Is This Love?

 

Chill candle, found in my Mom's fridge.
Photo by Phyllis Capanna

The working title of this post, up until right before publication, was Hit and Run. I received a communication through this website via the handy contact form on the Saturday after I published my last post. It was from the high school friend mentioned in that post. You know, the one who I said had slept with one of our teachers. It turns out she lied. And for exactly the same reason people in my community have accused the high schooler here: to prevent herself from failing out of high school. My ex-friend said in her letter to me that of the three people she told, one spoke up, and “due to the wronged individual’s incredibly level-headed response and extra time taken to steer me closer to a road of ongoing self-accountability, it was an authentically pivotal life-changing experience.”

Wow. As my ex-friend rightly points out, her story actually illustrates a completely other point about the fall-out from abuse (in her case, she claims it happened prior to high school), and one that I was not intending to delve into in that post. (Not to mention illustrating the differences between how such situations were handled in the 1970s and how they are handled now.) Interestingly, though, her revelation has served to pull me further down into the dim corridors of memory of myself at that age, and has helped me understand some things about myself that are now painfully clear:

I have historically tended to discount my own perceptions in favor of what someone I am intimate with tells me is true. I am guilty of misplaced loyalty. I am able to compartmentalize experiences and perceptions in the interest of not rocking the boat. I am a slave to comfort  at the expense of my own aliveness.

I went out with a guy who turned out to be a compulsive liar (who, weirdly, shares the same birthdate as my ex-friend from high school.) In that situation, my other friends all got it way before I did, and had a little hobby of telling “David” stories so fantastic that they would be gasping with laughter making them up.

What did I do with his unbelievable tales? I put them in a file marked “hold” and carried on with the relationship. What did I get out of the relationship? Cue the music: Someone To Watch Over Me. But not really. What I really got was another little-bird-with-a-broken-wing boyfriend to add to my collection. Which made me, what? Dr. Doolittle? Florence Nightingale? Or, just kind of misguided about what relationships are all about?

With both these June 30th-born liars, I buried my perceptions to protect my image of them and to protect the “love” I was getting from the relationships. I guess I felt that it was really cool to have someone (anyone) paying attention to me and including me in their little world or wonders. There’s nothing like a relationships with a “colorful” person to distract you from being in a relationship with yourself, in your own life.

What I’ve done is not the same thing as giving people the benefit of the doubt. It’s people-pleasing, a different kind of lying. It’s codependency, as corrosive to the myself as it is to the relationship. Remember the riddle about the two guardians each guarding a different path, one of whom always tells the truth, and one of whom always lies? The riddle is, what question do you ask that, when they answer, you will know which path to take? The thing I am angriest about is that in choosing to believe a lie I became complicit in it. What question, indeed, shall I ask myself to pull me back from that abyss?

At first I was royally pissed that after sending me this bomb shell, my ex-friend disabled the email account she used to access the contact form on my website. It was the line, “There’s no need for you to respond directly to me promptly or otherwise. At least from my point of view” that sent me to that emotional whiplash place, because in fact, there was no way to respond to her promptly or otherwise. Another lie. A subtle one, perhaps, but a lie. By its very similarity to our past interactions, laced with manipulation of one kind or another, it lead me to vividly recall my part in the story I told last week.

I doubted her story about the teacher, and I overrode that doubt, telling myself a good friend would believe. I remember that in addition to being impressed, I was also confused and scared. Did all men have voracious appetites for high school girls? Having suffered the death of my own father (who was coincidentally a high school teacher) I was ready to believe anything about a world I had once trusted. I was ready to believe that his death somehow made the whole world more chaotic and that other people’s bad behavior was evidence of the unraveling I felt.

Besides, wasn’t it best to stick with your girlfriend, just in case she could come to your aid in a time of need? And wasn’t it kind of cool, anyway?

I’m not implying that I could have chosen any differently back then. I am seeing anew how lost and confused I was, gravitating to those who were, too. I’m also not implying that the girl in my town lied. I haven’t met this young woman. I have no gut in her story, no basis for one. I think that’s an appropriate time to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Besides the amends that I must make to myself by steering clear of insanity when I see it (and, yes, we each get to define that for ourselves), and by coming clean with my own admissions of failure, I also wish I could say to my lying friends from the past, “I did you wrong. I should have called you on your shit.” Isn’t that what I would hope a friend would do for me? The next time, if there is one, I am willing to betray myself for the sake of appearances, I must ask myself, “Is this love?”

Today I have compassion for the lost soul that I was as a teen, and although I have been caught in and stung by their deceptions, I also feel for those confused people who felt they had to lie rather use their amazingly sharp minds in their own best interests.

If it isn’t love, it’s as close as I can get today.

PhyllisSig

p.s Track my progress with NaNoWriMo on the sidebar to the right! I’m having fun!

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