Friday, February 24, 2012

When you assume, you make an ASS out of YOU

I have heard it said that assumptions are the death of any relationship.

I used to have this friend. She likes to make assumptions. Assumptions about why the friendship ended, how I live my life, how I should live my life, my relationship with my boyfriend, what my boyfriend does with his money…

I find it amusing that this ex-friend of mine (and her cronies) think that they know everything. It appears that she still thinks that the friendship ended because she was “honest” with me and I can’t handle the truth, and that I have no grasp of reality. She (and her cronies) can believe whatever they want. That’s the great thing about free will. But the truth is that honesty had nothing to do with it.

It’s my reality. I’m well aware of my reality. I have no problem with the “truth,” or even someone else’s skewed perception of the truth. What I have a problem with is that so-called “truth” being delivered in a bitchy and judgmental fashion. What I have a problem with is having conditions put on friendship. “Do it my way or don’t do it.” Seriously?!? I don’t treat my friends that way.

I’ve recently realized that it is okay for me to think for myself. That I don’t need anyone’s approval. That I am capable of asking for what I want and making my own decisions. It took ending a really bad marriage, coming to some harsh realizations about my relationship with my mother, and taking a good hard look at a lot (but not all) of my close friendships to come to all of that. But the point is I did have those insights.

I’ve learned a lot lately. I’ve learned that my sister, while loud and wacky, is also fiercely loyal and doesn’t give a shit what anyone else thinks. I’ve learned that some people are just two-faced, bitchy assholes. I’ve learned that if people have to keep reminding the world of how happy they are it makes me wonder who they’re trying to convince. I’ve learned that there are full-fledged Mean Girls all grown up here in the real world, and they use social networking to carry out their agendas.

I can be na├»ve. Sometimes I care too much, get too involved. And in the majority of my close friendships I have taken the “follower” role. I think there’s probably always some form of an alpha in friendships, but I took it to new heights. I never realized, until recently, that I have for the most part allowed myself to be led around by the nose most of my life.

No more. Take me as I am or watch me as I go.

As always, I am a work in progress. But that’s okay. That’s the point. That’s life. And I’m living it on my terms.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Lady on the Plane

It was August of 2010. I was on a plane travelling from Phoenix to Charlotte, sitting in first class for what I thought would most likely be the last time. The flight itself took about 4 hours. As always when travelling, I was acutely aware of my surroundings, taking time to watch the other people boarding the plane and imagining their stories. I was careful to make observations of my seatmate without being too terribly interested; sideways glances and polite smiles allowed me to sum her up quickly. She was older than me, perhaps close to 60. Very pretty, way too much makeup and possibly some plastic surgery. Her face was too smooth, too devoid of wrinkles. She was dressed elegantly, a flowing yellow dress covered in flowers and a smart matching cardigan. Nice shoes, expensive bag. She carried herself in such a way that made me think she was unapproachable. She was quiet, and she kept to herself, as did I. After 3 ½ hours or so on the plane, when I had tired of reading and put my book away and the silence became too much to bear, I complimented her dress. By the time we exited the plane, we knew each other’s stories, she had given me her phone number and we hugged tightly when we went our separate ways at the baggage claim.

“I like your dress,” I told her. I was timid, I was tired, and I was unsure how she would respond to striking up a conversation and this late point in the flight.

“Why, thank you dear,” she responded, genteel and very southern. I had underestimated her. She turned out to be far from unapproachable; she was warm and kind.

We made idle conversation for a few minutes; the standard ‘are-you-heading-
home-or-are-you-visiting?’ type of thing. She was picking up the last leg of her flight in Charlotte. She was headed to visit her daughter and meet her newest grandchild for the first time.

She asked about me, did I have any children?

My heart felt heavy, my stomach twisted. Should I tell this stranger that yes, I do have two beautiful children, and I am making this trip so I can tell them I’m leaving them with their father and indefinitely moving to Phoenix? She would judge me, I knew she would. I was new to this, still struggling internally in a way that broke my heart and drove me a little crazier every day. This decision was life-altering, for me and everyone close to me. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. And it wasn’t even close to over yet, it would never really be over. I was about to go to what used to be my house and tell my children that I was leaving. I’d been gone about 6 weeks, they were already beyond confused, and I was going to tell them that I wasn’t coming back. I was going to pack the few things that were mine into an SUV and drive away across the country.

All of that raced through my head in a matter of seconds as I contemplated whether or not I should tell this beautiful stranger the truth. For some reason, I decided I would.

“Yes, two kids. A boy and a girl, 5 and 3.”

“Oh, wonderful. I have a boy and girl also. Although they’re grown now.”

Somehow, in my shame and fear, I quietly ended up spilling my metaphorical guts. I told her everything. My husband, from whom I was now legally separated, was emotionally and verbally abusive for several years without my even being aware of it. I had been aware of it for the last 2 years. I had tried unsuccessfully to leave him twice in those 2 years. I had originally planned to go to Phoenix in June for a 10 day trip to spend some time with my father, who is very ill. We were going to take a trip to Colorado for my stepmother’s college reunion she had organized.

Shortly after I had broken the news to my husband for the third time that I wanted a divorce (which he again refused to accept), and shortly after he had begged me to go to Phoenix a little earlier and stay a little longer to try to figure things out and make sure this was what I really wanted (which I refused to do - how could I leave my children for six weeks?), the universe handed me a surprise. My stepmother called to tell me my father was even more ill than I had been aware of, and sometimes she breathed a sigh of relief when she realized he was still alive each morning. Could I please come visit early and spend some extra time with him?

So I went early. I stayed for 6 weeks. My husband brought the kids out to see me after a few weeks, and he tried again to get me to change my mind. They went home, and I stayed. At some point shortly after their visit, I don’t really remember when (the days ran together - I was so tortured by what I was thinking of doing that sometimes I just lay in my bed listening to music and crying for days at a time) I made the decision to stay in Phoenix indefinitely. I had been considering it for a little while, doing research on mothers who left their children, as if knowing there were other women who had done the same thing would make it better, when my stepmother took me to dinner one night and posed the question that had been in my head but I hadn’t been able to say out loud... “Have you thought about staying here in Phoenix and just giving him custody of the kids?” Her saying out loud what had been in my head, what I had been unable to admit to myself was what I really wanted to do, made it real. It didn’t make it right, and her suggesting it wasn’t what made the decision for me, but it helped.

I had agonized over this, considered all my alternatives, and I still kept ending up in the same place. I hadn’t worked in over 6 years. We had decided together when I got pregnant the first time that I would stay home and raise our children. He made it clear over the years that it wasn’t “our” money, it was “his.” I had nothing, nothing saved up, nothing to fall back on. I had nowhere else to live, nowhere to go, no hope of supporting the kids on my own. Logistically I couldn’t figure out how I would be able to stay in North Carolina, leave him, keep the kids and survive financially. I had already been told by an attorney during a consultation months earlier that I would be the one who would have to leave the house because I was initiating the separation. Where could I go? He certainly wouldn’t help at all. He was angry and he was hurt and I understood that then and I still do now. What he never stopped to consider was that this had been going on for years and he never saw it. I had begged him about 5 years earlier to go to counseling with me, I tried desperately to fix what was wrong with “us,” but he refused to see it, refused to change his behaviors, refused to participate. So when by this, the third time, I told him I wanted a divorce and he suddenly began making an effort, it was too late. I was done, I was broken.

And so I told my husband of my decision to stay in Phoenix. This time, he not only accepted it, he told me he had already cancelled all the bank accounts and credit cards that were in both our names. He had retained a lawyer and would have the separation agreement drawn up immediately. Would it be all right if our official date of separation was the day I left for Phoenix?

My father, stepmother and I went to Colorado for 10 days. It was such a strange trip...everything there was so beautiful, so breathtaking, and there was so much to do. But in my downtime I began informing friends of my decision. I began the painful process of losing many of those friends and without realizing it, alienating the ones who were left for fear of them choosing to abandon our friendship first. I did more research on mothers who leave their children and the paradox of the social acceptance of fathers who leave. I was terrified, I was ashamed of myself, and I was broken. Not just by my decision, but by the years I had spent with someone who was controlling and mean and spiteful.

We returned to Phoenix from Colorado and shortly thereafter I got on this plane at this time and sat next to this woman with the pretty dress and the kind eyes that I hadn’t noticed at first and I told her my story. Instead of judging me, instead of telling me what a horrible person I was, she surprised me by telling me her story. And it was so eerily similar, it brought tears to my eyes. Thirty years ago, she had done the same thing under similar circumstances. Her husband had been a lot like mine, her children were small like mine, when she finally made the decision to leave him. She had a job at the time though, she was a flight attendant and frequently travelled. Instead of having custody of her children and then having a nanny or babysitter raise them, she allowed her ex-husband to have custody. Simple as that. She made a choice that was the right choice for her at the time, the only choice she could make.

Of all the people on that plane that I could have sat next to, I had been seated next to her. The universe had handed me yet another surprise. This world is so big, and everyone has a story to tell...but somehow I ended up sitting next to this woman and hearing this story. And it didn’t make my decision the right decision, but it did make me realize that I wasn’t alone. I had, by some cosmic coincidence, been seated next to the one person who could show me that she had gone through the same thing and come out of it on the other side, intact and whole. She remarried several years later, was still happily married. She loved her kids and they loved her. Everything wasn’t always roses and rainbows and sunshine, but she was okay.

I was so far from okay at that point I was in another galaxy. But hearing her story, not being judged for mine, was a gift. She was just so...kind. I was grateful then, but I am even more grateful now. Grateful in a way I find it hard to explain...and humbled. The world is so big, and everyone has a story to tell, but sometimes we are offered a kind word or two, someone to share our story with who really understands it. Some might say I was just in the right place at the right time, and that may be true. But I think that a force greater than all of us that I don’t understand (and really, I hope I never do...that’s part of the beauty of it for me) put me on that plane that day next to her to give me strength for what I was about to do. I ended up losing the little sticky note with her phone number on it, and I don’t even remember her name. But every now and then, I think about her and I offer a little gratitude to the universe for my being in the right place at the right time, and I hope that someday I can be that person for someone else. I hope I am lucky enough, even if I never know it, to help someone else the way she helped me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Get over it and move on...

Sometimes people aren’t who you think they are. Sometimes people change. Or maybe it’s me who is changing, and those people just don’t fit in my world anymore?

We all have acquaintances. People who we aren’t terribly close with but we know through a friend of a friend, people who we think seem nifty enough but we don’t know them that well. Some of us have a large circle of “friends” - close friends and acquaintances all interwoven through the convenience of social networking.

Sometimes, you’re friends with someone and then suddenly you aren’t. What I have trouble wrapping my brain around is how you can be so close with someone, share everything with them, and then something happens and the friendship just goes away. There are 3 sides to every story...yours, mine and the truth...I really believe that. And chances are, the person you suddenly aren’t friends with anymore just doesn’t get it either. They’re sitting there wondering why you did what you did, how you could have done or said whatever it was the ended the friendship while you wonder the same thing. Perspective is an interesting and illusive beast.

But...how do you just stop being friends with someone that was a huge part of your life? A part that you thought was irreplaceable?

It’s almost like a break-up. It’s definitely a loss. In the course of a friendship, you tend to develop inside jokes and oftentimes you bond over shared interests. And then the friendship ends and you’re left with reminders...a song, a tv show, a quote...things that are already inextricably woven into your life. And when those things come up in the course of a day you’re left with memories, reminders of the loss. I can almost feel it sometimes, like a little pinch of sadness, tugging at my heart.

Sometimes, through that convenient social networking, you see those acquaintances interacting with the people you suddenly aren’t friends with anymore. And then, the really dark, sad part of you - the part that you that you usually try to ignore and squish away somewhere - that part wants to scream at those acquaintances, “Why are you talking to them?!? Don’t you know I’m not friends with them anymore? Don’t you realize what happened? Don’t you know how it all went down? They acted like big fat buttheads! How dare you casually interact with them?!?!”

But that’s not really fair, is it? Everyone is different, even when we’re the same. Everyone interacts in different ways. Your situation has nothing at all to do with how other people interact with the people who aren’t your friends anymore. It’s all enter-at-your-own-risk, befriend-at-your-own-peril.

In the course of the last few years I’ve had more than one friendship end for various reasons. It still hurts, and in some small way it probably always will. In friendships and relationships you make yourself vulnerable just by opening up to that other person and letting them in. When the friendship ends, everything you shared ends up feeling like a betrayal. Especially when the really deep, dark, personal stuff gets used against you.

So how do you get over it?

I got some advice from a very smart person recently. He told me that maybe I need to redefine what I call a friendship. Maybe I need to approach a friendship as just a friendship and not a relationship. I’m paraphrasing of course, but that was sort of a revelation for me. It really made me think. I’m an open book. I probably share too much of myself with friends too easily. And I’m fiercely loyal and probably more than a little naive.

I guess the only thing to do is get over it and move on. Live with the loss, because that doesn’t go away. But don’t let it run your life. Don’t hold onto it like a betrayal - in my experience, playing the victim doesn’t get you anywhere except maybe in the annoying-other-people department. And there’s no sense it. Just get over it and move on. And maybe be a little more guarded next time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Memory...

Have you ever had one of those perfect days? A few perfect moments even? Just a little space of time where everything came together and all was as it should be? A few moments that stay with you forever, the perfection of it, the mundane details so easy to recall should you ever need to remember a little happiness?

I have had three that really stand out. The first was when I was young, maybe 11 years old. The third was just barely a week ago...driving around with my love with the top down, unusually beautiful weather for early January, the sunlight just right, the sense of contentment...all mingled together to create one of those sublime memories.

The creation of this new perfect moment reminded me of my others. This is the story of the second...


It was Christmas Day, 1999. I had graduated from college in North Carolina, moved back home to Sarasota, worked in retail, bought a car, and moved back to North Carolina all in the space of about a year. I was in Sarasota visiting for the holidays. I was always a little torn about being back “home,” even for a visit. It didn’t really feel like home anymore, but I still missed it sometimes.

I had gone to visit my best friend from high school for a bit and exchange gifts. I honestly have absolutely no recollection of what I got her that year, but I think I will remember what she got me for the rest of my life.

We got caught up, had a glass of wine, visited with her family, and opened our presents. She got me two things: a pair of gorgeous wine glasses, the stems wrapped in brightly colored beads, and the new David Gray CD. I was somewhat obsessed with him at the time, and not just because he came highly recommended by Dave Matthews. This was in the days before iPods and iTunes; I relied solely on my large collection of actual CD’s for musical entertainment. (Remember CD’s? Actual CD’s with cover art and liner notes?).

Anyway, we said our goodbyes and I made my way back to my mother’s house. I can’t remember why or how I managed it, but I had a few minutes to myself. My mother must have been out, because there is no way I would have managed a half an hour to myself with music blaring and without her hovering presence otherwise.

I opened a bottle of red wine, poured some into one of my new gorgeous wine glasses, put on my new CD and went out to the back porch. It was one of those magical “winter” late afternoons that only a South Florida climate could provide: breezy, not too chilly, and it was almost as if there was something in the air that made everything sweeter. The sunlight and the wind filtered through the palm trees. I sat on the porch that afternoon and developed a perfect wine buzz while I listened to my new CD and smoked copious amounts of cigarettes. I let the music and the breeze and the wine wash over me and for a little while everything was absolutely perfect. I have a vivid mental picture of myself sitting there in that white plastic chair...my eyes are closed, my head is moving with the music, cigarette and wine glass upheld in the same hand, a blissful smile.

I still have those wine glasses, I still have that CD, and I still have that beautiful memory. For a few minutes everything was perfect. In those few minutes I had hope and peace and perfection. I still have that, and I carry a little piece of it with me always. Sometimes, when the wind is just right, or a I hear a David Gray song, I close my eyes and I’m instantly transported back there to that little space of time.

I’m starting to recognize more and more of those perfect moments. It makes me hopeful, light, happy...it would seem my inner optimist is coming out of the closet, if you will. It really is amazing what you can learn about yourself when you take the time to pay attention. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it just opens your eyes...