the scorched earth

by rantywoman

Mary tried to be fair, but her jealousy was beyond all bounds. Possibly Mrs. Herbert had been shy. Possibly she might be something more than beautiful, rough, rude, brainless, vulgar. This was Mr. Herbert’s serious permanent choice. She had been an amusement, a very small incident. “But I am superior,” she thought.

— F.M. Mayor, The Rector’s Daughter, p. 152

Sometimes the old dog in the corner can still be roused; it will, on occasion, still prick up its ears or wag its tail. This particular old dog will, on occasion, even be roused enough to leave its solitary cushion, if a smart, witty, sensitive, like-minded soul comes around.

This weekend I made a bold move; I reached out to someone I barely know in an attempt to forge a connection with someone I’ve long identified with and admired. I put aside my sense of shame and took a chance, something I do about once a year, when I realize that any semi-satisfying relationship of any duration that I’ve ever had resulted entirely from my efforts. In the midst of my communication, however, I heard from a decades-old friend, someone I normally keep at a bit of a distance due to a long history of empathy fails. Long story short, wires got crossed, paragraphs were sent to the wrong person, and I ended up revealing a lot more to Mr. A (as I’ll call him) than I ever in a million years would have wished to reveal to him or almost anyone else.

Modern communication being what it is, however, I have no certainty that Mr. A received the messages. If he has received them, he has not responded. The power of vulnerability, indeed.

On a bigger level, I don’t know what, if anything, the universe was trying to communicate to me. “Shed old friendships that are standing in the way of more fulfilling ones” or “stick with the ones who actually call, no matter how frustrating and dispiriting they can be.”

In any case, in a week in which there has been a public outpouring of sympathy over a celebrity, I could have used a small show of kindness from Mr. A. On one hand, I could be totally humiliated over this; on the other, Mr. A could find the whole thing funny or touching and reach out. It appears, however, that there will only be silence; perhaps I don’t rate a response.

This old dog, however, with a head so weakly raised, easily returns to slumber in the absence of encouragement. There was nothing to be roused for, after all.

The internet is not much help in moments such as these. At worst, it provides the glib platitudes one encounters enough of IRL; at best, there is a feeling of “me too” solidarity and connection. What is missing is an empathetic ear that can take in all the specifics of the disaster that has happened; even better would be an empathetic ear that has some general familiarity with the players involved. This used to be known, back in the day, as friendship.

In my student period I was acquainted with a group of friends; of this group two were always my favorite. Over the decades, those two have only grown in my estimation, showing kindness, creativity, and wit in our encounters. They have both become writers. There was another member of that group whom I cannot recall saying a single thing of substance, intelligence, or charm, and who was unable to give me the time of day when I first moved to L.A. She moved here with no real career plans and ended up marrying a successful writer and having a brood of kids. It feels like she is living the life I would have liked to have lived. I was reminded of her again in all of this, because she is loosely connected to Mr. A, and were she a nicer person, I could try to glean some insight from her. Were she a nicer person, in fact, perhaps I would not have had to advocate for myself in the first place.

I feel, at this point, that I must just let all the embers die. The embers of unsatisfying friendships from my past as well as the last remaining embers of certain kinds of hopes for my future. That I must sit with the dark void for a spell, here at the bottom of the U-shaped curve of happiness, at age 44.

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