Friday, October 19, 2012

The Insistence of Memory

Halloween is fast approaching, bringing it's usual trappings - tasteless lawn displays, scary movies on TV (I'm afraid to turn it on, for fear of what I might see), pumpkins, princesses, goblins, superheroes, and my favorite, Mini-Reese's Cups.  While my children are eagerly anticipating dressing in their costumes in order to pillage and plunder the neighborhood with the goal of triumphantly returning home with more pounds of candy than they can carry, I am thinking of ghosts. Old ghosts. 

I tell myself these ghosts have taken up more than their share of time and space in my life, that they deserve nothing more from me, but still they persist in their haunting, insist on my attention and resist my attempts to scoop them up and smash them under the big, slimy rock where they sometimes reside and where I wish they would just stay.  "Just go away", I say, but like gnats on a humid day in PA, they invade my eyes and my ears.  They discomfit and distract me, as insistent as a 3 year old who clings to my leg and cries because he's hungry while I stand at the stove making dinner.   

Ugh.  Fine.  O.K. Ghosts, you win.  I'll sit with you, you may have my undivided attention for the rest of the afternoon while I type out this blog.  But don't come crying to me when you don't like the attention I'm about to call to your bad behavior.  You've earned this.  What I once considered a flaw in myself is really yours.  Your choices, your shame.  Here you go, fill your Trick or Treat bag with this and then shove it up your ass.  

I was 9, the same age my daughter is now, when my father died.  Suddenly, of a heart attack at age 32.  And while my loss was soul-scarring, having happened in my tender, formative years, it pales in comparison to the surprising and preventable loss my little brothers and I suffered in the years following my father's death.  My father was taken from us, he did not go willingly and, as my very wise great-aunt pointed out to me that evening, he died loving us.  His family, my mother's in-laws, our aunts and uncles--not so much.  They, one by one, some immediately, some over a period of years turned their backs and walked away.  My grandmother, gone.  My cousins, taken from me.  In what situation, what world, is that ever o.k.?  It wasn't.  It isn't.  I don't know that it ever will be.

My mother's parents took us in for awhile, until she felt strong enough to return to the house where we lived with my father.  (How she was able to do that, I'll never know)  Her brothers stepped in to shore up their sister and care for us.  They are the men who took us fishing, taught me to ride my two-wheeler and hit a softball.  And while my other, (former) uncles had the grace to look embarrassed whenever we might chance to meet at the county fair during my teenage years, the damage was done.  There is no way for them to say "sorry" to that 9 year old.  There is no excuse valid enough, no explanation that will ever make her understand.  I recently bumped into a (former) aunt at a foliage festival in my hometown.  And while she and my mom made small talk (here again, I must marvel at my mother's fortitude) I really had nothing to say  to her.  I just looked at her through my big brown eyes.  I don't know what she may have seen in them as she returned my gaze.  I hope she saw my father, for my eyes are his, and I would guess she saw a door with "No Admittance.  Authorized Personnel Only" written upon it.  She had her chance(s).  She, and the rest of them, made their choices and we have all lived with them for thirty plus years.

Thirty plus, I'm a grown up now, with children of my own.  These scars, these ghosts I'm shining the light upon, they still affect me so.  I'm so used to this story, I know it inside and out, that I have almost reached the point of saying, "it's no big deal." Amazing what we live with, adapt to, assimilate into our beings.  But if I take myself outside of it, allow myself to imagine hearing this story from a dear friend, I would tell her, "Hell Yeah--It is a BIG FRICKIN' DEAL!"    I would be outraged for her and rush to assure her that it wasn't her, it was them.  That there is nothing wrong with her, that she is not unlovable, that she is worth knowing and treasuring.       

And perhaps, that is my lesson, the one that I can teach my own Darling Dears.  My in-laws, my children's grandparents, are not actively involved in our lives.  One evening, during my engagement, my 9 year old self cried inconsolably in my fiance's arms at the realization that his parents didn't really accept me.  "They are never going to love me!", I sobbed.  And though he made all the appropriate reassuring noises, really, what could the man say?  I didn't know it in the moment, but since then, I have come to realize the two of us were battling those old ghosts, and on that evening, they won.  

So, now, we don't talk about Grandma and Grandpa that much.  Once in awhile my daughter will ask when we are going to visit them again.  I want to shield their tender hearts from feeling the same scorch of rejection I have carried all these years.  One of the greatest pieces of advice I will ever give my children is this:  "Don't pursue a relationship where there is none to be had.  You will meet all kinds of people in your life. Some of them will be unable to recognize you as the treasure you are, and some of them will be unwilling to do the work needed in order to deserve your love."  

Those people, especially, those who are supposed to love us while we are children, are contemptible poison. Let us save our gifts and our treasures for those who do care for us.  Let us not throw our pearls before  the swine.  

Now, where did I put those Reese's cups....

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Half Life

My Readers Dear are highly intelligent. I know this because, well, because you are my Readers Dear.  So, perhaps you have noticed that most of  my posts regard friendship in all it's wondrous and blessed incarnations.   My entries amount to an inventory of people I've collected, courted, cultivated, and clung to.  I think most of my friends would say I'm steady and true.  Once you are mine, you remain, simply, mine.  Unless...

Unless you walk away from me, and then only if you don't look back.  But if you do look back, you'll probably see me give you a tentative wave and a small smile in case you need a little encouragement to walk my way once again.  I will welcome you back into my life because we all change our minds.  We make mistakes while we are running on emotion.  I've done it myself, and I hope to be forgiven for my bad judgement and the resulting bruises I've left on a tender heart or two.  It's called grace and we all need it.

But, I wonder, when does the grace we grant to another become punishment of self?  In other words:  how do we walk that line between being a soft place for a cherished one to fall and being the doormat for the insecure to wipe their feet upon?  How much is a girl supposed to take for cryin' out loud??

I'm talking about consciously choosing to end a friendship here.  I have done it.  Not lightly and not easily. And quite honestly, not soon enough.  I've allowed a friend to make me miserable for much longer than I should have. I granted her more of my grace than she deserved and now I am able to see that grace I gave was only a small drop in the ocean of endless damage and limitless envy in which she comfortably swam.  Today, buffered by a few years and a wide expanse of the United States, I am able to see the truth.  Truth is,  I was never going to make a difference.  I was never meant to save her.  The only one with sufficient grace for her is the One who made her. So I gave her back to Him.

Do you need the details?  I've asked myself this question a few times in the course of writing this one. (Actually, I've been trying to finish this particular entry for three weeks because of the turmoil it has stirred up in me.  But today, I am just pissed off enough to spew it out)   Do I need to dredge up the drama and the details?  Do you want to hear about the jealousy and one upsmanship?  The showing off and the selfishness?   I can tell you about the time she told me I was stupid, and the way she would casually mention pulling all of the medications out of her cupboard with the thought of taking enough to kill herself.  I have very illustrative stories about the unnecessary rudeness she would dish out to restaurant servers. Are you curious to know how she can claim to be an ace business professional in public while never making the connection that two personal bankruptcies before the age of 45 would give the lie? (yeah, I never really reconciled that one either)  I remember the way her jealousy would frantically rise up through her throat and threaten to choke her before shooting it's way out of her mouth in the form of a backhanded compliment or "constructive criticism" -- or the way it would turn her blue eyes to green when I would share happy news:  a new car, a surprise vacation, a pregnancy.  Her tedious attempts at control and manipulation left me emotionally exhausted and drained, but she never seemed to tire of it. Dee was my own personal Love Canal.  (get on the Google)  She insisted upon a clinging, clawing, possessive kind of love that nearly drowned me, and continues to taint the well from which I draw the water to nurture my current friendships.

I don't like to talk on the phone because Dee would call me up and use me as her therapist/sounding board for hours.  I don't let my friends know when I need them because Dee NEEDED so much from me.  I'm acutely aware of my own Drama Quotient and Neediness Factor because I don't want to be the Dee in my friends' lives.  I never want one of my friends to look at their Caller ID and groan because it's me calling. With another crisis.  Again.  I work hard at keeping my own counsel because Dee would ask me for advice and then not take it.  I reign in my judgmental tendencies (at least, I hope I do, I sincerely try) because Dee would use her professed Christianity as a tool to make herself look good in other's eyes as well as to diminish any sparkle of humanity she saw coming from others.   I don't make many demands on my friends' spare time because I don't want to seem clingy.  I could go on and on, but I won't--because DEE used to.

Being her friend was a lonesome place to be.  I would try to talk to other friends and family about my Deelimna but after awhile they didn't want to hear it.  The conversation would go like this:

Me:  "She's driving me crazy, she makes me miserable on the phone, I don't want to see her, I'm drained, I can't deal with her today...yada, yada, yada"
Friend:  "Just break up with her already!"
Me:  "I can't, I'm her only friend."
Friend:  "Helloooo, there's a reason you're her only friend...."

The final blow was mercifully delivered while I was pregnant with my son.  I had finally hung up the phone on the third hour-plus call in as many days regarding her latest drama--her closeted, live-in boyfriend. I will be forever grateful to the hormonal state which allowed me to finally throw in the towel.  Literally, I threw in the towel.  I hung up the phone, and stepped into the shower.  Over the running water I heard God speak to me so clearly, so plainly, I knew it was finally time to let her go, and in doing so, set myself free.  He told me that Dee uses me as her counselor but that is His job.  And that if I were any good at it, she would be in better shape than she is.   He told me to put a boundary on our relationship:  take some meds, seek professional help, or we are done.  The next time we spoke, probably the following day, she knew right away "shit just got serious"-  I layed it out for her and she very calmly told me that she couldn't abide by the boundary I put in place and SHE ended the friendship.  It was all quite peaceful and civil and surprisingly one of the most drama-free conversations I ever had with her.

I shake my head and roll my eyes in exasperation when I ask myself, "What took you so long?"  I can only say I was ill-prepared to handle her. I was younger then, and hadn't learned about boundaries as they apply in a relationship.  I think, now, she wanted to consume me, literally eat me up if she could have.  Perhaps she wished to posses my body and therefore, my life, so I wouldn't exist anymore. In that way, she would have the best part of me and no one else would have any of me.  There must have been some part of her that knew most of my emotional resources would be poured into my babies and that was a competition she would never win.

I wish she didn't have such locust-like hunger for food, things, people. I wish she'd had a different life, without the trauma she experienced as a child.  I wish she'd been given to a different set of parents who would have treasured their little girl's soul.  But, only God knows why,  that's not the way it happened for her.  He placed her in that damaged home.  He put that huge hole in her soul.  There will never be enough of anything here on this earth, in this mortal life, to fill that.

I wish I'd never met her.  I wish I hadn't let it go on so long.  I wish it didn't still affect me so. I wish I didn't regret the decisions I made, the gifts I gave, the days I shared with her.  I wish I could be more secure in my present relationships instead of always holding back, walking on eggshells, unable to ask for what I need.  I wish...

It's been nearly 8 years since I heard her raspy, two-pack-a-day voice on the phone.  The half-life of Dee's toxicity lingers on here.  I like to think it will lessen it's presence a little more each year. Just as radioactivity has it's half-life, I pray, so too, will Dee's toxicity.  Then maybe I can begin to enjoy my life, and the people in it, more fully.

I wish Dee a full life too.  It's called Grace.  And we all need it--some of us more than others.