Friendship and Forgiveness.

I am currently reading “His Whole Life” by Elizabeth Hay, a novel that pits childhood coming-of-age against itself in a fury of horrible difficulties and rosy memories, exactly what a truly good coming-of-age novel should do.

In the novel, Nan, the protagonist’s mother, has a few secret shames, one involving a former friend who abandoned her when she was 11 for another girl and the two began teasing and taunting her. It is a shame that Nan never lets go of in the novel, still referring to her former friend Janet as ‘the Jerk’, still thinking back to that time with immense difficulty, still leaving out moments in her memory of pining for Janet’s attention and fruitnless invites that were never attended. Of these shames, Hay as a writer is in Nan’s shoes, saying:

Forgiveness, she was thinking, was in some terrible, overeager way a lack of curiosity. It was a big powerful hose that washed everything away… As eager to reconcile as she had been in the schoolyard and in her first marriage too. Only to think now that she should not have been so hasty. Forgiveness was the premature end to the story. She had skipped to the last page instead of reading the book through.

It’s the oddest definition of ‘forgiveness’ I’ve ever read, particularly because the word is most often painted in an extremely brazenly positive light; the idea that we can’t move on unless we forgive, that forgiveness is mercy, mercy is Christian, that you forgive for your own self so that you can move forward in life without holding onto pain or grudges. The even odder thing about this definition is it is attached to a middle-aged woman’s feelings about a ‘friend’ who had abandoned her when was 11. Eleven. An age where immaturity is expected, an age so far into this character’s past that the question becomes not about forgiveness, but about the mark such a silly incident left upon this woman’s life at all.

It does, though.

The things that friends – the people we love the most and feel closest to – do, positively or negatively, can shape the outcomes of our lives one way or another. We often don’t see it this way because we abandon friends for boyfriends and they are the first people we let go of when life gets busy or we fall into a rut or we get married or have children. We look around in these moments of drastic change and see family, spouse, partner, and not a friend in sight.

I’m a teacher. And I look at kids I have taught in junior high and high school, and they are at an age where friendship means EVERYTHING to them. Their relationships are silly and without love for the most part, and last maybe a month or two. Their parents are the enemy suddenly, as if overnight some lightning struck a space in between parent and child. But that person they shared a locker with, that person they sit with in math class, who they ride the bus with, who they tried alcohol and cigarettes with for the first time, is their soulmate. Nothing and nobody else matters really, except an over-emotional attachment to their friends. This changes when life becomes more complicated.

As I write this, I think of the former friends who I am in what I like to call ‘mutual abandonment’ with. The people who betrayed me the way Nan was betrayed in the novel; the people who robbed me of certain shreds of my own self-respect. I don’t know or care what they’re up to. I’ve opted to pull myself out of a life of cyber-stalking and jeering because to open old wounds is like false forgiveness, and it will never propel you forward. I think of a future encounter with one of those people and wonder if or how I would bother approaching such difficulties, without regrets either for doing too much, too little, or not enough.

As it stands, forgiveness is a barrier that I cannot cross, and I am unsure if I want to. Because what friends do or don’t do, is a barrier in itself. It matters. It mattered. Betrayal is something that simply does not go away overnight – the ways you betrayed as well as the ways you have been betrayed by others. There is a glorification in life and literature of ‘bffs’ – the idea that you have the same friends forever and ever and those long-standing friendships mean more than new or surfaced friendships. In some ways maybe this is true. But if the nature of those friendships is steeped in constant secrets, constant needs to apologize, constant needs to ‘forgive’ falsely or otherwise, constant needs to bury facts and feel deeply the pains of moments where someone acted outside of how they should have acted – then those friendships are not worth having at all.

I wish them well before drawing them onto parchment and burning them with a two-ended candle and throwing the ashes onto the lawn.

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An “Open” Letter.

Dear So-and-Sos:

I had a dream about you last night. In my dream, I was in Jasper and I ran into you. When you saw me, you ran right up to me and hugged me and cried. You didn’t really say anything but that hug was something that even in my waking state, I can almost still feel. I haven’t dreamed about you in a while. Whenever I have, it was angry and I woke up feeling differently than I did this morning.

I was thinking about the past. I was thinking about how, when we were combative and not speaking, neither of us made an effort to reconcile. I thought about how currently, I am teaching my students the importance of “reconciliation” and that I have not ‘reconciled’, because I want some kind of upper hand, because I am still ‘angry’, I am a hypocrite. And I can’t justifiably claim that reconciliation is important to me when I haven’t actually embodied that in my life, in my former friendships, in my experiences with loss and anger.

The fact remains: I am hurt. I am hurt because I feel hard-done-by in our previous relationship. I feel like nobody ever heard me, listened to me, sided with me and really understood my life or where I was coming from. Those feelings forced me to react badly and in doing so I lost my cool. I lost a lot. I was immature and made an immature decision. And now what remains is this: I am still bitter. I don’t regret a loss of friendship. I don’t feel differently about where I would like things to be now. But, I regret being still bitter if only because I wanted to “win” and now, approaching 30 and thinking back on all of this bad blood, I have realized that “winning” really isn’t all that important.

All I want to express is this regret. And all I want to stress about this regret is: this isn’t some plea to return to how things were because I don’t want that and I’m assuming you don’t either. This isn’t an olive branch, because peace is sometimes just unnecessary, impossible, or a waste of everyone’s efforts. This isn’t me bending over backwards to please because I’ve done that too, and I’m not that person anymore. What this is, is: forgiveness. Forgiving myself because I fucked up. Forgiving you for fucking up. Not forgiveness for the purpose of rekindling some friendship that was obviously never built to last in the first place, but forgiveness so that we can move forward in life without aiming to “win”, without looking back scathingly, without saying one thing then meaning another, and most importantly: with expressing real, genuine, TRUE feelings about how we felt in this situation. Admitting that we were both vulnerable, that we both cared, that what happened was actually hurtful. Because it was. I know it, you know it, and regardless of how that pain has eased up significantly since the last time we spoke or even saw each other, pain is a part of a breakup. Pain is a part of who we became afterwards, maybe even who we became now. And admitting to that pain is also something that can help reconcile the uncertainties of the past.

It’s ridiculous that nobody ever admitted they were hurt by the utter catastrophic detonation of a 6-year best friendship, and instead all parties took a silent, bridge-burning turn towards an unfeeling desire to be “better off”. This decision is the most immature, stupid and backwards decision I’ve ever made. What I want to say to you, should you ever read this is this: all of this has fucked me up a lot. All of this has had me questioning my past, the genuineness of it, my ability to carry on a relationship, people’s true motives (including my own), and my ability to be what I define as a ‘good person’. All of this has made me feel bitter, angry, at times tearful, and griping. I lost a lot. Of self-respect, of respect for others, of trust, of self-expression. All of those things washed down the drain like toothpaste and I watched it spin and spin until it dwindled down to nothing but gross old residue of something from another time that I can barely even see or remember. And I am deeply, deeply angry about this still. I’m pissed off at how hurt I fell with absolutely no apology or acknowledgement. I’m saddened by own shying away from the emotional healing that accompanies a breakup of any kind, all because I wanted to “prove something” to you. I’m angry at all of your snide shoving-out of me, casting me aside proudly and making grand announcements about doing so on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. I’m fucking pissed as shit that after I never spoke to you again, you never, ever, ever contacted me to try and end things with something softer and gentler than complete silence and then instead of acknowledging this privately with me, you post an INSTAGRAM with some stupid fucking quote about saying goodbye then choosing to announce in public, on an account I don’t even follow, about my life and how you feel about it. And somehow did you feel that was supposed to fix or make anything better? For you, or for me, or for anyone at all? Was it enough? After six years, was it really enough and could you really stand before me now and say that was not just supposed to be enough for me to move on but also yourself? Have you moved on? Or are you going to bother pretending like this is all 100% okay for you now because you’re better off without me and casting me aside this way was the best thing you’ve ever done? It wasn’t for me. I regret it. I messed up, and I’m willing to be vulnerable because I don’t believe anymore that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. It took me 30 years but I finally figured out that it’s okay to do things like cry in front of your boyfriend or cry when you’ve had a bad day at work. I hope you have too.

I write this letter as a plea for some reprieve from the anger and sadness that plagues me in small but tinny, biting welts in my soul that only sleep, alcohol and loved ones can make disappear. I write this letter with the hope that in some fantasy land that doesn’t actually exist in waking life, that you and I could sit down and have coffee and air all our grievances and cry and get pissed off and make all the snide and angry comments in the world but feel better after it. And I write this letter to acknowledge that fighting dirty – a cold war chocked full of silent warfare, is not the way to end anything. I hope you understand and ‘get’ where I’m coming from with this. This is how I’m feeling today. This is how I often feel. And I’m growing both comfortable with that, and aggravated by it, all at the same time.

Sincerely,

Sweet Sixteen.

I look at my life as a series of cuts and additions that are either sewn together or repaired when seams fell apart.

The cuts were so, so significant. Coming up to Valentine’s Day, and coming up to Random Acts of Kindness week, important dates for my relationship and also my career, I am reflecting on both love, and kindness. Not just romantic love, not just random kindness.

Love to me today, means to respect someone with your whole heart. To not stab someone in the back, to hear them out, to show them how much you care about them. To respect memories and laughter and happiness that once was, to really internalize how important it is to have allies who feel so strongly about you, one way or the other. Do I always respect and acknowledge and recognize the love I had or have? No. I don’t. It’s something I continue to work on because I know my weaknesses and limitations and to be the best possible human being I could ever be, I need to really and truly appreciate the love that surrounds me, and even respect the love that’s not anymore.

I cut people who didn’t love me anymore. But when I cut them, the truth is that I still loved them.

I maintain that you can only hate someone you  love. Once you fall out of love, you fall out of hate. It’s a continuum of strong, heated impassioned emotions that prove one can’t exist without the other.

When I was double-crossed, when I was betrayed, abandoned, dumped, back-stabbed, I felt those things as deeply as I did because of love that I felt so strongly for those in my life who are no longer there. Everyone who’s gone now, is gone not because I stopped loving them ever. It’s because they stopped loving me.

To those who don’t love me anymore: I’m sorry that I lack perfection that you need. I’m sorry I don’t have what you need. I’m sorry that I continued on a life path that you didn’t want to be a part of anymore. I’m sorry I followed my dreams or spoke about my feelings too much or that my vulnerability made you uncomfortable. Maybe this makes me sound like a martyr but it’s true. I am sorry for those things. Sorry? Yes. But can I change them? No. It is what it is. I’m sorry for it, but this is how it is and maybe even how it was meant to be. Do I believe in BFFs or love at first sight anymore? No. These were lessons I had to learn when I was old enough to uncover these taxing lessons.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve really made peace with the idea that these things are gone, that the people I once loved did and said what they did and said, that I didn’t act my best and there’s more I could have done to show my love or at least, contain it so much that I wouldn’t get angry about it.

I’m good. It’s good. There are other people to love and new ways to try and be authentically kinder, better, more observant, more on track. My success in doing these things more and being more cognizant of them is key to who I am going to be and how I am going to get past these difficult pills to swallow.

Closure.

Closure is an elusive and undefinable thing, but to me it means essentially, the idea that letting go comes from two places; yours and theirs. And in order to move forward – I mean really move forward, you have to allow yourself to look and feel vulnerable to that person so that you can let them go. And sometimes that’s all it takes. Words. Vulnerability. Allowing yourself to look like a desperate loser who deserves to be laughed at. And somehow that embarrassing feeling of being vulnerable to others, helps us forget them. Why? I don’t know. Because it allows us to have the last word? Because embarrassment trumps anger and resentment? Or because there really, truly is power in vulnerability…?

In my life, all I’ve ever wanted or needed from anyone was “closure” but sometimes it’s more like a unicorn than anything else. Sometimes the people in our lives don’t allow us to have closure. They leave us hanging and entrapped, and they leave us constantly wondering; what if I allowed myself to be vulnerable to them and I allowed myself to suddenly go through that horrid and icky, angry feeling of never feeling you got to say what you really, truly wanted to say? What if… what if. And on and on it goes, until suddenly you are surrounded by nightmares and anger and sadness.

When considering when and how to eliminate someone from your life, even if it’s for the best, these are things I think about. I think first and foremost about the memories. The wonderful, full, rich numerous days of life and support and amazing conversations I’ve had with them. The ways I laughed so so so hard when I was with them. The ways I felt like they appreciated our inside jokes and observations about the world, and the ways we acted like girls – truly, truly effeminate girls in the truest sense of the world – because we could, when we were together. The times I stood by this person – even deleting their exes from Facebook regardless of my feelings about them, if only because I constantly wore a badge of protectiveness and strong, unbridled loyalty to my lovely friends, who I thought would be there for me forever. The way we got to play the race card. The way we could look into the lives of others and see the cruel humour in those lives, even if it wasn’t necessarily the most ‘right’ way to look at everything. All of that was my twenties. In my twenties I laughed and loved and appreciated so much of what these friendships brought forth in my life. I hang onto hem. I love and care about them. I still do. And I always will.

But – I was the one whose love and affection was taken for granted, taken advantage of, who always feels the need to look and feel vulnerable, to make odes and laments and eulogies to the past. And no one else seems to be able to make those sad and true admissions. What that tells me is this: These people don’t care about me. They don’t care who has the last word. They don’t remember me. They could care less what is happening in my life, and they don’t care to make amends. They’re done with everything that has anything to do with me and it hits a sore spot in me, and the reason that sore spot is there, is because of a lack of closure. It’s because of a lack of everything. It’s because I’ll never be able to say what I want. Because I’m afraid to. I’m afraid of the meanness, the backlash, the goodbyes, the finality of it all. I’m afraid of what I so desperately want, and I don’t even know why, or what makes me afraid.

At the end of the day, all I ever want to do is pour my heart out. To write long, heartfelt and deep letters to the people who left me and wronged me and made me feel like an outsider, ugly, unworthy of love. And I want to tell them just how much that hurts to be kicked down into the dirt and stomped on after almost an entire decade of the best memories of my life. I want to but the reality is, it won’t make a difference. Because for closure to be closure, both parties have to meet halfway, join hands, shake, and walk away peacefully. And that’s something I am so, so, so willing to do for others. But others are so, so, so unwilling to do for me.

In my life I have known some of the best people and the best times and the best music and the best laughter anyone has ever known. And I’ve also known the terrors of sleeplessness, insomnia, anxiety, terror, sadness, hopelessness, and being completely and utterly isolated and alone. I’ve known the most embarrassing awkward moments. I’ve known how it feels to have an entire group of friends – your lifers, your go-tos, the people you thought once that you could count on for absolutely anything on earth, leave you in the dust with nothing and no one and totally shun you and treat you like popular high school girls would treat someone they arbitrarily decided they didn’t like. And that’s hard to deal with. It hurts and it sucks and it breaks my heart and despite all the good things in my life, I’m not going to pretend that everything is 10000% fine and that I’m better off without those who I felt like I needed once, who I got milkshakes and fries with and walked down Whyte Avenue with laughing our asses off after an amazing night of midnight madness vintage clothes shopping.. those things are a huge part of who I am. And to make the decision to rip them from the fabric of my tapestry and trash the mangled threads… matters too.

But without closure, what else can I do but that?

If I could have written a letter.

I would have apologized, because I always apologize. I apologize because I blame everything on myself – everyone else’s misgivings are my fault. I put that on myself because if I don’t, nobody else, it seems, will. It’s me. It’s all me, always.

I would also tell you all what my life has become. What it looks like, whether it’s good or bad. The stress I’m under, my miserable lonely evenings, my friends and frienemies and people I’m afraid of and upcoming milestones in my career that terrify me, the idea that I could lose everything, the idea that I could gain everything. The kinds of things you would tell your friends about. And then I would say that I’ve realize I’m sad we’re not friends anymore. I actually miss these people. I actually miss those memories and I’m sad they’ve basically poured down storm drains where so many poisons go when they’re carelessly dumped. I would say all of this because all of this means something to me. I would be the one to talk, and talk a lot, because I can never stop talking. Once, a friend said to me, “Do you ever get tired of hearing yourself talk?” Yes, I do.

I would have spewed hatred because that’s just what I do. And you know why? It’s because I’m messed up. I’m really, really, really fucking messed up and when I realize this and internalize it and think about it, suddenly this fact hits me very, very, very hard. I wonder why anyone would want to love me, as a friend or otherwise, when I’m this fucked in the head and I can’t escape my own ugly bare-walled prison. There is an immense and aching amount of sadness that lives inside me like a black snake-eyed disease that stalks me in my sleep and creeps beneath the third layer of my skin when I’m awake and just one tiny little bad thing happens to me when everything spirals out of control.

I would tell you not to bother replying, because I don’t want or need to figure out what you have to say. We’re done. And I’m doing okay with that. I’m not going to pretend I’m better off, I’m not going to pretend my life is just one big shiny magic carpet ride. I’m not going to fake anything. I’m just going to live, stagnant and miserable but sometimes really really happy. And sometimes with really, really good whole full valuable amazing days. All of this is pointless. It’s a big pointless conversation. I see who you are now, and I see where I fit into that. ie: Not at all.

If I could have written a letter I would slit my wrists and watch the words pour out. But know you’d take them and use them as a tool to continue to bully and criticize and maintain that you’re all so much better than me. That’s just how it is, and that’s okay. That’s why I didn’t write a damn thing. Except this.

We Used To.

We used to be kite-flyers. You helped me tie ribbons onto the tail and while I ran with the kite, you held the string.

Because that’s what teammates do.

In the dead heat of summer we rode rickety rides and shared deep-fried treats, turning mediocre chaos into sheer laughter that rang throughout the night and lasted through sleep and winter and tragedy and breaking hearts and hard English classes and IMAX movies.

We used to be leaf-rakers, gathering strewn discarded shards of trees, the detritus stuffed into shopping bags which was sad, but it never felt so.

When we jumped in crisp dying foliage crunched beneath our knees and smelled like the end of our innocence as we grew up together into what we thought was into ‘women’ but we just grew into older girls, and we vowed to hold onto that girlhood for as long as we could, even as the leaves sat at the curb waiting for the truck to take them away in the frosty morning.

We used to catch snowflakes on our tongue. It seemed strange to me that although each snowflake was different it always tasted and felt exactly the same.

It’s the melting. Each starts off crisp and different but in the end disintegrates into just a droplet of water that makes up something else –a conglomerate, a pool, an ocean. Snowflake, raindrop, teardrop.. they always look the same in the end.

I plant flowers. I dig carefully through the dirt, finding old bulbs that won’t grow anymore and replace them with bulbs and seeds that will.

As snow patches disintegrate and disappear I can see the flat, broad leaves of new flowers and feel silly at how symbolic the world feels, as if it has built landmarks just for me to follow, breadcrumbs so that I may find my way back. But I turn around.

And birds have flown off, bread in their beaks.

An Open Letter to My Past.

Dear Past:

I am quite fortunate to be able to speak about all of the things I’ve done. I am quite fortunate to have made mistakes and learned from them at the right times – not too early so I was jaded forever, and not too late so that I lacked the life experience and wisdom to move forward in a way that was “age-appropriate”. I am fortunate to have loved and lost, but still strong enough to love and maybe lose, again. I am a well-rounded person for the most part, because you shaped me. I am who I am because of you. This goes for both the good and the bad that you have presented to me.

I do find though, that I am at a loss. I am at times unable to forgive and that difficulty to forgive myself for some of the more unsavoury moments I shared with you manifest themselves in ugly ways – that are self-destructive, or just destructive in general, that I am not proud of. And what I need to remember is that this has little to do with you and more to do with me. It is my abilities (and my inabilities) that at times, make me feel imprisoned within you. I want to let go, but I can’t let go. And I question why I can’t just let things go. I will frequently ask myself, “what good is this?” and “how is this helping?” without a clear answer. And yet, sometimes I just keep doing what I’m doing.

The good news for both of us though, is that we’re both always changing. The more I move forward, the more you move forward. The more I change, the more you change. The more good memories I create, the more good memories you hold onto. Until one day, there will be so much good that I won’t focus so much on the bad. Again, that’s more to do with me and less to do with you. But – there’s hope. There’s hope I can forgive. There’s hope that I can move on. There’s hope that I can look at you and see things differently: that there is sometimes no point in holding onto good things when they’re replaced with bad things; and, there is no point in holding onto bad things when they’re replaced with good things.

We’ll both get there. I need to get there, and I need your help to do that. And someday we’ll figure it out.

Regards,