A friend of mine has entered into a romance that her circle of pals has fair cause to distrust. The man has a history of taking direct aim at women and hurting them badly. This isn't one of those "It's just not working out" break-up mo's. He's always been on the look-out for other women, sleeping around, lying blatantly.
I am alarmed -- for her but more for me.
Maybe we need friends, I was thinking as I walked Zeke on this sunny warmish blowy Friday afternoon, to hold up a mirror to us. If you'd said this to me a week ago, I would have assumed you meant that friends tell us when our labels are sticking out or someone has been putting it out that we put out, but today I can see other ways this truism works.
My first reaction to her news was exasperation. Then I began to brood about it. Why should I get my knickers in a twist about her decision? I don't have to see the guy and wonder if he's telling the truth about why he canceled coming over last night. She has offered to keep quiet about it, knowing that her friends are so opposed to the romance: I don't even have to hear about it unless I ask for details.
Further, she's obsessed about this man for so long that this is the opportunity for her to find out if he's really all that and a bag of chips. I'll go so far as to say that she has a double-load to carry in beginning this relationship. She's got to evaluate him in his own right AND police his person for that doesn't match either of their heads. It's gotta to be tense over there in Loveland these days.
My official reaction was to wish her luck and warn her to protect herself. That's the kind of reaction that's guaranteed to have her prodding for what's underneath such a staid line. What was underneath, I began to realize, isn't pretty and I warned her that my curled lip at the thought of what she's doing has more to do with me than with her, and that it's a good object lesson for us both to see how much any reaction we meet with in life is not about what she (or I or you) have said or done.
I could also say that the name of some of what I feel is wrong. I envy her, but I don't envy her getting together with this guy or for having a relationship. I envy the balls she's shown in taking on such a Lothario. I envy her ability to forgive him, or try to.
The night she told me what she'd done, I had a vivid dream of being committed to an insane asylum where I and the other inmates were hearing voices and living in alternate universes. In the audience was the man I once loved. Sitting very close to him was his current lover. Audience? I don't remember why there was an audience. It wasn't Bedlam but for some reason they were there and he was terribly eager to ask me, apparently normal among the mad people, questions. When I saw him I morphed like Bertha Mason, lunging and spitting to get at him and claw his eyes out. The next day I received an email asking me if I wanted to be someone's "friend" on a website I know he lurks on. It was a bogus invitation but of course I had to go look. He looks very happy with his new love. I thought about how I was that pretty when I was thin. I thought about what he said about why "we" didn't work out. I thought about how he wanted to be friends with me as this new relationship blossomed and how I finally said I couldn't do it. I thought about how I dropped the last opportunity to be in touch with him like a hot coal. I thought about how thinking about him still tears my throat out.
I envy my friend's opportunity at a chance with someone she knows, warts and all. I won't have that opportunity.
Distraction! I thought. Other men! But there really aren't any. And so I had to acknowledge that one man I had an ongoing email/phone relationship with point-blank refused to meet me and how I terminated it because of that, how I pushed at someone else when I felt used and he'd dropped me. I thought about all the men kindasortalmosthovering on the periphery of my life and I envied her gumption to open herself up to that world of hurt and the stores of energy it takes even to get to the part that hurts.
"I can't date until the book is done," I said to myself. Well, that's not all that distant now. "I can't date until I've lost weight," I tried not to say. But isn't that a crock of shit? I mean, I'm fat. I'll always be fat. If I'm very lucky, I might get to hide how fat I am in a thin body, but I have a fat head and fat blood and a fat history. Maybe the point is to date someone now so he'll know...the worst of it. I didn't want to write that phrase. The truth of it? The Fat Girl I also love, or who should be lovable as well as the thin one?
And that, folks, is the first layer of my reaction to my friend's news. It leaves me sad for myself and ashamed of that sadness. Look, the grown-up Frances wants to say to that snarking Francie, YOU dropped two men for being too roughshod on your heart. YOU stated in one sentence how hurt you were and that man disappeared. You've done some good housekeeping in the last year so you don't get to be all regretful about the past you tossed out for very good reasons.
But her chance has reminded me of my lost chances and informed me of how reluctant I am -- and how undeserving I feel -- to court new ones.
It's not about her. It's not even about me wishing I were in her shoes.
It's about me and the mirror she's held up for me to see the state of my heart in.
End of an era in Paris -- the last of the phone booths are carted off...