This morning brought a kick in the pants courtesy of Blitzken. He posted an article written by Mark Manson titled Love is Not Enough. Initially, I giggled because the preview mentioned Trent Reznor and we all know how well things end up for me when Trent Reznor is involved. Then I thought “Hmmm…It’s Sunday morning. You have a ton of things to do today and you’re not in the best head space to begin with. Are you sure you want to go down this rabbit hole?” Given that I am extremely adept at making bad decisions, I clicked and the little hamster on the little wheel in my little head started running and running and running.
This article is quite provocative and potentially painful. It certainly gave me a great deal to chew on and a great deal to file under: Denial or Save for Therapist. Accepting love does not come easily. We’re humans and, as such, we’re not overly bright when it comes to management of emotions. At least I’m not and I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in this regard. What really stung was reading this:
One of the oldest pieces of relationship advice in the book is, “You and your partner should be best friends.” Most people look at that piece of advice in the positive: I should spend time with my partner like I do my best friend; I should communicate openly with my partner like I do with my best friend; I should have fun with my partner like I do with my best friend.
But people should also look at it in the negative: Would you tolerate your partner’s negative behaviors in your best friend?
Again – a billion thoughts in the head but the one I’m willing to cop to is thinking about my relationship with Kate.
When I spoke at Kate’s memorial service, I had nothing prepared. One would think that someone who likes words and likes to make things out of words would have had some idea, a rough outline of sorts, of what to say or how to speak about her dearly departed best friend. I genuinely didn’t. Even that morning, as I was getting ready (which, to be honest, other than throwing on a dress, I didn’t do because I felt it was pointless to look nice) I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say other than wailing “I want my best friend back.”
When it was time to speak, I stood in front of a room of people (which I despise doing) and decided to talk about our friendship and what made it the perfect friendship for us. Kate and I were “yin-yang” to the core. From our appearance, our personalities, how we approached life, etc… I remember saying “Kate is kind and I am…me.”
After reading the article, I started thinking about Kate’s negative behaviors. People are prone to canonizing the deceased. Look no further at the legacy of Ronald Reagan for that. I wonder if I have been doing the same over the years and think “nope.” Kate was Kate. She wasn’t perfect, she had her flaws and areas for improvement but, overall, she was one of the kindest, most decent people one could hope to encounter, let alone befriend. And, because of that, she usually ended up in situations where she was hurt or taken advantage of. To the point of the article, if I were to expect the exact qualities in a lover as I would Kate, that would be impossible. Best friendships from childhood are special, precious and cannot be reproduced under any other circumstance – much like a gemstone. One can certainly make one in a lab but they’ll always remain lab created and not the real thing. And while lab created such-and-such has value and serves a purpose, it’s never treasured on the same level as the naturally occurring substance.
I also thought about how many times Kate and I argued. Arguing isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I find it exhausting, physically and emotionally. I feel as if it takes me longer to recover from an argument than a hard day’s work of physical labor. I also think arguing (note: not animated bickering but fully blown, nasty words exchanged, accusations lobbed, name calling and general insulting activity) is destructive. Off the top of my head – Kate and I argued twice. Once when she questioned why I went to a therapist and questioned the entire life with depression thing largely due to my making some horrendously odious and destructive decisions at the time (I hung up on her even though I knew she was correct in calling me on my shit but incorrect about the depression bit) and the other time was about the drug dealer.
After that call in July when I thought everything was settled and she was going to toss him in the fuck-and-run bin, things seemed relatively quiet with Kate. We mostly talked about work, my frustrations with being a new mom and Dock’s being away so much, some health issues we were both having and boredom. A mostly non-notable summer passed. Me in Raleigh, Kate in Atlanta (the master plan was both of us in Atlanta but I was derailed). Me being a Mommy. Kate going out and having a rip-roaring good time with her friends when she felt up to it or staying at home, being a hermit and reading books when she didn’t. It was the new normal for us since Kang’s days of debauchery were decidedly over.
September rolls around and it’s still more of the same with the minor exception of my spine getting much, much worse. Turns out – lifting a baby when your spine is disintegrating isn’t a really great thing to do on a repeated basis. Emotionally, I was on overload. I did not need another problem to manage. I simply didn’t have it within me to deal with another problem. My patience was shot. My nerves, physically, were on fire and metaphorically, were just done – over everything. As usual, Kate listened to me moan, groan and cry my way through visits with specialists and share in my delight and I was handed Rx for pain killers. One of Kate’s dirty, little secrets was a fondness for recreational use of painkillers to take the edge off. She wasn’t much of a drinker but she did have a bowl of various pills on her kitchen table. Looking back, it should have been a clue. Then, it was just amusing to me. “Here – take one of these when you get home” she would say and I would wake up three days later. Good times.
The weirdness picked up around the middle of the month as her birthday grew closer. She started calling me from work during the day. Now, I’m rotten to the core and think nothing of making a personal call during the work day. Kate, on the other hand, wouldn’t dream of breaking a rule. If I did call her during the day, she would try to limit the conversation to minutes because she was supposed to be working. My initial thought “Oh yay! She’s finally relaxing.” Another sign missed.
The day before her birthday Kate called me in the morning and she was acting considerably bizarre and exceptionally evasive. I couldn’t figure out why she called if she was completely unwilling to talk to me or tell me anything about her weekend. She also didn’t appear to be in any mood to hear about what was going on with me. Then she tells me – she saw the asshat again. After 25+ years of being best friends, I didn’t need to know much more than that. My initial assumptions were correct: she never stopped seeing him, she never stopped using and her life was out of control. I was awash in rage and back to my earlier comment about the yin-yang, being angry at Kate is like being angry at Thumper. Who the fuck gets angry at Thumper? Who the fuck gets angry at Kate? Maybe I raised my voice? Maybe I didn’t? I don’t remember exactly. What I remember, clear as day, was saying I didn’t have the time to talk about her and the non-entity and hung up. Then I dashed off one of the cruelest, harshest emails I have ever written in my life and I can write some really toxic shit when I put my mind to it.
The gist of the email was: It’s the day before your birthday and instead of acting like you’re 38 going on 39, you’re acting like you’re 18 going on 19 (or something like that). Is this how you want to age? Is this your idea of maturity? How ’bout this? Why not give yourself the best present you can? Get yourself to a qualified therapist, work through your bullshit with respect to picking loser boyfriends and friends and why your self-esteem is in the toilet. Stop doing meth, kplzthnx. I love you like a sister. I don’t want to see you dead. If you continue down this path, you’re going to be dead. PS: Don’t speak to me again until you have made an appointment with a therapist.
Her response: an email confirmation for an appointment with a therapist. And, over the ensuing months, she made sure to report in to me regarding her treatment and progress. PHEW.
In the pre-Milkface era, when issues like this arose, the solution was simple. All I needed to ask was “Do you want me to come down there?” Her response was always “No.” And I followed with “Are you certain?” Five or six hours later, I was in Atlanta. That’s the way we rolled because Kate is like everyone else on the planet. No one wants to openly admit that they want help or simply don’t want to be alone. Most people will front and say they’re just fine while secretly wishing someone will show up and rescue them from something truly awful. Yeah…shake your head no. You’re lying to yourself.
This time, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get in Astrid and blow down 85 to talk sense into her. I had Milky and a traveling husband. And something that I have never admitted to anyone before – I was genuinely afraid, too. Abusive boyfriends, I can handle. Horrible break-ups: piece of cake. General life crisis: easy-peasy-puddin-pie. Drug dealers: not my forte. Meth has always scared the shit out of me. Furthermore, I didn’t know how bad things really were. I was working with data provided to me by Kate and Kate was 414 miles away.
All that said, it is my biggest regret in life. I might not have been able to prevent the inevitable but I sure as shit could have tried. My best friend, the person with very few negative behaviors (known to me at the time) deserved that and more. And how did I respond to the person with the least negative behaviors and the least amount of character flaws in my life? I failed her. I failed her family. I failed myself. And, please, do not think this is a plea for pity or forgiveness. It’s not. It’s just a genuine statement of how I view the situation now that I have more pieces of the puzzle. Logically (and knowing what I know now), I know the battle for Kate would have been epic and I was woefully incapable of fighting it. It doesn’t lessen the sting or the sorrow, though. It certainly doesn’t lessen the yearning for a do-over, mulligan, what-have-you. Maybe, however, it does explain why the grief is as profound as it is and why this particular loss is different and thus must be managed differently, atypically.