Wednesday, November 16, 2005

L, the Closing Arguments

The thing is, L is good and evil. She's caused me more pain than just about anyone in my life so far and she's also given me joy. She's sucked the life out of me in long, long, LONG conversations in which she complained about every aspect of her life (past and present) and criticized virtually everyone she knew for hours, literally. She has also made me laugh so hard I cried. Many times.

When I graduated from my masters program, she flew across the country to attend commencement. She called me on my (first) wedding day, a wedding that was 3,000 miles from home, to share the day and tell me she loved me. She and I shared secrets for many years. Most of the really big secrets I wouldn't tell her because she can't be trusted to keep them. The juicy ones especially.

She helped create a lot of conflict between my mother and me. I now see it was about jealousy and competition for Mom's limited love. At the time I thought she had my best interests at heart. I once cut ties with my mother for over a year, due in part to L's encouragement.

I'm really not sure what changed or if anything did. I know that we can't be friends now. I know that she's incredibly angry, and has severe emotional problems that may have nothing to do with me. I know she's talking about me behind my back because she has never met anyone she didn't do that to. Ever.

I don't miss her, really. I try to rouse feelings of missing but I can't. The memories of the good times are tainted by the sharp, painful memories of the bad times. Really bad times.

Because I know she can't be assertive or honest about her feelings, it's possible I'll never know what changed or why she's so unhappy. That's actually okay with me.

When we were young L and I fought. A lot. My dad used to tell us, "You girls shouldn't fight -- when you grow up all you'll remember is the figthing." Which has turned out to be a little bit true. The fights usually went like this: L (who's seven years older, remember) would egg me on and get me going. Or I'd annoy her in the way only a kid sister can do. No matter who started the fight, when L had enough she would burst into tears and run to her room, slam the door, and fling herself onto her bed where she would cry until an adult (usually my dad) came in to check on her. When my dad found her, and heard her side of the story ("It's ALL HER FAULT!"), he'd find me and make me go in and apologize, without hearing my side of the story. Her words were sufficient evidence for indictment and conviction. Sentence: Apology. Sometimes I simply said, "I'm sorry." When I felt I'd been seriously wronged I said, "Dad said to say I'm sorry." I don't remember L ever apologizing to me. Not once in all these years. For anything.

We haven't spoken since last summer. I blocked her e-mail address. There will be no Christmas card this year, at least not from me. I'm freeing myself of her hurtful, toxic influence, a little bit at a time. This time there will be no apology from me.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

In Defense of L, Part V

L has four daughters. They're now 13 to 20-something. I held each one as a newborn. L was always happy to let me be close to her girls and she shared a lot about her pregnancies, deliveries and child-raising experiences with me. I think I was usually the second or third person she (or her husband) called after the babies came. The girls and I were pretty close when we lived near each other. L's family would always come over to my place Christmas Eve for our open houses and having those kids around always made the holidays more fun. For years I had their school pictures on my refrigerator. I had kids in my life for many years thanks to L.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

In Defense of L, Part IV

When my dad died I was 21. In the year that followed, I made a lot of crazy decisions. One of those was to quit my relatively secure, well-paying job and go back to school to finish my degree. I didn't plan very well and ended up very, very poor as a student. Poor to the point of having no heat and going hungry sometimes. L knew how things were for me. When I'd go out to visit her, she always sent me home with a bag of groceries. Like a huge container of oatmeal and other staples, along with homemade baked goods. She and her family didn't have much in those days either but she always sent me home with food. She also told my mom I didn't have any heat, which caused Mom to send me a check. L never made me feel small or weak for being poor. She just did what she could to help. More than once the food she gave me was the only food in my cupboard. I'll always be grateful for that help.

Monday, November 07, 2005

In Defense of L, Part III

When I was in my 20s I worked for a big hospital/HMO in their mental health department. One day a co-worker went a little crazy and started telling everyone's secrets during a staff meeting. She shared something I had told her in confidence a year or two earlier. I fell apart. I left work and didn't go back for two days. I couldn't stop crying and had an IBS episode like no other before it. During this time, L called and I told her the whole story. She told me to come out to her place a little before lunch and we'd go for a picnic. One of her kids was still at home so the three of us took a lunch L packed (including egg salad sandwiches, the best comfort food sandwich EVER) and headed for a local park. We went for a long walk, with the little one in a stroller, and talked. Then we ate our lunch. It healed me.

A year or two later, I got a dog from the shelter. She was an excellent dog, if a little neurotic. One evening she got loose and wouldn't come back when I called her. Eventually she did come back, with a tiny dead kitten in her mouth. I screamed. The dog dropped the kitten. I started crying and couldn't stop. Leaving the baby cat outside, I dragged the dog (now completely freaking out because she evidently thought she'd done a good thing) into the house. I called L, sobbing uncontrollably. I didn't have a clue what to do. She told me I had to go around to the neighbors and try to figure out who owned the kitten. She told me to call animal control if I couldn't find the owner. She calmly walked me through all the steps I needed to take and promised to call back later to check on me. Somehow I managed to visit some of my neighbors (oh and did I mention I was new to the neighborhood? And sobbing uncontrollably? I wonder why the neighbors avoided me...). Eventually I found the kitten's owner, a pretty "eccentric" old guy who had dozens of feral cats and kittens all over his property. I called animal control and left a message. Then I called L and cried some more. She was soothing and maternal and didn't laugh at me even once. Tempting as that might have been.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

In Defense of L, Part II

L threw me the only birthday party I ever had for non-family members. When I turned 10 (and she was 17) we invited a few of my girlfriends over for an afternoon cake-and-punch party. Neither of us really knew what we were doing, but she gave it her best shot. There was cake and punch and sitting around in a circle on the patio, talking. I don't think we knew there should be other activities. After my guests left, L cooked dinner for me and the rest of the family. She burned the chicken. I was mad at her for that. Thinking about that still stings. If we ever speak again I'll tell her I'm sorry for being an ungrateful brat.