she had fallen (rehab, abortions, suicide attempts) I just wanted to hug her and help. The hardest thing to forgive was not how she did not show up to my rehearsal dinner (after confirming) but when she left my wedding without saying hello, or good bye for that matter. I had spent more time than I care to admit on my honeymoon wondering what had happened.

Apparently one of the receptionists at the venue commented on the large tattoo across her chest. Had she wanted to avoid such attention, she should either not get a massive tattoo across her chest, or not wear a strapless dress. Her companions, friends from my high school felt uncomfortable, assuming that nobody spoke to them or offered a seat because they were black.

I have no desire to speak to the other girls who assumed my closest friends and family are all racist. But Pam. Pam. I hold such a special place in my heart for her. No matter how many horrible stories she has shared with me about poor choices she has made: living with a married man and his four children, a meeting a blind date at a motel and being assaulted, more suicide attempts, anorexia, a victim of stalking, drama upon drama.

After a nearly fatal car accident she had asked to borrow money, or rather invest in her lawsuit. I declined. Our relationship was complicated and strained enough and did not warrant another layer. As it lays now, about once a year she sends a long email (reminiscent of the long letters we would send each other on summer breaks) about her latest escapades and apologize for being out of touch and give her new phone number.

We had traded messages a few weeks or has it been months ago. Yesterday, I received a text asking me to be a personal reference on a housing form. I’m not sure how to respond.

I’m surprised she does not have friends closer – both geographically and emotionally. I think it we last spoke two years ago. I want to help but as a landlord myself I could not in good conscience be a reference. What could I say? She walked out of my wedding. I only know about her what details she shares including institutions to treat her eating disorders and alcohol abuse. I hardly think I am in a position to vouch for her character and I certainly would avoid getting into any financial dealings with her. But doesn’t somebody who has been through hell and back before her 35th birthday at least deserve a roof over her head?

So far I’ve ignored the request but I welcome any thoughts on how to respond.


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