The Limits of Friendship

Berlin in January–what a fantastic idea. In Margaret Cardalli’s mind, however, it was the necessary change from her pastoral existence of late. During the last few months of her twenty-seventh year, she moved to a rustic part of Italy, located off the same Vesuviana stop that Leopardi had once called home. Like him, she wanted to write in reclusivity. Unlike him, nothing poetic was spewing out of her.

The culture shock of moving from Brooklyn to this sharply contrasting milieu was far more psychologically damaging than Margaret anticipated. She hadn’t accounted for the language barrier, rural business hours and seedy mafia underbelly. Reading Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah wasn’t adding to her comfort level either. This uneasiness, paired with a frenetic restlessness, prompted Margaret to book a cheap flight to Berlin, purported to be a fairly accurate replica of Brooklyn or vice versa. It was also there that she would meet with one of the first friends she had made in New York, Patricia Delgado, two years older than Margaret yet somehow permanently trapped in her adolescence. The two bonded immediately at a bar (where all bonding tends to occur in New York) after learning that each of them possessed anachronistic names. Just as Margaret was arriving to the city, Patricia was leaving–for Austin, a less expensive haven for sensitive souls unable to afford the price points of a city that had once nurtured the likes of Andy Warhol and Madonna. But that New York was gone and in its place had risen a festering sore augmented by business and real estate interests.

Margaret wouldn’t apprehend this until long after Patricia already did. In any case, the two were able to forge a solid friendship in the months leading up to Patricia’s departure from the city. When Margaret later told her about the temporary move she was making to Europe, Patricia was elated to seize the chance to be able to meet up with someone she actually knew there. She had tired of Austin quickly and irrevocably–yet she was too invested in it to leave. Margaret would not be able to fully process the state of her unquiet mind until the night of their reunion, almost a year and a half after they had last seen one another.

Unfortunately, the evident nature of her crack-up wouldn’t make itself completely known to Margaret until it was too late and she was the sole person who could be deemed responsible for the care of Patricia. But before the overt unwellness of her mental state manifested, Margaret overlooked some fairly glaring bizarreness. Like how Patricia would break down at random in tears or stay up all night calling anyone she knew back in the U.S. because of the time difference. Then, the signs of insanity began to intensify, best exemplified when she lashed out at Margaret for constantly being “on her dick” (oh these millennial phrases) in the year 2014–when they were briefly roommates–after Margaret tried to gently mention that perhaps Patricia might stop loudly playing music and calling people at all hours of the night. But Patricia could not be accused of any wrongdoing, insisting she, too, paid for use of half the room, and it was therefore Margaret’s job to find a way to learn how to deal with Patricia’s habits. It was around this time that Margaret became aware of the extent of Patricia’s derangement. This was circa day four of their stay in a large shared apartment in Kreuzberg that they had sublet for the month.

Luckily (or unluckily), the involvement of Patricia’s mother, Lucy–who was well familiar with Patricia’s breakdowns–meant that a plane ticket would soon be purchased for her to return. In the interim, all Margaret had to do was figure out how to continue functioning without sleep. She was beginning to feel like the anti-hero in A Telltale Heart, driven to madness by an outside source–except in this case, that outside source was not imaginary. Patricia was the beating heart beneath the floorboards that was going to make her lose her mind, too–for there is nothing more contagious than insanity.

Of late, Patricia had taken to blasting music as a coping mechanism. And as she played “Jellyhead” by Crush (a somewhat eerily ironic selection) in front of the door of the other lodger who had rented a room in the apartment, Margaret knew, at last, the true meaning of embarrassment. Because it is far worse when the actions of one’s so-called friend are causing humiliation–after all, that saying, “You are the company you keep,” is undeniably veracious.

After another solid twenty minutes of Patricia playing her music in an attempt to ward off what she felt was an evil spirit, she finally awakened the proverbial beast. The beast in question was an Italian man in his mid-40s named Antonio. Plagued by Patricia’s nightly would-be séance to keep him from harming her, Antonio was infected by Patricia’s lunacy. He emerged from his room like a bat out of hell, nearly breaking down his own door as he slammed into a nearby table screaming, “Questo non è normale!” And no, indeed, it was not normal. Nothing about any of Margaret’s friends had ever really been normal. She was starting to think that maybe there was something about her that drew this sort of ilk toward her. Before she could further reflect on this notion, she was interrupted by the sight of Particia hitting Antonio with her phone as The xx played (Margaret had to admit that at least she was choosing decent songs during the duration of her sonic obsession) from it.

This is exactly the type of situation Margaret was incapable of diffusing, and why she would never be in management. Trapped in a reverie she did not want to escape from, Margaret was forced to leave it when the landlady–surprisingly young for such a title–barged in upon hearing all the commotion.

“What’s going on?” she exclaimed in shock at the visual of Patricia’s brutality. As far as Margaret could tell, she had never witnessed such a spectacle on her premises.

Antonio was the first to state his case as Margaret stood in the corner dumbly, incredulous as to how she became Patricia’s minder.

“This girl isn’t right in the head,” Antonio asserted in a thick accent. “She should be taking medicine.”

The landlady looked from Patricia to Antonio, and then to Margaret. It was Margaret she felt compelled to ask, “Can you tell me what’s been happening here?”

Margaret fumbled for words that might make things seem better than they were. There really wasn’t any way to do that. She decided the best approach was to take the landlady aside and talk to her privately about the entire matter.

Pushing back sobs she didn’t know were coming, Margaret proceeded to detail Patricia’s deteriorating sense of reality, most likely spurred on by a bad acid trip she had a few years back. The landlady nodded, seemingly understandingly, only to afterward inform Margaret that Patricia would need to find alternate accommodations at once–in short, she was being kicked out.

Of course, Margaret couldn’t really begrudge the landlady for fearing for her life based on Patricia’s actions thus far. If Margaret were in her place, she’d probably do the same. Still, it put Margaret in yet another uncomfortable position–that of needing to call Lucy–who was already in denial about her daughter’s health–and request that she find a.k.a. pay for another place for Patricia to stay until the next morning when her flight was slated to depart.

As Margaret was considering how best to tell Lucy of this other unexpected financial blight, Patricia had momentarily forgotten about her issues with Antonio long enough to take the time to show the landlady a random picture of a naked woman she had pulled up on her Instagram. The landlady did her part to act nonplussed, but it was clear she was more than rather disturbed. However, Patricia’s display of the photo would later make a bit more sense when, while talking to Lucy on the phone again, she abruptly shouted, “I’m a lesbian! Fuck you!” as multiple passersby outside the boutique store she had dragged Margaret to stared at her. Evidently she had achieved that rare feat: weirding out Berliners.

Patricia passed the phone to Margaret arbitrarily so that she could speak to Lucy, at which time Margaret updated her on Patricia’s current crazy. “It’s getting pretty bad,” Margaret stated frankly while watching Patricia open and close her mouth in the midst of pulling at her hair.

Lucy remained silent for a moment before rotely replying, “God has a plan.”

Margaret rolled her eyes. It amazed her that people still believed that. But rather than tell Lucy that no higher power was going to alter the chemical makeup of Patricia’s brain, Margaret simply asked, “Do you think I should take her to a mental facility if it keeps getting worse?”

Lucy paused before cautiously agreeing, “If she’s willing, sure.”

With this form of consent given, Margaret knew what she had to do as she watched Patricia go inside the boutique and insist to the proprietor that she left her laptop there the other day. But Patricia didn’t even own a laptop, let alone bring one on the trip. As the clueless woman tried to search for an item she would never find, Margaret took the opportunity to escort Patricia back outside.

“You know what it is Europeans don’t like about us?” Patricia giggled. “It’s that we’re not, like, refined enough for them.”

Margaret wanted to briefly wring her neck to remind her that she wasn’t the one comporting herself like a crackhead and confirming to Europeans that, yes, Americans were déclassé to say the least. Instead, Margaret hailed a taxi and gave the name of a psychiatric hospital the landlady had actually recommended because she had a friend who was a doctor there (or so she claimed).

As Patricia played music on her phone (to the dismay of the driver who was trying to listen to the radio), Margaret considered that it wasn’t every day one committed a close friend to a mental institution. But, on the plus side, Patricia would be receiving care from one of the birthplaces of psychiatry. That’s what she told herself as Patricia resisted getting out of the car when they arrived at the building. But what could Margaret do? She wasn’t about to go another night without sleep.

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