People change

I had dinner with my wonderful oldest daughter last night. She seemed very preoccupied so I prodded her a bit to see what was wrong. She was very upset over a dinner she had recently had with her bestie from HS, Nicole. Nicole and my daughter have been best friends since they were 8 years old. I consider Nicole family. Her sweet, kind and generous personality masked the pain she has always endured from chronic illness. She has always had some kind of medical issue as long as I’ve known her and my daughter has been by her side the entire time. I admire her strength.

My daughter didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. She had a strong personality, refused to compromise her beliefs and behaviors and was, let’s call it what it is, a little bitchy. She had buddies, but Nicole was her only true friend.

When they went to dinner it had been a while since they had seen other. Nicole was finishing college and my daughter was working full time. She was pleased to see that Nicole had lost almost 60 pounds, was looking very pretty and feeling good for a change. She also observed, after what she described as a painfully long and unpleasant dinner, that Nicole was a different person. Self-absorbed, only talking about herself, monopolizing the conversation and saying uncharacteristic things. My daughter felt like she had lost her friend. Tragically, she asked me after telling me all of this “what did I do wrong?” I asked her why she would think that she did anything wrong? What if it is just a phase? Her next statement broke my heart:

“She’s the only friend I have!”

The only answer I had to offer from the bottom of my broken heart is that people change. Wait, where the hell did that come from? I never believed that!

In 1985, 2 years out of high school, I walked out of the theatre after seeing John Hughes’ classic The Breakfast Club and I called Bullshit. Sure, I liked the movie. I liked the cast, the score, there were some memorable lines i.e., “Does Barry Manilow know you raided his wardrobe?” and I appreciated the overall concept. I just didn’t believe for one second that those kids would be friends the following Monday. Sure, they shared a moment, but the Gollum we call the High School Clique would surely see that they were forced right back into their neat little boxes with their labels of Nerd, Freak, Jock, and Princess. I firmly believed that people don’t change.

I was severely traumatized by High School. I was bullied badly in the 9th grade and I crawled into the cocoon of obscurity for most of my remaining school years. I was a straight-A student until the middle of my Freshman year, I was pulling straight C’s at the end of the year. I became afraid to walk the halls for fear of getting slammed into a locker, I refrained from raising my hand in class for fear of being called Stupid and I somehow got it in my head that being invisible was the best way to go. I hung out in the Art Room whenever possible, Drawing and painting were my escapes from my own head. I would duplicate album cover art from the 70’s, I still have my drawing of Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell album in a closet somewhere. Because being an artist wasn’t unpopular enough, I was also in the band. I had a few friends in the band, but I was consumed by the stigma associated with that also.

I graduated with little pomp or circumstance, firmly entrenched in the middle of my class. Very few people signed my yearbook and when I graduated I went to college as an Art major. I lasted about a semester and a half and I dropped out. I was way too busy at my mediocre, nowhere job at a supermarket where someone scrawled my name next to “Is a fucked up shithead” on the men’s room stall, and honing my skills at alcoholism and denial.

Flash forward to my 15 year HS reunion. I had skipped 5 and 10. My wife and I went and it was as miserable as I thought it would be. The same people who didn’t talk to me in HS didn’t talk to me then either. When my wife got a call that her father was rushed to the hospital, it was almost a relief as we made our escape. When my 20th came around, I declined the invitation. The head of my class, also the organizer of the event, called me and asked why I didn’t want to go. I told her, in not so many words, that I just didn’t need a reminder of how obscure I was in HS. We ended up having a nice talk, she told me how things, and most importantly people, change and that she would really like me to go. I again declined and she said, “how about a quote for the board then?” Without thinking, I replied:

“It took me 20 years to find myself, I then realized that I was me all along.”

She was floored, she loved it. As it turns out it was a huge hit at the reunion. Or so I’m told, I didn’t go. But that quote changed something inside of me. First of all, I don’t know where it came from (like a lot of things I say) but it opened a door. I started to take a hard look at some of the more traumatic and regrettable memories in school and asked myself if maybe some of it was my fault, or could I have at least done something different to change the outcome? Was it even as bad as I thought it was?

It was at that point that I began to embrace my quirks and peccadilloes instead of running from them. I came to the very painful conclusion that a lot of it was on me. I was just a confused teenager, who probably would’ve benefitted from having an older brother, who spent too much time in his own head. Once I embraced that, I needed to learn to forgive myself and finally give myself a fucking break.

When my 30th reunion rolled around, I RSVP’d yes. I was going with an open mind. I was in a good place, I had just recovered from my Transplant, my career was going well and I felt comfortable that I could go, face my demons and not have to lie about who and what I am. As it turned out, it wasn’t a bad experience. I saw a lot of people that I had forgotten about, some of whom were happy to see me. Some of the people I disliked immensely were now friendly and inviting. Sure, some of the people that ignored me 30 years prior continued the trend, but I didn’t need their validation anymore. I had found out who I am, I was me all along!

I can’t say with any certainty how many people I went to HS with grappled with the same issues I did. I don’t know how many of the mean girls are sorry, how many of the bullies are now failures, and I don’t know if they even think about this shit as much as I do.

But I do know that I have changed, so it’s entirely possible that others can as well. As for Nicole, I assured my daughter that it is only a phase, and they would become close friends again. Her situation, unlike mine, was not her fault.

I still call Bullshit on the Breakfast Club, however. All 960 times that I have watched it.

the joy of being irrelevant

Last night my wife posted on FB. It was a pretty powerful tirade about how much she values friendship and loyalty and was very upset that someone had very recently betrayed her. She was quite upset, it was obvious by her tone and use of punctuation. In addition, I know that she rarely uses FB other than to post pics of the family or nights out with friends. I skimmed over most of the post and reached for my phone to call her.

Then I reread the post. At the bottom, she had tagged her best friend and wrote: “be ready to hear this story tomorrow Lisa _____, I need you to listen and help me pick up the pieces”. A wave of clarity washed over me at that moment…even if we were still married I would have not been able to comfort her. She wouldn’t even have told me about it. It was a tiny, sobering reminder of what destroyed my marriage, the day she chose her friend (the one tagged in the post) over me as her support system.

Many years ago my wife decided that I was not someone she could talk to. She never came out and said it, or even gave me a heads up that she wanted to be closer (can I only assume she didn’t want to?). It was never an issue for us, we told each other everything. I knew that we were drifting apart, I just didn’t realize how severely. What I did notice was that she dropped most of her friends and limited herself to close friendships with only one friend at a time. I found it odd, but she was a hard-working mother who needed an outlet so when she made a good friend I embraced it.

A troubling trend emerged over the years. My wife would spend every available minute with one friend, way more than is healthy for any two people. She would join activities the other was involved in, I believe to spend more time with them, even activities that I had asked her to do with me to no success. It can only be described as obsessive. Eventually, familiarity would inevitably and predictably breed contempt and there would be a fallout. This happened twice. She was crushed both times but failed to tell me about it. “You wouldn’t understand, you don’t know me like she does” was what I heard both times.

Then she met Lisa. Lisa was a woman my wife met through the school. Our daughters were friends and the playdates led to them starting to hang out. At first it wasn’t too bad for me (yes, I know it wasn’t about me anyway), I liked her husband a lot and they were a part of a really cool scenario; two brothers married two sisters and they each had 4 children. They were a big, fun group and we got together often. The trouble began when the daughters had a falling out. They had a terrible fight and the fallout lasted a while. My wife’s reaction to it was the first sign that this friendship was problematic.

Instead of respecting my young daughter’s feelings, my wife forced them to be together. She even yelled at her one day, telling her “Just because you fucked up your friendship don’t think you’re fucking up mine!” I immediately jumped in and defended my daughter and of course that was as well received as a wet fart in Church. I created a solution. If she was insistent on seeing her friend and getting the families together,  my daughter and I would find something else to do that day. It worked for a while and eventually, the girls became friends again. But what had developed was not lost on me. This friendship was bordering on the unusual.

I managed to tolerate the situation for a while. I looked the other way when my wife started smoking cigarettes, at age 31 a complete statistical anomaly, because she loved the smell of Lisa’s when she smoked. I tolerated being forced to spend every valuable weekend day and day off with Lisa’s family. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, but by it being decided by default it bothered me that I had no say in who I spent my time with. I took it for the team until I learned that the children felt the same way. I pushed back a bit against her on this and I was told to leave it alone. It was starting to affect our relationship in profound ways. I didn’t realize it was an obsession until the day when we were on the sofa, the kids were with Grandma and we were taking the opportunity to get busy. She was in the middle of giving me some cough cough oral gratification when the phone rang. She actually stopped what she was doing and checked the phone for the caller ID, the phone was in her hand the whole time. It was Lisa calling, she answered and I was left to zip up, shake my head in utter disbelief and walk away knowing that I had a much bigger problem than I had ever imagined.

Fast forward many obsessed, argument laden years (I simply can’t put you or myself through every example of how this friendship destroyed us) and I had completely resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t going away. One day in 2011 I sat her down and asked her why she was so distant from me and so close to Lisa. I was told that I “didn’t get her” and that she didn’t feel comfortable talking to me. She told me, in not so many words, that I was not her support system and I needed to accept it. I tried, but never really wrapped my head entirely around it. We had so many other issues at that time that it just became one more thing to add to the shit heap.

When we split, I wasn’t even remotely surprised that she moved in with Lisa. The only real surprise is that they have yet to announce that they are Lesbians. That would be too easy I suppose, that might actually explain some things.

Now that we are divorced, I find myself thinking of her in a kinder light. I have tried to be more accepting and forgiving. To dwell on all that I was angry about is too consuming, requires too much energy and is extremely heavy cargo to carry around. When I saw her FB post last night, I really wanted to call her, to talk to her and be there for her. The realization that I would have been of no comfort to her hit me like a brick in the forehead and so many questions about my failed marriage came to the fore.

I was irrelevant long before I even became the “EX-husband.”

A bitter pill indeed

Thought for the day

Every 2 weeks I have lab work to test for anemia. I receive my shots in an oncology center. It is a sobering place, normally full of some very sick people. It is rare when I leave there to not thank the powers that be that I only have Kidney disease. My heart aches for the people fighting for their lives and I have such respect for the endless compassion shown by the Nursing staff.

Today, I was the only one there and all of the nurses were standing around chatting.

What a wonderful sight it is to see an empty Oncology center. I only wish it would stay that way

38,325 days…a life truly lived cont’d

to catch up on previous entries on this series you can check here, here, and here.

Marion embraced the role of Grandmother with enthusiasm and grace. During the two years that my father served out the remainder of his obligation to the Army National Guard, he was away almost as often as he was at home. I was an easy baby, or so I’m told, but maintaining the small apartment my parents had rented in a sleepy town North of Boston, working part-time and taking care of me was taxing on my mother. Marion gladly took me whenever she could. While I don’t remember the earliest years, as to be expected, it is well known that I spent a lot of time at my Grandmother’s house.

In 1968 my parents bought a house one town over from my Grandparents. Marion never cared for apartments and rarely visited us when we were in the cramped upstairs apartment with poor lighting, worse ventilation, and too much street noise. Once we graduated to Suburbia, Marion spent much time at our house. I have wonderful memories of this time period. As early as I can remember, Mom and Marion had tea in the kitchen and talked for hours as I raced around the house playing Speed Racer or the Red Baron or whatever was popular at the time. Unlike kids today, I easily amused myself and Mom and Marion enjoyed my independence. When my grandfather and father weren’t working, a truly rare occurrence indeed, they got together and got along famously. Looking back, I had wonderful role models when I was a child.

Hard work pays off and eventually, my parents got themselves financially above water enough to actually have a social life. They went dancing or out with friends and went out almost every Friday night. I never thought twice about it, what it meant to me was Friday night at the Grandparent’s house. It was always the go-to option, they were happy to have me and they never went out. By this point, their house was as familiar and welcoming to me as my own.

Friday night would consist of mom and dad pulling into the driveway, letting me out, making sure I got in safely through the front door (Grandma was always there waiting for me) and they would pull out. I would endure the hugs and sloppy kisses and immediately look for my Grandfather. This is where the games would begin.

“Grandpa I’m here!”

“Huh?”

“It’s me!”

“Who?”

He would then pretend to suddenly recognize me and give me a giant hug. Begrudgingly, he would change the channel to something I would watch and we spent the night watching TV, eating popcorn and indulging in the occasional Root Beer Float with real A & W Rootbeer. I would always go to bed early. After all, I had to be rested up for the festivities the following morning. If all went as planned, and it always did, Grandpa would put on a show for me. One that went back to my mother’s childhood. The show didn’t have a name but if it did it would be called Let’s piss Marion off and have a good laugh in the process. I loved the game, but as you can probably surmise, Marion did not.

To be continued…