Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Reflections on life-changing moments

There is a funny little misperception out there that I talk about people on this blog. I've had acquaintances or even close friends tell me, "I better not show up on your blog."
Go back and try to find even one post where I talked about someone (in the negative or even a unfair or humorous way) without their permission. You won't find one. I've never done that and I never will.
I want to make that clear before I continue. I would never speak ill of another person on my blog, especially if it gave away identifying information.
There have been key, life-changing moments in the past ten years that I did not share here because I did not want to say anything that may be construed as negative about another person.
Over the next few days, weeks, maybe months, I have decided to start sharing some of those key moments. This blog is, after all, nothing much more than my personal diary, and the parts of my life I have chosen to share. There has now been enough time and space between the original events and now that I feel I can share those experiences without hurting feelings, causing any drama, or even inadvertently "outing" another person's identity.
I chose in the past not to share these experiences as they happened because I knew other people might be able to put vague references and puzzle pieces together to identify the players. There are some past events that were hard and awful to go through, and my side of the story was never shared. But I am ready to do so now. This first experience is the only one where I think the person in question will be identifiable. I have not taken more pains to hide her identity because she has passed away.

Many moons ago I had a wonderful friend. She was, even at her best, a fair-weather friend. Some days we were thick as thieves, the next, she couldn't be bothered to pick up the phone.  Her hot-cold attitude drove me crazy. And if everything we did was not about her, she was going to make me miserable for "forcing" her to do something else.

When she and I first met I was immediately turned off by her snotty, snobby, superior attitude. She had once read the expression, "turned up her nose," in a book. She took it literally. I have very clear memories of her literally "turning up her nose," and walking around with her head tipped back, her chin sticking out, and her nose pointed to the ceiling. She would purse her lips and walk with her hands clasped at her chest when she did it. It was comical. She would tell me eventually that she was "being haughty." We were only about 15 I think and I didn't know what "haughty" meant- at least not the way she pronounced it- "hofty." I had to ask her to clarify it for me, and she laughed and laughed in one of the most snobby, condescending tones I have ever heard. (And it was a laugh I would hear often over our friendship.)

I remember that moment exactly- her high-pitched, fake, laugh. We were in her bedroom. She was an only child (sort of- there were half and step-siblings who did not live there), and somehow had connived her way into the master bedroom. Her parents slept in a different room. She had a queen-sized canopy bed and a chaise lounge. She loved to tell me to sit on the "chayzzzzzz." I didn't mind doing so. It was comfortable.
Even after her definition of "hofty" I was still confused. How had I never heard of this word before and she had? She was behind me in school and English was my one good subject. I noticed a dictionary on her desk and picked it up. I asked her to spell "hofty." She condescended and spelled it out slowly, letter by letter. By the time she finished spelling it out, I knew the word and the meaning. I didn't need the dictionary. But before I could put it down, she snatched it from me, intending to mock my stupidity further.
I tried to correct her- not to put her down and make myself out to be the smarter one, but because if you are going to walk around with your nose turned up "haughtily," and tell people so, you better know how to pronounce it.
She was so mad that I would dare correct her (which I only barely did), that she threw the dictionary (a big, blue, hardback) across the room and broke something.
It was the only time I have ever seen someone do that in real life. Sure, I have seen it on television or movies plenty of times. It sounds and looks dramatic. I have no doubt it was a move she had learned in a book or a movie. I remember thinking at the time that she had no idea how to be authentic. Everything she did was calculated, rehearsed, and gleaned from pop culture. I wondered how long it would be before she would act normally with me.
After the book throwing incident I went home. I told my parents I didn't want to go back. They had set me up with her in a way and encouraged me to try again. She had had a rough life and needed some friends (she was new in town).

I did go back and although experiences nearly identical to that one repeated themselves dozens of times over the years we became friends.

As I look back at my life I realize my relationship with her was my first real experience with an abuser. I put up with her abusive behavior time and time again. She manipulated me, mocked me, humiliated me (more times than I can count), begged for forgiveness (often in tears, more than once on her knees, sobbing, and pleading), and bought my love, over and over again through the years.

But there were plenty of good experiences as well. When she wasn't busy planning ways to use me as her comic relief sidekick to her Elizabeth Taylor or Vivien Leigh, she was fun. It took time but I learned to like her and have fun with her. I never knew which side of her personality was going to show up- the fun one, or the one she thought was fun. (She was a walking after-school special on how being rude to others does not make you popular.) But I learned to live with it.
I can now look back and realize that this relationship is where I got the idea that it is okay to put up with so much crap from one person. She did have a good side, and I was willing to put up with her evil twin while I waited for the fun one to appear.  As an adult I have found myself willing to put up with people I just cannot stand to be around, or who are very abusive or manipulative, because of her.

She passed away young. It was very sad and unfortunate. She suffered from a long list of medical problems that doctors could never solve or identify. Unfortunately, her manipulative personality and dramatic demands made it even harder for doctors. (I know because I was often dragged into appointments with her to "prove" to a doctor that she was sick.) I have always wondered if she died so young because she flat out refused to let a doctor be right, or follow the doctor's orders. Actually, I have not wondered. I know it. I know she didn't listen and always had to be know more than the doctors.

I have often wished that someone could prove me wrong. That someone could show me what this mystery illness was that she had. Or show me some related possible rare disease. Show me anything that would make me feel bad for thinking the worst (that her own narcissism led to her death), and that I could actually feel the sympathy that sits right beneath the surface for her. I have always wanted to feel sad and sympathetic for her death. But I have always been a little too jaded and mad that she had to carry it that far.

A few years before she died she was hospitalized for surgical complications. (An optional surgery she didn't have to have. She didn't listen to the doctor's instructions and ended up with complications and landed back in the hospital, forced into a coma.) Her mother begged me to go visit. I went and stayed with her mother for a few minutes at the hospital. She gave me a letter from my friend. (At this point we had not actually been friends for a few years. I had cut her out of my life.) In the letter she yet again tried to manipulate me. Told me how it was my fault that she was so sick because I was not there for her when she needed me the most. But she knew I would come for her now, and that she would feel my love, and we would be friends again.

I was not moved. I pretended to be moved for the sake of her mother. I did care a great deal for her mother- she was a very kind woman. I never went into the hospital room. I had no desire to do so.

We had not been friends for a while, and the letter only convinced me further that I had made the right choice. Her letter did not apologize or tell me she knew she had been horrible to me. She had instead tried to make me feel bad for her, and blame me for her problems.

But that was it. I was done. I was completely done with her. I did not attend her wedding (but she put my name in the program as a bridesmaid anyway). I did not attend her funeral. I did send flowers and a letter to her mother. 

My friendship with her lasted about a decade, maybe a little more. She left a significant impact on my life. I am more forgiving because of her. I am more patient because of her. I cannot go back in time and undo experiences I wish I had never had, and so I will find the lessons learned and be grateful for the relationship for those reasons. I wish I had not wasted so many years with both her and others, putting up with manipulative abuse. I wish I could take those things back. But if nothing else, I can now be grateful that because of her, I can recognize certain personality disorders from a mile away. 

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