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Peers, take note: If you’re planning to steal over $400 from your friend, know thy privacy settings. When suing my best friend didn’t make her pay me back, tracking her social media and telling her dad got me payment in full.
Rebecca* and I met as press box volunteers at a political event. Between directing reporters to their assigned places and handing out Wi-Fi passwords, we chatted and became fast friends.
We’d been friends for about one year when Becca needed to buy a laptop. She was an afterschool program instructor, and not having her own computer made it difficult to complete her lesson plans. She selected a sleek Toshiba netbook at Best Buy. Signing up for a store credit card would guarantee 18 months interest-free on the purchase. At the register, Becca applied for the card. The teenage kid behind the desk looked sympathetic when he said she had been turned down.
I wish I could say I have no idea why I agreed to loan her over $400. In truth, my underlying desire to be liked played a part. I felt irrationally guilty that I helped her find a laptop, and then she couldn’t get it. I felt embarrassed for her. Being denied for a credit application is bad enough, but it must be even worse to have a friend witness it.
She agreed to pay me $50 per month on the loan. A tiny voice in the back of my head reminded me that my brother had loaned someone $250 and never got it back. I told that voice to shut up. This is different. This is my best friend.
After one payment, Becca had nothing but excuses. She constantly told me she had money ready for me. Somehow, that money never made it into my hands. In court documents, I explain that I never demanded payments from her because as my friend, I trusted her to pay me back. That’s a nice way of saying I was afraid she would stop being my friend.
People who know me would, I think, be surprised to read that I basically allowed someone to steal my money because I carried a latent fear of losing a best friend. I’ve always been independent. I don’t care what other people think of me. I don’t let my friends steal from me. But, I did, for months.
Inevitably, after enjoying her netbook for six months, Becca picked a fight with me (over FACEBOOK PRIVACY SETTINGS), and our friendship ended. Reading over the texts that I kept for legal record, maybe it didn’t have to. Sometimes in my relationships, I feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe I overreacted because I suddenly realized that she could walk away with my money. Maybe she picked this ludicrous argument so she could try.
When I feel threatened, I don’t name-call or spread rumors. I batten down the hatches on emotional involvement. I turn into a robot, seeing only what must be done to protect myself. I laid out the repayment plan, and she agreed. I meticulously saved every text, email and voicemail from her, lest she still refuse to pay up.
That day came, and it arrived gift-wrapped with a threatening email. She said her parents’ lawyer would charge me with harassment if I contacted her again. Seeing no other option, I filed a lawsuit against my best friend. When you sue someone in civil court, the sheriff does the contacting for you.
While I took a morning off work to attend our hearing, she didn’t bother to show up. Instead, she called the clerk with a sob story: she wanted to pay me back, but she didn’t know how to contact me! In case she had amnesia and forgot helping me move into my apartment, my current address was neatly listed on her summons.
Courtroom reality shows tell us that this is the end of the drama. Judge Judy bangs her gavel, and order is restored. True reality isn’t so neat and tidy. Since she was a no-show, I didn’t even get to go before the judge. The former Mock Trial star in me was so disappointed. Winning the judgment turned out to be only the beginning of getting my money back.
Months went by, and Rebecca still refused to make payments. Since she lost the civil case, she now owed my filing fee, all $77 of it. That December, I sent her a certified letter, restating the payment schedule. I needed a payment by December 31st, or I would seek further action against her.
Around this same time, I unblocked her on social media. Combing through the status updates, shared links, and tweets, I noticed something. All the while she chose not to pay me back, she shelled out on vacations, parties, and a ton of Groupons. I started checking her updates almost daily. Oh, a $50 Groupon purchased after I mailed the certified letter? Screencap. Photos of a weekend getaway? Screencap. It was like discovering a cheating partner. I spent hours collecting evidence. I have a folder on my computer entitled “REBECCA BULLSHIT.”
I created a Google alert with her address, and one day it was listed for rent. If she moved without repayment, I would never see my money. I emailed that I would be at her door at noon on Sunday to pick up a payment. If she wasn’t there, I would return at an hour when she was likely to be home. (This would have been 6 am on Monday.) She agreed to the day and time, and I went off to a friend’s.
Hours later, I was driving through the snow in the middle of the night. Rebecca said she was going away for the weekend and was leaving cash, some DVDs, and a set of keys to my apartment in an unlocked box on her uncovered porch. I searched the porch in a fury. Nothing. I was seething. I was full-on shaking in anger as I repeatedly buzzed her apartment. I have never been so livid in my entire life. I called the police. An official report lists her as the party responsible for an apparent property theft.
Returning to my apartment on Sunday, I swung by Rebecca’s house. Lo and behold, I found $50 in cash, my DVDs, and my keys. I realized that Becca had no intention of paying me back. She would continue harassing me with lies, making me drive hours in the snow, in the middle of the night, for as long as she could drag this out. She finally found my breaking point.
It occurred to me that if I had to quickly repay $400, my mom or another relative would help me. I had been to her parents’ house in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Surely they could lend her the money. Unless, of course, she didn’t tell them, and she didn’t consult with their attorney.
It turns out that while Rebecca might not respect me, or the court system, she does respect what I imagine was an unpleasant discussion with her father.
Without alerting her, I sent a certified letter to her father. Under the guise of trying to contact the lawyer she said she had spoken to, I told him the entire story. I included copies of the judgment, several emails, and screencaps of Becca spending money that she owed to me. I asked him to “please inform your attorney” that I would file a lein against Rebecca if I didn’t get my money back. A recent lein would decimate her credit and prevent her from getting approved for a new apartment.
The day I drove to her apartment on my lunch break to pick up a combination of cash and money order felt like a breath of fresh air. It had been one year and six days since I loaned my best friend $407. It cost much more to get it back. On my phone, I checked Becca’s social media profiles. She’d made them all private.
This experience changed me, but not the way you might think. I had to face the lie of her friendship. I’d periodically complained to another friend that Becca made comments that made me feel bad about myself. I never named Becca, and I didn’t hint that it was the same person. I was subconsciously embarrassed that I continued to associate with someone who made me feel that way.
Through the stress of that year, I feel like I reclaimed a piece of myself that was hiding. I’m back to not caring what people think about me. I choose not to waste my time or brainpower on it. When a passive-aggressive, wannabe frenemy policies my food, staring at a bag of M&Ms and gasping, “What is that?” I easily reply, “A hamburger.”