I read a book this week called “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends.” I was looking for a way to deal with the loss of my own friendship when I realized that this book should be required reading from second grade on. It was so sad to me that there are women out there still grieving the loss of the friend they had in second grade, because the new ones aren’t, well, her.
No one is, well, her.
And that’s the point of the book. We all make these incredible connections in life and for whatever reason, they’re not always designed to be permanent. The most heartening relationships were the ones that reconciled into something more beautiful than was torn, but it was often not necessary to the author’s growth and development. Sometimes, the growth and development was realizing why the relationship was harmful and wishing good things on everything that is past without willing a future as well.
I don’t know where I am in my own story, and at this point, it doesn’t matter. It is a mystery that I lean into and try not to hope when hope seems like it hurts too much.
Just read the book. You’ll know what I mean.
There’s a woman’s story in there frighteningly close to the one I had with Diane, although it went into outright physically sexual abuse and ours never did. When they met, the author was 10 and the woman was 31. I wore her scars on my skin, because she will never forget it, either. We all move on, but we don’t forget. There are too many triggers to let us.
My heart pines not for Diane, but for the person I was when I was near her. I felt funnier, more alive in every breath. I didn’t know why, and it didn’t matter. But that person was amazing, and I’ll miss her. That’s why I have to make peace with all this. I cannot think about the person I was without thinking of the person she was, too…. so the best way to deal with it is to turn those memories into old movies you watch with popcorn and see with the eyes of someone who no longer wishes to add more to the story, but to look at the one already there. Just as you cannot go back to the lake when you were eight and be the person that you were one more time until you agree to see what’s around you with eight-year-old eyes, you cannot go back to someone that has harmed you and intentionally ask for more until the person that hurt you has felt true remorse and has acted on it.
When you go back to the lake, it will feel rich and nostalgic, but your body will not interact with the water the way it did when your skin was young. You will step into it differently, and your limbs will no longer be gangly but coordinated with the practice of 20 summers….. You will have to see your innocence with your mind. When true remorse is expressed with action, it is an act of choosing light. It is an act that says “we are bigger than the conflict at hand.” Your mind will reach for the past just as if you can feel the sand in your toes and see the sailboats going by.
But reaching for the past isn’t about dwelling in it for misery. It’s dwelling in it to see what needs to change so that the past stays that way. Forgiveness is the act of seeing the world with childlike eyes. The miracle of children is their resilience. It’s a good thing to remember that the sign of age is that loss of flexibility, that inability to wipe the slate clean quite as fast.
I will no longer dwell on what it means to reconcile with someone who represents love and psychological torture in equal measure. My words are strong, and I mean them. I spent too many nights with bad dreams not to tell it like it is, and on the flip side of the coin, too many good memories to see everything with fire.
In this book, I found myself with new eyes. I can give thanks for the people we were to each other for its own sake. In loving her, I found a version of myself that I really love about me….. patient, kind, creative, musical, a heartbeat that said “you’re the one” because I didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to happen. It turned me into a loyal friend and spouse, just not with her.
I am an INFJ. I am defined by large relationships. Aaron and Dana walk around in my inner landscape daily because I let them. It took me a long time to take all my walls down with them, particularly with Dana because I hadn’t resolved all my issues with Diane until last year…… and there were a few that I didn’t want to tell anyone, much less everyone. The impetus to tell arrived because I was stuck. I didn’t know where to go emotionally, and I could not get it handled on my own.
Giving me her journal without any expected take home message except read it changed me. It changed the color of the world to rose, as it does for everyone who falls in love the first time. She just couldn’t accept that by the time she wanted to raise me as some sort of “mentee,” that image had been blown out of the water long ago by reading about touching women not much older than me.
It didn’t get to be a thunderstorm until I realized that Diane had had enough of me. I couldn’t give her any more, and I couldn’t go on pretending there wasn’t a problem, either. I had to grow up and move on, and was getting frustrated at my utter inability. Surely there was something behind all the words, all the “I love yous” said too frequently without backup action.
Friendship has relaxed me into being able to say “I love you,” but only when I mean it and not as a reflex, because it makes the words mean less the more you say them about everyone and everything. That was a lesson learned the hard way- that people aren’t going to take it the way I mean it- I care about you, I want to be your friend, you are amazing, etc.
It is taken as over-the-top admiration when I just mean to make you feel good for the few minutes that we interact. It’s something that I picked up from Diane long ago, and I’ve had to stop it out of absolute reflex. It got to the point that I didn’t realize I was doing it, just an autonomic response of an inappropriate level of intimacy.
Now that I’ve gotten out of the tremendously large black cloud I was trying to hold inside me, my “I love yous” feel differently….. more heartfelt…. my heart actually moves when I say them so that I feel the words as they leave my body.
Praying on the spaces……………….