“Why are you calling me? Didn’t we just hang out yesterday?” This is Rob. He’s a couple years younger than myself. I graduated college a year ago and we remain rather close as he finishes school. And he is correct, we did just hangout. Last night. He has keys to my apartment. He was there before I got home from work. It’s his way, showing up without calling, hanging out, crashing on my couch, going home the next morning. This happens several times a week. I like it. We’re best friends. It’s what best friends do, or at least what we do. But the tone of his voice is cold, sharp, a deeper bass than usual.
It’s 2002. The biggest ice storm in decades is hitting Kansas City. And his frigid voice brought the bleak air indoors. But he’s my friend, I know him, he’s probably bored. Good thing I called. “It’s a total white out right now, can you believe it?! What’cha doing?”
“I’m with my brother, man.”
“That’s awesome!” Rob and his brother are real tight. “What are you doing?”
“Dude, the world doesn’t stop when you walk in the room.”
“I was just –” The phone cuts out. He hung up. I think maybe I’ll stare at my cordless phone because I don’t know what else to do. I’m confused. My mind is racing at what I could’ve possibly done. Or what he means. The world doesn’t stop when — is that how I am?
Part of me wants to throw the phone. Another part of me feels thrown away. I drink a beer. Or five.
“It’s a new beginning, Damian. I think a new normal.” This was Wendy several months back. She decided to move in with her boyfriend.
“This is huge, Wendy!” I couldn’t help but be excited. Everything prior to this moment had been a hard journey. Wendy’s story included a series of abusive relationships. Some were verbal. Some were physical. All of them damaged her. And, eventually, before anything positive could take root, she would run. Over and over again she felt expendable, unworthy of anything good. Thrown away.
Then Wendy had a child. And this child shifted something inside her. This child forced Wendy to see herself as meriting dignity and respect. It took Wendy time and therapy, some persistence and courage, and plenty of ups and downs to begin valuing herself. But soon everything about her life began to love her into existence. She started to like herself more and more.
So many times I’ve replayed Rob’s phrase in my head: The world doesn’t stop when you walk in the room. Why would he say this? Was I being too demanding of his time? Have I asked too much from our friendship? I can look back now and realize what Rob said had more to do with him than me. But those words have incorporated themselves into the way I carry on in my relationships. Am I too much of this? Am I too little of that? The sum of my adverse experiences have conditioned me to see myself as constantly ignored and tossed aside. Thrown away.
I’ve been feeling down these past couple of weeks, so I opened my journal to see if I could pinpoint what’s been going on. I read something I’d forgotten. One night, back when Wendy was struggling hard, she said to me, “Damian, the pain of my past really does paint my future. All I want is to enjoy the present.” Even now Rob’s words echo inside my head. I fall into the trap of living in the past, negating anything good in front of me. But Wendy reminded me through her words that I desire joy. I deserve it.
I’m doing the work. I see a therapist. I have a spiritual director. I’m learning to let friends come close while accepting their love and support. But this work reveals challenges: I don’t like everything about myself. There are places for growth and change and healing. Yet, old habits die hard. There are stretches of time when my past returns to infect my present. The only difference is I can see this now. I’m understanding how my head works against my heart. I’ve come a long way.