Maria (not her real name) was a friend I met in college. She was smart, engaging and beautiful in that Hollywood starlet way - Tall, blonde, openly sexual. From the first time I met her she was headed to LA to be in films. At school she and I were among the people who picked up and hosted speakers on campus - she insisted on handling all of the "useful" entertainment and TV people like TV honcho Ted Turner and comedian Andy Kaufman but left the rest of us to handle the others. She'd introduce me to them and they'd give me an absentminded wave as they maneuvered her to their hotel rooms.
When she finally got to the coast, I started seeing her in bit roles in TV and movies and in a lot of daytime commercials - playing a young mother pitching disposable diapers and such. She also was occasionally in People and the Tabloids hanging off the arm of some star - Cruise and Cage among others. For a while my boss was in our Beverly Hills office so I got to see her - she particularly wanted my introduction to the Chairman of our Entertainment group - PwC was the premier firm in the movie business, at least until the recent Oscars kerfuffle - so I was able to do her a good turn. In return I got to go with her places and meet some of her 'friends' although they didn't seem to be particularly good friends to me.
A few years on I got a call from an old college friend: "Bill! Maria is in a movie with Nicholas Cage!". I was busy getting married so I forgot about it. A year after that, having just moved into a new house, we were looking for a movie to watch on a Friday night and there it was. I turned to my (conservative, Christian) wife and said "we have to watch this one, my good friend is in it as the lead opposite Nicholas Cage". On the way home I regaled her with Maria stories, telling her how good a friend she was and how much Maria reminded me of her - same height, hair color, beauty, style, etc.
When we got home I popped the movie into the player. The first scene was Judd Reinhold in bed in ca 1900 New Orleans - French Quarter. The sun was streaming through the window and Maria, his newlywed wife, walked in and stepped out of her robe. She got up on the bed - naked - and started inexplicably jumping on it with full frontal nudity. I'm a bit slow on the uptake so my first reaction was "wow! they really do look alike" but then my mind quickly pivoted to damage control: I turned to Diane (that was my wife's name) and said: "well, I don't know her that well". Perturbed, Diane left for bed while I stayed downstairs fast forwarding through every ugly scene looking for something to redeem the movie in my - and more importantly - my new wife's eyes. I failed. If you recall the movie 9 1/2 Weeks where Kim Basinger was sexually humiliated by Mickey Rourke - it was a precursor to 50 Shades of Grey - you'll understand this Nick Cage production. Apparently he was trying to reprise 9 1/2 Weeks and Maria was the best actress he could find who was willing to be humiliated on screen. It was a terrible, cruel film and her acting wasn't much better.
I ran into her a couple more times, once in Chicago and another time in New York when she was doing commercials. It was very strange - I thought she'd be embarrassed by her performance with Cage but she wasn't. She talked about it and her other work as if she was going from one triumph to another. I realized that as far as she was concerned I was her 'public' and she was presenting herself to me. So I went along, capturing every interesting story tidbit so that I could share them with my friends and colleagues.
I lost track of her until a couple of months ago. Another friend sent me an email with a Youtube clip from her last 'movie' writing "I'm sure you've seen this" because it was pretty old but I hadn't. It was porn. I saw her in the scene and clicked it off - I couldn't bear to watch. To see her humiliate herself again - she was my friend.
I felt great sorrow for her - she had sought fame and only gotten humiliation. It was very hard to take. But it got much harder last Tuesday. I was with a group of friends from my Church. We were talking about the teaching from last Sunday. It's a passage from Mark's Gospel where Jesus heals a blind man. The first time Jesus heals him the blind man says he can only see people that look like "trees" so Jesus heals him again so that he could see people as they truly were. As we talked about that passage I thought of Maria. And I realized that I had been using her. I saw her as nothing but a walking "tree". Someone who was a tool for my entertainment and aggrandizement. I didn't really care about her humiliation and sorrow except as a way for me to score points with others. I was happy to call her my friend yet let her delude herself.
I've been trying to find her. To tell her how sorry I am. I haven't had any luck yet but that may be because I'm so afraid of what I may find.
I am glad that Jesus has taken on all of my sins because in times like this when I discover a whole new sewer full of them, their added weight overwhelms me. I've asked Him to help me see people not as objects to be used and consumed but as they truly are - God breathed miracles on their journey to eternity. But it's difficult because it requires that I slow down and look past the surface labels that I apply to everyone - cashier, pastor, actress, kid, oldster - to truly see the soul inside.
I'm not very good at it and I fail so often that sometimes I wonder why He bothers with me at all.