Thursday, April 22, 2021

Goodbye Old Friend

“I always thought you were a bitch.” I’ve heard that statement from several of my closest friends. I used to be very shy and through my twenties and part of my thirties I was painfully insecure. It took me a long time to get comfortable enough with people to step into the realm of friendship. But once I crossed over there was no turning back. Once you’re my friend, it’s impossible for me to let you go. 

It’s why I’ve never wanted to move. Making new friends seems too hard. One of my oldest, best friends dumped me about six months ago. It’s strange because we used to talk every day. We lived within walking distance of each other. We’ve known each other since seventh grade.

But we had a crisis in our friendship. In these last six months, I’ve been trying to sort it out. I’m stuck. It doesn’t make sense to me. I thought I was doing the right thing by telling her how I felt, about problems I saw in our friendship. But I was wrong.

When I expressed my discontent with aspects of our friendship, instead of creating an opportunity to connect and deepen our relationship, it made her turn on her heels, walk quickly away from me, and shut the door to our friendship. I realize that I’ve been moving through the stages of grief with this forty-year friendship. 

Denial

Since the breach first happened I’ve reached out a few times but there’s never been an invitation back. I’ve sent a few emails, dropped food when she’s been sick, sent an envelope of old photos, and texted. She’s texted back a clipped, “thanks” but never extended any olive branch of her own. I’ve been waiting, thinking, of course, this will change, but it hasn’t. 

Bargaining

I’ve spent a lot of time peeling away all the layers of our history, trying to rationalize what’s happening, trying to figure out what I’ve done wrong. I’ve thought that maybe just giving her some time would be enough for things to get back to normal. But I always end up back at the beginning with the same question, “Would I have done things differently if I knew she’d react like this?” My answer is always no. Our friendship was not working for me and I needed to say something. If I hadn’t told her how I was feeling the friendship would have ruptured in another way, a more passive and indirect way.

Depression

In the waiting, I’ve lost faith that there is a place of healing for us. And I have so many questions: Do I want to heal from this? Do I even want this friendship? Did we ever have a real friendship? I am aware that what I miss in the friendship is not the friendship itself, not the substance of what we talked about or the activities we did together. I have other dear friends who I see regularly with whom I can talk about my feelings, go on walks with, and have dinner with. What I miss about my old, long-time friend is the familiarity of our relationship, the predictability and comfort that came from our habituated daily conversations, and our shared history. The absence of this regular part of my life has left me sad and lonely, longing for the way things used to be. 

Anger

And now I’m angry. I imagine running into her on the street. I imagine her saying, “Hi Laura, how have you been.” I imagine looking at her with disbelief and then rage and screaming, “How have I been?!!! What the fuck is your problem?!” My imagination stops there. I can’t see beyond my anger. 

Her rejection of our friendship, her inability to engage in an adult conversation with me when when I shared my feelings enrages me. Her sustained silence conjures all the moments in my life when I have felt neglected, unseen and unheard and wraps them into a fireball that spews flames from my nostrils, ears, and eyes. 

Acceptance

But if I’m honest and I look at this friendship breakup through a lens of growth and personal evolution, I have to wonder if maybe the end of this friendship is the best thing for both of us. Maybe she knows more than me. Maybe she has accepted the problems in our friendship and is completely clear. Maybe she’s understood this for six months. 

So how do I release it? I long for closure — some way to know that the friendship is over. I’m waiting for that confrontation on the street or a letter or email to come to me. But maybe closure doesn’t happen in situations like this. It’s not a romantic breakup. We’re not splitting up our belongings and going our separate ways. 

But it is like a breakup in the sense that I still feel the absence. And like a breakup, time will heal this. It’s sad. I feel the loss every day when I walk by her house. Sometimes I see her in the window and I change directions because I can’t bear to see her face. 

It’s like a death, the end of something. And like any mourning, I have to move through the stages of grief and loss. I’m coming out of that period now. I see that I’ve been moving through those stages and I can see more clearly now. My friend is done with our friendship. She’s that person in the RomCom who’s just not that into me. 

And so it is that I come to this last stage of grief — acceptance. I face the truth, that I have to take this emotional next step, to move on, close my own door and fully say goodbye to this friendship. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Spinning a Web of Her Own

Last week my sixteen-year-old, daughter Lucia and I went on a road trip, just the two of us. Lucia's best friend thought this would be a disaster. She imagined the two of us in a car for hours on end would be a catastrophic power struggle. But it wasn't. It was one of the best trips we've ever had.

We drove over 1700 miles across three states and back. We drove through farmland, over mountains, past lakes, and rivers, through small towns and cities.  With just the two of us confined to one small car hour after hour, we breathed in the simplicity like two lazy monk seals napping on the dock. There was nothing to do but drive and talk.

There was a magical energy that permeated our little fiberglass bubble. Lucia asked question after question about life in general, about theoretical situations, about my experiences as a young person. I lapped up the experience of being with my daughter without the distraction of cell phones, school, or other people. I was aware as we drove and talked and laughed and were sometimes quiet that these were rare and special moments. Every once in a while I'd close my eyes and try to capture the feeling like a snapshot in my body.

When we got home Lucia went back to her true calling. Once the road trip was over it was time for her to get back to work being a sixteen-year-old. I tried not to take it personally that she couldn't get out of the house to drive herself anywhere without me. I understand on an intellectual level that Lucia's job right now is to create a world outside of her parents. 

In the days after we got home Lucia was rarely home. She'd sleep late and then pop into the car to drive to the drug store or Goodwill. After a brief stop home to drop the car she was off on her bike to go meet friends at the lake. Home for dinner and then down to her room to do her own thing. 

This need for privacy and autonomy felt like a stark contrast to the experience Lucia and I had on our road trip. As Lucia came in and out I imagined her like a spider weaving a web. Spinning her silk, she'd go out into the world alone, exploring and finding new places to land for a bit before coming back home. She was weaving a web or her own, a place where parents don't belong. 

Lucia is doing what all teenagers do. She is creating little road trips of her own, and coming back home to check-in. Like a spider, she is tiptoeing back and forth from adventure to safety, all the while logging her experiences to use as wisdom on her path towards adulthood. I, on the other hand, am deep into adulthood. I'm like a big heavy beetle who would destroy her web if I tried to traverse it. 

I thought I'd be sad when our magical road trip ended, but I'm not. I understand that there is a time and place for everything. When we first got home my inclination was to plan another trip like we had, to try and recapture it before too much time went by. But as I watch Lucia spinning her web, leaving the big old beetle at home, I remember what it was like to be that age.

I remember the compulsion for independence and privacy. I remember the feeling of freedom I had from being in charge of something, anything. Every time Lucia dashes off with a mumble of where she's going and when she'll be home I imagine her spinning a new line of silk for her web. Like any mother, I worry. As she's getting older, she taking on bigger and bigger adventures, growing her web further away from home. 

By the end of our road trip, Lucia felt confident and secure driving on mountains, superhighways, and country roads. She asked if I would be okay with her driving to Portland by herself this summer. "We'll see," I said, playing it cool while freaking out inside at the thought of her on the road alone.

But now that we're home I know I'll say yes to my little spider. Her web is expanding and she needs space to grow.



Monday, April 12, 2021

Swaddled No More


I remember many years ago when my younger sister tried to teach me to drive stick shift. She had a new white Ford pickup truck and we were driving to Iowa together. A very late bloomer, I had recently gotten my driver's license at twenty-two and was practicing driving with anyone who'd have me. My sister thought learning stick shift on the freeway would be easier than in the city where I lived. We started at a gas station outside of Chicago and by the next off-ramp she had booted me back into the passenger seat. I never did learn to drive stick shift.

When my other sister Katherine and I drove across the country a few months later I was driving in the left lane somewhere in North Dakota when she looked over at me and said, "You know you're not supposed to stay in the left lane right? It's just for passing." I didn't know that and there's lots more that I didn't know. I learned along the way, pushing through the fear with every new driving experience.

This week I drove 800 miles from Seattle to Northern California with my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia. We planned a much-needed getaway to see my sister and her two sons during her spring break. Like so many, we've missed our family during the last year of COVID and figured that this drive, though long, was worth a few days of being with them.

Lucia got her driver's license about a month ago and is a good in-city driver. But she's had minimal experience on freeways. On our first day we drove to Ashland, Oregon. Normally the trip would take about seven hours but with Friday traffic it took us over nine hours. Lucia drove the middle stretch of the trip and did great. She managed to pass big semis. She figured out how to yield to faster cars. She seemed relaxed and happy. After witnessing Lucia's highway driving for an hour or so I too relaxed and settled into the luxury of looking at the scenery and eating snacks.

Our second day would be another six hours. Lucia was eager to take the first leg and I was happy to let her do it.  We left Ashland and very shortly after entered a several-hour stretch of mountain highway around Mt. Shasta. This is the kind of driving I am most afraid of. Growing up in the midwest I wasn't regularly exposed to mountains and elevation. Though I've lived on the west coast for thirty years, driving on windy mountain roads still renders me panicky, rigid, and fearful. I lean into the windshield and grip the steering wheel with each mountain curve, settling behind slow-moving semis instead of cruising with the rest of the drivers.

With Lucia at the helm,  I quickly realized that my control tactics-- leaning in, white-knuckling, having a stare-down with the lines on the highway-- wouldn't serve me. I had no control over the car. I spent the first hour micro-managing Lucia. I told her when to speed up, when to slow down, when to pass. Lucia was patient at first but eventually became irritated.

"Mom," she said, "you are stressing me out."

"I'm sorry," I said, "this is the scariest kind of driving for me. It always has been. It really stresses me out."

"Yeah," she said, "but I'm not scared and your fear is making me more nervous."

Oh my god, I thought to myself, "she's not scared of this mountain highway." She's been driving for a month and this is just one of the many roads she's being introduced to at the beginning of her driving career. So many times, as a parent, I have wanted to put my daughter back into the swaddle that she used to love when she was a baby. When she has a hard time with a friend or in school, or during the many moments over the past year when her threshold for isolation and restriction has reached an edge, I've wanted to wrap her up and make her feel held, protected, and safe.

But here, now, as we drove, my beautiful, competent, comfortable daughter was not feeling unsafe.  She was loving the feel of this-- country music blaring, speeding through time, infinite blue sky above, massive mountains close in and in the distance. She was not afraid. She was alive. She was invigorated. In that moment I was the one who wanted to be swaddled. 

When we finally reached our destination, a house in the mountains outside of Sacramento, we had to travel up a winding one-lane, pot-holed, dirt road with a steep edge. Lucia was still driving and I could tell it was challenging. At one point another car was coming down the hill and Lucia had to navigate pulling around it. I saw us dropping off the edge, our Prius wedged between two massive Sequoias. But we made it. She'd driven the entire second leg. We were safe and sound at our destination. 

We have eight hundred miles to go on our journey home and I understand myself and my daughter a little bit better. The main thing I can see clearly now is that my fear is not her fear. I see her differently now. She does not want to be swaddled anymore. She cannot go back there. Like a butterfly who's no longer living in her chrysalis, she won't fit anymore. Her wings are too wide. Her desire to fly is what guides her now. 

I can't say that I won't still worry and back seat drive a little bit. I'm still a mother and my instincts to protect are strong and everpresent. Lucia still has things to learn and there are things I can teach her. But I can let go a little bit too. I can celebrate this new stage of my daughter's life, this time where her wings are open and strong, carrying her to new and wonderful places. I'm looking forward to the drive home. I don't have to grit my teeth through the mountain roads. I'll let Lucia drive while I settle back in the passenger seat and enjoy the ride. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Aging with Grace


This past week I went to Chicago to spend time with my mother and stepfather. My mother is 80 and my stepfather is 93. About fifteen years ago they moved to a 100-unit apartment a block from the house where I grew up. They have a vibrant community of neighbors and are wholly independent.

Flying to Chicago was my first time traveling since February 2020, the last time I saw my parents. The travel part of the trip was a harrowing experience. Sitting in a packed plane for two four-hour stretches was the most exposed I've been to the world in over a year; it was a physical and emotional challenge to be around that intense infusion of humanity.

But my time in Chicago was relaxing, easy, and calm. Every morning I took a long walk around my neighborhood, a dense square mile on the south side of Chicago. Having been born and raised there, I know every square inch. I walked south and west, then north and back east to Lake Michigan before turning south again past the Museum of Science and Industry to my parents' apartment. 

No matter which streets I took there was a memory. On every block, there was the apartment building where a friend had lived or the park where we used to hang out as teenagers or the bank where I got my first money order. As familiar as the neighborhood felt, it has changed too. With every recognizable sighting, there was something I hadn't seen before.  The space of the bar where my friends and I hung out on our visits home from college was now a yoga studio and the bike shop where I got my first bike was an investment firm.

Every day I walked the block of the home where I grew up. Because my mother never loses contact with anyone, she is still friends with everyone on the street. Most of the people who lived on the block when I was a kid four decades ago have moved on. My mom is still in touch with those who are still alive and can tell me a little bit about what the old families are up to. Mom is also friendly with all of the new families with young kids who've moved in.

During my morning walks my memories were constant, like the Small World ride at Disneyland where you travel all over the world seeing different sights. Like watercolor brush strokes, I remembered a little bit about a lot of people, places, and experiences. Walking by my elementary school, I passed the apartment buildings of two friends. I was reminded of the days when I'd go to Jorie's basement apartment after school or to Meredith's sun-filled third-floor apartment to have lunch during fourth grade. 

Every day my parents and I would eat our meals together. My stepfather Al, mostly quiet, would ask a few questions about what my mother and I were up to for the day. He savored every bite of food, eating huge quantities and commenting on how delicious it was. His body has become very small and it was a surprise each meal to witness how much he consumed. My mother, a fount of energy, would sit patiently next to Al, craning her head to listen to a comment or a question. Often Al would forget that he'd already asked the same question five minutes earlier and ask it again. Mom calmly responded as many times as he needed her to. A few times Al tried to articulate a big idea about days past. On one occasion he tried to express his disappointment about the way research in his field of sleep research was going. When I asked him to explain more he couldn't. He didn't get frustrated but simply said, "I know what I want to say inside but I can't explain it."

My mom, still vital and filled with energy and always a collector of information sat in stark contrast to Al. During dinner, if the name of an old friend came up, Mom dashed to the counter to get her phone so she could look up where they were living now and what they were doing. She is still collecting data, feeding the machine of her mind with new input every hour. Her memories are sharp and vibrant. 

During my time in Chicago one of Al's colleagues, a woman younger than my mother, died of cancer. Mom tried to refresh Al's memory about who she was, reminding him how she used to bring her baby daughter into the lab and how she arrived in Chicago from California in a light blue Camero. Al could acknowledge bits and pieces of the history but not the full vision.  There were lots of moments like this-- Mom or I painting a picture of a person or experience from times past and Al participating in the memory as much as he was able.

As the days ticked by, my short visit with my parents coming to an end, I became aware of the stages of memory I was experiencing with my parents. Every day I walked the streets of this familiar neighborhood where so many of my foundational memories live and breathe. My ability to recall different people, places and experiences is still very possible. As I walked, different images, smells, and sounds and sensations were enough to bring me back to a moment in time thirty, forty, even fifty years ago. But I don't live there anymore. I haven't added memories from this place that shaped me for over thirty-five years. When I visit this beautiful place that I knew so well many, many years ago,  I am transported to the past.  My memories are like a vacation into my childhood. 

My mother is still very much alive in this little village, an elder now, holding memories and sharing them with the new families who live there. She is like the bridge between me and Al. Mom holds so many memories of the past-- from her own life, from the lives of my sisters and me,  and from Al's life.  Al is at the age now where his mind only holds what it needs to hold. Like muddy water strained through a sieve, all the memories from Al's life that he doesn't need right now are filtered out. What he has now is just the clear water that gets him through each day. He holds the important memories, the deeply rooted ones. What he remembers now is how he feels, what he appreciates, who he loves.

When I left for the airport I hugged and kissed Al goodbye. As we were driving Al called my mom's cell phone and we put him on speaker. "Where are you?" he asked my mom. 

"I'm taking Laura to the airport honey. Remember, you were going to take a nap," she replied.

"But I didn't get to say goodbye," Al said.

"Al," I piped in, "We did say goodbye. I gave you a hug and a kiss but maybe you forgot because you were getting ready to take a nap."

"Oh," Al replied softly in his old Bronx accent, "Well, I really enjoyed seeing you kid. I love you so much."

In my forty-plus years of knowing Al, he has never been so unabashedly effusive and open. In that moment I saw clearly how memory works. Memories come in layers. We make them as we evolve. As we age,  we keep some of the memories while others fall away. In the end, we only hold onto what we need. 

 

Goodbye Old Friend

“I always thought you were a bitch.” I’ve heard that statement from several of my closest friends. I used to be very shy and through my twen...