Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On Finishing Things

Last week a very close friend of mine moved away from me forever.

I've dealt with separation anxiety in some way shape or form for most of my life. I like people (as previous posts have mentioned) and I get awfully attached to them, to the point where I just can't let go, most often to my own detriment. Once a man started talking to me at a subway station on 176th street, and I rode all the way down to 14th Street with him as he went on about his life. He left and I never saw him again. Then I turned and rode back up to 120th where I was living at the time, but on the way I met up with a woman who started talking to me about her life story, and I rode all the way to 146th Street with her until I finally took the downtown train back to my apartment.

That said, it takes a while for me to make friends. Like, real friends. And more often than not, my "real" friends disappoint me and perhaps even participate in activities which inevitably lead to heartbreak. (Aren't I just a China doll...) In the past, when I am the one leaving, or when I know friend or family is about to leave I resort to desperate tactics, of which my favorite tendency has been fight-picking ('cause when you're fighting, it's always easier to be apart, and there are so many fights to pick!). Oh I've put a lot of relationships through fight-picking hell because I can't stand saying goodbye.

I've had the pleasure of being Real Friends with this particular individual for only about three months, truth be told. It was very nice, easy. He reminded me that there were relationships to be had outside of boyfriends, girlfriends. That even in a town where you grew up, where you thought you knew everyone and everything, there was still more to learn and know and meet and see. And there was a nice sense of humor about it and there was a genuine mutual interest in each others problems, however serious or absurd. Nice, right? And then he left because he had to, and I was pretty shook up about it. I saw it coming though, even as it began. For a long time I was disinterested in friendship with him because I knew this was coming. What was the point? But then, one way or another, the ease took over and tumbled into an inevitability which I tried on, at first with some eye-rolling, later with some reticence. And then, before I could convince myself otherwise It became comfortable and stretched out into a favorite shirt.

A favorite shirt that moved out of the country to find a clarity and a purpose that he couldn't do here. I knew, know it was necessary, blah blah. But, hey! I wasn't READY to say goodbye yet! Couldn't he've waited until, like, I dunno, I was ready, found new, other friends to ease the transition!? Or, like, I dunno, got my life completely in order?!!? Apparently not.

I did have some warning, which I'm grateful for, I guess. Indeed, with a month or two to go before the execution date I thought, well this time I can see this problem coming from a mile away. So I'll try to be a grown-up about it and I'm not going to pick a fight, I'll be good about it. Supportive.

Ok, folks. I don't try to repress things, I SUBLIMATE. I try to work through them or redirect them but then I fail at that and just end up repressing them, and then it all blows up in my face in some radical, messy explosion. So, well. Two days before we had to say goodbye, I dreamt we had a horrible fight and I woke up in a vile mood, still angry over the subconscious dispute over what I can't possibly remember (no matter!), and utterly sick to my stomach (and to boot I was feeling pretty out of it because I was under the weather as it was). And then the cat sneezed and it sounded a lot like, "REPRESSION, YOU FOOL!"

The next couple days I lazed around piteously, cried indulgently, declared that I was in a state of crisis, opted to move away forever and sell all my worldly possessions, and forged through with the defeatist resolve to eat wine and cake in the middle of the day.

Way to go, Liz.

With that, as usual, I plunged into the infinite caverns of self-reflection, whose intricate depths are occasionally illuminated by this measly rummage pile of diary-like blah-blah blog entries. Long story short, I thought about why the hell I do this to myself.

Turns out (after some thought), this clingyness extends waaay beyond my personal relationships with people, friends, Real Friends. It happens with things, projects, imaginary people. For instance, I realized I hadn't finished a book in two years (with one or two small exceptions), not because I couldn't find a book that I liked. Precisely the opposite: when I started really liking a book (and I've at this point compiled a list of all the books I've started and not finished), I compulsively put it down because some part of me is unable to deal with the fact that it will all come to an end--sometimes in a mere one to two hundred pages. I've been reading A Little Princess since 1993, Jane Eyre since god knows when. As a kid, I'd pick up the biggest books I could find. Starting in fourth grade, for a solid year and a half to two years I read all of Les Miserables, not because I was so invested in Hugo's writing style, but because I could sit and watch little Cosette's entire life happen, it wouldn't just, you know, cut off. What's more, the level of diffuculty was such that I knew it would be a long time before it all had to come to an end. I was riding off my inability to understand certain vocabulary, not as a gesture towards self-betterment, but as a protective mechanism.

Yes, I'm convinced of this. I developed a fervent, successive line of crushes on all four brothers Karamazov one summer, and had my heart broken four times over in the final pages of that wretched translation. Likewise, I simultaneously rejoiced and lamented on the day when Elizabeth finally got to go off with just got to be too much when I got to the Secret Garden, Mrs. Dalloway, etc, etc...I just started shutting them before the first pangs of heartbreak would sink in. PSYCHOSIS ANYONE?!?! I mean, these are like fake people!

So, yeah. Projects, the same. So many projects, papers started, in stages, drafts, nothing final. I'm working on this, this I'm at this stage, but I want to do eight more things. Once in college I took an A+ paper to my professor to ask how best to start editing it. She was utterly flabberghasted. Frankly, who the hell did I think I was. I mean--honestly!?

And this blog (while I seem to be on a role of pathologizing every element of my life). It's always going, completely un-finish-able. Even if I abandon it for months on end, it will still be here. Unfinished. Just a pile of thoughts that I can excuse away as personal or informal.

Ultimately it's not about saying good-bye, separation. It's about a problem with the notion of finality.

You know what Mr. Real Friend said to me before he left? Essentially: Do some work. Finish it. Send it to some publishers, outside of Pittsburgh. Your stuff is good and more people need to see it.

The simplicity of this statement blew me away, and I realized why I was glad that we had what we did, even though we were saying goodbye. And I think I'm ready to believe this.

The proof? I said good-bye to him on Monday. By Thursday I'd finished reading one book (Coehlo's The Alchemist, a fable). By the following Monday I'd finished another (Robinson's Home, a novel--Robinson is my favorite author, very, very hard to finish when each sentence is just that good.). It's ok. I lived. They'll be there when I need them again, if I need them again. I'm sure I will. And you never know--who wouldn't want to know how Jane Eyre ends up? She's safe where she is, but she's better off getting to know me, and me her. And there's so much, so much out there--why let a little thing like an all-consuming lifelong psychological affliction get in my way?

In many ways books are like friendships. They never really end, because your relationship still evolves, even after one chapter, or one volume is finished. They change because you change; you see them differently as time passes, and you need them for different reasons at different times. As a wise friend said, they're still there. They stay with you forever--even if you can't see them.


Addie said...

oh my liz, how i miss you and your way too intense but still always genius over-analyzations of everything. i agree with your Real Friend (i think i know who this is...). get yourself/your stuff out there! and if not, i'll be back in august, won't be able to stay long, and will make you come with me :)

Elizabeth said...

Well. It's also important to remember that when people leave us nothing is finished. Knowing them changes us and so they never really leave us. And sometimes they come back (as you did into our lives) and the relationship becomes deeper and richer.

L said...

addie - i miss you too. and thanks for seconding the advice, i'll do my best.

eliz - hey that sounds awfully familiar. and, you are so right.

what did i do to deserve such wise friends? i love you both.