Sunday, November 16, 2014

Memory's Noose

Come the cold and rain in the fall, I sometimes get reflective about old memories, and here's one that burbled up ...

Aeons ago, we had a close friend who met the man she thought was The One. They courted, then moved in together, and bliss was in the air. Happily-ever-after bloomed, and hurray! she deserved it.

Fast forward just under two years, and to abridge the story, the man was NOT The One. There came a terrible row and a break-up. 

Emotionally wrought, our friend came to stay with us. I cleared out my office and made it into a bedroom. For the next few weeks, she was submerged in the greatest depths of depression and grief. We tried to help, but in such circumstances, there was little we could do. The death of a relationship needs the same stages as a real death, and it can be a slow process. 

We offered support, quiet, and hoped for recovery.

(In an odd happening, early on, our friend dismantled the door knob and latch to the office-gone-to-bedroom and swapped it with the one from the hall bathroom, which could be locked. Nobody would have gone into her room without knocking, but there you go; grief does strange things to people.)

Time dragged on. Recovery did not seem to be in the offing. Our wounded friend would spend all morning planning a trip to the store to buy a single orange. An hour at the store to make the selection. The rest of the afternoon recovering from the trip. The air here was too thick with traffic fumes. The tiniest bit of something unusual in her food would cause her stomach to roil for days. Misery was a heavy blanket, and it covered not only her, but the whole house.

Every red door needed to be painted black.

We saw this, and after a time, also saw that it was beyond our ability to heal. See somebody, we said. Get professional help from somebody who knows how.


We kept trying. Talked for hours. Was a solicitous as we could be. 

She got to the stage where she began rewriting the conflict with Not-The-One. It was all his fault, she decided, she had done nothing wrong, nothing, save to be kind, loving and open, and he was an oafish, blind loser who couldn’t appreciate what she had to offer!

Okay. We didn’t completely agree with that, given some of what we had seen and heard, but we mostly went along. (Any deviation from this absolute was met with instant rage: No! No! It was him! Him! In no way me!)

Fine. We’ll shut up now. You are suffering. Whatever you need to get by.

Eventually, we shrugged and moved along with our lives, and eventually, she packed up and moved away, unhappy that we weren’t more help. How could we not see? Her grief was as powerful as if they had been married fifty years and he had suddenly died. She was bereft. Suck it up and get over it? Not the way to look at it.

Then came a series of phone calls from afar. We needed to see how badly she had been treated. How we had been mistaken in our thinking that she was in any way responsible for the situation, either with Not-The-One or our interaction with her while she was under our roof. We had fallen short in the friends department. She was putting her ducks in a row, and we needed to move to our proper place.

Okay, I said, let’s put it all behind us and move on. I certainly could have been mistaken in how I had seen things, and if so, I hereso apologize.

No, not “could be,” you WERE mistaken! No question! And how you spoke to it? You didn’t really feel that way …

Wait, wait. What? I didn’t feel that way?

That’s right. You didn’t see it correctly, so you couldn’t have really been in that mind-set, and you need to re-think it and see that I am right. You need to see that you were wrong about it.

Whoa. Hold up. I will admit I could have been wrong. I don’t think I was, but we all know memory is a faulty machine, and I am sorry  if I missed shit, but at the time all this went down, I surely know how I felt about it. My facts might have been askew, but my own feelings were what they were. It is what I thought I saw at the time. 

Over the course of a conversation lasting several hours, then several more conversations,, it became apparent that, for our friend to deal with this how she wanted, I had to revise my memory so that it agreed with hers 100%.

Not just acceptance; I had to love Big Brother …

I could go a ways down the road, but for me to say what she apparently wanted to hear, I had to say something that simply wasn’t true. I couldn’t do it. Or wouldn’t, which made the effect the same. 

It became the crux of every subsequent conversation, and these were many and long. 


Finally, I said, Okay, listen: We have danced around this fifty-seven times, and unless you have something new to bring to the discussion, it isn’t going to be resolved. Neither of us is apt to have a come-to-Jesus moment that I can see. If you can find a new line, then we can revisit it, but otherwise, I’m not going there any more. We can move on or not.

Not ...

And that was the end of our long friendship. Because I wouldn’t substitute her beliefs for mine, we got to the end of the road. 

Such are the throes of major depression, that reason fails utterly and there is no way out. 

I think about it sometimes. Should I have just agreed with her? It would have fixed it for her, though I believed it would have broken it for me. It wouldn’t have been a white lie, about her hair, or how those jeans made her look. It would have been a repudiation of what I believed to be true, and ever so much worse. 

I am sorry to have lost my friend, but I can’t say I have regrets about my stance. Sometimes standing where you must leaves you there by yourself, but hey, there it is. Fall reflection of the day …


Kris said...

I have found that there is only so much logic and reason that mental illness allows in. Sounds like you did a hell of a lot more for her than most people would have.

The Daring Novelist said...

Obviously I don't know the real details, so I could be wrong but....

It would not have fixed it for her if you did what she said. She has a hole that needs to be filled, and anything you do will disappear into that hole, and she'd need you to do something more. And something more. And for you to find people to throw into the hole for her (because if you don't, you aren't really her friend).

And, like a drunk, she won't stop until she hits bottom and can't call on anybody to revise facts (or whatever it is she thinks she need) and is forced to actually deal with it.

I wouldn't say this, if the denial hasn't been going on so long. I do believe that people going through a bad time do need to be "enabled" a little while they heal, but if they don't heal, more enabling isn't going to work. (I also suspect this isn't actually major depression, but something else that major depression is masking.)

Anonymous said...

took years of me repeatedly telling my sister to "stop!, no you're wrong" (and I've never changed my responses) before I got the "we grew up in the same house but different worlds/memories" kiss off email from her, to get her to stop trying to rewrite and dredge up old history. it was hard not to reply but if that's what it took to get her to leave me alone, fine she can have the last word. bliss ever since. Steve, you went far and beyond. If a friendship, let alone a relative, takes that much personal concession, not much value in keeping that friendship
Steve VH

Anonymous said...

First time I've ever left a comment online--Thank you for an excellently written, reflective commentary about what constitutes a healthy friendship.
I greatly appreciate your blog and books, and thank you for your willingness to put all manner of thoughts up on my computer screen and in my hands.