My Unwanted Fifteen Minutes of Fame [Part 1]
This a long one, pals - so I'm breaking it into 3 posts. You'll get part 2 next week!
*Some names have been changed.
When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be famous.
My parents gave me a Star Search microphone stand for Christmas when I was seven (or eight?) and I would perform for their friends and our family during gatherings. I’d climb up onto our giant brick fireplace and stand in front of the wood burning stove and sing my little heart out. I would watch Kids Incorporated and sing along with Stacy (Fergie!) and Robin (Jennifer Love Hewitt!).
In middle and high school, I got into theater and choir because I still wanted to be famous. I loved singing, especially in front of an audience. I yearned for the spotlight, enjoyed every second of being on stage, performing alongside my friends. I sang the national anthem at some home basketball games and lived for the applause at the end. Someone told me they heard me “kill it” on the local radio station that was covering the game and I rode that high for months.
When I graduated, I intended to get my first year of college done then go on to Indiana University and major in voice performance. One week into my college career, I realized I didn’t have the desire to be a starving artist the rest of my life, so I better find something else! Fast forward a few years, after a couple of false starts and several doubles in the restaurant biz, I found myself back on campus getting an English degree, with a focus on writing and literacy.
Shortly after I got back into the college routine, I had an experience that made me never want to be in the spotlight again.
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September 6th started like any other day. I rolled out of bed, made a routine phone call, and left for class. I remember being stressed, even though it was only the beginning of the fall semester. On the way home, I was stuck in an hour-long traffic jam, which only escalated my stress level. I reminded myself that it was officially the weekend, turned on some Dave Matthews Band, and tried to chill out.
Hours later, I arrived home and was greeted by a small FedEx envelope barely attached to my doorknob with a skinny rubber band. Strange, I thought. The only time I get anything from FedEx is when I ordered tickets from DMB’s Warehouse or if one of my parents sent me paperwork. The return address was not either of those. Well, that definitely piqued my interest.
Once inside, I opened the envelope with great care, not wanting to damage the contents. I found a single sheet of paper.
I read the header at least a dozen times. My jaw dropped; the paper fell to the floor while I tried to make sense of what I had just read.
A week earlier…
On the morning of Tuesday, August 28, I decided to skip my classes for a mental health day. I brewed some green tea, turned on The Today Show, and curled up on the couch. Sure, the semester started just two weeks prior — I liked to get my skips out of my system before things really took off. I had almost dozed off when I heard someone enter my building. The walls of that apartment were about as thick as a piece of card stock, so I could hear something as small as an exasperated sigh. Someone was walking up the stairs and stopped at my door. My handle moved slightly, but then the hall fell silent.
I slowly got up off my couch and waited to hear the building entrance door close before moving to my window to peek outside. A deputy from the county Sheriff’s office had just exited my building. I wondered what was going on – maybe they were looking for someone and had the wrong apartment. I hesitated, then finally peered out through the tiny peephole on the door. The coast was clear — I opened the door and found paperwork, loosely tied to the doorknob with a rubber band. Regardless, it felt like minutes had passed before I was finally able to break the band free. That’s when I saw her name.
I struggled to breath at a normal rate. My heart started racing, almost in a panic.
“To the above named Defendant, you have been sued by the Plaintiff set forth above…”
I read. I attempted to collect my thoughts. She is suing me?
“This claim is set for hearing on the 10th day of October, 2007, at 1:30pm.”
Uh oh. I had a midterm that day at 1pm, and I knew there would be no rescheduling.
“A brief statement of the nature of the claim against you is as follows: Nicole’s personal vendetta to sabotage the living arrangement of Kelly* has left Kelly with a plethora of unpaid expenses, a sudden loss of a place to live, and unnecessary multitude of stress and emotional trauma.”
It dawned on me after reading that line that the handwriting on the page was that a of my former best friend.
That really twisted the dirty knife.
I must have read the document over a thousand times. She was suing me for $1331.00. I couldn’t believe it… OK, well, I guess could believe it because of how our friendship ended and because I made her move out. But what she wrote was unbelievable. Rather, what my former best friend, a person who was once like a brother to me, wrote on her behalf was unbelievable.
Hmm. I tried to help her when, at the time, she couldn’t count on her mom. I invited her to move in with me when she had nowhere else to go.
Plethora of unpaid bills.
The day I told her she needed to move out was the 25th. I said if she was out by the first, she wouldn’t need to pay rent or any of the already overdue bills. I would also have her name taken off the lease, since she wasn’t a leaseholder anyway — she was listed only as an occupant. I didn’t feel it was necessary to ask her for money and knew I was giving her a very short amount of time to leave. With that said, I was clear that if she stayed beyond the first, she would still need to pay the rent and other bills as previously planned.
Stress and emotional trauma.
This one actually made me laugh after a few hundred times of reading it on the page. In reality, she’s the one who stole from me, had someone slash my tires within a day of moving out, and had her friends calling my phone at all hours of the night, forcing me to change my number. I even had to start a report with the local police department to document everything as harassment.
In the end, she had only lived with me for forty-five days. All of this after a month and a half.
Things with the living situation went south very quickly. I thought about how quickly things changed in the matter of that forty-five days: I was about to go back to college because I was tired of working in a restaurant, barely living paycheck to paycheck. She was five years younger than me and it was the first time she was living on her own, so of course she was up late partying. I never faulted her for that.
At one point, I considered her to be the younger sister I never had. Re-reading this document over and over, I realized… people just simply change. Life changes. It happens. It just depends if it’s for the better… or not.
The biggest change that sparked the beginning of the end: she and my [former] best friend started dating and I was admittedly worried it would change the dynamic of our friendship (all three of us, not just my friendship with each of them separately). Mistakenly, in passing, I said that to a mutual friend. That person twisted my words into a completely different narrative, which only exacerbated the situation.
I will never forgive myself for not saying exactly that to them personally before someone else had the chance to misconstrue my words and intention behind the statement. Maybe things wouldn’t have ended the way they did between me and my [former] best friend. Fifteen years later, I still regret it and I know I always will.
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Back to a week later, on September 6th…
When I read the letter was from the Judge Mathis producers, a court television show based in Chicago, I tried to figure out how they even knew I was being sued in small claims court. I assumed she had to be the one who contacted them with her story and they wanted us on the show because ~drama!~. I read the letter to find out that if I took the case to the show, not only would they fly me to Chicago and pay for my hotel and expenses, they would pay the cost of the lawsuit if I happened to lose. They would even pay me $200 in cash to appear. I was trying to process this information, reading the page over and over again, when my phone’s screen lit up with an unknown number. (Back before we ignored those!!)
“Hello?” I answered, cautiously.
“Hi, may I please speak with Nicole?” The voice asking for me was sugary sweet.
She went on to introduce herself as Sue, a producer for the Judge Mathis show. I wondered how they found my phone number, seeing as I just had it changed barely a month prior. She inquired about the small claims lawsuit against me. I was confused until she told me they send contractors to research public records for possible show participants. They came across the claim Kelly filed against me and thought it was perfect for their show. That was hard to swallow. Was she serious or just trying to get me to agree? I figured the latter. I told Sue I needed a day or two to decide and she understood, had me write down her phone number, and call her by Friday evening.
When I hit the end key on my Blackberry, a thought raced through my head. Do I go through with this and potentially make a fool of myself on national television, or do I just take my chances in small claims court? Honestly, I really didn’t have much to lose by going. In fact… I’d at least be getting a free (albeit quick) trip to Chicago, some cash, and I wouldn’t actually have to pay Kelly a dime.
I thought about how, all my life until a couple of years prior to this moment, I wanted to be famous. I couldn’t believe I could maybe be on television! Who would see me? Would people from my past recognize me? Would people recognize me in the wild after? What would people think? In that moment, I started to freak out a little, unable to process that this could actually be happening to me. It was my moment to shine! Under the completely wrong circumstances, though. I was a little torn, so I hopped online and started to research before I made the final decision.