I just got back from the pub where I met my friend, Joe, for a beer. Everyone should have a friend like Joe. He’s smart and funny. Tells a good story. Always seems to have just done something fun or is planning it. He’s learning to dance because he likes to dance and he’s studying French. He’s just nice as hell. Hard to believe the guy is 23.
It doesn’t bother me. I’m not an ageist. I honestly believe that someone can be great at 23 or ar 83. I’m too old to hope to be around when Joe’s 83 but I hope he’s still growing his hair long and telling good stories when he is.
When we met at work he was really shy. I’m not. So we struck up a friendship. We always seemed to talk about books or music. I knew the great old books, he knew the great new music. Not a bad trade off.
Tonight, I could tell he was upset about the cancer diagnosis. We haven’t really had a chance to sit down since I got the news. He came by when I was recovering from surgery, but I wasn’t very chipper and I think I was still suffering from shell shock. That kind of news will do it.
Anyway, tomorrow is my double dose of chemo. The 6 hour stretch. I thought tonight would be a good night to sit in a pub and have a yarn or two. I love a good conversation, back and forth. An argument in the best sense of the word.
Poor Joe, though. He seemed distracted. Usually we just get right to it. Find a topic and tear away at it. Tonight we tried the Arab Spring, environmental issues, pizza, micro brews, there was talk about his trip to Vancouver BC to participate in a group dance lesson. Some pictures on his phone. But disjointed.
Finally conversation drifted to relationships and the good and bad ones we’ve experienced. Not necessarily the ones you love and lose, but all those crazy relationships that we drag around with us. Not sure how to put them down. How to move away from them, how much damage can be sustained before you are reduced to something inessential.
Joe me about an aunt of his who was crazy enough to disrupt the lives of everyone around her, but not certifiable. He told me about her panic attacks, her paranoia, her worry about chemical trails in the skies, her certainty of the toxicity of certain innocuous everyday items (air, grass, her Grandfathers oxygen tank) her endless manipulation of the truth, some tiny detail of truth, that could cause chaos. Then she contracted leukemia.
Joe paused for a second or two when he told me that. I said ‘Poor lady…’ or something equally banal and Joe surprised me. He said life was better without her around. Better for everyone. Her husband, her brother, Joe’s Mom, Joe…no one was sorry anymore. It had been a year and it was nice not having to wonder what was going to disrupt the family today or tomorrow or next year. He seemed almost angry. No, not angry. Defensive. I could see he felt guilty saying it, but I’m glad he felt he could say it to me. Sometimes you can carry that shit around for years. I knew a little jewish grandma who always told my friend, her granddaughter, ‘Let it out, otherwise you’ll get a cancer.’ We used to laugh about it but now… Seriously. Cindy’s grandma might have known the cure years ago.
That he could say such a thing surprised me, in fact. Maybe surprised Joe, too. You don’t generally hear anyone admit to such a thing and it made me wonder about families who deal with mental health issues year after year. We both drank our beer for a minute or so, thinking about that.
I couldn’t think of anyone I knew that I wouldn’t miss. Could I? I started telling him about a relationship I’d been in for many years that was toxic. Not that I thought so at the time. Far from it. I thought I was in love. Then he punched me in the face.
But here’s the thing, I didn’t tell Joe that. I didn’t want to talk about abuse. That’s something different. I think we were talking about
how to survive toxicity and guilt and how to move forward.
That’s what I wanted to touch on anyway. It’s a reason Joe is a good conversationalist. Topics shift around and we could find ourself talking about completely different subjects, but I was wondering if I had anything new to say about that relationship. I haven’t really spoken to Joe about anything like that. Who wants to listen to someone rant about abuse. If you can’t add to the conversation, then listen.
We got onto another tack, interesting etc but I kept thinking, this evening, about Joe’s frankness. Would I have benefitted from a similar honesty to myself? Could I admit that I should have seen that punch coming months, if not years, before? Would it make me guilty to admit that I saw it coming and did nothing?
I was surprised at how fast that divide opened up between he and I. My love. The chasm, the gulf. Whatever it was. I was lying there in the kitchen garbage where he’d knocked me down and looking at him and thinking ‘How could he do such a thing?’ I am a woman, not a fighter, but I was mad, too. I tried to hit him back but I couldn’t. He just swatted my hands away and he knocked me down again and when I tried to slap his face he sprained my thumb, twisting it. I remember thinking that he deserved to get a slap in the face, he should let me do that. I wasn’t thinking clearly, obviously, but I do remember finally stopping and walking away. Going down the hall to the spare bedroom and closing the door and sitting on the bed. Thinking ‘What just happened?’ and ‘Where am I going to live?’
I moved out that night. After work. I didn’t cry, either. It was a day or two before Halloween when this happened, a Saturday, and I was managing a bar. It was one of the biggest nights of the year. I couldn’t stay home. I had to go to work. In costume, which turned out great. I went as a widow. I wore a veil, which covered the marks on my face, and a big cubit zirconia.
When it was all done, clean, counted and put away, I drove 50 miles to my sisters house and slept there. That was a terrible trip. To drive past my house, which was not my house but just a place filled with some of my stuff, and turn southbound onto that highway out of town at 3am…it was a terrible moment. I wanted to go home. I wanted to sleep in the spare bedroom, I was so tired, I thought I’ll just sleep there tonight (and I made that turn) one night won’t matter (and I sped up) its too late, there are too many elk and deer on the highway, (go faster, Laura) you could be sleeping right now, you could be in your own bed. But I just kept going.
I had to be my own Dragon Slayer that night. I don’t mean him, either. as a metaphor for a dragon. Not him. No, he had his problems and maybe, in the interests of research, and Cindy’s grandma, I’ll talk about them someday.
No, the particular Dragon, the one slain, was myopic, self centered and complacent. That Dragon, once put to rest, made me more self aware, happier, brighter and opened up a whole new world. I think I know now why he broadcast that swing for a mile and I just stood there thinking I was happy.
It’s because sometimes you need to be your own Dragon Slayer. It was practice.