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,

Ex-friends.

I had a whole life 7-8 years ago and that life has been completely destroyed. I look back at old photos and think about old memories as if I’m someone looking at the rubble of their former city. I wonder sometimes how I even go to a place in my life when almost everyone and everything that was so important to me — that once made me feel complete, and alive, and safe – dissipated entirely until it was 100% nothing. People that I once shared everything with from jewelry, to Halloweens, to annual birthday trips, are now just old crumbled foundations of buildings – strong, beautiful buildings — that have been burnt to the ground. They’re glimpses of something that is long, long gone as if in an old decrepit and unrelateable photo in a history book. I never expected life to turn out that way.

Losing people so catastrophically, violently and grandly feels like a divorce, a death, a train crash. It’s so much more than just letting events and people and memories go. It’s rebuilding your life, a new life where you have to consider that everyone and everything you trusted, held true and believed so deeply in, was all a big, nasty lie. That there are no such thing as the ‘bffs’ that your first real love told you in his cynical, sardonic tone did not in fact exist. That there’s no such thing as retiring to Palm Springs with your lifelong college mates as Carol Shields suggests in “The Stone Diaries”. That the notion of girlhood and everything associated with it as you believed it, to be washed away as simply as waves dredging rogue seaweed scraps onto barren sand. Losing people this way- with betrayal on one end and yelling and purposeful hurt on the other – is something you don’t really forget. You may not lose sleep over it, but what happens instead is this pang. This realization whenever these people come to mind, that out there in this big wide universe, you have enemies. Enemies that couldn’t even be bothered to make things right. Enemies that talked shit about you on social media in their late twenties. Enemies who at one point cried in your arms because of the boy who ghosted. Enemies who at one point you sent care packages to when they moved across the country. Enemies you texted so often each day that you literally blew up each other’s phones with mundane and frivolous conversations. Enemies that make you an enemy, too. When you never wanted to be ‘enemies’. The most hurtful thing is that you both became enemies. And if you encounter each other again, there will be either death stares, or side eye, or worse: truly, painfully awkward silence. Enemies who are all still as close as anything in the world with one another but who have all decided to kick you to the curb.

Why did this happen? How does this happen? What I lost is different from similar losses. The enemies I have made now were so close with me we received joint wedding invitations; we were never seen apart; when in the same classes during our undergrad years, we literally blew our TA’s mind with our thinking alike and acting alike and laughing alike. We weren’t just friends. We weren’t just friends who had a ‘falling out’. We were family whose family tree rotted, died, turned black, fell apart into irreparable ash. And when I think about it, even for more than the split millisecond I think about each day, I cannot fathom that pain, that shattered dream, that ruined close connection. If I dwell on this for even one split millisecond longer, I get suddenly so angry and sad and confused and ask again: WHY? WHY and HOW do people who were  this close with me, completely disappear? Why can’t things ever be like they were? What happened to the formative years of my twenties and when can or will something replace that notion of girlhood that has been cruelly ripped out of my gut? Why do people get divorced, why do we have to let go of the ones we love so much that an old photo just triggers so much of this incredible anger that I feel towards people that I would have done anything for?

In life now I have the most amazing career someone could ever ask for. I live in a place that doesn’t feel like home but it’s quiet, charming even, and full of incredibly wonderful people. I have a partner who I’ve gone to hell and back with and still value our Friday night dinner dates as much as I did when we were first falling in love. I have reconnected with my oldest friends and realized the qualities they possess, and the qualities they awaken in me, have been more worthwhile and important than I ever realized and that realization has both made me feel guilty, but also made me feel grateful. We can’t have it all, and we can’t sometimes let things go as easily as we’d like but we also can’t ignore the hope that the good things have brought in the wake of what has been broken. The world is incredibly complicated and strange and shocking. There are things that pain and things that heal, and things that lay dormant in the small, cozy caves of your mind before one day out of nowhere they sneak out of their hideaways just long enough to make you feel that pale-faced, hand-shaking anger and springing tears just one more stupid time before you cram them back into the place where they came from. I took a day today to think of and honour those feelings in a way I haven’t really done in a long time.

 

Now I’m going to floss my teeth, and turn on Sports Net, and then go back to the tedium of my idle Tuesday in late April.

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.

The People Who Leave Us.

When people are no longer in our lives they leave holes of one kind or another. The greatest hole is nostalgia. Looking back on the memories and marks of those who are no longer in our lives is a kind of pain that is both relieving and that reminds us of a hole that was there, that might never be filled again.

But so what if a hole can’t be filled? Holes will always be filled with something else. As long as we’re open to allowing those holes to be filled, then the former filling of them was just something lost and gone. And it doesn’t matter anymore what was there.

It’s impossible to imagine my life without the person I’m with. It’s difficult to picture who I was before I was so full, inspired, and before I strived so much for success in my new career. But there was a time when my reality – the reality I liked, and the reality I didn’t, were completely unrecognizable to the person I am now. Something else was fulfilling. The people I knew were different. The life I lived, my motivations, my dreams, my daily life, my cares – they were completely different and I loved that time. I did. I look at those years as funny and memorable and full of the kinds of joys you can only share with friends in your twenties when your dream was to be a bohemian artist, before you learned horrible truths and everything became complicated and serious.

People left me. Change left holes. And then in time, with work and effort and overcoming failure and feeling like a loser, those holes were filled. I had new dreams and new goals and new exciting things to live for in ways I didn’t expect. The people who leave us are ghosts that serve as important reminders that things are constantly changing. The people who leave us are a part of our history, our tapestry. They once helped us discover who we were, so we could become who we are now. The people who leave us, left us. They’re gone. They’re not coming back.

And it’s fine.