In the weeks following The Outburst, the other two mums volunteered bits and pieces about Jill's increasingly bizarre behaviour. She had called one woman in the middle of the night a few months previous and said she'd taken an overdose of pills. The mum lay awake in bed all night wondering what to do. Did Jill indeed take an overdose or was this another of her attention-seeking gambits? If she had taken an overdose, wouldn't her husband be able to do something? The woman did nothing. The next morning Jill seemingly had forgotten about it.
We had learned to gauge Jill's mood by her appearance. Dishevelled hair and heavy walk meant hysterical tears in the playground would soon follow. Combed hair and walking on the balls of her feet meant she'd be whirling around like a dervish.
I thought that would be the end of Jill in our little group, but the two mums had gotten together and decided that the best way forward was to pretend that nothing had happened. So they feigned cheeriness at the sight of her and would engage her in conversation. I stayed on the periphery because I couldn't feign that I was happy to see her and talk to her. Jill, sensing this probably, would make many efforts to trap me into conversation. I learned to keep moving and speak to her over my shoulder. I was uncomfortable with Jill for some deeply personal reasons. She unearthed feelings I'd not had since I was 15 and my mother had had a nervous breakdown.
Within a few months, they talked about inviting her out with us again. I put my foot down and said I could not go out with them if she was going to be present. I don't know if they had starting meeting her for coffee again because I certainly wasn't invited. The Outburst was in January. By June Jill was still desperately trying to be back in the group's good books. One morning I stood in the school's lobby, waiting for the little boy I did reading with. He was always either late or absent. That was on my mind when Jill saw me standing still and asked me if I'd seen Sandra. I had no idea who Sandra was and mumbled something like "I don't know." It wasn't what I said that set Jill off. Apparently, it was the look on my face. My children often ask "What's wrong?" based on the look on my face. Nothing is wrong. I just have a look on my face. But Jill didn't know that.
I did the reading and went about my business. The next day I went to the gym. When I got home, there was a letter with no stamp waiting for me. It was from Jill. It was a bit confusing, saying things like "we both like the school so why can't we get along?" I didn't know what to do about this letter so I did nothing. I went to a meeting at the school about vertical streaming that afternoon. Jill sat in my row and kept leaning over and looking at me. I ignored her. Afterwards, at pick-up time, I mentioned the letter to the other mums. One, who my husband called the Swiss Ambassador because she is Swiss and not prone to discretion, said, "Oh, she phoned me last night and asked me if I thought she should send it. I told her not to."
I turned and practically shouted at her: "You knew she was going to send this letter and you didn't warn me?"
"It's got nothing to do with me," she replied. That would be an attitude I would encounter over and over from that group.
I got home, made my son dinner, got ready to go to my dress rehearsal for an amateur dramatic production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" I was appearing in. I had to be out the door by 5:30. At 5, the phone rang. I answered it. It was Jill. She asked if I'd read her letter and what I thought of it.
"I'm not interested in friendship with you, Jill," I replied.
"This isn't about friendship. It's about the way you treat me, like I'm something on the bottom of your shoe," she spat. She ranted on. "I'm not going feel uncomfortable in my daughter's school. It's not appropriate."
"YOUR daughter's school?" I shot back, my voice getting louder.
"And your daughter's school, too. It's not appropriate." She ranted some more. I said I had to go and put the phone down. I left the house, dropped my son off, went to my rehearsal. I phoned my husband and told him a bit of what happened. When I got home, I told him some more, then went to bed. And sobbed silently.
The next day another letter appeared. This was getting ridiculous. At the time there were roadworks directly in front of my house. You really had to want to go to my house to get in. She obviously did. The tone of the letter was more measured than the phone call, but confusing and disturbing nonetheless. There was no apology about the phone call, though she did say she'd been a bit "dramatic" on the phone. I didn't know it at the time, but apparently Jill was phoning the others as well. I phoned one of the mums she'd harassed in January. "I'll tell you what I told Jill," she said. "This is between you two and I'm not getting involved." Another mum said basically the same thing. I was deeply hurt and disappointed. Where was the support? Where were the coffees and lunches, like they'd had during their crisis with Jill? Only one showed anything like support, leaving a card and flowers on my doorstep one day. But they continued to speak to Jill and in front of her acted like nothing had happened. Jill, for her part, had stepped up her campaign against me. She phoned the school secretary, no longer being able to talk to the head, and others, saying that I was bullying her.
Jill called me again after the second letter. She didn't sound as combative, but I wasn't taking any chances. I told her not to call me again and hung up the phone. I decided not to answer the phone anymore and instructed my children not to do so. Because she did keep calling. A few days later my husband came home while the phone was ringing and started chastising the children for not answering it. I explained that I'd told them not to answer it. He decided that enough was enough and that he was going to write her a letter. I'd thought of writing one myself, but he insisted that he should be the one to write it. In it he asked her to leave me and our children alone and to stay away from us and to not send me any more letters or phone our house. If she couldn't abide by this request, he (we) would seek legal recourse.
He said he wanted to nip this in the bud and stop her behaviour once and for all. I knew the letter would do that, but I also knew that if there were any repercussions, I would feel them. All week I'd stayed away from the school and had my children meet me by the railway bridge. My husband went in to the school and showed the head the letter. She agreed that this was our only option in dealing with this woman. She took me aside that day and expressed her support and sympathy, as did the school secretary and PTA chair. But not the others in the group. Jill did stop calling and writing letters. She phoned the others and read them my husband's letter. She said she would do nothing for three years (when my son would leave the school) and then she'd go to her lawyer.
I tried to understand why these women were so unsupportive. Was it because they'd already been through a crisis with Jill and didn't wish to have another on my behalf? Did they believe I had bullied Jill? Was it because they had children in Jill's daughter's class and felt they had to remain on good terms because of this? I don't know. It was never discussed. Jill and I avoided each other if at all possible. She dropped out of the PTA, as did I a year or so later. She would stop and chat the others at pick-up time. I would wait to one side till she moved on before I joined the others. There was no more talk of including her in the group. I found I could cope in the open air with Jill nearby, but locked in meetings with her I would struggle to breath and feel sick to my stomach. Mini panic attacks, I realised later. Eventually, Jill stopped trying to talk to these women. She seemed to find others eager to rescue her from her tragedies, but none seemed to get as involved as the two mums in our group had. My friendship with these women limped on for nearly three more years, but I'd been on the sidelines for so long that I couldn't get back into the center of things. Finally, in April this year, after one snub too many, I decided to call it a day with these women. Our daughters had moved on to secondary school and other friends. There really was no need to continue what for me was an empty friendship with no heart at the center.
And Jill? She's still around. I see her from time to time riding her bike. My malice toward her has softened. I even feel sorry for her. A bit. I do believe she is a victim -- of a health-care system that doses its patients with pills rather than taking the time to find out what truly is wrong, of an overindulgent husband, of friends so interested in looking like "good" people that they excuse her bad behaviour far too much and far too long. But mostly she is a victim of herself and her mental illness. I spent some time on the internet trying to diagnose her. Bipolar with some personality disorders thrown in. But that's just my amateur opinion.
I finally sorted out what it was about Jill that disturbed me so. She made me feel vulnerable, as I did as a child when my mother would have temper tantrums and rants. I have spent my entire adult life trying not to feel vulnerable. I don't like it, and I will walk the second someone makes me feel that way. And I will do my best to never have another Jill in my life.