I am waiting for the builder, there are a lots of things to fix in this house we moved into last May, and hopefully he will fix some. I will be distracted in my novel editing and I am feeling a little sick, so it’s a good opportunity for an update.
My birthday has come and gone. My anxiety levels were stretched to the point where they are so stretched I can barely feel anxious anymore, just numb. My dog’s football-sized growth removal (we still don’t know whether it was cancerous), has left him looking and acting five years younger, back to his beautiful, alert and vivacious old self. Even his coat has become blacker and glossier.
I had initially planned a day out to have tea and buy roses at Chatsworth, but of course the vet expense (worth every penny) has put us out of cash.
Instead, we had a wonderful evening, consisting merely of good husband-cooked food, three of my dearest friends and a welcome addition, copious wine and a bottle of Baileys (a present, I can’t normally afford Baileys, because when I drink Baileys I drink LOTS of Baileys, so…).
Of course my two friends and I discussed the new addition (a new boyfriend) and the way I talk with these people always appeases me, fills me up, energises me.
I was feeling crap the whole day, massive headache, feeling dizzy, wishing I could postpone everything (of course impossible, as friend and addition were coming all the way from Cambridge). But at 6 pm the headache left me, they arrived, and I had a lovely evening. I was actively keeping the thought from my head that it was my friend D.’s indifference to my birthday, last year, that sparked off the whole downward spiral that eventually ended in our agreeing to not keep in touch anymore. This was the second birthday he wouldn’t be there. He used to make a fuss of me on my birthday, he is of a generous nature so perhaps he’d had done that with anybody if in the right situation, as long as someone had reminded him it was someone’s birthday. My other friends made a fuss of me too, but he had a different way. He was the one that pushed me to go to live drawing classes just because I needed to get out and do something and actually loved drawing even though I am so hopelessly hopeless at it. He, on the other hand, is a talented illustrator and concept artist, like my husband.
I was interrupted by a timely call from the counselling service. She said that the counsellor dealing with interpersonal therapy is not in but she had a look through her criteria and she normally deals with people in deep depression. Shame because person-based counselling is what I did the course for and I loved it. So, she says, you can choose between counselling and CBT. To make it easier for me, she said: “Basically, do you feel you need to talk through your past and come to terms with it, or learn to deal with your emotions and anxiety?”. I said the emotions, because it is stupid how easily I will break down in tears, so that I cannot watch the news. I cannot watch a cartoon my daughter is watching where there is someone doing something brave without starting to cry. An advert can make me cry, and that’s not even charity adverts.
As I walked to the counsellor’s office last week, I nearly got hit by a bus: I didn’t look both ways before I crossed, I just looked the wrong way. Fortunately the bus driver saw me from a distance and honked me the hell out of the street. Interestingly, my heart did jump a little of course, but I felt more like “of course, that would happen” rather than “OH MY GOD I ALMOST GOT HIT BY A BUS LIKE IN AN AMERICAN MOVIE”. I thought I’d tell the counsellor but didn’t.
Regarding her, and my conversation with her, she did a couple of interesting things. I have mentioned how much I annoy myself for breaking down into tears of drama at these sessions that are merely supposed to be screening visits.
I also mentioned how almost immediately after telling her how much I resented being defined as “Italian” when there is more Anglosaxon and Latin American culture in me than Italian, if any of them at all. I had explained about my upbringing and about how if you don’t have those cultural “rules” as part of your life when you’re little you kind of just don’t have them, you get your own values and rules and morality. And then she went and made a joke about how my strong emotions, which have caused me to lose people who were desperately important to me, were clearly because I was Italian, ha ha ha.
But there was something else she did, and I haven’t told anybody yet, partly because it upset me so much, partly because I always worry that people will say “oh not D. again, just let it go!!!”.
She had asked me for an example of a situation that deeply upset me and of course there are so many I decided to stick with the nearest. I explained how some people, few, make it to centre stage in my heart: they become very dear to me. She and I agreed that not having had a “proper” family, and not having had the experience of an example of it even outside my own until I was twelve, I had no real idea of family ties. We agreed that arriving in Italy and realising that people had cousins and aunts and mums near them and looking after them, realising I had had none of that, I rebelled and wanted that beyond anything else. I wanted what seemed to be my right: people close to me who loved me. I never thought there was anything wrong or dysfunctional with my family until I saw what was missing. We discussed the effect of that on my sexual history. And then we agreed that my friends were my family. The bond I create with them is as good as, if not above that of a family tie, because we chose each other. Often, I admit, it was me choosing them: most people in this society are unaware that friends can be as close as that. And when they realise what my friendship offers, they drink it in, naturally! And so do I. It’s a friendship that can withstand long periods of separation, because you feel close regardless. And even long periods of distancing, if correctly handled.
When, however, the distancing is done with your soul as well it devastates me.
The counsellor picked up on that word, “devastates”, and other words. She noted how strong they were. I looked at her in puzzlement: those words describe perfectly how I feel, they are apt and accurate, not excessive. Devastation, emptiness, salt on fertile land: that is how it feels for me when someone so dear to me becomes indifferent. I am very much a loner most of the time, I don’t need constant reassurance, constant presence: I start demanding it when I feel, even from a distance, that you’ve removed yourself from me, from my circle: how would you feel if (assuming you didn’t have a dysfunctional family too) your favourite sibling told you you are not his/her sibling anymore? It is incomprehensible, isn’t it? You may not like them all the time, you may not choose to hang out with them all the time, but you are never not going to stop being siblings.
I explained how my relationship with these friends is, briefly. She got it: she said you get up close and personal. Yes, I do. I struggled and was careful when doing it with British people in particular, they get nervous when up close and personal happens, but when they get there, they like it. It’s real. My friend D., keen as he was on his personal space and reluctant as he was to become my friend at first, one of my favourite, he liked it. I have to remind myself of that, in order not to let my mind slip into “ah it was you, just you, he never wanted that closeness”. In words he would clearly state he didn’t at first, but he couldn’t grasp that what he wanted out of our relationship, what he sought, what he wanted to give, were all the result of being up close and personal and couldn’t be achieved otherwise.
The counsellor then interjected, and said how “Well, of course she’d want to keep him to herself and keep you away. I mean I’m the only one I want my husband to get up close and personal with!”.
She shocked me, I looked at her, I felt like I was going to explain, and she giggled and said “Oh my I don’t know where that came from, that’s not me talking” and then resumed the note taking.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I had to shake my head and move on.
D. had become self-satisfied, limited in interests, repetitive, predictable, just like her and her friends… someone so removed from his past self that his old friends and I could hardly recognise him. I know he also left his darkness behind, that darkness I understood and cherished but he hated, understandably, and now he is truly happy. I know all this and I should just be happy for him.
I just miss my old friend.
As I walked out I was shaken by the counsellor’s act. Like I posted before, it took me a while to get into my car, other thoughts accompanied the shock of that one. How often, growing up in retrograde Italy, was I confronted with women’s jealousy? There is one thing though, one small detail everyone seems to miss out on: I was there first. I established a friendship in which I had invested heavily, that has no requirement of sexual interaction so why should we change something as important as that to appease your own insecurity?
How many wasted years of discussions surrounding this subject have I had?
I needed for the counsellor to say: I am sorry you lost your friend, I can see how that would indeed devastate you. Instead I was left with the bitter after taste of feeling that even she felt that well, of course, you can have your friendships as long as the new partner doesn’t come in. After that you have to step back out and become a superficial acquaintance. What?
What if I’d been a man. Or a lesbian. Would that have appeased the woman, assuming it really was the reason she so passively-aggressively removed me from my friend’s life?
My husband needed his friend too. But being a man and being different from me he wouldn’t make a fuss of it. He told him once, D. chose not to do anything about it, I chose to stop dragging him towards being a better friend for my husband and his other friends who loved him dearly, he chose to let himself get lost in this new world of his and leave all his friends behind.
They all feel sad, and sorry. They all miss him, I know it. Each in their own way, we have all been deprived of D. But because they are not me, they don’t make a fuss about it. I did, for a long time, then I gave up. And as soon as I gave up, I offered no more resistance and he was assimilated. Happily so.
So that is the story of the jokingly named (the welcome addition told me yesterday) “Disowned D.”. It is a story that few people tell but that happens a lot, a story my husband brought back to mind yesterday, hearing something about Paul McCartney and asking me about how and why they split up, was it just the Yoko factor or was there more. And I explained how the Yoko factor was no “just”. It meant intrusion into an established routine that in their case (The Beatles’, in case it weren’t obvious), was needed to create the twentieth century’s most popular music. She intruded on a friendship so balanced and beautiful (John and Paul’s) and broke that balance. Hatred towards her in unjustified: it was never her. It was John who insisted in having her in the recording sessions. John who insisted in the other members checking out her work and allowing themselves to be “inspired” by her yowlings. It was John who needed that morbid attachment with her, constantly going back to her for a pat on the head or a kiss or what have you. It was all John, who destroyed their thing. And although John and Yoko’s relationship was by no means idyllic all the time, there were times when it was. For John, that was more important and soul defining than any work he had previously done with his mates.
I understand Paul’s refusal to just let go, despite the self-dedicated song he wrote, “Let it Be”. Paul had Linda, they had plenty of other stuff to do and to think about and to be happy about. Then Linda died too. Then George. A long tragic story, and I am sure that he would often think back to when he was friends with John, and how he was the special one for him, the one who’d left this great big gaping hole. And although it was all John’s doing (or non-doing), Yoko was the catalyst, and that is that. She could have worked it out by herself and imposed on John to take time out from her to be there for the friends who used to mean so much for him. John was weak, the story ends. The bitterness doesn’t.
I was left with a simmering but righteous anger: we should never give up on our friendships: they are eternal, whereas relationships based on a sexual exchange are really not necessarily so. Even though the counsellor claimed to have made up her little outburst, it left me not raging, but angry. No, actually, you don’t have to be that person. I trust my husband not to cheat on me, but I would be super happy for him to have a closer relationship with someone else. Whether that someone else is a heterosexual male (society’s preference) or a gay man or a gay woman or a heterosexual woman is really not the point. Of course people fuck up sometimes and trip up but the connection with another soul, a connection that is deeper than just hanging out and doing things together, is the most precious thing we possess and we should always, always seek it out and cherish it when it happens, be it a momentary one or a lifetime’s, and I will always mourn it when I lose it, and I don’t care to change that about myself and I never will.
Edit: Oddly enough, the moment I posted I felt more relieved, more ready to let go. Perhaps the trick to letting go is not to diminish it and belittle it, but to give yourself the time YOU need, reassert the importance of what is passing, and only then you can really let it go. Go and be happy, my friend.