Dear friends and family,
You all know Taylor. He needs no introduction. He's been in my life since kindergarten, and he's been my best and dearest friend for ten years.
In middle school, he started smoking and drinking. He was addicted to prescription drugs and had to go to rehab at the age of fifteen. Throughout our adulthood, I tried to reign in his drinking and his pill consumption--when heroin was no longer a problem--but though his use fluxuated sometimes to minimal levels, it never fully abated.
This time last year, at age 23, I received a phone call from him that he was addicted to cocaine, had shot heroin, was using Klonopin and Xanax to off-set the coke, was drinking every day as soon as he woke up, and was still smoking pot. He told me he wanted help, and that if I would pick him up, he would go to rehab, get help, then stay clean and sober at my house until he was stable again.
While at my house, he began to back away from his commitment. I was too afraid to let him; I told him if he didn't get help, I wouldn't be a party to his downfall. He insisted he would go back home alone and get help by himself. When I expressed doubt, he got angry and asked, "So you have no faith in me whatsoever?" I didn't.
I drove him home anyway on December 15th. He pinkie promised me in his driveway that everything would be okay. I held back my tears until I was over the bridge and halfway home. It wasn't until a couple of days later that I actually did break down, clawing at my flesh and tearing out my hair. The doctor prescribed me Xanax. It was ironic, but not in the way that makes you smile wryly in the mirror.
After two and a half months, he was insisting that he was completely sober, except for once when he'd accidentally grabbed someone else's drink at the bar. I had my doubts about his sobriety due to his frequent claims that he was at the bar, but I elected not to pass judgment at that time. After six months, he was admitting to casually drinking a glass of wine every now and then. Now that a full year has passed since his breakdown, his Facebook profile image is of him drinking a shot of liquor, and many of his posts are alcohol-centric. He had asked me if I had any faith in him. Why would I ever say no?
Taylor has a particularly draining habit of realizing, once or twice yearly, that his addiction is beyond his control. He declares that he wants to get sober, and I have always tried to help. Unfortunately, I have always been disappointed. But in this year that we have been apart, I have waited with bated breath for his sudden epiphany, knowing that when it came, he would come to me.
My therapist--assigned to me shortly after I had surgery for a chronic pain disease and before I started a controversial synthetic menopause treatment--does not approve of this line of thought. I hadn't shared it with her until very recently, as I've always wanted to appear level-headed regarding the likelihood of his recovery. She has pointed out that I am not even close to coming to terms with the reality of the situation.
The reality is this: addicts don't usually recover until they are forced to. If Taylor had a car, if he drove and he got a DUI, he might recover. Being forced into classes might do the trick. But Taylor doesn't have a car, and Taylor doesn't drive. Taylor doesn't pay rent. Taylor will have a place to live no matter what his addiction costs him. Taylor has friends who encourage his alcohol abuse. Taylor has no one to hold him accountable for what he does. Taylor has watched a friend die an alcoholic's death, and Taylor has lost me because of his own alcoholism, and neither of these devastating events has put a dent in his resolve to continue drinking.
It will probably be, my therapist has told me, another ten to fifteen years before something happens that is significant enough to cause Taylor to get sober. After only one year of waiting, the prospect of another ten years is heartbreaking for me. It is dismal and agonizing, and I can only make it easier by not being there to see it happen.
Until now, I have kept a line of communication open between Taylor and me. I will be removing it soon enough, and I would encourage my family members to do the same. It can't help anyone to see what is happening in his life, and in fact, it is less than benign; it is painful for me. I have already expressed my disapproval that my family members have been in contact with him, and I will continue to react similarly if contact is not omitted, because I can't keep my strength if my mother is constantly inviting Taylor over for dinner when I am trying hard to forget that he exists.
After nineteen years of friendship, it is obviously not easy for me to do this. In the past year, though, I have learned something very important: I am defined by who and what I love. I am not defined by who or what loves me in return. I am working toward being impartial and not feeling less worthy because of my best friend's disease, and I am putting my love toward efforts that better exemplify the type of person I want to be. And in spite of all this, my greatest effort of all will be staying where I am, and not running back to the person I have loved for most of my lifetime. I wish him every happiness and success, and I hope that one day, we will be reunited on terms much better than these.
I am at a music store and there are two employees, both middle-aged women wearing too much make-up -- except one of them is normal, and the other is a functional disembodied head. The solocranium starts to sing "Ode to Divorce" to prove her competence, but she sings for so long that it's awkward -- she's serenading me now, and it's weird, so her coworker tells her to go take a break. The disembodied head doesn't go anywhere, not by floating ethereally away or rolling out of the door like a giant meatball, but she does stop trying to help me.
I am told it is socially acceptable for me to pick up this living bodiless organism to examine it, and I do. The underside of her chin and jaw is perfectly flat, the skin is unrealistically delicate and papery thin, stretched taut over many blue veins. I put her in the palm of my hand. She is warm.
- I am at a carnival with only women. Behind me, there is a morbidly dressed young girl with a hatchet, hacking away at a wall and yelling "Carbon Monoxide" lyrics. I think she works for the carnival, and this is just a scare tactic, like in a "haunted house" at Halloween time. I ignore her, but other women think she's rude for trying to frighten us, so we all start to sing over her haunting song. We join together in a laughing, delightful rendition of "Ghost of Corporate Future."
-I get roped into playing what I think is a game of poker with three other women. I don't know them, but my sister is overseeing the proceedings, so I feel okay to play even though I don't play poker very well. Unfortunately, it's not poker. They lay about two dozen cards in front of me, and when I flip them over, they are an unmatched assortment of Pokemon and Munchkin cards, and then some cards that just have cartoon characters printed on them. I don't understand how to win this game, so I pick up a few of the cards, and I turn to the 'judges.'
"Okay. So there's a pony" -- I hold up my pony card -- "fighting a unicorn" -- flash the unicorn card at them -- "who has a magic tie-dyed gecko riding on its back." I am creating a funny, unlikely story from my bizarre collection of cards, because I don't know what else to do. "And in walks a giant blue wizard-doctor."
They start to laugh. I've won. I wonder if that was the point the whole time, or if they didn't know it would be more fun to laugh than compete for poker chips.
I'm just exhausted with the efforts I make. I'm putting you in a hospital on Thursday. If you don't cooperate, I am ending this relationship.
I love you, and I will always love you, but I can't live like this.
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
So am I.
But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,
And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart—
Open to me!
For I will show you the places Nobody knows,
And, if you like,
The perfect places of Sleep."
(If you don't make it through this night, I will have at least told you the truth.)
But I am sitting here at 6:30am in unprovoked pain that is making my legs tremble. I want for it to pass, but there is nothing I can do. I am medicated. It isn't working. What am I going to do, get an ice pack?
I am just frustrated.
When I was eight, I played Sega a lot. I sat under my brother's bed and tooled around with Sonic the Hedgehog. I had a very serious vendetta against Doctor Robotnik.
That's what I was doing when Teddy came into our lives for the first time, a fuffy white thing with dark eyes and a black nose, a face like a polar bear, bounding through the house.
I've been seeing a male since October. I was seeing several of them, but now it's fairly exclusive. He's ultra manic-depressive, which I found out when, for almost an entire month, he fell off the grid and was essentially out of contact with me until I finally put my foot down and asked him what the hell was going on.
A bad place, he said. His apologies, he said, for being distant -- and would I be affable to having dinner on Friday? With the flip of a switch, he set the train back onto the track, and it was as though we hadn't missed a beat. But why was I so accommodating? No part of me blamed him. Even with the warning that he was manic-depressive, and that he had a tendency to isolate, you'd think any living, breathing woman would take offense to being ostracized for weeks by the man with whom she'd been romantically involved. I hardly batted an eyelash.
Now, I told you that story so I could tell you this story: I just went on a twelve-day cruise to the Caribbean! We saw Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Tortola. My significant other did not join us. I kissed him goodbye the day before we left, and texted him when I had service in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. When I returned from my lengthy journey, I intended for his apartment to be the first place I'd run.
I was wrong; he had company staying with him for the weekend. I went to see Taylor instead, and stayed with Taylor for a couple of days during which I knew my significant other would be working. I knew he was busy, so I tried to brush it off when he didn't respond to my texts. I try to be the ultimate woman, you know -- I'm really very good at being the catch of a lifetime.
When I came back from Taylor's, I was dealing with some endo pain and my wisdom tooth, so I skipped one of the days I could have gone to see the Boy. He didn't protest. He didn't seem enthused about seeing me the next day either, and by the day after, he was actively making excuses not to invite me over. Being a fairly distant person myself, I kind of shrugged, and figured there must be a good reason, which preferably did not involve my barely-functional girl parts. I decided to wait it out.
Yesterday, I finally texted him, "Why the silence?"
Obligingly, he responded, "I don't know. I'm just feeling out of sorts. Don't worry."
It made me smile. I told him to let me know if he needed me, and then I let it go. Again, another girl probably would have pressed the issue, but I found his response relatable and completely without malice.
Later on in the evening, I went picking through journal archives and found an entry that made me smile. I had quoted Lucky when he said, "I just have to understand that when a woman has PMS, she is now voicing her true feelings through hated." And when I had quoted him, it was because I was being wildly hormonal, because I wanted everybody to stay away from me, because the thought of enduring the company of other human beings made me want to claw my eyes out. I was isolating.
I kept digging and I found evidence of this continuous pattern of behavior: periodically needing to completely withdraw. There were days when someone being in the same room as me, and subsequently brushing against my arm, made me panic with claustrophobia. There were times when I'd push away my family, when I'd push away my significant other, and I always felt guilty for it because I didn't know anybody else who openly admitted to being as messed up as me and needing the same things I needed.
But I find acceptance. As Taylor and I get older, we get closer and we synchronize. I knew that today marked one full year since he'd abandoned his first adult relationship, and that he intended to acknowledge it. When I texted him this morning and he didn't respond, I let it go. I spent what would have been my one-year anniversary with Steven watching Disney movies with my kid because I didn't want to be around anybody else. And today when I didn't get a response from Taylor, I accepted that it was likely he was choosing to spend the day alone, and probably choosing to shut off his cell to facilitate his isolation. I do it. He does it. We really found each other all those years ago.
And even though Taylor was unapologetically unresponsive, I got an unprompted text from my Boy.
"My new schedule starts Monday," he said. "Next day off is Wednesday. Can I see you on Wednesday?"
I said yes. He said he missed me. "A kiss awaits thee," he promised.
"I missed you also. Thirty kisses better await me." He agreed and we talked about guns and video games. When my sister called and asked how my relationship was doing, this exchange absolutely baffled her, even after I explained that I'd been warned that he was manic-depressive.
"He wants to be alone, and he just chooses to include you in the people he's ignoring, even though you're his girlfriend?"
But I'm not just a girlfriend. I'm a people. I'm human. And some humans are more sensitive to the friction of other humans; some of us grate more easily. You can label us, like, "wallflowers" or, if you have a degree in psychology, "chemically imbalanced." Apparently we find each other, traits find like traits, disorders find like disorders. Even if he withdraws more frequently than I do, for longer -- can I be upset with someone who behaves the same way I behave? All I have is empathy. I'm not encouraging bad behavior, I'm just breeding acceptance for months down the road when I pull away and leave him asking, "Why the silence?"
I guess, if occasionally being frantically anti-social is a curable trait that lets you get diagnosed as manic-depressive, then all the silence is telling you is that I'm speaking your language.
- Current Music:Nat King Cole - Cucurrucucu Paloma
I'm on the prowl because it seems like the normal thing to do: break-up, mourning period, self-acceptance, hunting for new prey. That is a normal sequence of events for a normal human being -- and I can pretend well enough, but I'm not normal by any stretch of the imagination.
There is this whole world of experiences lined up behind me, pushing me forward. Maybe it's normal to be pushing back against them, and maybe it's not, but the fact of the matter is that my history with certain people leaves trust far away from me, something far off in the distance that I can see, knowing full well that it will take painful exertion to get there.
I had healthy behavioral responses to interaction with Steven, of which I was very proud. I do not have healthy behavioral responses to interaction with anyone else. To be self-diagnostic, I will hypothesize that the reason I can no longer react that way to other people is because I trusted Steven, and he proved that he could not, in fact, be trusted to keep me safe. It was hard enough before with my past tucked under my proverbial belt, but I could take the people from my past who had hurt me, classify them as bad people, and then look at Steven, and classify him as good people. I did not see qualities in him that I had seen in bad people. I (stupidly) thought that made him different, and therefore, safe. That gave me the courage to move forward.
I can't do that anymore. I can't look at someone, see good things, and believe that the good things run deep. I now look at people, see good things, and wonder when the ugliness is going to manifest. I had trust issues before. I have trust catastrophes now.
Today we agreed to fund some two thousand dollars to a client who lives in New Jersey. I was approximately three minutes from providing her with her money when she told me, "My license still shows a North Carolina address." So I panicked. I went to my boss and said, "The suit was filed in Jersey, the accident was in Jersey, she lives in Jersey, she gets her mail in Jersey -- do you care what her license says?"
"Suit was filed in Jersey," he said, shrugging. "Doesn't bother me. Go for it."
I told my coworker, Nicole, who had this woman on the phone and was haltingly trying to soothe the woman's frazzled nerves. "It's fine," I told Nicole. "North Carolina ID is okay. We don't care."
"Oh," James said sarcastically, "now you're making executive decisions without me."
I turned, eyes narrowed. "What?"
"No, no, it's okay," he continued. "You seem to know what you're doing. Go ahead, apparently you're the boss now."
I stared him down. "Did you not just tell me," and I counted each statement on my fingers, "that her mail goes to Jersey, she lives in Jersey, the suit was filed in Jersey, and you didn't care if the ID said Carolina?"
A smile twitched on his face. "I never said any of that." I knew he was messing with me. We had just been through a whirlwind of disorienting paperwork and activity not long before this, and he was playing on my distress. Things get crazy at work, my brain gets pulled in lots of different directions, and suddenly I'm sitting there tearing hair out of my skull going, "Oh, god, I can't remember what I'm supposed to be doing but something tells me it's really important." These moments have an entertainment factor. James likes to play on that.
I screwed on my smile. "James," I said, endlessly patient, "you are a jerk."
"Yeah," he agreed, still grinning his big, stupid grin.
"And now I am going to step out, if it's okay with you, to find something deep-fried and smothered in chocolate."
"Yes," he said, pleased. "Go center yourself."
When I returned not ten minutes later, chugging a strawberry-flavored water and picking up a new file of paperwork, Nicole looked up at me and tried desperately to convey some kind of emotion with rapid eye movement and a grimace-slash-sneer.
"What," I said, wary.
She leaned toward me. "Did you tell James you were leaving?" she asked.
I raised my brows. "Yes? He told me to go ahead."
"Are you sure? Because he was looking for you. And I didn't know where you went, but I told him you hadn't come back to your desk. He was pissed."
I hadn't been gone THAT long. Yes, the store is right next door. I probably could have made it a three-minute trip, but I hadn't expected to have a deadline to return to the office. James gives us a lot of freedom.
I glanced at him, on the phone with an attorney, and looked back at Nicole. She thought I should go address the situation. I elected to work instead. I plowed through some files, and, a little while later, went to put one on James' desk. I placed it carefully into a bin while he stared at me, expecting me to explain myself. Again, I elected to ignore the situation. I made it approximately two steps away when I turned back around and approached his desk.
"James," I began, hesitant, "you did know that I was stepping out, right?"
He gave me a look like, "Listen, we need to talk," and my heart jumped into my throat.
Then his grin caught up with him. He started to snicker, and I puffed up like a furious hen. "Now wait," he said loudly over my jumble of offended woman-noise, "after the stunt I pulled earlier, how could you not tell I am in a mischievous mood?"
"James!" I scolded.
"Whaaat? Now all you have to decide is whether you're more mad at me for starting it, or your wifey over there for being so eager to play along."
I took the file back out of the bin and slapped it down on his desk (much less carefully this time). "You," I said, as he began laughing. "There is this term I heard once--"
"Now, Naomi, you may want to wait until you're off the clock to--"
"And I think it's very appropriate for this situation--"
"It might be wise to remember--"
"You are a butt-faced miscreant," I finished. And I walked back to my desk, loving my job with all my heart.
I fear my own regression. My life over the last year has been so deeply rewarding and rich with experience that turning to my old ways feels very much like willingly walking into a yawning chasm, an abyss of endless backslides. I duck out of social obligations far too early. I pull the "I've got a long drive ahead of me" line. And I feel the diminishing leap of joy in my chest at the thought of being part of a community of really, really good people. It's what I wanted for so long. I could lose it all faster than I even care to imagine.
There are certain things to which I will cling no matter what. The day after our break-up, I texted Barbara -- my wonderful, golden-haired mom away from Mom -- with more fear and dread in my heart than I could admit to in mixed company. "I don't know what you've heard," I told her, "but I would love to come see you on Thursday, if you're working." And I waited, tears in my eyes, holding my breath, for her reply.
"That would be wonderful," she said. "Love you."
I lost it. "I love you too," I replied. "So, so much."
"You will always be my girl," she reassured me. It was my priority. It worried me so deeply that I bit my tongue and held off trying to address this deep-seated flaw in my relationship, only for fear of losing the people who had brought us together, to whom I had grown to attached. I was more afraid to lose Barbara than I was to lose Steven. There are few people in this world without whom I could not go on, and I took a risk when I ended this relationship, because there are people I love that have loved Steven longer than they've loved me. I worried that if they had to pick a side, I would be tossed to the curb based on seniority alone.
But Barb is paramount. If I lost everyone else, and if I kept her, it would still be a victory. It would be worth it if I had gone through nine months of agony, just to know that afterward, I could go to the bar and Barb would hug me and fix me a cup of coffee (as she does, painstakingly measuring French Vanilla creamer into a cup, tasting it first to make sure it's satisfactory, presenting it to me with her hopeful, eager smile).
I digress. It wasn't like that at all. It wasn't nine months of agony. Before I met Steven, I wasn't sure that another human being could tolerate me, let alone love me. I wasn't sure I could live with a man and not cower in fear at night. I was miserable in my work, in my social life, in my past relationships -- I was just a miserable human being. The only way to get myself out of it was to make a concentrated effort and form a plan of attack. I would get ready for a night out like I was preparing for a battle at the Colosseum. I fought for everything I ended up getting.
This wonderful woman once wrote, "Short love isn't failed. Long love isn't successful," and I understood how long love could be unsuccessful -- it sometimes fades away -- but if love is short, that means it wasn't strong enough to withstand, which means it amounted to nothing in the grand scheme of things. That is a failure. Until now, I didn't realize that with even the briefest of loves, one can find the most prodigious victories.
If I walked away from this with nothing but hope for the future, it would be a credit to my experience. I have so much more than that. I have more friends, comfort in a social setting, places to go that feel like home to me, a job I absolutely love, a quantity of unforgettable experiences, and, most importantly, the confidence that carries me from one day to the next, telling me that I am not the hopeless cause I'd been so worried I had become. I know now that someone in this world can look at me and think I'm beautiful, think I'm unique, smart, funny, want to spend the rest of their life with me, want me to raise their offspring, want nothing more than just to be with me forever. I know it is possible. I know that I will find someone who loves me just as deeply as I love them -- no holds barred, just jump right in -- and it will be a long love -- successful -- and legendary.
I have all this hope in my hands that I didn't have when I started out. I have so much hope that even if, between now and then, I find short love, I will still consider it a victory, which is amazing. I didn't know before, but there is something to be learned from your failures -- for example, how to look at them as achievements. And all we can ever do is look for the next big hurdle -- the next big victory -- and even though I sometimes feel like I am checking out early and stepping into the abyss, I know that my next great conquest is out there, and I am going to find it, no matter how long a drive I have ahead of me.