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Monthly Archives: May 2015

These Hands

Carolyn's hands 1These are no-nonsense hands. Tomboy hands.

These hands have climbed trees, caught bugs, whittled sticks, picked scabs, and shot bumbershoots*.

These hands used to blow noses, dry tears, and wipe bottoms. They used to spank those same bottoms. Sometimes these hands pointed fingers. Sometimes they still do. These hands have thumbed noses but have refrained from wiping smirks off faces. They have also stopped addressing drivers in traffic. This is because the Woman has domesticated them and (mostly) trained them to speak Love instead of Middle Finger. It may be (may!) that one hand rebelled once (once!) against etiquette and drilled into a nostril at a traffic light. But I’m sure that is only a rumor. Seriously–who would do that?

These hands stroke skin and braid hair. Sometimes they rub backs. They crochet animal hats and knit circle scarves. They garden without gloves because dirt feels good. These hands can scrape every last molecule of goodness out of the Nutella jar.

These hands fold clothes, scrub bathrooms, and bag groceries. They slice, dice, chop, mince, and grate. Curry and stir fry are some of their favorites. Black beans and rice too. Hey, don’t forget the soups! The hands bake as well, the show offs: Cheese cake; warm, yeasty rolls with cinnamon, caramel, and pecans; apple pie. Recipes are treasures passed from hand to hand in a generational relay. The pair displays its heritage with every bite: knife in the left hand; fork in the right.

These hands lead a double life. Sometimes they have to act their age. They tell themselves to rest quietly and listen while Clients speak to the Woman about all manner of pains and worries. They bend and sculpt themselves into Openness, Care, and Wisdom. They arrange themselves in nonjudgmental positions upon bland, nonjudgmental slacks. The hands tap out progress notes and dial calls to psychiatrists. Sometimes, if they are really naughty, they pinch each other to keep from daydreaming or dozing off.

These hands speak. Are you surprised? The wrinkles and spots tell of running in the sunshine. When you cluck at their dry skin, each tells you off in turn: Nothing to see here! Mind your own business! The ring finger says: Fine. Band me. The nails are starting to tap nervously. They think: We’re going to be in trouble at that Southern wedding next month. They whine and beg: Can’t we just go commando?

The left hand is still a little sad. Maybe even nursing a grudge. Leftie and Rightie used to match until a harried nurse forced saline through an IV port, ignoring Leftie’s cries of pain. The nurse burst all those lovely, plump veins. Some hands think veins are ugly, but their prominence made Leftie feel strong and able. She grieved as they paraded their farewell: black, blue, purple, brown, green, yellow, gone. Rightie restored Leftie’s dignity by entrusting her with Urgent Ideas Which Cannot Wait. See the smudge near Leftie’s thumb? Rightie scrawls ideas there, and Leftie remembers them for her. Leftie also gets to store things on her wrist: pony tail holders and the rubber bands which hold together the Woman’s Tupperware so the juice from her mango slices doesn’t leak into her work bag. Of course neither hand holds bracelets. What a bother!

These hands have faces made for radio, and they tell it like it is.

These are my hands.

Carolyn's hands 2*We pulled the long stems from these weeds and twisted them around on themselves so that when we yanked, the flower heads flew off. We called them “bumbershoots” and had little battles with them.

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Rip Van Winkle: The Downside

Rip Van Winkle- public domain

Winter, 2012

I woke up one morning recently and discovered I was 48.

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Somehow, it did.

Hanna and I had been friends since 1974. We met when we were assigned to the same Gymnasium class during my four years in Germany. We became the very closest of friends in the summer of 1979, when she somehow convinced her parents to let her visit me in the US. Time and distance could not diminish the intensity or rewards of our friendship.

My dear friend and her husband Niko came for a five-week stay last June. Just as that first lazy summer had marked the beginning of something magical, the last summer had signaled its end. The visit went irretrievably wrong despite good intentions on all sides.

I had made a few attempts to process this with Hanna through letters, and I had gotten no response. It is true that I had expressed hurt and anger but I had also expressed remorse over mistakes I had made, along with the hope that we would, with time and perspective, work things out. In the meantime, I continued to observe birthdays and Christmas. I wanted Hanna and Niko to know that, while I couldn’t fix or even explain the summer, I loved them.

I knew Hanna was struggling. In June, we had sat at my kitchen table, desperate and holding back tears, trying to figure out why things were turning out so badly. From almost the first moment, tension had begun to build; and Niko’s paranoia had hinted, here and there, at a slow smolder. It is hard to say if one precipitated the other. Maybe no causality existed. Maybe we don’t need to know.

Normally we would have been able to discuss any and all matters but Hanna wouldn’t let my mind attach to hers the way it always had. Was I was denying her as well? This was the first time Niko had viewed me with suspicion, and Hanna seemed unsure of me. She had always bragged about his instincts.

My conversations with Hanna were becoming fewer and shorter. For the first time ever, they were becoming stilted. Niko sat in the basement apartment counting the number of minutes Hanna spent with me above, anxiously awaiting her return. If she and I spoke for too long, he began to fear she would choose me over him.

I held fast to my belief in our friendship. We were bedrock. But after several months, I felt malaise. No word from Hanna, even at Christmas. I pushed my fears away.

In January, two days after my 48th birthday, my heart leapt at the sight of the thick envelope. I knew that sorting things out between us would be an arduous task, and I surmised that Hanna’s letter contained her initial take on our summer disaster. Her silence on my birthday had been especially acute. She had never before neglected to call or write. But the hefty packet proved I had not been forgotten, and all would be well.

My knees buckled as read her letter. It was a list of grievances and hurts announcing the end of our friendship.

Happy Birthday to me.

I see a different person in the mirror these days. My skin is turning a soft, papery white; and my lips are thinning and losing their color. The flesh around the sides of my mouth is sliding downwards, forming a rubbery Fu Manchu and forcing my default face into a frown. This must be my reward for decades of smiling. Grays sprout like miniature fountains from my parted hair–noncomformists with the audacity to stand at attention no matter my efforts at calming them.

Everything has begun to sag and become pendulous: I have the beginnings of what one friend terms “mommy arms.” Even my knees—my knees, for heaven’s sake!—are starting to resemble bunched-up nylons, scooched down and slid off after a long night of dancing. I can no longer ignore the fact that the ache in my right knee keeps me up at night. And why does my left hip keep trying to slip out of its socket? This is not supposed to happen to me.

Hanna’s letter ended more than just a friendship. Our shared history kept the lines between youth and middle age comfortably blurred and conferred eternal youth. I didn’t really age; I was just Jane. I was suspended forever with her in the continuum of our relationship. If not for that letter, I might still jump out a second story window with her in the middle of the night to explore a forbidden barn. Or find myself shooting spitballs at Manni’s head to keep myself awake during Latin class. Or gossip with her about what has become of the rest of the prep school crowd. If not for that letter, I’d still be able to run a kick-ass mile. And travel the world. And become any number of things when I grow up….

I woke up one morning recently and discovered I was 48.

I am not invincible. I am growing old. I am on the downward slope of becoming, and my days are numbered. And in the meantime, my bones ache.

This is the fifth installment in The Story of Hanna. Click here for the fourth installment. Click here for the sixth.

The Brownie

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

I am a very selfish person. I like to come and go as I choose. I prefer my own company. I readily ignore the needs of others when they bump up against my immense longing for solitude, my need for achievement; or when my ideals are challenged. I am deaf to your requests, and sometimes your cries. My heart is small and flinty. The Grinch and I are twins, separated at birth.

This does not bode well for a married mother of three.

How is it that you, my husband, and you, my daughters, have taken up residence in the largest chamber of my heart? You have warmed my blood and massaged life into that atrophied pump, transforming its creaks and clanks into chocolaty purrs. Your dwelling there causes me to declare war daily, such that each hard-won battle yields the gifts I want to give—or rather, want to want to give—but can’t. Yet somehow, I do. Again and again.

I give you my time; my sleep; my cooking; my cleaning; my chauffeur service; my presence, spoken words, listening ears, and comfort; my tutoring; my prayers; my tears; my praise; my privacy. I gave you things I didn’t even know I had given you: my makeup; my socks; my cds; my pony tail holders; my stacks of index cards; and apparently, my laptop. I gave you my belly, my breasts, and my shoulders. My bed. I give you my dark chocolate, and I just gave you the blueberries I had stashed at the back of the fridge. I didn’t even mind. At times I become tired and impatient but the struggle is well worth it. In the end, I am happy to give to you, whom I love so dearly; you, who have enlarged and softened my stingy heart. I can authentically say, most of the time: “These are gifts to you, freely given.”

Just don’t take my brownie.

Today I sat at the table after lunch, quietly contemplating my afternoon cup of coffee when you reached across the table, Hand. Thoughtless and confident, you slithered over to the lone brownie on my plate and began to pick at it. Four feet away sat a full plate of brownies, one of my gifts to you. You knew this. I watched your leisurely fingernails dig out a walnut and carry it away.

Startled by sudden rage, I felt myself begin to tremble. Scalding words rushed from my chest and poured out of my mouth. Words a mother should never speak to her child. Violence was discharged in one beat of that same heart.

Jesus.

Bankroll, Yo

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Half of my DNA belongs to Texas. My aging telomeres had been trying to tell me this for years but I ignored them until my brother wrote to say his had been doing the same thing. What did he say, you ask?

Big Sister, I find myself unwillingly on the precipice of middle age and increasingly preoccupied with questions of mortality and the meaning of my existence. I aspire to visit the land of our forefathers to honor the memory of our departed pater and reconnect with our roots so I can resolve any remaining intrapsychic conflicts which have emerged in my quest for self actualization before such time as all those souls old enough to recollect me pass from this fragile earthly existence. Oh, and to appease my achy telomeres. For this reason, I am hopeful that you will agree to accompany me to Texas this fall when my country club closes for annual maintenance.

Hell, no. Naw. Not Will. He laughs at my verbosity—but only because we never see each other for more than a few days every other year. Imagine what it would be like to live with me?…Actually, keep that to yourself. Don’t make me cry.

Here is what he really said. He sent a text:

Yo! Whut up, Big J? How bout u n me meet up n tx n visit r peeps ina fall wen da club cloz?

No, he is not illiterate. He does that on purpose. Because he is cool. And, um, bad. And maybe rad? Wait. Is phat a word?

Our sister Gwen and I had tossed around the idea of visiting before this but it had never gotten out of the “wouldn’t that be nice” or “someday” stage. The telomeres had been satisfied with Facebook up until now.

In planning the trip, Will and I divided the labor the way we knew it would work best. After so many years as sibs, we knew the sweet spot. My job was to handle logistics and blow up his phone with lengthy updates and annoying questions. His job was to love me anyway. And give his input, of course. I’m not a total control freak! To prove my point, I archived all his responses and present them to you here:

Awsum!

Thx!

Snds gud!

Yes

Naw

Phuckit!

The time finally came. I arrived a few days early to get the lay of the land before picking him up at Love Field. We fell into easy conversation.

Wait. I’m about to forget why I started this piece!

My brother, as can be said of all of us Lees, is a jar of mixed nuts–a mixture of common and cultured. Will is a highly intelligent, articulate man with a refined palate and a wardrobe consisting solely of Ralph Lauren*. He works as a country club golf pro, teaching and caddying for celebrities. The guy is the only one in the family who can make a decent cucumber salad.  On the other hand, Will is an aging, beat-boxing gangsta wannabe with a crippled cat named KickStand. He is a half-luddite who frowns upon the use of plastic money. Go figure. How he thrives in L.A. is beyond me.

(Ok, I lied. He has the gift of gab. He is a virtuoso.)

After an exhausting trip, Will was dying for a cigarette. I pulled over, and he pulled out his money. Did you hear me say “wallet?” No. He had told me a while back that he was saving up his tips for our trip. For some reason, I had envisioned my little cache of folded bills. I don’t carry much because I like plastic. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t need a money clip. I could make do with a bobby pin.

Lord, have mercy! I am thankful my little bro is an extremely tall man with extremely tall pockets. The inauspicious bulge might otherwise have upstaged our homecoming. His bankroll was that big.

As he peeled off some ones, he smiled.

Did Dad teach you that too? Small bills on the outside?

I smiled back and showed him my measly wad of doubled bills. Ones on the outside. Always.

He hopped back into the SUV, and we were off. We never ran out of things to talk about as we roared through the stomping grounds of Billy Boy Lee.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

*I am not kidding. I still tease Will about his mincing steps when I asked him to accompany me and Gwen on a walk down country roads while visiting family in West Virginia one Christmas. He hadn’t thought ahead—or he just didn’t own the right clothing—and had had to decide whether or not to embrace the cabin fever with the help of a few brewskis or take a stroll through gravel, grime, and potholes in his pristine, white canvas Ralphs. He chose the walk. Love ya, bro!

Infidelity

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Summer, 2013

“Are you getting enough?”

“Well…”

“I know we haven’t made much time for each other lately.”

“I’ve been getting by.”

“Because if you aren’t getting your needs met here, I want to know where you are getting them met.”

No, no no, this is not a conversation about sex! This conversation occurred in my women’s group. We were discussing our friendship needs.

My Ladies and I have been fast friends since chance (read: God) threw us together in the Spring of 1999 when we attended the same church retreat.

When we first started getting together, we met weekly. Each time we told new stories, learned more about one another, and laughed so hard it’s a wonder nobody ever threw up. Once each summer we went to great lengths to escape our children so that we could go off somewhere and behave like children. Please don’t ask me about specifics. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.

We had established the perfect blend of personalities, interests, and abilities. We did serious; we did spiritual; we did raucous; we did clueless. This was the life! We would go on like this forever! Nothing could ever come between us. We all but took vows and exchanged rings.

Slowly the passion cooled. We were on our way to becoming an old married couple. Getting together was enjoyable, but it wasn’t always the peak experience we had come to expect. As our children’s lives became more complicated and our work demands changed, making time for one another dropped further and further down our list of priorities. To be fair, perhaps I should also add that it dropped further and further down our list of possibilities. We were exhausted! Sometimes making the effort to coordinate four schedules became just one more thing—one more box to check on an already long list. And let’s face it. Who needs that?

As we began to coast, each of us began to explore other friendships. This felt good! We were getting our friendship needs met! But the enjoyment was also tinged with the guilty pleasure of “the affair.” Shouldn’t we be trying harder to make our schedules work? Shouldn’t we be pushing harder to create excitement in the perfectly good relationships we had? Could we be authentically happy that our intimate friends had found ways to get what we could not provide? Occasionally things between us became awkward as we wondered where we stood. Were we headed for divorce, however amicable? We had gone through infatuation and a lengthy honeymoon before the glow wore off and we found ourselves in the power struggle trying to assert our own agendas. Are you familiar with Imago Therapy? The theory behind it holds that if you make it successfully through this rough patch, you enter into a more mature and stable love.

Well….

We all agreed that the group needed an injection of something to keep things fresh. Without acknowledging it to one another, we more or less ended up in two camps.

Camp Edify wanted our times together to focus more on the study of Scripture in order to produce spiritual growth and maturity. This was a worthy aim. Camp Bite Me shrewdly figured that Bible Study = homework = one more thing. Seeing how frazzled we had all become, the Bite Mes didn’t want our times to have any agenda other than relaxation and fun. This aim was worthy as well.

When Edify touched on spiritual themes, Bite Me listened with patient smiles while it silently screamed, “Squish the damned camel through the needle already so we can get to the fun part! Can’t we just keep it light?!” Edify listened to Bite Me with Christian tolerance, plotting all the while how to manipulate the talk back to loftier fare. As the power struggle intensified, so did the tactics. Since neither camp had actually declared itself or its agenda, each volley had to take the form of a finely crafted segue lest the other camp come to suspect its motives. Fortunately, we are all very subtle and refined individuals.

I recall one van ride last summer in which the volleys sailed flew back and forth for the better part of two hours. As the Edifys became more earnest, the Bite Mes became more, uh, entertaining. In the end, it was Pollyanna versus Jersey Shore in an epic smackdown. I bet you can’t guess who ended up crying “Uncle.”

I’m willing to share the conversation with you in its condensed form but only if you promise not to tell anyone. I think it appropriate, in this day of Twitter and speed dating, to collapse it to its bare essentials. This may also help to insure that I will still have friends and a job in the event that someone I know actually reads this.

“Ten Commandments.”

“Ten inches.”

“Seek ye first.”

“Knockwurst.”

End times.”

“Ten times.”

“Grace.”

“Mercy!”

“Forgive us our debts.”

“Cigarette.”

For several months after this wrestling match, I wasn’t sure where we’d end up. For a while we went our own ways and almost seemed to forget about one another. A sort of continental drift or benign neglect had become the norm. Certainly nobody was going out of their way to organize anything.

I prepared myself for disappointment by trying to imagine I was ok with these developments: These women were nice but a lot of people are nice. And I was very busy. And both camps were starting to get on my last nerve. To gird myself against possible hurt, I practiced my Steel Magnolia Hug (lean in, brittle embrace, pat, pat, pat, I-don’t-need-you, release) and my International Air kisses (Mwa! I-am-above-zees. Mwa!) in the mirror, and said, “Screw it. I am just fine.”

Except that I wasn’t. I wasn’t fine at all. Hanna had dumped me, and I was high and dry. I didn’t realize how depressed I had become until I ran into one Lady unexpectedly and felt the tears spring into my eyes. I lurched into in a hug and didn’t want to let go. I needed my Ladies! I sent out an SOS, oblivious to the snot which threatened to short out my phone. Hell froze over, pigs flew, and before too long, we were seated cozily together enjoying a meal. We had a wonderful time.

We are older. We are wiser. We are still intact. Some things have shifted and some have stayed the same but we are still faithful to one another. Furthermore, I believe we are entering a good place in our odd little union.

This is the fourth installment in The Story of Hanna. Click here to read installment three. Click here for installment five.

A House Divided

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

I could have Mom or I could have Dad. I couldn’t have them both. At least not at the same time. But it never stopped me from trying.

I was kind of a double agent–except I wasn’t a spy. I tried thinking of myself as a mediator but that didn’t fit either. A mediator is a neutral party. No, I was a confused sort of ambassador. An ambassador is an emissary loyal to and invested in the well being of a specific country. Guess what? I was a dual citizen! Anxiety around matters of loyalty has tormented me throughout my life. After you read this piece, you will understand why.

You’ll need to understand a bit about my parents.

My father William was an odd fellow. He was a tall, bent, reed of a man who enjoyed oil painting, classical music, cooking, foreign language, and mystery novels. He loved to learn and experiment. He taught me how to plant a garden, check my oil, play chess, and knit. My Dad loved to travel, and he kept up with individuals all over the world using his ham radio. My father was respected at work, and he mentored many young men in their careers.

Lest you think him too cultured, it is important to note that he was also “Billy Boy,” the barefoot son of a quiet, uneducated carpenter and his domineering wife. My father relished his sweet iced tea and his corn bread with pinto beans. A times, he brewed alcoholic beverages in the laundry room and bathrooms. He thought it funny to sneak up behind my mother when she was washing dishes and her hands were occupied. He would nuzzle her neck, squeeze her love handles, and call her “Flabber,” a nickname which never failed to humiliate and incense her. I can still see him shaking with silent laughter at her impotent rage. I suppose you could say my father was a study in contrasts.

My mother Carol, being a more conventional soul and wishing for conventional happiness, found herself frustrated with the gulf between her husband’s prowess at work and his slovenliness and inconsideration at home. In some ways my mother was very much the archetypal warm, wholesome, cozy Mom. She was outgoing and social. She kept an orderly home, and she made gingerbread houses and chocolate chip cookies. Mom was the kindest and most wonderful nurse imaginable when we were ill. Unlike my father, she was an excellent athlete.

My father possessed little physical vigor, and he avoided joining us in any play but his own. His “play” involved the creation of prodigious messes which he left where they lay. He dirtied every dish in the kitchen to produce one batch of bread. He used our basement to build television sets for friends (for free!) while completely ignoring all chores. When invitations for neighborhood social functions arrived, my father was entirely uninterested. My mother responded by staying home to sulk or else attending alone and fabricating an excuse intended to protect them both from shame. She thought it an enormous and delicious act of rebellion when, many years later, she began to tell the truth: “William didn’t want to come.”

I suspect my mother might have been better able to tolerate my father’s eccentricities if he had left her alone to rule the household as she saw fit. Instead, he acted as overseer. He believed her somewhat lacking in brainpower and in need of supervision. My mother responded by using her “stupidity” to manage regular bank overdrafts and other ploys to make sure that we had tasty food and clothing which was not embarrassing.

I could think of no other way to affect conciliation than to hold the confidences of both Mom and Dad while trying to help each understand the other’s point of view. I have intentionally avoided the word reconciliation because they didn’t learn to enjoy and cooperate with one another until I was grown and out of the house.

My father frequently asked me to accompany him on weekend errands. During our times in the car, he entrusted me with adult concerns: “I love your mother but you have to understand that she is like a child.” He implied that she wasn’t very bright. His manner communicated that we had a special bond and that I was able to understand things my mother couldn’t. I listened quietly or else I tried to help him understand my Mom. I felt special. Surely I must be a very mature and smart girl! At the same time my father’s confidences were tainted. I was ushered into a realm of emotional intimacy which should have been reserved for my mother.

My father’s attentions were never sexual but they had a quality of intimacy which confused me and which I still find difficult to describe. Perhaps an example will clarify: Several times, immediately after flying into a rage and administering corporal punishment for minor misdeeds, my father came to me as I cried on my bed and calmly rubbed my back. He sought comfort and empathy. He wanted my reassurance that I understood him: He had been compelled to punish me this way because of his love for me. It had been done for my own good. Now that his rage had achieved release, I probably should have offered him a cigarette.

My mother found in me a convenient outlet for expressions of frustration involving my father. Having been influenced by my father’s assessment of her defects, I found Mom’s confidences less satisfying. I was torn between my desire to be her friend and ally and the guilt I felt when I failed to remain loyal to Dad’s agendas. I explained my father to my mother as best I could, hoping to win her compliance and bring about harmony. I was drawn to her by a child’s need for closeness, yet I was repelled by the contempt I felt. Her loyalty was two-sided as well. On occasions when we children misbehaved a bit more than she could manage, my mother appealed to my father to discipline us the moment he arrived home from work. When he was stressed, he lost his temper and raised welts on our thighs while my mom, once again in the role of good guy and advocate, begged him to stop.

My parents were either unaware of their nauseous dance or else too deeply entrenched in their power struggle to resist childish misbehavior. I tried to stand between them and connect them. I recall one very painful incident in which my father gleefully offered to take us kids out for ice cream. The offer followed directly on the heels of a heated argument between the two of them.

Going out for ice cream was a rare and valued treat. We excitedly hopped in the car, relieved that safety had been restored. We waited for my father to pull out of the driveway but he did not. After a moment, he declared that he wouldn’t take us unless my mother came too. I ran into the house and asked her to come. Still furious and hurt from the confrontation, she refused. My father innocently responded that my mother was the one with the power to decide whether or not we would get the ice cream. I reasoned (and pleaded) back and forth with my father and my mother while my siblings looked on, begging and sobbing loudly. Finally my mother changed her clothes and slipped into the car. She looked straight ahead and didn’t utter a word. My father was positively giddy. I had somehow chosen my father and betrayed my mother for an ice cream cone.

Keeping the peace was a task far beyond my reach as my family culture made it difficult to befriend more than one member at a time. To be close to Dad, I had to snub Mom. If I allied myself with Mom, I had to defy Dad. If Dad’s mercurial anger threatened to alight upon me, I had more complicated choices to make. I became an expert at reading the family tea leaves so that I would know just how to respond. Should I turn off my emotions and try the cool, logical appeal he favored? Should I feign submission and ask for mercy? Should I play dumb and implicate my mother or siblings? Should I inconspicuously ease my way out of the room? Should I run like hell? When push came to shove, I looked out for myself.

My writing is replete with dichotomies, and that is as it should be. I felt divided then, and I feel divided still. This is the kind of confusion wrought by emotional incest and manipulation. Loyalty and betrayal continue to be fraught concepts. Sometimes the line between being a good “ambassador” and being a flagrant codependent or a weasel is finer than one might think. I’ve developed a good professional understanding of how this works. (Would it surprise you to know that I have a specialty in couples therapy?) The summer of 2011 drove the lesson home in a personal way.

I’ve been sitting on this piece for two days. Clicking “publish” is hard sometimes. One betrayal per click. Family Rules breaking left and right. I can feel my stomach churning. But this is my story, and I’m going to tell it. I’m going to sell out my parents for the possibility of a “like.” Think carefully. Do you really want to be complicit?

This is where Family Rules and The Story of Hanna Intersect. For the prior installment of Family Rules, click here. For the next installment of Family Rules, click here. For the prior installment of the story of Hanna, click here. For the next installment of The Story of Hanna, click here.

How?

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

How do I continue this story?

When Hanna and her husband Niko headed back to Germany after their ill-fated visit, there was silence. Ok, Hanna did let us know they had arrived safely and that they would be in touch. The message was curt. I wasn’t terribly surprised.

It was clear from the outset that we had considerable work ahead of us. I had actually shown my best friend the door. That is a euphemism. After a month of hell, I had more or less pushed her through it.

Those weeks in the summer of 2011 were the most stressful I had ever experienced. Within a few days of their arrival, the shower drains began clogging with hair. We were all—literally—losing it. But our friendship was so deep and so wide. We had a commitment and history most married couples would envy. As horrible as the month had been, I rested in the belief that after we licked our wounds and got some rest, sanity would return. We would talk things through to resolution.

I was wrong.

I waited to hear from Hanna, figuring she needed some down time. I knew I did.

After a while, I sent some chatty emails. I got no response. Then I sent letters. And more letters. Too many letters.

First my tone was optimistic: “Whew, that was rough, wasn’t it? I look forward to talking when you are rested.” Then the protective numbness began to crumble.

I made rational appeals. I begged. I pointed the finger, too. I followed up with conciliatory tomes. Nothing. All the while, I believed—then convinced myself to keep believing–that after all our years “for better,” our little marriage would undoubtedly survive “for worse.” It took 5 months for the Dear John letter to arrive. It was not gentle.

I had no recourse. Hanna had cut me off at the knees. She let me know she had not read anything I had sent. She pronounced us dead without trying to see matters through my eyes.

I had no recourse, so I began to write. I needed some outlet, if only my creaky old laptop, through which to vent my regret, anger, despair. I really needed Hanna but she wouldn’t have me.

Hanna and I used to process everything together with our one big brain. She was the right hemisphere, and I was the left. Or visa versa. I was inconsolable. My husband was incredible but he had a lot of thinking to do himself. My other friends were great. Still, there is a limit to how much one can unload, even to the most loving of friends, day after day; week after week; month after month. I was clinically depressed.

Tapping the bones of this story into Petunia, my decrepit but faithful pink Dell, was therapy. She gave me the voice I needed. If you’ve been reading my blog, you may understand the desperation I can feel when I am unheard*.

It’s been a few years since things blew up, and I think I’ve worked through the experience thoroughly enough to share it.

Here is my concern: What if I discover, in stirring up and fleshing out the story, that the embers are not as cold as I believe? I could end up with a flash fire. I have worked through all the predictable stages of grief, but feelings have their own logic and are rarely processed to completion. I know better than to believe they will remain quiet after a firm jab with the old poker. Yes, that concerns me.

I don’t hold out much hope that I will hear from Hanna again but I can’t know that. I still think of her often and consider her and Niko friends dear to my heart. I still love her so much. She never did tell her family anything, and I have occasional contact with her parents. I’ve known her brother Torsten since he was about 5, and he is a good friend, a brother. Maybe, just maybe….

I want to write as though she will read these words. I must do it this way or not at all.

This is a tall order, and I hope I am up to the task.

This is the second installment in The Story of Hanna. Click here for the third installment.

*This post and this post deal with not feeling heard.

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