The Book of Friend

20 Dec

Beloved woke me this morning with an insight and a memory.

I am now home for two short days until I go off to Washington D.C. to engage in more life experience. I’ll have to admit, I’m a bit nervous. Coming home was difficult and I found myself too busy and too scattered yesterday to really adjust well.  And of course, the issues that I have only dealt with in part were there in the hallway, in the bedroom, in the kitchen, staring at me and asking,

So, what are you going to do about us?

I suppose it was easy to be in Ocracoke because there was nothing there but the moment. There was no past, no future, just the now. What a tremendous peacefulness I had, and now how hard to maintain. I foresee my life slowing down and I mean really almost dangerously slowing down; however, in a way becoming more real and more fulfilling. I see me being more alone, doing more things with myself rather than scouring the friend bucket in desperate attempt to find a companion and activity for the evenings. And I definitely see me not being a three time a day Facebook poster any longer.

I have come to look really long and hard on the nature of friendship, what a friend really is. People use that term so loosely, so carelessly, as if friendship was some sort of given. And to be fair there are varying levels of intimacy in any friendship. One always knows who one can trust with certain revelations, who meets certain needs. I remember sitting at Starbucks before I left and thinking about learning to accept others limitations. But it is difficult to find a like minded person who also has the same ability and willingness to connect.

I awoke this morning with a memory of fourth grade, the most painful year of my entire life.  This was the period of time when I changed schools, lost all my friends, and my mother remarried. But most importantly, it’s also when my grandfather died. No one prepared me for his death. People didn’t feel they had to back then. I was too young to understand, they thought, so they just ignored it. My mother disliked Grandaddy so much it was easier for her to just forget he ever existed and move on. Grandaddy died in January; I had just turned 8 years old. The ensuing school year was a nightmare as I changed school systems, friends, and afternoon and morning sitter. It’s the first time I ever experienced anxiety to the point of physical sickness, and I ballooned up to 111 pounds at 4’10”. No one was looking out for me, and I had no tools to cope with any of the massive changes that were happening. And I didn’t know that I could say anything. It actually didn’t even occur to me.

My mother remarried the following January to a man who had no capacity to express love or kindness. He wasn’t ever cruel or physically abusive; he was just cold and unavailable. He was a ghost in my life which prohibited the connection and level of intimacy I had previously enjoyed with my mother. The level of warmth and physical affection I had been accustomed to with my grandfather was also totally and completely gone. No one actually touched me, for years. My family wasn’t physically expressive, but I was. Grandaddy was the only one who would hug me, carry me, or sit me on his lap in physical closeness. Grandaddy cuddled me both physically and emotionally. When he died that ended forever.

Beloved reminded me this morning how desperate I was to have closeness that fourth grade year, so much so that I would play two against one (them against me) kickball with neighborhood kids just to have someone to play with. I allowed them to call me names, to bully me, to develop a pack mentality toward a big blue-eyed, quiet, shy obese eight year old girl. How cruel they were and how vulnerable I was. I let them abuse me in order to have some sort of human connection. I was abandoned by everyone and very much alone.

This morning I realized, I do not want to be in any unfair friendships any longer just so I can have someone to play with. That’s not real friendship, that’s me sacrificing my dignity in order to have connection and honest connection does not require anyone to sacrifice her dignity nor her inner self. I’ve had enough of emotional distancing, that smug, “I can live without you. I’m too busy to see you or talk with you” attitude in direct opposition complaints of “Are you mad at me? Aren’t we friends? I value your friendship so much.” Those types of relationship. This push me, pull you behavior is not acceptable to me any longer. It’s abuse. ABUSE.  And if I allow someone to abuse me, I not only damage myself, I sacrifice my own dignity.  I would rather be alone.

To be sure, I am not a perfect friend. I’m injured right now. I can’t be a good friend. And I’m not on anyone’s time schedule about “getting over it”. That’s another thing about friends. They understand. If they are upset, they say so. They just don’t throw you in the garbage can rather than work through things. My life does get in the way of making time for people right now, but I will be more honest with my friends from now on. If I need alone time, I will tell them, ” I love you, but I need to be alone today. Can we meet later?” I will try to honor them and myself in balance. It may mean that I don’t see them as often as I’d like, but it does mean that our friendships will be real and honest and of quality.

Real friendship is like a book, a book with paper pages. You hold it in your hands, you touch and turn the pages, you make time for it, experience it, commit to it and it gives you an experience in connection and you take its story with you forever. That is a real friend. And in this age of technology, nothing will replace the reality of a book or a warm hand, a smiling face and story. Good books only come along once in a while, that’s why they are worth the time to read. They are present. They aren’t on social media. This is principle three, I think.

A real friend is what I search for.

This is why Miss Nininger, my fifth grade teacher was my savior. She rescued me in a thousand different ways. Mainly by seeing that I had words within me and that my ability to escape into them  and through them was the way out of darkness. She read to me. She invested the love of them into my life and I was saved. I became a teacher because of her and spent many years investing in my students the way she invested in me. But now, I am more important. There I said it. I am more important to me than my students and my friends. My well being is the most important thing. I deserve to be selfish about life.

There comes a moment when you can no longer project outward but must project inward.

I think it’s time to write my own book of life, and to love and be loved like a book in hand.

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