Can Enemies Become Friends?



Giving up your childish ways
Is not as easy as it seems.
But if it means you’re getting paid
You learn to work well as a team.

Short answer: Yes, it can happen. It takes building a bridge over time using a foundation of consistency and the willingness to see past your prejudices.

Long answer:

My degree is in rehabilitation psychology.

Over 21 years ago, I moved back to Florida for the worst of reasons. My mom passed away, leaving everything to my sister and I equally in her will (i.e., “you girls can sort it out when I’m dead”). That presented my sister and me with a problem. Someone had to play executor and that couldn’t be done effectively if we both lived in Texas.

Unlike many families, we didn’t fight over the stupid stuff–like who gets the 100 jars of canned chayote squash my mother left in the utility room (if you don’t see the humor in this, read my blog called “My Mother’s Cooking”).

My sister didn’t want the house (but she does want me to pay her for her half of it someday). My mother’s car was less than a year old. My sister had an older car and I wasn’t able to give her 1/2 of the blue book value of mom’s car, so she traded her car to me and we called it even. The only thing we “fought” about was the Lionel electric train we put around the Christmas tree every year when we were children, and my mother’s cedar chest. The fight went something like this:

Me (typical little sister): “I want it!”

My sister: “You can live in the house rent free, be the executor, and plow through all mom’s paperwork to see where she left all the important papers.”

Me: “Okay.”

My job in Texas was going to be downsized (I would be unemployed soon), so my future ex-husband and I packed our stuff and moved to the wilderness.

THE PROBLEM: How does a woman from the deep south with a learning disability, Tourette Syndrome, extreme sensitivity to light, and the personality of an antisocial pit bull on Valium find a job when she’s living in the middle of nowhere?

Easy! Go to the local Vocational Rehabilitation Office and ask for help. Duh!

Imagine this scene: A 43 year old woman born and raised in Florida walks into Voc Rehab with her 26 year old husband and says she’s disabled. There is only 1 person in the Voc Rehab office and she has a Northeast US accent.

Anyone see a problem here? Anyone? Anyone?

He has a disability I won’t disclose, but he was quite muscular and had other…uh, talents.

She shrugs her shoulders and says there aren’t any jobs around here for someone with my education, and after 5 minutes talking to him about his non-existent job history she says she doesn’t think she can help him.

Now……most people with no knowledge of the Voc Rehab system would have said, “Okay. Thanks,” and proceeded to the local welfare office.

That’s not my style. I said, “Can’t you at least have us tested?”

She’s well aware that if she says no, it could cause her trouble. So she arranges for vocational testing for my future ex-husband and me.

The testing comes back. It says I have a verbal IQ of 141 and performance of 98 (visual problems–3rd grade sequencing, etc.). I won’t go into his IQ because that’s confidential information.

Her response?: Your top interest is to be a writer. We don’t fund people for that.  But with those scores, you can do anything you want.

My response?: I look better on paper than I do in person. What about my husband?

Her response?: He’ll never hold a job. (Obviously no one saw fit to test for his particular talent.)

My response? This isn’t over.

I won’t go into the argument that ensued, I’ll just say that my husband who died in 1983 was from Brooklyn NY and I was much better prepared to argue with a northerner than most people who lived in rural Florida.

Her final assessment?

Of me:    Obsessive bitch

Of him:  He’ll never work.

I fired off a scathing letter to the head of Voc Rehab, one that I later discovered almost succeeded in getting her fired. My ex-husband went to a Voc Rehab office in another county who paid for trucking school.

In the meantime, I was calling employment agencies for work. One of them had a request for a part time administrative assistant and part time support coordinator job. I had just the right degree and began a career that would last for 11 years. What does a support coordinator do?  Locate supports and services for people with developmental disabilities (autism, intellectual disabilities, Prader Willi syndrome, and Cerebral Palsy).

The first agency I was with folded within 3 months. I was hired by another one as a full-time support coordinator assigned to the county I was living in because no one else wanted to work there. One of my consumers lived in her own home and wanted a job. Where do you go when you’re disabled and want to work?

Easy! Go to the local Vocational Rehabilitation Office and ask for help. Uh….

Well? Hmmmm….it might be easy if I hadn’t royally pissed off the only counselor in the county by almost getting her fired.  Fortunately, Ms. Jobhunter already had an appointment  at the Vocational Rehabilitation office.  All I had to do was show up.

In her usual gracious manner she asked me, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m Ms. Jobhunter’s new support coordinator,” I replied.

I’m not sure if it was the wide eyes, the open mouth, or the skin that paled to near white, but I’m fairly sure there was a voice echoing in her mind as it shouted out, “OH. MY. GOD!!! I have to work with this obsessive bitch?”

During the next year, I was immediately on top of any problems she reported. The Voc Rehab counselor could rely on me to do the leg work that I was supposed to do.  She didn’t have to nag me to do my part, the plans I wrote were quite detailed (which I edited using a text reader) and both of us kept our personal feelings separate from our professional lives. Over time, my talent as an obsessive bitch acquired  the services people needed to succeed in the community.

 3 years after my first encounter with her, I left the agency to be an independent support coordinator, opting for a small caseload so that I could serve people no one else wanted to help.  Some were simply too demanding, others were so complex it cost agencies more money than they brought in.  On the rare occasions I had an opening there were a line of people waiting to take it.

In other words, I had channeled my obsession into helping people and would doggedly pursue whatever was necessary to find the supports and services they needed. That was the first thing the voc rehab counselor saw that impressed her.

When I finally kicked my ex-husband out of the house, I admitted to her that she was right–he would never work. I told her she had a talent for sizing up people. After I told her that, she admitted the magnitude of the destruction I’d caused in her professional life and how impressed she was that I’d channeled that force into helping the most vulnerable people in our society. That was one of the olive branches extended to one another that paved a road to friendship.

Making a friend of an enemy can happen, but it’s a bridge that is built over time using a foundation of consistency and the willingness to see past your prejudices.

My sister once told me, “Don’t burn your bridges, you may never know when you need them again.”

Unfortunately, I know myself too well. I have and always will say this to anyone who gives me similar advice:

“I’ll cross that bridge when it burns behind me.”

That’s all I can promise.