If she had seen my eyes while she was speaking, she probably would have stopped. Her eloquence, honesty and gentleness moved me to tears and pierced a place within me that rarely saw the light. As it was, she kept her gaze to the window. Summer was intense these days with the humidity driving one and all to the refreshment of lakes or the comfort of air-conditioning.
My friend held her water bottle to her chest and tucked it under her chin as if it were a teddy bear. Her long brown hair was woven into a braid that sat lazily over her right shoulder. Her oversized, wrinkled oxford shirt was her husband’s and it complemented her pink linen skirt perfectly. I sat to her left at the dining table and kept my hands in my lap. Our visit was long overdue. She and I lived far apart, but there were days when I could get away or, at least, meet her halfway. Finally, it had worked out.
Conversation was easy between us. We fell into intimacy without effort and discussion quickly moved to motherhood- specifically, to her mother.
“I learned fairly early on that my mother was not a safe space for me to go to. She couldn’t handle anything but good behaviour. She would take my tantrum and multiply it by 10. My yelling turned to her screaming. My stomping turned to her throwing things. She took all that I did and she turned it on its head,” she said in a resigned, but gentle tone.
I nodded and leaned forward, placing my elbows on the table and cradling my face with both hands. “And your father?” I inquired.
“Yes, yes. I would go to my father for comfort- especially when I was younger. He was much calmer in nature, but ultimately he would side with my mother. They always put one another first. It made sense, I suppose, and I certainly didn’t want to drive them apart.”
I cleared my throat and asked, “He ‘sided’ with your mother….what do you mean by that?”
She smiled briefly, looked down at her feet and then returned her gaze to the window. “That’s how it felt– as a child. I felt alone and while he would hug me and tell me he understood, he would never talk to her for me, would never stand up for me.”
“Right…” I said softly, now understanding.
“So I learned to hide from everyone. It felt as if there were only walls without doors. I was on my own- alone with my pain, guilt and frustration. These feelings would build and build until I had to make myself hurt. I had to have release. On the outside I got good grades, was a ‘good girl’ for the most part and would just occasionally talk back. I saved the shame for my room. There I let myself feel. There I let it all out.”
I wiped at my eyes. I understood that pain and that feeling of helplessness, of feeling like you’re ‘bad’. “I know where you’re going with this,” I said to her. “I know you don’t blame your parents.”
Again, my friend smiled. “I used to. I don’t even think it was conscious. There was just so much anger. But years ago, when all kinds of shit hit the fan and I had no choice but to begin again, it hit me: the past is static, but how I see it is not. And really, all I have is the present moment.”
“And in that moment, after the shit hit the fan, I imagine you felt all that same pain again?”
She nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Only this time, I felt stripped bared with nowhere to go but within. I sobbed heavy and hard saying over and over ‘I can’t go on like this! I can’t! I want to feel better. I want to see the light.’ And it was incredible. All these wise people started showing up, giving me books, taking me to lectures. I found support. It was not easy to pull myself out of that pit of guilt and shame- and I still go back there sometimes- but I don’t live there. And I sure as shit don’t drag my parents down there.”
Tears pooled again. The freedom that we wear when we release our victim stories is the most incredible beauty I have ever observed. It’s a power and a peace that embodies every confident step we take and every act of kindness we perform. It comes from a continuous practice of letting go- of being willing to see our lives differently.
“Bless you,” I said to her.
And finally, she turned to look at me. “Forgiving my parents- and anyone who appeared to have ‘wronged me’- was the most difficult and yet simple thing I have ever done. Love is who we are. Once I was willing to remember that, kindness came easy. It was sifting through all the bullshit thoughts that was hard.”
I laughed. “Amen,” I said. “We, as humans, are tender. That tenderness can so easily become a sore, but only if we choose to see a slight where we could see a call for love instead.”
My friend winked and added, “Good thing we’re experts who get it right every single time.”
I nodded straight-faced and waved my hands, “Who’s got two thumbs and is enlightened as hell?”