Closure

heartache_largeA friend of mine contacted me to tell me that a former boyfriend from 37 years ago contacted her recently.    A long four-hour telephone conversation revealed that he isn’t happy with his life and admitted that really, he hasn’t been since they broke up in the mid seventies.    They only dated for a few months–he was her ‘transition boyfriend”, but he never knew that and I don’t think it would have mattered if had an inkling.   He loved this woman, warts and all and knew what she didn’t:  that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

And he would–from a distance and it was with a view that was no better than a few stolen glances over the shoulder of  his rebound wife.    Yes, irony of ironies, the “transition boyfriend” married his “transition girlfriend”.    Of course his marriage to her would be unhappy, for the most part.  Oh, there would be glimmers of happiness; a joyous birth or two, but in the back of his mind,  piercing through every smile would be those damned feelings for ‘her”...THEE girlfriend.  The one that got away.

My friend is currently in a relationship herself.   She says she’s in love.   He’s a man she maneuvered into her life so the move from wife to divorcee would be seamless.

“I could NEVER ever t involved with (insert name here) again.   Ewwwwwww!”

I’ll lay odds that as her marathon conversation with this specter from her past winded down, visions of a life him in some form or fashion crossed her mind.    How could it not?    Name me one normal red-blooded sentient woman who couldn’t let her mind roam down the back alleys of her imagination as she’s being told she was/is the love of someone’s life.   That her absence has been felt every day for almost four decades.   That losing her was and always will be his life’s singularly biggest regret.

I had one of those heartaches.  I had one of those relationships that I let haunt me.   I allowed a simple, acne-faced 15-year-old boy who broke up with me four days into my Freshman year of high school dictate me emotionally for 39 years.       He was there, always present, seething in soul , gripping like a vice.      In some form or fashion, he was there on every date, every uttered “I love you”, every break up, every holiday.

After high school, he went straight to work.   No college for him.    He was a simple guy.   He found a job in the oil patch and never looked back.    He married a women he met in a small town where he’d landed a job;  they married and had kids and last I heard, he had a couple of grandchildren added to his family tree.

Bully for him.

This was the guy who broke up with me before every major gift giving holiday.    I could always count on heartache two to three days before Christmas, my birthday and Valentine’s Day.    Easter,too.   Once, I accused him of being a Jehovah’s Witness, a reference that moved his bangs as it flew over his head.   Yet, I loved the little SOB.   He was my first boyfriend; my first love and at age 12, no less.     In the two years that we were together, he gave me a  yellow smiley face lollipop (which I kept as long as I can remember), a small black pocket  comb with greasy kid stuff still in it  , a very well-worn green and white cap with just as much greasy kid stuff in the inner lining, but the pièce de résistance????     He gave me a corroded silver-colored ring (I’ve yet to find the particular metal ANYWHERE on the table of elements) with green colored stones and three were missing.    He explained that the ring was in his jeans pocket when an impromptu game of backyard football broke out in the neighborhood.

As for the corrosion?   I shudder to think what might have started THAT scientific  process.     He found it, I’m sure but what did that matter?   I didn’t care.    HE gave it to ME.

I was lucky in that I was able to talk to him a few years ago.     A few weeks of phone calls, that’s all.    In that time, I was able to ask him why he left me so suddenly, without a real explanation and without ever really talking to me and he told me that he did so because I was in high school and would probably want to start dating and based on my upbringing he assumed that meant dinners and movies which took time and money–both of which he little of—and he was too embarrassed to tell me.   So, he did the sensible thing and broke up with me.

I can remember going silent at the end of the explanation, the reality that I was devastated by reverse snobbery was sobering.    I don’t remember what was said or even how much longer we talked, but I do remember this overwhelming feeling of release immerse me.    When we last spoke I had no money, only a half ass job, no boyfriend, certainly no modeling contracts or Academy Awards, the Pulitzer had eluded me, as did motherhood and marriage,  but even in the face of all those perceived negatives, I had one bright, shiny positive:  I had an answer to the single most pressing question of my life.

It made up for all the deficits during those holidays 43 years ago.  It was the best thing; the ONLY real thing of value he ever gave me:   the gift of closure.

This, I explained to my friend, is pivotal.     She should meet with this guy from her past that still holds the torch for her or at the very least, send him an email or something that could free him of the hold she has had on him.

“He told me he’s miserable and his marriage is nothing more than a joyless business arrangement.  He’s not happy because it was never what he wanted.” 

Of course it failed.   He settled.

Then, I explained it to her as I saw it, from someone who was haunted by a lost love for so long.  Emotional closure is vital for anyone who’s loved too long and all alone.    My God, is THAT a horrendous way to exist.

Sometimes it takes a gentle shove….a nudge….sometimes a major kick in the ass, but easing the pain is so important.   Not that it’s my friend’s responsibility,  not that it was my ex boyfriend’s either, but being told the real reason–even though it hurt a bit—was incredibly worth all risks, all feelings….everything.      I could stop the doubting;  the incessant wondering how and why.

But the truth is,  I was a lot like Dorothy Gale of the Oz and Kansas Gales.    I had the power to free myself of my emotional  enslavement all along, but I never really knew it.   Perhaps, I did but it served a good purpose.  I used it like a protective layer;  an impenetrable fortress.    Nothing gets near me;  I am safe.     But confines like that also allow nothing in either.   But I used it for as long as I used it–it kept me from getting too close to a lot of people.   So when I finally got the answer to a question that became rhetorical, 39 years ago, I let go.   I suppose it was time.

My life has changed since the  big release, in that he’s really no longer in it.    I rarely think about him anymore.  Oh, he’ll creep in when a song comes on that sweeps me back to 1972, but only in a certain fondness.    I don’t revisit unless a memory is triggered, and lately that trigger has a very secure safety on it.    As for the smiley face sucker?   I kept that for a long time, but eventually mice or other critters who forage storage spaces for food, destroyed it  and I would imagine the comb and cap met the same fate.   The ring, you ask?   I still have it.     It’s in a jewelry box somewhere and there it sits, just as it has for the past 42 years but I would imagine these days, it contains a few less green stones and the curious setting is now probably a lovely rust color.

The idealization of who he was and what he had all those years ago has long dispersed. And that is a very, very good thing;  a process that has taken a very long time.   I am free.  I now have a few well sorted  memories  that I keep in a memory bouquet.  I comprised it like one would order off a menu at a Chinese restaurant:   I’ve taken a few  memories from 1971, a couple from 1972 and one or two from 1973 just to complete the triad of years.

“Please set him free”, I begged my friend.    “You have to do for him what he can’t for himself.  Write him, phone him, telegraph, send a carrier pigeon.   How you do it is your choice, but please, just do it.”

She replied, “Why should I?   I  owe him nothing.  It was a lifetime ago!”

My answer came  surprisingly quick.

I told  her when spend most of your life, loving someone  in your past and it’s that all-encompassing love that burns as it cools, races as it rests; leans as it stands tall and straight, you have no traditional concept of time.   Any prisoner will tell you a 42 year sentence  takes forever to endure, but amazingly, when you look back on it, it  takes all of 42 seconds relive.   And in that time, which transpires quickly then slowly, then back again,  all you can think about  is being free from its clutches.

Freedom.   And  sometimes, for the damnedest of reasons,  freedom isn’t a choice….. but in some cases,  it can certainly be a gift.

She assures me, he’ll be receiving her email soon.

.

Realities

My family is fragmented.

We’re like this ancient vase:  cracked, pieces missing….beyond repair.   Anger and resentment makes a horrible glue.    

I’m not sure how it became so easy for all of us to turn our backs on each other.   We invented disposiblility.     At least that’s how it feels.    Most of my family doesn’t talk to each other and hasn’t for some.     Distance and silence are easy.  They also eliminate the awkwardness of effort.

It’s funny, teetering on pathetic, actually that at age 52, I still have this sophomoric fantasy of someday having this orchestrated nuclear family–straight out of one of those Little Golden Books, I had as a child.   

In my fantasy, my last name is Smith or Jones and it’s  a patriarchical unit that includes parents who exemplify love.  Broken down, that would include a mother who’s loving and nurturing; a father with a spine;  older sisters named Babs and Sis, a dog named Spot and Fluff, the cat.   And I would be this sweet, loving proportionately built girl-child; excelling through life because of an enviable support system that always made me feel loved and strong, win or lose.  

We had all the trappings.  On paper, it looked good.   As far as my sisters and I were concerned, we were very much like these three little girls; posed for the world to see.   Perfectly dressed in taffeta, crinoline and Niagara spray starch–posed in birth order, magazine smiles at the ready.

But that’s not really how it was.     That’s not how it ever is.  

While Child Protective Services never intervened, my childhood wasn’t all that great.   I was -like a million other kids–troubled.    Troubled people were the reason and I have spent years and countless paychecks on therapy and Zoloft trying to  understand  how and why.

Maybe it was because I always had that damned unrealistic family fantasy in the back of my mind. 

Anyway…

A few months ago,  I was summoned to the Texas Hill Country.    Partly by my mother; partly by a need to get out of Houston and breathe different air.  Daughterly duty also played a role

I stayed with my mother who now boasts a life consisting of 81 years on this planet. The woman who bore me 52.7years ago, truly is an amazing woman. She’s short…only 4’8″ (4′ 9.5″ providing her coif is sufficiently teased and Aqua Netted) but in many ways she’s the tallest woman I’ve ever known. Her personality is as it has always been: bigger than life. I appreciate her now in ways I couldn’t….

Or wouldn’t.

My problem is that I always allowed her mothering to get in my way. You see, she wasn’t necessarily a bad mother…perhaps, not the best for a woman like me. I wasn’t a bad daughter either…just hardly the one a woman like her should mother.

We’ve always had a rather tumultuous relationship. I’m not even sure why. I do think we’re both to blame though.

A little background: I knew I wanted to be a Broadcast Journalist since age six when a camera crew captured the top of my very blond head which appeared over the back of my centenarian great grandmother’s wheel chair. KENS-TV, the CBS affiliate in San Antonio had come to my home town to film her 100th birthday party. Guess life expectancy for former South Texas pioneer women wasn’t very high in the mid 60′s.

That night, clad in Winnie the Pooh footed pajamas, I sat cross-legged on the cold linoleum floor in front of the Curtis Mathis that night, waiting to see if I could see me on the news. Sure enough, there I was. You could only see the top of my head and only for a fraction of a second, but it was just enough to make me realize what I wanted to do, to be; to experience when I grew up.

I feel sure my mother had the same aspirations most of her life. But she dropped out of Baylor her Sophomore year to get married. Her hopes of being a writer were dashed when my oldest sister was born. Protestant procreation urges forced her to sprout two more groin fruit. I was the third and last bi-product of this Sealy Posturpedic co-mingling.

I am more like my mother than my two older sisters. In me, she saw herself and that was both good and bad. I became what she wanted to become but because of personal choices, didn’t. But I don’t think she always saw it like that. My mother has never been one to admit mistakes and because of that, at times I feel she needed to believe others stood in her way. This conveniently allowed her to cover up her own disappointment for never trying harder to do all the things she wanted. In fact, after a very tumultuous divorce, my mother was convinced that her marriage to my father–the result of falling for some line about his coercive fears of being made to fight the Korean hun and only returning to Texas in a coffin–was the main reason why her dreams of becoming a writer, were trashed.

The truth is, she never tried to write throughout her years of child rearing. I think she was scared of both failure and success. But that all changed several years into her retirement. She finally went for broke and took a few writing courses, but dropped out when the instructor harshly critiqued her essay. All of her life, her flawless dreams of being a published author never included being “edited”. No dreams ever do.

Sadly, she never wrote again and we all knew better than to ask why. The sad part is that we also knew that she actually could write very well. Even all these years later, I hate that she let one person’s very subjective opinion sully every aspiration she had.

Perhaps that’s only added to the conflict between us that has existed for decades. For reasons that I would suppose are deeply Freudian in nature, I feel certain that my mother both loved and hated my very public career in TV and radio. Whenever she had something to say to me, it was almost always critical. She found fault in every report; with my appearance in every TV stand up. She hated what I wore; how I phrased something. Then, if she couldn’t find fault with my performance, she criticized the station itself or the city it was in…or my salary. Yet I know she was proud of me because she would express her to other people but for some reason, she could never tell me she was proud of me to my face. I think she wanted me to succeed yet she needed me to fail. And that resulted in many attempts to shake my confidence. Most of the time, I deflected her negativity by striking back with arrogance. I acted like a know-it-all brat who fiendishly went for her emotional fontanel by rubbing her nose in my successes on more occasions than I care to admit. That almost always resulted in horrendous shouting matches that would make wharf whores and teamsters blush.

Regrettably, we’ve spent a lifetime arguing more than anything else. But this visit was different. At least, it certainly felt different.

This time, we weren’t rivals, but we weren’t friends either. I’m not sure what we were. But I do know the dynamic between us was very different. It was easy. I guess one could even call it effortless efforting, Somehow, the anger induced sparring of the past fell by the wayside. For one week we were civil. It was as if we’d managed to evolve into two much calmer women who understood each other…maybe for the first time ever. We celebrated that by drinking Scotch and sipping wine on occasion. We went shopping and tended to business. We watched TV together; we tried to out play each other on “Jeopardy”. We ran errands together; we had dinner out; cooked dinner at home and hosted a dinner party for family one night, but regardless of what we did in the course of the day or the plans we had in the evening, every afternoon at 5:00 like clockwork, we’d go outside and sit on her front porch to watch Monarch butterflies pilfer nectar from flowers wilted by a hard summer drought. We watched migratory geese fly south for the winter and wondered out loud how in the hell the geese selected the lead HGIC (Head Goose In Charge) and what a drag it was to be the weakest in the phyla and be forced to fly at the end of that famous “Y” pattern. We laughed at silly jokes and shared memories. We talked about love and life and failure and successes–other peoples’ mind you; certainly not our own. And yes, at times, she couldn’t help herself. She’d revert to type to do what she did best: she played mother and I knew I had no choice but to reprise my role as daughter.

And here’s the difference I wrote about earlier: I took it all. I just sat there and quietly endured six afternoons of being barraged with comments about my skin and how bad it looked. I learned that my hair was cut in a style that was much too young. I dressed all wrong for my age. I looked bloated. She’d ask me why I choose THAT eyeliner and how could I wear those shoes? And last but not least in order to meet a nice man and settle down, she insisted that I couldn’t just sit in my apartment and wait for one to knock on my door. I needed to get out there, take a chance, BUT I SHOULD AVOID GOING TO BARS TO MEET MEN!!

I said nothing. Arguing wasn’t an option, nor did I didn’t want it to be. I decided that I had two choices within this new ritual we were establishing: I could take the negative things she says to heart and flounder…OR…I can see my positives as I know them to be and refuse to allow someone else’s insecurities and feelings of inadequacies to rewrite my life’s profile page, even if that person is my mother; especially if that person is my mother. I had come to terms with the reality that this was who this woman has been and is; what she’s all about. It’s who she always will be and in the course of my week spent with her, I finally stopped fighting that fact. It was as if my life as her daughter and her life as my mother had reached some mystical reckoning simultaneously. And it all came into focus under the nuclear explosion of color that is a Central Texas sunset. In a way, she’d earned the right to be her whether I liked it or not and the late afternoon light proved that true. It illuminated her face and it showed every line and wrinkle, courtesy of so many years and experiences. It was odd seeing her like this….literally in ‘a new light’….and because of that, I never averted my gaze. I desperately wanted that image of her permanently emblazoned in my memory.

And as I sat on her front porch afternoon after afternoon, I realized that I no longer felt the need for approval that would never come. I no longer wanted her to compliment or coddle me. I didn’t want money or maternal recognition of any kind. I simply wanted time. That’s all. I wanted more time to be with this woman.

As twilight drew near, she’d always suggest that we go inside. I’d always oblige, but did so under silent protest. In many, many ways, I didn’t want to go inside. I didn’t want to leave that porch. I didn’t want to leave her house.

The truth is, I didn’t want to leave my mother.

I once read that Life is but a candle’s flicker; out with a puff of smoke. All week-long, that sentence kept coursing through my head. I know her years left on this good Earth can be counted on a few fingers. Even so, I refuse to regret anything that’s happened between us. Even the bad stuff. Every afternoon, in the midst of butterflies, questions about flying geese and shadows that grew longer with each passing minute, I made a vow to replace every regret with better memories. Mercifully I realized or rather, I hoped, I’d still have time to make more.

Armed with this new strategy and mindset, I stood with her one last time on her front porch this morning. I got in my car after two hugs, a promise to return in a month, one kiss on the cheek and one “I love you”. I was the one who said it. She said nothing. She never does. When it comes to expressing emotions, that’s the one time when this normally chatty woman becomes utterly dumbstruck.

When I arrived back home to Houston after a long, three-hour drive, I looked in my purse.  Tucked inside I found one of her trademark powder blue envelopes which contained a $2.00 off coupon for some Oil of Olay anti-aging skin-care product; a $3.00 coupon for Metamucil and a newspaper article about the pros and cons of being loveless over the age of 50.

Two coupons and a newspaper clipping told me what she couldn’t:    that she loved me, too.

I guess every so often Little Golden Books, while tarnished, can have  some basis in reality.