I stared at the wood in the dark corner of the bar we inhabited yesterday afternoon. Wondered briefly if it was painted or stained. Then I glanced at Friend, closed my eyes and ducked my head. Good Lord, this was hard. No wonder people avoid breaking up or having discussions when a relationship hits a glitch.
The end result is that I can’t do it. I can’t. It’s selfish and depends heavily on how I look to others and is based on the terrible fear that if I cross the line into overly quirky, I won’t find someone to love me. It feels like stepping away from the possibility of getting married – of dating and sex and someone who will be obligated to love and support me forever.
“I can’t push that farther away.” I tried to explain, not crying because I don’t do that in front of people very well and watching tears fall from her jaw as she tried to explain and fix and make things normal again. I let my stomach hurt, looked down to try to think. “I know it’s not true.” I offered. “I know. But it feels like I’d be consciously deciding to stay alone for the indefinite future. To let cats take up all that space I’d been saving just feels wrong.”
“Then why did you offer? I was surprised when you did because I know all of that – that you want to be married. That you value your space. So why did you offer?” She asked, not angry, just confused. And that’s the sticking point. She didn’t ask if she could move in. I offered. Without thinking about what it would mean if she actually wanted to - the logistical and emotional ramifications. My experience with Friend is that when she’s here, I’m better. It’s still quiet and relatively calm. My animals are happy to have her around. There’s someone to talk to. The simple presence of someone else in the house is helpful.
“I’m so lonely.” I said, and looked toward the ceiling to stem the tears that had arrived with that statement, opened the package of Kleenex in my bag and dabbed at my eyes. Wished I’d ordered a red wine instead of white with lunch so I had a bit more alcohol in my system.
“I know.” She said softly, nodding in understanding.
We’d finished our potatoes and I drank my wine too quickly. It was sweet and light and I very much hoped it would lift the heaviness a bit. It didn’t. I acknowledged that I felt awful and it wasn’t going to ease for the next little while.
She had two points where she felt badly about the situation. “I don’t think badly of you. I wish you weren’t thinking so badly of yourself. It’s OK.” She said, and yet there were two points. Over and over and over. The same two points.
She’s not worth the inconvenience or weirdness that four cats would elicit for me. And I asked her to give two of them up. The latter is just a failure to understand each other. I still don’t think I fully appreciate what those animals mean to her. She said she never meant to have four, but for a number of reasons, these are hers to love and care for and live with. That’s understandable. I don’t get it completely, but I can understand enough to accept that I hurt her feelings when I suggested it. I have reasons that I felt it was OK to do so. But they end up sounding like excuses, so I won’t go into it. It’s not what really bothers me anyway.
The point where I feel badly – heavy and awful and deeply regretful – is that I did make an offer. She had a problem that I could fix, so I wanted to fix it. There was an instant reaction to the situation where I look at many things in her life and wonder why it’s so hard for her right now. And to ignore that is beyond me. To ask her to listen to my problems at work or hear this funny story or go to lunch with me and to not acknowledge her concerns and worries and happy stories is ridiculous. That’s not how I operate.
And despite any difficulties she’s having, I still love having her around. I think she’s incredibly smart and funny and wonderful.
“Favorite Friend is here!” I announce when she comes to my house. Chienne adores her to distraction and is beside herself with joy when Friend graces us with her presence. The dog just loves her so much. Is happy when she’s around. Expresses said happiness with whimpers of intense elation as she turns and jumps and tries to give kisses. And I can greet Friend with such laughing joy because I’m happy she’s here too. I feel warm and safe and not so lonely anymore. Because someone I know and love is around and that makes life better.
So when presented with a difficult decision about rent and leases and places to live, I thought, “Live here! I love having you around and it would be good for both of us!” And it wasn’t that I made the offer while willing her to refuse it. I meant it. I just didn’t realize I would react so strongly against the idea of having so many pets.
“Is it symbolic?” She asked at one point.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” I offered, shifting positions in the booth where we sat and stared at each other across the table. “Having a roommate at my age feels a bit odd – especially given that I want a man to move in at some point. Was completely mentally prepared for such an event just a few months ago if things had happened much differently. But a roommate plus a whole bunch of cats? I just can’t.”
I watched her nod. She doesn’t really understand and I can’t explain it all that well – I don’t know that I get it either. I just picture cats – lots of cats – in my house and I cringe. They’re pretty – slight of body, ears too big for their tiny heads, somehow presenting a strength and elegance despite their delicate appearance. I do love the two I know – can remember feeling depressed and having them both lying on my torso as I reclined in a chair. The warm weight – the soft purring – the total acceptance as they relaxed and slept. It helped me.
As pleasant as that was, I was experiencing the opposite of such warmth and peace with the cold discomfort of facing someone I’d hurt. I basically said, “I love you. Please move in and let me help with one of your problems. I can, but more than that, I want to. Because you’re very important to me.” And while I knew she had 4 cats – there was never any deceptive secrecy – I’ve seen them, I’ve always been aware of them – I got stuck there when an idea started to become reality. Which isn’t fair – I should have considered the situation more carefully, not offered a reasonable solution that made her feel relieved that something was going right, then yanked it away over a fact that always existed.
For after making a generous, lovely statement, I then said. “Oh. I can’t. I do love you and I do wish I could help. But not that much. Only if you get rid of two of them. And if you can’t do that – change some basic fact about yourself – then I’m out. I find that upon closer consideration, I don’t like you enough. I don’t want to help that badly. Sorry about that.”
So it’s that – that last statement – that weighs me down. Not that I won’t live with 6 pets. That I can’t find a way to make it work for a good friend. For the person who is likely the most important and vital in my world right now. And so I feel awful because I can’t do what I feel I should. And I’m disappointed – mightily so – that she won’t be moving in. I cried when I saw she left a half empty bottle of Gatorade in my refrigerator because I don’t think she’ll come back to retrieve it. I don’t know that I would if I were her. And I liked having her here. I really, really did.
Somewhere in those moments – as our lunch plates were taken away, while I finished my wine and started to sip my water, when I shredded my copy of the receipt and watched Friend play with the label she’d torn from her beer bottle, as we looked at each other – sometimes speaking and trying to explain, other times staring as we wondered what there was to say – I felt badly for Peter. I found it odd that I should think of him, but he’s my most recent experience with something of this nature. Having been so hurt by someone I liked so much, I understand where Friend is coming from. You don’t want to be angry or disappointed or hurt – there’s this need to understand, to still feel good about this person you thought was so important and wonderful.
So somewhere in the conversation that goes something like…
Pained: So you hurt me.
Cause of Pain: Yes. I know. I’m so sorry.
Pained: [Explanation of how the hurt was caused, why it hurt so much, how they’re still stuck there]
Cause of Pain: Yes. I understand. I really do. I’m so very sorry.
Pained: But why? Why didn’t you think harder? Be more careful? Understand that I was already in a bad place? Help me understand.
Cause of Pain: I can’t. I don’t know. I wish I’d done things differently. I’m a bad person – knowing that is deeply unpleasant. I’m sorry.
Pained: But it hurt! And I didn’t expect you to hurt me. Let me tell you the specifics again. Maybe then you can offer something that will aid my understanding.
Cause of Pain: I don’t know. I’ve explained it as best I can. I don’t like it – don’t know that I completely understand it. It happened and I’m sorry. So sorry.
Pained: But there’s this point! Where it could have been handled better and things would have been OK…
I’ve been Pained. Unable to see past the single point of badness of the situation. Stuck on the moment where hurt could have been severely lessened with a bit of thought and compassion. I haven’t been able to get past it with Peter. I thought about it yesterday – if I was done being angry, if I understood, if I didn’t feel the need to deal with those thoughts anymore. I almost got there, then I remembered I’m writing the book. I want to finish the book, so I’m keeping those feelings for now. But not much longer, I think. I feel badly for him – being in this position – wrong and unable to fix it though there are explanations and reasons – and not seeing a way out.
The choices at this point are to say, “Eh. Screw it. I’m just done. This is too hard and you weren’t all that important anyway.” Or to hang in. To accept that I’ll feel badly and awkward around Friend for a while, but hope that I can get past it. Hope that she can forgive me at some point and we can be good again. I wasn’t that important to Peter – he opted out, and I can certainly understand his doing so. I don't have bad feelings about that at all. But I don’t feel that option is viable for me with Friend. I love her. I very much want her around. She’s very, very important to me and it hurts me to know that I can’t find a way to match actions to words here. That my decision means she’s always aware that there are limits to what I would do for her.
Which sucks. And makes me feel really badly.
I wasn’t aware that any of you had sent her email when I was doing so badly. I knew I had a lot of mail waiting when I managed to get off the bathroom floor, but I hadn’t realized there had been contact with anyone other than me. I tend to arouse protective instincts in people. I do it on purpose sometimes, but it’s such a personality trait that I find it’s relatively easy for people to feel badly for me in general – to want to help because I’m so sad sometimes.
I wasn’t trying to make you take sides in this situation because I was really wrong. There’s no getting around that and if I managed to mislead you with this post or the previous two, that’s my failing. I did something bad to someone I love. That’s the basic truth behind the situation. So the only emails or comments that should be directed at Friend are of the “sorry you got stuck with kind of a sucky friend. It seems like she might have moments where she’s worthwhile though, so good luck with that.” variety. Please. And thank you.