“One moment, you’re listening to the same internal justifications you’ve listened to countless times before; the next moment, you have passed through some unseen membrane, and from the other side you can suddenly hear yourself think—with crystal clarity: Oh, I understand. I’m done.”
~~ Jean Hanff Korelitz
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
~~ Dr. Suess
This is perhaps one of the hardest essays for 365 Days of Silver I’ve had to write. But the whole meaning of this blog is to find the silver lining in the worse of situations, and this one can certainly be included as a “worst.” It’s the longest. And it’s got a lot of darkness. And hurt. But it does have a Silver Lining! And I’m posting this now. Before an edit. Before going through and looking for grammatical errors or misspellings. Later…
So I had a best friend…. A best friend. A friend like no other. A friend that looking back over the stretch of my life, I could see no other like him. A friend that I knew I would grow old with. That I would be hanging out with as a doddering old man on the front porch of some “Old Folk’s Home.” Our spouses would be long gone, but our friendship would be there in those last and final days. We would remember the worse of times, but more, we would remind each other of the best of times….
But it seems that this friend…is not that friend.
If I were honest with myself I would have seen this fact long before the end came. Long before. But then I stayed in an abusive relationship with my first husband for five years longer than I should have because I believed that if I held on…if I just held on…he would get better–it would get better.
It didn’t of course. He didn’t. And so I had to leave.
And once more I find myself having to leave.
One reason it was so hard to let go was that there were so darned many good times! Anything that hurt me or upset me? It seemed to be so outweighed by the good. I remember once another important friendship…that friend hurt me too. But I weighed it. I said to myself, bad in one hand, good in the other, which is more? And the good was better. I thought about this newer friend and decided that the good outweighed the bad, and went forward.
Then awhile back I got my second knee operated on and it put me in situation where I was severely grounded on what I could do for a few months. The first knee was a partial replacement, the second a full replacement. So for weeks I could not even get up and down the stairs by myself. In the first month, my husband was in full-blown overtime—working twelve hour shifts—and wasn’t home for over two weeks. If it wasn’t for my daughter I don’t know what I would have done. She will never understand the depths of my gratitude.
And strangely my “best friend” wasn’t there. I will call him Matthew. He came by for one visit—about fifteen minutes long—and then to my surprise outdid himself by dropping some Christmas cookies and hot buttered rum mix for me. He didn’t have a car and had to take a taxi to do so! I was overwhelmed by a “good” thing and let that erase the bad.
The bad: One visit. Not one call—not one. Not in the hospital. Not at home. No card. No email. No note of Facebook. No, “Hey my friend is going through a lot and I’d love it if you’d keep him in your thoughts and prayers….” Nothing. And in loving that hot buttered rum mix, I would make myself not be hurt by it. Matthew had a life after all. It would be selfish and immature to be upset, right?
When I was finally cleared to drive again—and it was quite an operation, believe me—then quite suddenly he had time for me. Of course I had to make the calls. I had to ask if he wanted to go to a movie or dinner or just hang.
And soon something weird happened…. We just stopped seeing each other. Months and months passed where we didn’t talk. So once again, like before, I made an attempt at doing things with Matthew again. I stopped by where he worked to see if he wanted to have lunch. He didn’t because if he ate while at the register he got paid for lunch—this half hour lunch. Where he would have been paid—five dollars for that time maybe? He only got a half hour. I’d offered to buy. Five dollars was too much for him to lose to have lunch with me. He did however run next door and got a couple packs of cigarettes.
Then we actually made a “date.” I was sure not to do “a Ben.” Talk endlessly about myself and what was going on in my life. I listened to him. I thought it had been a successful time. We even wound up doing a movie on a separate night and came back to my place for cocktails. It was wonderful. And amazing time. I was a little puzzled that he didn’t understand the end of The Life of Pi….
“Don’t you see?” I told him. “You have two choices. You can believe the boy floated for a long time at sea and somehow managed to survive…. Or you can believe that he had a tiger in his boat with him, and he saw a blue whale, and went to a living island, and had so many other miraculous things happen to him. That’s what life is all about. Choosing the dismal or choosing to see the wondrous and miraculous.”
I dropped him off that night and told him what an amazing time I had and he nodded and went inside.
And we didn’t talk again.
Months passed. I grew more and more concerned. His Facebook—as usual—was filled with darkness, seemingly dozens of shared articles a day, warning us of the impending end of civilization, crooked politicians, evil companies and so much more. Rarely if ever sharing something either happy and good or funny—or a way to do something about impending end of civilization, crooked politicians, evil companies and so on. I found I couldn’t even look at his Facebook anymore. It wouldn’t be anything funny. It wouldn’t be anything bright. It wouldn’t be anything helpful.
Then something happened. Friends of his started contacting me! They were concerned. The wrote me, stopped me at the grocery store, stopped me at Renaissance Festival, and asked me if I had any idea what was going on with Matthew. They were concerned with his darkness and his seeming depression. They told me stuff that shocked me, stuff that I had no idea was going on because we weren’t doing anything. With one of them I started crying.
“I have no idea!” I exclaimed. “I thought it was me! I thought I had done something terribly wrong and he didn’t want anything to do with me!”
They assured me that wasn’t the case.
So I wrote him. It took me a week. I wrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it. I made sure I didn’t do that whole “You did this” and “You did that.” I was sure to do the “When you do this it hurts me.” Not “You hurt me.” I listed some of the things that so desperately hurt me. Things that felt as if I’d been betrayed or stabbed in the back. So much more. I asked why. Had I done something wrong? Was I not seeing things clearly? Was I delusional? When we are close to something, we often see ourselves in the light and the other person as wrong. I wanted to see the truth.
Then nothing. No response.
Until a week or more later.
The response was almost incomprehensible. I wondered if he had written it while he was drunk. When I could actually make sense of the sentences, they were fabrications, filled with comments that weren’t even close to what had actually happened. This wasn’t a case of Witness #1 sees A, and Witness #2 sees C, and listening to them you can see the truth lies someplace around B. And then you can get them to see that truth. This was a case where Ben saw A and Matthew saw 7,974. Not even a letter of the alphabet.
I was accused of telling his friends about his lifetime of depression. I hadn’t even known he had a lifetime of depression! And they came to me, not the other way around. He ignored almost every single question I had asked him—and the few times he did address them they didn’t even make sense. I don’t mean Ben-sense. I mean the sentences didn’t even follow logical order. He mentioned the movie and cocktail night we had—the one I thought was so amazing—and told me that he had just found it draining. Like I was sucking the life out of him….
And worst of all he made an accusation. He told me that often in life we hung out a lot, and then I would put him in what he called the Matthew Penalty Box. What that meant—he explained—was that when I wanted to be his friend, I contacted him. When I was too busy with other friends or my writing—I put him in a penalty box. He gave an example of the first few months of the year.
When I was recovering from my operation and couldn’t get out of the house or even up and down stairs without my daughter’s help. The time that I longed to hear from him. For him to stop by and have a few cocktails with me, share a movie on DVD, call me and ask how I was doing, leave a nice note on Facebook.
I was stunned.
I didn’t respond.
For months after that I was able to so something I was never able to do before. I was able to look back over the years of our friendship without him being around giving me fun good times. I began to get disturbed. I began to see hurt after hurt after hurt after hurt. I began to see many, many, many cases of his reinterpreting situations into something not close to what actually happened. Witnesses would assure me of this. Betrayals. Cases of outright back-stabbing. Endless cases of leaving me out of parties, trips, dinners, movies and more. I thought about all the times we had seen movies—and quite suddenly realized that almost every time he and I had gone to one it was because I asked him, not the other way around. The meals, except for about three, were when I asked him. And I drove—even the times he had a car.
And I saw something that I hadn’t allowed myself to see before. For years I had watched him cast aside friendship after friendship after friendship. He would carefully explain how that friendship had become poisonous to him. That he had to turn away from what was hurting him. But usually all I saw was, why would you end this friendship? Are you crazy? You’re cutting of a foot, and arm! And then he would embrace relationships that were dark and harmful and cancerous. We would warn him—my husband and I—that he needed to stay AWAY from that person and he would laugh in our faces…and then get hurt.
And stupidly, I thought I was exempt from all of this. That Matthew would never cast me aside! Never find reasons why I was poisonous to him.
I thought about that weighing thing. I decided to start making lists. A Good Stuff List and a Bad Stuff List.
There were a considerable about of things on the Good Stuff List I can clearly report. Wondrous times. Magickal times. Times of laughter. Times to cry on each other’s shoulders. Talks of God and the nature of the Universe. Talks I couldn’t have had with anyone else. Being there for each other in really tough times. A night he did take me out to dinner and it wasn’t cheap. That taxi ride in the winter bringing me cookies and hot buttered rum mix (Got it was sooooooooo good!).
And then there was the Bad Stuff List.
I was stunned.
It was endless.
Despite the length of the Good Stuff, the Bad Stuff was many, many times longer. It was shocking. It hurt.
An example of his reinterpreting history or a situation:
The night we went to the movies I mentioned how much I loved crowds and being around a LOT of people. How I loved the energy. I loved to be hit with it and bombarded with it. I loved to let it fill me until it literally exploded out of the top of my head and then rained down onto the crowd. And endless recycling of energy.
Later he told me it had really disturbed him that I had admitted to being an energy vampire. I was like…what??? A energy vampire sucks up energy for his or her own good, regardless on its effect on others. I was taking energy in, and then returning it with energy of my own. How is that an energy vampire?
An example of a betrayal:
I walked into his place of employment once and said “Hi” to one of his co-workers. Someone I knew he cared about and talked about a lot. She was shockingly rude to me. Wouldn’t talk. When I asked Matthew about it later he blushed and admitted, “Well…. I might have bitched about you with her when I was mad at you.”
So much that she wouldn’t talk to me? I have never ever talked about Matthew that way to anyone but my own husband. It would have been a betrayal!
It was then that it finally began to dawn on me how in his darkness—in his endless posts about evil companies and crooked politicians and articles on how to keep people from manipulating you—that he had sunk so deeply into this quagmire, he could no longer see anything clearly. He was looking for the bad. He had gotten so good at it that he saw it instantly. And he would edit whatever he saw—for instance leaving off the end of my explanation about crowds and returning the energy—so that it could fit his dark view of the world.
More…in this world he saw himself as evolved and some kind of world savior. He constantly used words like “passive aggressive” to show his higher self and how others were constantly trying to manipulate him. It was scary.
My minister told me something. He told me that when good really starts to fill your life, when you really begin to manifest your dreams, something is going to happen. Your friends—your very best friends—are going to try and tear you down. Rather than follow your example, they will tear you and wear you down, trying to prevent your good from happening. And God…. It’s true.
I didn’t know what to do.
So I did nothing.
Then finally, recently, I saw him and was pleasantly surprised to see how nicely it went. It felt nice. I thought there might be a chance to make tentative steps to reviving—if not our friendship—then our acquaintanceship.
So I sent him an email asking him for some advice and a favor and then it started again. A reinterpretation of events. Using my actual words—but saying they meant entirely something different than what they meant. Like if I said, “I went to the market today and bought eggs,” he said I meant, “I went to a farm today and stole a precious commodity from a poor farmer who was having to undersell his eggs to make anything close to a living.”
I was stunned. I let my husband read it all. And he sent me a list of “15 Reasons What You Should No Longer Have Matthew As A Friend.”
I cried. I was shocked. One thing I can say about “R” is that in his silence—in his rarely talking—he had been keenly observing that whole time. When he talks he doesn’t mince words. It can almost seem mean. Cuts right through the bullshit.
Every reason was horribly and shockingly valid. Real. Focused. No bullshit.
And so I realized it was true. No more holding on. I can take no more abuse. No more hurts. No more backstabs and betrayals of confidences.
So finally, as tears are on my face, what could possibly be the Silver Lining in this story? And how is this long missive something to read and feel better? In a world filled with darkness and negative Facebook postings and Fox News, how did Ben’s Silver Linings post make anyone feel better? Did anyone even manage to read this far?
Here is the Silver Lining….
It rests in my heterosexual marriage that ended when I was thirty and I looked back and asked myself if trying to be straight had stolen my twenties. When I turned forty and I looked back at my decade with an abusive husband and asked myself if that had stolen my thirties. And I realized (and put this in a novella called Derek) that the answer was a resounding, “NO!”
That I could chose to remember all the good. If the Bad Stuff outweighed the good, it didn’t matter! There had been love. There had been laughter. I shared in the birth of a daughter! There were trips. I went to Israel and Egypt (and looked down on the Ramesside colossal statues and went inside a pyramid!). I shared love. Made love. Learned. Grew. Hurt, but knew unbelievable love. Had families. Saw the miraculous. Experienced thing I never would have on my own.
And once more I had a choice. To let the bad shadow the good. To look at that autograph in the first edition hardcover of Game of Thrones and blanch that it was made out to both me and my husband…or remember that when that book was signed it was a good period. A really good period. That that very weekend was marvelous.
And I saw clearly that I can do this with Matthew.
Because it doesn’t matter if MY wonderful evening with him seeing The Life of Pi followed by cocktails and talks of the nature of the Universe was seen differently by him. If he chose to see it as being drained…then that’s his choice.
God gave us choice.
God gave us free will.
My will is first, to see the wonder and the light and the amazing times.
But NOT forget that there was bad. I won’t focus on the bad—but I will let it be the final reminder that this friendship has, sadly, in the end, done far more damage to me than good. And it is time to let it go.
Turn away from the dark. Turn away from someone trying to tear me down, who would rather tear me down than do something to make his own life better.
I leave this with an email that has been circulating for many, many years. I’ll bet it came from the stone age when we faxed stuff to each other. It has never been so true. And it is something that reminds me and helps me focus on the many, many wonderful Lucy and Ethel times I had with Matthew. And what I choose to remember.
“People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person…
“When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty; to provide you with guidance and support; to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend, and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be.
“Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.”
“Some people come into your life for a SEASON, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.
“LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.”
“It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.”