Sunday, June 03, 2007

Running It Out

I was never athletic. Being neither particularly coordinated nor enthusiastic, I opted out of sports as much as possible. Yet gym classes forced participation.

When I would be so lucky as to hit a fly ball that was, in my mind, easily caught, I would happily trot back to the bench to await my next dreaded turn or an opportunity to trudge out to the field a pray that no ball came my way.

“Run it out!” Miss Beckman would always huff at me. “What if someone drops it? Then you could beat the throw to first!”

But, I would think silently as I shrugged apologetically at her, I don’t want to beat the throw to first. I want to sit back down and avoid sweating or otherwise embarrassing myself.

In the event that there is a metaphorical first base and I do want to get there safely, I think letting situations play out while giving full hope and effort to a pleasing outcome is…something. Not wise, perhaps, since many of us battle steep odds and risk great pain in doing so. Not even particularly brave since the effort toward an unlikely goal seems irresistible to some of us. It's not really a choice so much as a compulsion.

Human. Perhaps the mad dash to first – expending all energy in a sprint with arms pumping – even while watching your ball drift easily into someone’s glove - is human. After all, we are smart enough to know that lack of effort means certain failure. So in ducking your head and hurtling down the baseline, there is expressed some hope in yourself and the world and chances that even when things look bad, if the effort is there, then maybe. Maybe something will change and the ball will thud to the ground and we’ll beat the throw.

I spoke to Rachel last night – a very dear friend from college who married a man I happen to hate based upon how he treats her. We spoke of work – she recently earned her Masters and she wanted to thank me for the gift I sent – and families since we know each other’s parents and siblings. We eventually turned to our current turns at bat.

“I want out.” I said when she asked of my job. “It’s just needlessly difficult here. I don’t like the systems they have set up to deal with scheduling and meetings and… I don’t know. I feel like so many people are miserable that they take out their negative energy on others. And I’m one of the others a bit too often. While I know that if I were better and happier, I would likely perceive the situation differently, I’m just not. So I want to leave in another year.

“But,” I continued thoughtfully, “I have to resubmit my grant in July. I have ideas on exactly what to cut and what to add, so it’s easy enough to throw it back to NCI and see what happens. In the meantime, I’m trying to do enough work and meet enough people so that I can get out of here and head north. We’ll see how it plays out. I’m just unhappy a lot of the time and I know I need to work to fix that, but I’m too damn tired to do much about it.”

“That describes me.” She offered in a voice that is both familiar and foreign. Familiar in that we’ve spent hours and hours talking. I sat with her in a multimedia lab while she did some complicated artsy project and we talked. We giggled while I devoted half my attention to Physics homework or differential equations. We sang Matchbox 20 songs when her radio was broken. We went to hockey games and shared fantasies about our favorite players. We were fixtures in each others lives, and I remember and wish for a moment that I could go back and let myself appreciate what I had when living with my best friends.

Yet there is a loss of sparkle in her voice. The confidence and hope and some of the beauty has dissipated over the years since we graduated. Her husband has historically been an asshole, but she loves him and doesn’t want to be alone, so she stays and loses part of what she was to gain, I suppose, who she has become.

“We’re not doing very well.” She sighed when I asked. “He got another DUI and since we was driving on a revoked license anyway, it’s really not good.”

“I thought you were driving him everywhere.” I said softly. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

“I take him to work, but then on weekends, he ends up driving himself around for some reason. So he goes out on Sundays and plays baseball then drinks with his friends. All day. Every Sunday. I dread it all week because he’s mean when he’s drunk. He says awful things and then we fight and it’s just not good. So I called him at 9:30 one Sunday and he said he wasn’t coming home for a couple more hours. I told him I thought that was a bad idea, but he hung up on me. So a few hours later, he called and woke me up to tell me he was on his way. As we were talking, he got pulled over and I listened to the whole thing. How he didn’t have a license when she asked for it, when he said yes when she asked if he’d been drinking. She was nice enough to wait while I came to get the truck, then I watched her load him in the car and take him to jail.”

“Wow.” I said, not quite able to imagine watching someone I loved screw up over and over, undaunted by punishments while I was humiliated by the very idea of them.

“Yes.” She agreed. “So we have a lawyer – I was going to go to all these consultations and then I decided I was tired. I work all the time and if he can’t care enough to avoid trouble, I can’t keep spending all this time and money getting him out of it. I’m just tired.”

“I know.” I offered. “I’m so sorry.”

“He came home last weekend, and was drunk again. I was already asleep, but I rolled over and asked him what was important – drinking with his friends or peace in our marriage. He can’t have both anymore – I just can’t do it. And he said he wasn’t going to stop drinking.”

We both sat in silence, letting that statement linger, and I sighed.

“I know you don’t want to leave. I don’t know what the right answer is here, Rachel. I do think a therapist would help you clarify your feelings and options and goals. So I’d call your human resources department and get some names. It really might help.”

“I just don’t understand how I can stay with someone who has so little love or respect for me. But I can’t leave either – I don’t know if it’s the right decision. So even though I don’t think he’ll change, what if he does? I don’t think we’re going to get pregnant – we’ve been trying for 18 months now – but what if I do? I really want a baby. I just don’t know how to end things when I love him.”

I thought and made sympathetic comments and reiterated that I don’t know the right answer. It has long hurt me that she’s unhappy and in a relationship with someone who so utterly fails to appreciate her wonderful qualities. He says ugly things and cheats and puts her last, and she takes them to heart, feeling badly each time she strikes back and spends a night alone while he sleeps in his truck. It’s overly dramatic and hurtful and I hate it. I have distanced myself from her for years now because I just can’t watch her to do this to herself.

I do, however, understand the need to let the situation play out. When given someone who didn’t like me very much at all, I loved him too much to let go until left with no other option. I have not, despite numerous pieces of advice from friends, walked away from this post-doc because I wanted it to turn around. I wanted a couple of papers or projects or pieces of knowledge that indicated this was something other than a colossal mistake.

In my case, it worked, at least to some degree. I got some help and have rebounded to create a body of work that is less than it could be, but far better than nothing. Likewise, I’m not willing to advocate Rachel taking a step to end her marriage unless she’s ready and certain enough to act.

“Promise me that you’ll call on Monday.” She said before we hung up. “That you’ll talk to a new therapist because the old one helped you. You can be happier and work harder and do more. I know you can, and I so want you to be happy.”

“You call too.” I said, wishing I could help and support her in some meaningful way. “Talk to someone about where you are and where you hope to go. I love you.”

In the end, I suppose there are two choices. If I end up back on the bench, still gazing longingly upon first base, be it work or love or whatever, what will I do differently when my turn comes around again? And if I beat the odds and circumstances and faith and skill allowed me to be standing on the base that looks fluffy but somehow is not (always disappointing to a young Katie), how the hell am I going to get to second? And do I really want to get there at all? Letting a situation – especially one that is painful – play out is one thing, but maintaining the status quo for something that’s not worthwhile after all is just silly. The trick, I think, is being capable of distinguishing to two while you’re involved in the given situation.


K said...

What a terrible story. I sure hope your friend gets some help. My sister is in a similar situation. Her "boyfriend" just keeps stringing her along. They live in a world of smoke-and-mirrors. Sadly, it's the kids that suffer when the parents are too selfish to realize what they are doing.

I hope things turn around at work--I'm the first to tell you that I am terrible about sitting on the bleacher waiting to see what round two brings. I just can't keep striking out! At least you have the bravery to possibly stay another year. I admire that.

Propter Doc said...

Wow, I really feel for your friend. I think your metaphor for what a relationship or postdoc can be like is really on the mark. I felt the same about ball games at school, and feel very similar about my postdoc. I'm hanging on for as long as possible, hoping to salvage something from it, but it is slowly changing who I am and how I interact with the world. Not in a positive way either.

I hope, for everyone, that things work out for the best in the end.

doc-in-training said...


I sincerely hope that everything will eventually work out for the best for you and your friend.


Psycgirl said...

I feel sorry for your friend. She was able to offer 2 choices to her husband so clearly (drink or peace in marriage) but can't see the choices so clearly herself (Do you want to be happy and fulfilled or stay in a loveless marriage?)

When you talk about wanting to leave your post doc, it always resonates with me. I never left a gradute schooling situation I was miserable in, because I too wanted to turn it around. I wanted to make something of it, find some peace, and not have it be a waste of time. Thankfully, I stuck to it and I managed to do that. It sounds like you are accomplishing a lot so you are able to do the same thing. It used to bother me when my friends would say "Just leave then. Its not worth your unhappiness," because things are never that black and white.

The Contessa said...

I, of course, am the last person who should offer up a comment here.

But I will anyway.... I know exactly where you are with Rachel. I have spent 15 years watching my best friend play out a life with someone who was not good for her.

At some point, I distanced for the same reasons. That lasted a few years and then I said, dammit. That's my BESTEST friend out there. There is NO WAY I am letting that man get between us. So I bit the bullet and started calling every Saturday afternoon.

It was really awkward at first, but I persevered and we really got back to where we were BH ( before Husband). It took work I won't lie. For both. But we got there and when she finally left him, we had to re-build all over again because she was now in a different place.

Your parallels are always amazing to me. You draw on such unique memories and experiences. I think you have done some amazing work with Dr. Counsellor and you are so incredibly productive at work and doing so well.

I understand it all. I have been in it, around it, distanced from it and in it again.

The bottom line is when you love people you need to do what's best for them but what's best for you. Anything you decide has a consequence attached to it as well as a reward. YOu just have to decide if that's something you can live with if it doesn't go the way that you want.

I sat back and really thought through both the rewards and consequences both with my best friend as well as some more recent circumstances. I know what I gain and I know what I lose. I accept the risk for now and as we move forward it continues to be evaluated.

It's a calculated risk that we take when we love people. Happiness is not an every day emotion. Happiness is something we need to work at. Happiness in work, in our homes, in our families and in our relationships.

As usual, you hit the nail on the head. I "see" the connections and recognize the messages.

I add your friend to my prayers as her troubles are really just beginning. I'm so sorry that she is in this position. I hope this works out for her.

I react the same way - try to work it out and make something good come out of a situation that makes you unhappy. I do it with my job each day. I love what I do I just don't love who I do it for. But leaving??? not yet. Not time. I would rather play this out.

You're brilliant and I love reading your posts!!!

Post a Comment