being the ghoul i’m not afraid of after all

More strawberries. I’m standing at the kitchen sink going through the latest large colander full from my husband’s efforts. I’d left them covered on my counter (instead of in the fridge) for two days and so a few of them have gone bad, a few of them have gone too soft or have mold. I think of myself as the kind of flibbertigibbet who’d just debate for a minute and then throw the whole batch in the trash. As my husband says, Kelly, it’s fine, we have so many more. But my actions sometimes show me different than how I imagine myself, because instead I stand there and pick through them, carefully winnowing the bad from the good, taking tiny nicks out of tender berries to remove the soft spots. I think how amazing it is, while alive the ability we have to know with the merest touch of our thumb the difference from a perfectly ripe berry, to one that has gone over to the decaying process; perhaps not something I could write a standard operating procedure for here, but if you stood with me at my sink you’d see what I mean immediately and you’d take your own small knife up and we’d talk about other things while we did the bowl full.

I am thinking of one of my character flaws, something so innate it’s like an ego-twin whose shadowy form has followed me most of my adult life. In comparison, giving up smoking or cursing would be much easier*; it’s almost hard to isolate or describe this thing I’m rolling about in my mind, and it’s certainly a bit humbling when I get my hands around it and begin to see it’s shape. I’m thinking of my tendency in my close relationships to account actions vs. words and, if I find them not in accord, to judge or resent these offenders for this “sin”.

The friend who airily maintains he only has a beer now and then but is clearly an alcoholic. The acquaintance who says over and over she’d love to see more of me but does not make the time and effort to do so. My mother who insists she’s independent and enjoys being alone, but who has been so quick upon widowhood to begin thinking about and searching for a new man (incidentally, I meet her boyfriend this afternoon). The friend who goes on soliloquies about punctuality and integrity, but has last-minute canceled on many of our plans together.

It is so very important I pause here and clarify, because the “sin” I respond to is nuanced. It’s not that I am lacking in quality friendships or obsess on those that are less quality. I do not judge my mother for dating on her own schedule (in fact, I have not once teased her in any way about it – which for me indicates a good deal of restraint!). I am realizing when I write this that my character flaw, as I call it, only rears it’s head when I am close to someone. It’s as if after giving myself in some way to someone the disconnect between their actions, their behaviors, and their words will begin to seem like a personal affront. They are asking me to listen to them, to care about them, to pay attention to who they are, and to bring my own integrity to the table – then asking me to look the other way when their repeated real-life actions contradict their heartfelt words. The words say, “I am like this, I care about that,” but their behavior belies this. They are my friend and want my friendship to include my honesty and intelligence, but then they want me to suspend these qualities so they can spin out their more comfortable concepts of themselves.

And yes. I know “they” are asking none of this. This is just how it feels.

As I write this I realize how very incorrect I am to allow myself to feel slighted by someone else’s difficulties or personal disconnects. Because no one who “sins” in my scenario is beyond my understanding when I focus and consider the individuals who offend me in this particular way. The women who say they want friendship but repeatedly do not nourish it – and there have been many – are often just very busy people. This is such a typically-voiced mantra in so many of the friendships I’ve had in the last decade (“Oh, I’d love to sew, I’d love to learn yoga, I’d love to spend more time such-and-such“) that I have at least learned to notice especially those who put time in to what they say they value – including Me. As for my mother, she is to some degree independent – everyone is – but more importantly, I would guess she does not give herself permission to self-identify as lonely (many people eschew that word or concept quite vigorously, especially when it’s true). Alcoholism? I am still sorting that one out.

As for the tacit agreement my friends and family at times seem to require – the requirement I do not speak up and say, “Yeah, you say that, but I notice this” – even behaving as my best self I am unsure what to do here. I love my friends all the more knowing in the particular ways they are human, they have flaws – but I also feel clumsy when I am honest with them, and I worry that I have hurt feelings when I’ve done thus. Sometimes I wonder if this is a part of being female; there are many unspoken codes about what you’re allowed to say, what you should say, the quid pro quo of you stroke me, I’ll stroke you (I believe women do this very much with regard to things moral!). I wonder if loving someone deeply, being interested and courageous enough to truly know them, and being able to understand down at the depths of my gut what it’s like to be human may not make up for when I unwittingly or deliberately break these rules.

Maybe people are more rugged than I give them credit. I myself have not yet encountered that person, that “monster” who says the things about me I want no one to voice aloud. There is no nemesis out there I will avoid because they love me and see keenly into me and “out” me for my unfavorable traits. My favorite and best-held friends have been those who have had the courage to speak out and tell me what they notice about me – even if it’s not praise. Those people are rare, I confess. Either it is something about me in particular that is intimidating – or uninteresting! – or many people truly do see it as a gaffe or impermissible to say, “I see this about you, do you see it too?” and merely wait for the response.

* Nothing would be harder than giving up coffee, however.

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