That is all I keep thinking this week. It is a refrain. Damaged. So fucking damaged.
A very close friend said she had to step away from our friendship this week. I am left reeling, confused, unsure of what I did. When you first alienate someone with your grief, you say, "Perhaps it is about them." You invent stories about their decision and their issues. Then the second, then the third. And you have to start saying, "What am I doing here? How am I pushing these people away?" I am an analytical sort. I like to tinker, take things apart, and then put them back together. I have done this with my psyche, for years. And yet, this flummoxes me. I read my words, my actions, myself, and I see a selfish person, yes. A self-involved person. Someone who takes space when I need it, who asks for a friend when I need that. A year of narcissism and grief. Lucy's year. But I listened to others talk of their lives, their marriages, their troubles with success, too. This year, I have never tried to hurt a friend, never been insincere or unkind. I have not been malicious. But I recognize, there are far more ways to hurt someone than on purpose.
Sometimes I think grief is a filter for everyone's best and worst attributes. At times, I have been at peace with the death of my child, framing myself amongst a long list of suffering and bereaved mothers, immune to the "why" questions. Other times, I feel so picked on by the universe. I feel selected and punished. This grief has eradicated my brain to mouth plumbing catch. I am not afraid of alienating someone now with my grief, because I already see them as so very different than me. So I just put it out there most days. "I am sad today. Sad because my daughter is dead." I am not afraid to disagree with someone who tries to inform me of issues around loss when they themselves have not lost a child. I grasp the immediacy of my emotions, because something about them feels important now.
When others walk under this lens, it also exposes a deep part of themselves. Like airport full-body scans, the roll of birthing fat tucked under your "Not Your Daughter" jeans becomes evident to the person behind the other side of the monitor. That screen is suddenly there, whether you like it or not, when your child dies.
"Pay no attention to the man behind the screen." It scrawls across the projection people put out into the world, like the metatext of daily life.
Now, you are that man: the screener. At first, you see friends slink away, say nothing, not even a bloody "I'm sorry." You question why they aren't there. And then you notice the frame of the screen. Hidden carefully behind irreverent jokes and witty charms, you suddenly realize how afraid that person is of death and of losing their loved one. That their lack of communication isn't about you, but about them and their fear. Like the naked screen, you see all their actions, their bravado, their false arrogance, as their carefully constructed ruse to hide the total normal fear of their world crashing around them.
This was not my friend.
Yes, we have had a relationship fraught with drama. After Lucy died, months after our friendship fell apart, she came back into my life. She wrote me a letter of apology. She told me how much she wanted to grieve with me. She was not afraid, she said, of this emotion. It has been almost a year since I received that letter. It took me a while to open back up to her. Our break-up came at a bad time--my pregnancy with Lucy, a car-accident that left me with a broken collarbone and absolute fear of the mortality of my child. I blamed her, irrationally and unwittingly, on Lucy's death. The stress and strife of our friendship breaking down, and yet, the truth is, she was always one of those people with whom I could completely open up and be honest. She looked at my ugliest emotions and said they were beautiful. Slowly, I began trusting she was here, not reading my grief through her lens, but trying to love me and support me. To be my friend in a way she could not be months earlier. When I looked at her through the screen, she looked beautifully unadorned.
That screen, the full-body scan screen, it shows us so much: narcissism, resentments, grief-mongering, bravery, kindness, compassion, love. That she is walking away now feels so frightening. Part of my hesitation in letting her into my life again in the spring after Lucy died was that I couldn't bear another loss. I had lost this friend in the fall, then my father-in-law, then my daughter, then my abuelita. One more loss, I thought, would be it. If she was here, and then our friendship suffered the same fate again, I'm not sure what it would do to my trust, my vulnerability, my ability to be a good friend to anyone. I already knew what it was like to lose her once. Terribly painful and difficult, not just for me, but for my husband who endured my sleeplessness and crying.
Sometimes when your worst fears are realized, you are left in a place of emancipation: freedom from the fear of losing your closest friends. Here I am. But what is left of me? Where once I was an exposed heart, absorbing the suffering of others; suddenly I am a person with a heart two sizes too small.
I try desperately hard to not write about people who read this space, even though it can mean leaving out large, important parts of my life. She used to read here. And I feel terrible writing of this, though I do not think she has read my blog in a long time. I am still going to omit the details of our exchange. I can only say that I have never felt so gravely misunderstood. I wanted to see her simply naked on that screen, and yet, I cannot trust that what I saw, or now see, is the truth of our friendship.
I am reminded of this quote:
This is where tenderness comes in. When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut doors and feel resentful or we can touch on that throbbing quality.... There is definitely something tender and throbbing about groundlessness.
Nothing is working. Things are shaky. I feel groundless, and yet, today, somewhat free, tender and throbbing. Sometimes someone's lack of trust has nothing to do with your trustworthiness. For now, I am feeling on the verge of something great, a revelation of importance. I have set up a mirror on the other side of the screen, trying to find my hidden bombs.