8.18.2011

How To Start Your Thursday The Heaviest, Most Sadly Confusing Way Possible

So, this post was going to be a Part 3 of the great cereal bag debacle, illustrating how buying a Rubbermaid container to put cereal in wasn't actually solving the base issue of the bag tearing in the first place and was merely the compromise that both consumers and the industry have come to due to the lack of a better cereal bag.

My fingers danced across the keyboard with the furor that comes from righteous indignation, when a message window popped up: I'd been friended on Facebook by someone I hadn't talked to in 16 years, a guy named This One High School Guy (what, I'm going to really tell you his name?). And it was just distracting enough to cause me to stop educating the internet on why they're wrong.

This One High School Guy (or, Guy, as I'm going to call him because it's getting annoying using the shift key on and off five times in a row to type that name) was always decent. Very smart guy.  In all the advanced classes, as was I for about 2 months my Freshman year before my father pulled me out due to not trying hard enough ("You're taking a spot that another kid who really would try hard could have," he'd tell me. "I'm not going to let you waste something someone else could put to good use!" My father was a stickler for waste. He wasted NOTHING. He once made me sit at the dining room table for almost 12 hours to finish a huge mistake of a bowl of Grape Nuts).

Guy and I had very limited contact after that. We shared a few classes during the 4 years we matriculated, and when we left high school, we never talked. Still, he was pleasant enough and enough of an overachiever that I was that special kind of Facebook curious we get when we wonder just how closely our vision of what someone would achieve after high school matches reality. So, I accepted the request, and before I could really get into reading his profile, a message came from him. This is, in its entirety, the conversation we had:

9:58:57 AM [Guy]: Hey, Joe.  I hope all is well.  I don't know if you've had any contact with Mandy - I know you two were friends or dating at one time.  She's on her third bout with breast cancer, and this time it has spread aggressively to her bones.  It's stage 4, whatever that means, and terminal.  She's "Mandy [married name]" now and lives in SC with two kids, unless I'm mistaken.  Thought I'd pass the news along.

9:59:15 AM joe peacock: ...whoa 
9:59:16 AM joe peacock: i had no idea... Wow, thanks for telling me. We haven't talked since we broke up back in like 1997. I don't really know what to say... 
10:01:02 AM joe peacock: do you have contact with her? 
[High School Guy] changed status to Offline (10:03:10 AM)

...I had no idea that Guy even KNEW who Mandy was. She didn't go to our high school, and was only loosely connected to people I knew through me. But there it is. I just found out that a girl I dated 14 years ago is in the final stages of life due to a horrible disease, from a guy I haven't spoken to in 16 years. Through Facebook.

Hurrah to the modern age, huh?

Now, people who have read my stories and books know the name Mandy. She's... Well, she's enough of a figure in my life to warrant a few stories about her being written in my books. But the summary: She's an ex-girlfriend whose emotions constantly got ahead of her to the point of neurosis.

  • Her tantrums were so legendary that I once snuck out the back of a restaurant and scaled a 12-foot security fence, only to become ensnared and very cut up and bloody, because she demanded we go see Titanic the night it opened. And if I hadn't, she'd have cried all night. As it turns out, we missed the film, but the Emergency Room did give her a free Jell-o, on account of her missing dinner. Well, I say "free..." It did cost me a few hundred dollars.
  • She caused me to miss a VIP, invite-only Prince meet-and-greet show because it was "date night."
  • She once bumped into a guy at one of those Christmas stores in the mall and he fell into a Hummel display, shattering a few figurines. When he turned around and told her to "watch it!" she began crying and insisted I beat the guy's ass. The two of us stood there in the macho-yet-confused moment that's probably happened to every guy where you REALLY don't want to fight, but feel like you have to -- either because some guy is threatening you in defense of his girlfriend's honor, or some girl is crying and insisting you engage in fisticuffs. We didn't fight, but only because security showed us the door. 
  • When the relationship finally ended (and it took a LONG time for it to do so), she became a bit clingy, prompting a few weeks of... Well, the only word for it is "stalking." She hung out with my MOTHER. For WEEKS. And this culminated in her convincing my mother that I was "gay together" with my best friend Mike.  The damage waged during those weeks persists today. My mom -- regardless of the fact that she actually walked in on me making out with two separate girls in my teenage life and was AT MY WEDDING -- still believes, in some deep dark recess of her heart, that Mike and I boffed. And it's Mandy's fault.

And now, Mandy is dying.

So here I sit, writing this out because it's the only response I have right now. The emotions I feel... They're unlike anything I've ever felt before in my life. I am filled with grief borne from the idea that someone I knew and cared about -- regardless of how things ended -- is suffering and in pain and doesn't deserve what she's going through at all. And I want to reach out. And I can't.

The conflict here is fucking horrible. It makes me wonder how selfish I am. It makes me want to prove myself wrong and write a letter and offer to lend my support. And THAT feeling makes me feel so hypocritical it borders on disgusting. She made me miserable! I was very close to hating her.

Yes, hate. It's a strong word. And I almost used it when describing how I felt about her at one point. Because I felt victimized by her in some regards. But that's the other half of the coin here: I was actually to blame, if you really get down to it.

I was never honest with her. I never told her that I was only dating her because I really wanted to be alone, and my friends and family couldn't accept that, so dating someone who was away at college was the perfect excuse. I introduced distance as a precursor to having the relationship, because -- and I'm only able to be honest with this now after 14 years -- I was too much of a coward to tell my friends and family to leave me alone and let me be myself (after all, a late-teens/early-20's male should WANT to be with a girl, right? Being alone is tantamount to being OMGGAY).

And that emotional distance, coupled with someone like Mandy who cared A. LOT. ABOUT. EVERYTHING. prompts some pretty irrational behavior.

Like crying when I acted distant. Or trying a little too hard to get my attention. Or insisting she be important in my life when she's around, if I'm going to call her my girlfriend and tell her I loved her. Demanding that, if she was going to drive down from college to hang out with me on a weekend, that I actually hang out with her and not brush her off for a Prince VIP something-or-another with my friends. Insisting that, if I promise to take her to a movie she really wanted to see, that I keep that promise.

On the surface, and in my head and heart at the time, I felt she was pushy and insistent and selfish. And what I come to realize, sitting here thinking about it all, is that she was because she felt she had to be. Because when you boil it all down, she cared about me. She loved me, insofar as one can love another person at that point in life. And that makes me want to reach out to her and apologize for how it all went.

But i just don't feel like I can. Why would I? I spent a few years actively avoiding this person whom I wasn't happy with. Why, only now that I've found out she's dying and suffering, do I want to reach out? I mean, let's be fucking honest here: I'm only projecting myself as the antagonist here because it's what we do when we feel sorry for someone. She and I simply did not gel, and she did some truly crazy shit.

You see? The part of me who remembers her less than fondly is at odds against the real, caring, honest human side of me who wants to just comfort someone in pain, who I once knew. Someone who doesn't deserve what's happening to her at all. Someone who made some mistakes against me due to youth and an overabundance of emotion. Mistakes that are only mistakes in hindsight.

It's an emotional clusterfuck. And writing about it is the ONLY way I know to manage it.

The marks we leave on other peoples' lives remain in stasis, emotionally. They don't really mature along with us. We remember what other people said and did with the taint of how we felt about it with the mindset of when it happened. We never allow for perspective to alter our thoughts on those moments until, like now, we're forced to.

And that's when you begin questioning things like your own humanity in a situation where you want to be a good person... But only because you know you can't live with having been a bad one.

We both have a lot to apologize for in each others' lives. But it's only an apology when you actually feel remorse. Do I? Does she? Do I even have a handle on the breadth and width of the playing field that particular game would be played on?

I don't think I do. Because in all honesty, as much of a brat as Mandy was to me, and I was an asshole to her... Neither of us were sorry at the time. And 14 years have gone by without a single thought in my mind that I owed her anything whatsoever.

So do I owe her anything now? And why? Because she's at the end of a life, the majority of which has been spent without me in it, and I feel bad for some parts of the short portion we intersected?  Because the truth is, I already let go of all the stuff she did. A long time ago. It doesn't bother me. It makes for entertaining stories in books and at parties and that's about it. I have nothing in my heart or mind that requires closure from her.

And so, the conundrum. Reach out and have that conversation to satisfy my own grief, or leave her alone and let her live the rest of her life in the peace she's found elsewhere and just let all that go?

That's the gamble. Does reaching out help her pain... Or my own?

Maybe that's what this is. Maybe this whole post is hedging that bet so I don't have to make it. Maybe someone she knows reads this and shares it with her. Maybe no one ever does and this is catharsis enough that I can live with simply knowing that I at least attempted to rectify how I feel about this whole very tricky and delicate thing in my head and heart.

This is not intended to be insulting or hurtful. It's the exploration of how I feel about a situation that, no matter how you slice it, is difficult. And in no way do I feel my pain is even on the same level as hers -- that's actually THE POINT. She's suffering. She's battling through a disease I've only experienced tangentially in my life, in that people I know have had people THEY know suffer and die from it. What she's going through; what the family is going through... That's HELL. It's horrible. It's deep and powerful and a strain on life to the point of ending it. And I know that.

But I don't know her. Not anymore. So all I have is the pile of swirling backwash left in the bottle of a relationship that ended many years ago; suddenly put in the sunlight due to a random message from someone I hardly knew in high school. And I'm dealing with that.

...Yeah. So how's your Thursday?