I know I am not the only one who has gone through life with friends of the same name coming in and out. With me it has been Karens; not so much in recent years, but through a good portion of my (almost) 54 years. I’m not talking about aquaintances; I am talking about actual friends that I knew from school, work, or whatever and actually socialized with outside of those venues. Most were very close to my own age, which makes sense; in 1960 or years around that, the name was probably at its peak.
Karen Bryce – My best friend from 4th through 9th grades. From a Mormon family, she was the oldest of three, then four, then five, then six, the times I knew her best; and I understand more siblings came along after our friendship.
Her house was fun to hang out at. Coming from a dysfunctional family, I loved being in the presence of parents that clearly adored each other. Not very religious, I still went with the Bryce family to church a few times, and even church camp in the summer of 1974. They also brought me on a few road trips; I was always amazed at how a family with numerous kids always managed to graciously welcome me along, even though their car was not very big.
Plenty of ups and downs as most young girlfriends will encounter, Karen and I still connected quite well, laughed at a lot of the same things. Once a year (ages 10-14) we would get all dressed up and go to 7 Abouds on Wilbur Avenue by ourselves; we felt so grown up.
Many years later, around 2008, I happened to be in my hometown of Antioch, CA visiting my family, who had moved back there after 25 years of living in Oregon. I happened to pick up a newspaper and saw that Karen’s father had passed away, and the funeral was to be the next day. Of course I attended the service, and got a chance to say hello to Karen and her mom, and give my condolences. Karen looked shocked, yet overjoyed to see me. “You were my best friend,” Karen said with tears in her eyes, “Thank you for being here.”
About a month later I sent Mrs. Bryce a nice letter telling her how much I appreciate all she and Mr. Bryce did to include me as part of their family so many years ago. I explained a little of my background and told her how it made a huge and positive difference in my life knowing them. She sent me a nice card back, saying my words warmed her heart.
Karen and I are friends on Facebook, and it has been great to see her postings and pictures of her own family.
Karen Tallman — I met her in my Bulimia therapy group around 1982 at San Jose State. Her name fit her; she was model slim, about 5’10, blond hair and a somewhat outgoing personality. But like other girls in my group, she had issues with food, and depending on how she was feeling about her body or life in general that day, her mood could take a downswing. She once stormed out of a group session when our psychologist challenged her on something. She had the persona of a spoiled brat at times. I think we were only friends for a little over a year.
Karen from Acting Class — I forget her last name, but she was another tall blond, however much heavier. Chuck and I had been married for less than a year, and were living in Costa Mesa in Orange County, CA. Karen had been married for barely a year to a man she had been with for 10 years. Things weren’t going well with her husband, and while I knew her she wound up separating and moving in with her folks.
Karen and I were to act out a scene from Agnes of God, where I played Dr. Martha Livingston, and she played Mother Miriam Ruth (both played by Jane Fonda and Ann Bancroft, respectively, in the movie).
Karen and I decided to watch the movie first, to get a feel for the scene, then we rehearsed. The evening of class I stopped over at Karen’s so we could rehearse once more before our class performance and, while I wore professional attire, Karen went all out and wore an actual nun’s habit. We had a beer while we were rehearsing, and I will never forget the image of Karen the nun quaffing an Amstel Light.
We knocked it out of the park with our scene that night, and later, when the instructor gave us our critique, he said it was so spot-on, he wouldn’t be surprised if we had watched the movie first.
Karen went with me to Tom Clay’s Voiceover class a couple times. We rode from Orange County up to Hollywood. She seemed to crave attention quite a bit — perhaps a symptom of her impending divorce — and before long I realized this high-maintenance friend and I might have to divorce as well. That’s okay; she was somewhat entertaining while it lasted.
Karen K. — I won’t mention her last name, out of respect for her. This friend and I started out strong in 1997, but it became apparent about six months in that she had some deep-rooted issues, mainly focusing on abandonment. She was 7 years older than me, and I was always amazed at how someone living in such a lovely home, working in a field where she made tons of money, and who loved entertaining and being with friends so much, could spiral into chasms of depression, anger and alcohol anytime things didn’t go her way.
After having the opportunity to meet various family members of hers when they would visit, it all started to become clear that psychological issues ran rampant in that family. Karen had a brother who wound up hanging himself, and after that, she took every opportunity to talk about it at every gathering, whether it be a birthday party, a baby shower or a casual barbecue. I knew when she told me of her brother’s suicide (they were estranged) that she would milk it for all it was worth, and I was correct.
Karen thrived off of drama and attention and after almost 10 years I decided that the cons were far outweighing the pros in that friendship. I didn’t feel safe telling her to her face — she had violent tendencies — so, instead, I wrote her a nice letter politely telling her I wished to move on.
Of course it was awkward, as we had common friends; we would see each other at a couple events, but things were usually cordial. But one night at a mutual friend’s 40th Birthday party she once again made a fool of herself and a whole lot of other people got a load of her toxicity and soon parted ways with her as well. I was the trendsetter, however, and I am sure she still blames me for the fact that our circle of friends now has nothing to do with her.
Karen Branch — A fun, cute lady I worked with at Beach and Bay Press in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego. She and her husband Chuck were guests a few times at our house. This was a couple we would have liked to have hung out with more, but I left B & B, then they moved, and we never kept in touch after that.
Karen Rusnak — I worked with her husband Bruce at Beach and Bay Press. They were a fun couple who owned a mobile DJ service. I started to work with them, as I wanted to be a DJ of some sort (preferably on the radio, however), but then wound up getting a fulltime gig with International Male as a Production Artist in their Advertising Department. There may have been some hard feelings on their part that I left after they had taken so much time training me, but their business is now long-gone, anyway. I have both of them as Facebook friends now, so it’s cool to see how they’ve evolved, with a daughter and all.
Karen Blatt — I met her at International Male. We didn’t immediately hit it off, but once we got to know each other we enjoyed each other’s company enough to hang out outside of work. Petite, with long, curly dark hair, she attracted men like a magnet, yet never seemed to meet the right one. Always a gracious guest, she even helped me search for a couple of our dogs that had run away during Chuck’s 40th Birthday party (we got them back a few days later).
Kind of a high-maintenance beauty, it was kind of fun to see men fall all around her. We lost touch after a few years, but then rekindled on Facebook right after she had given birth to a twin boy and girl. They were premature and over at nearby UCSD hospital. Karen came by the house with her husband and it was lovely to catch up. She was 44. I knew she had always wanted children, and in spite of the trauma of having babies 2 months premature, I was glad for her that she had wanted parenthood enough to take some chances.
A friend who heard the news about Karen expressed concerns about Karen’s age, etc. I defended Karen, saying, “She has always wanted to be a mother, and would rather be the mother of 6-year-olds at age 50, than not a mother at all.”
I have again lost touch with Karen (who has lived in Mission Viejo the past 4-5 years), except I have seen pictures of her little boy and girl on Facebook (which Karen hardly ever goes on). Her kids have large eyes and curly hair, just like their beautiful mom.
I feel like I may have left a Karen or two out; if any more come to mind I will edit them into this piece. Right now — with the exception of Facebook friends — I have no active Karens in my life. I sometimes wonder if there is a correlation between the name and lack of permanency in my life. They have just come in and out over the years; some staying around longer than others.