Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ending a chapter, or closing a door?

I've always liked the visual analogy of closing doors to a part of your life. Something about the finality of it appeals to me. I'm the kind of person that really likes for things to be clean and settled when I leave them behind. Recent years have started to change my perspective on the idea of closing doors when it comes to big moments in your life.

When I left Columbus, MS after five long and exceedingly painful years, I remember being elated as I drove out of town. I gave away virtually everything I owned and came back to Memphis with only my cats and the things I could fit into my Sunfire, my best friend's Nissan 240, and my dad's 1993 Toyota pickup truck. No furniture, no dishes, no cooking utensils--almost nothing. For weeks, I slept on the floor of my new apartment in Memphis, with my clothes in cardboard boxes, until I could get a job and furniture, and honestly, I loved it. I was closing the door on the hardest period of my life and I was not ever going to look back. For the most part, I haven't looked back. I've glared back. Whenever I think back on my years in college, the prevailing feeling I find myself focusing in on is not pride that I survived it, but resentment that I ever had to go through it in the first place. I was deeply and lastingly changed by my years in Columbus. I am far less naive, far more cynical, and less likely to trust people that come into my circle now. I am also a far better friend than I ever was before, because I learned first hand what it feels like to be betrayed by not one, but many friends. I am fiercely protective of my friends, I consider them family, I trust them like family, and so to be hurt by someone I consider to be a friend is one of the most painful things I have ever gone through. You question your worth, you reevaluate everything you ever said, looking for something that may have led to the people you cared about turning on you. Such an exercise in futility. What I took away from Columbus, what I see now as the large lesson I learned from living there for those five years, was not great college memories of parties and classes and bonding with new people. Columbus taught me--purely because of many of the people I chose to surround myself with during the first three years I was there--that there are truly awful, selfish, hateful people in the world who do not give a damn about you and will bury you if they get half the chance, especially if they see a benefit in it for them. It's an important life lesson to learn, because there really are people like that in the world. I just wish (like everyone does) that I didn't have to learn that particular lesson the way I did.

I have held on to so much anger at one particular group of people that I (at that time) considered to be good friends. People who, after three years of friendship and comradery, not only consciously knifed me in the back, with intent and malice, but who also apparently took great pleasure in twisting the blade for good measure for the remaining two years of my stay there. I held on to that hate so tightly in the months after I left Columbus that I started to withdraw from almost everyone I had known there, even the true friends that had stood by me, because it simply hurt too much to have any reminders of that time in my life. I sacrificed friendships, really wonderful friendships, because I was so filled with hate for the town, the college, the culture. When I left Columbus, I abandoned almost everything and everyone that I had connected with there. I closed the door on a painful part of my life, but it was such a mistake to do it.

I'm not saying that it wasn't a natural or normal reaction. It's simply that my M.O. for YEARS has been to withdraw and avoid and ignore when things are hard. I've tried other options, like the turn-the-other-cheek road, which in my opinion only leaves you with more anger and resentment because people tend to treat you like a doormat. I'm far too willful to allow people to step on me with any regularity. I've also tried the revenge tactic. That worked for awhile, when my anger was still raw, but a decade later, when the payoff finally came and I got validation and recognition that I had been right all along, and had been needlessly and senselessly hurt by someone I loved--the end result was not the self-righteous justification that I expected. It was just an empty, hollow feeling in my chest. I was right. Great. It doesn't take away the pain. It doesn't take away the memory of betrayal. What a waste of time and energy, to spend so much time focused on people that in the long run do not mean a damn thing to me, and never should have in the first place. I have waffled between whether I should forgive or not forgive, with no answer at the end of the day. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, means it's over. Move on and don't let them win. On the other hand, I once heard someone say that to forgive is merely giving permission to be hit again. The answer, at the end of the day, changes depending on the day of the week and how you feel at any given moment. There is no one all-consuming truth to help you deal with pain and recover from betrayal at the hands of people you love.

Sorry, I started rambling and got kind of off topic. My point is, I pushed away good friends who truly cared about me and removed them from my life because the only way I have ever really been able to get past betrayal is to cut and run. I find myself thinking these things because yesterday I attended a memorial service for my friend Courtney, who I met in Columbus, and had reconnected with in recent years through social media. Courtney just lost his life to leukemia, and I'm so glad that he was persistent in calling and emailing and texting me over the last several years, because dear God, I love that man so much. Courtney was one of the best people I have ever known, and the celebration of his life, which took place in Baldwyn, MS, brought me back into contact with a number of people that I have not seen in years, people who I have really, really missed. Death is always what seems to bring people back together, and that's just a truly awful thing. I will spend the rest of my life regretting that I lost years with Courtney because I couldn't handle the past. I will not make that mistake again.

Tomorrow, I am starting a new job. In the last five years, I have gotten married, moved twice, went back to school, got a Bachelor's degree, had a baby, got a Master's degree, and raised my son as a stay-at-home mom while still working two part-time jobs on nights and weekends. All of that work, all of that struggle and change, which I never could have done if not for my amazing family and friends and wonderfully supportive husband, has led up to tomorrow. I am transitioning myself into a new career, and one that for the first time is not a part of the music industry. I am so excited to begin this path, and the temptation is to say that I am closing a door on one part of my life, the way I did when I left Columbus. I think, however, it is perhaps more appropriate to see life not as a series of closing doors, but of new chapters. I know, not an original concept, but one that has always been less appealing to me than the closing of doors (although it is strangely appropriate, since my new job is in library management). Ending a chapter, and starting a new one, isn't a clean finish, and that is uncomfortable for me. There's nothing final about it, it isn't finished--that other chapter is always right behind you, just over your shoulder, staring at you and reminding you of its existence and of the pain and mistakes and lessons learned in the past, whereas closing a door means you can ignore what is behind it. I have to continually remind myself that I wouldn't be the person I am without those lessons, and I should appreciate them instead of hiding from them. I have had to learn how to let myself feel my feelings instead of stamping them down, and how to allow people who love me to help me when I need it, instead of running away and pretending that I'm fine. I need to learn to revisit the chapters I've finished, so they can help me better navigate the ones that are coming up, even if I don't know the end result.

Uncomfortable? Yes.
Urge to run away? Definitely.
Desire to put my head in the sand and pretend none of it ever happened? Been doing that for years.

The answer I give to myself is this: man up. Face it like the adult you are. Allow the ones that love you to prop you up and support you, and just wipe away the bad with a shrug of your shoulders and the knowledge that none of the bad matters. End the chapter, turn the page, and start the next, secure in the knowledge that you now know something you didn't before, and that you have many more chapters to go before you understand why you had to go through all of the pain and what it is ultimately all about. As Schmendrick the Magician said in Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn, "The happy ending can't come in the middle of the story."

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