They say that those who can’t do teach;
I suppose it follows, then, that those who don’t have live vicariously.
Sometimes crises have a way of showing us the spaces in our lives which are empty; whether by design or lack of attention —or fear.
Whenever I find myself feeling things too deeply, my natural inclination is to hide myself away from the world. I withdraw —not into myself, that’s the last place I want to be then —into the realm of fiction and fantasy, books and movies. These past couple of weeks I’ve practically been holding a one-woman film festival!
Really. I’ve seen Mamma Mia (twice!). The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, watched several mediocre comedies with my husband, watched a few videos at home by myself (including some of the Jane Austen series which aired on PBS); I’ve even seen one of the latest summer “blockbusters” with my husband —in the theater, the week it came out! I’ve read six romantic novels and still find myself yearning for a trip to the library.
The emotions I’m avoiding are just too much; I fear feeling them all at once so I let myself feel nothing —unless it relates to a fictional character.
With a few exceptions, nearly all of the books and movies I’ve immersed myself in celebrate relationships between women. Oh sure, on the surface the romance novels are about romantic heterosexual love but each strong heroine shares a deep bond of friendship —sisterhood —with other strong women. And some of those matinees? They were attended by groups of women who shared the experience —the laughter and the tears, exclaiming “We need to do this again!” as they walked out of the theater hugging.
Once upon a time, I was one of those women. I used to live and work (in various parts of the country) where I always had a moderate but intimate circle of female friends —women I could call upon when the world felt as though it were about to come crashing down. Women who were there to share the joys and laughter along the way. Women who were up for the adventures of jello shots or tequila shooters in SoHo, dim sum in Chinatown, a night at the Met, endless coffees at Starbucks; you name it and we probably tried it —or at least thought about it!
I’ve never been very good at maintaining relationships through time and distance (though I think I could be better now). I know it takes to two tango and all that but it has nearly always been the case that when geography separated me from my friends the relationships withered and blew away like so much dust; the truth is that I hated to be so vulnerable and it was easier to let go —to move on and find new friends.
When Nik was born geography was no longer the factor which kept me out of touch; it was the medically imposed restrictions on limiting Nik’s exposure —at first. Then, it became awkward with even my closest friends. They didn’t know what to say; they were caught somewhere in the snare of feeling helpless to make things better for us and of feeling relieved that it was us not them facing the tremendous challenges we all knew lay ahead for my family. After a while, it simply became easier and easier for me to pull back from social interactions which might have nothing to do with my son or with being the mother to a child with special needs. Sure, I still have a couple of really close friends but they are far away.
The me I used to know —the one who had deep, rich meaningful relationships with other women —vanished. After all, I had more important matters to take care of; there was no time for “my selfish needs.”
Lately, though, I find myself yearning for those friendships again; Evan’s death provided the catalyst. The walls I so carefully constructed after Nik was born were shattered in a heartbeat; the dam holding back my fears —my deepest, rawest emotions —burst forth in a torrent I cannot control. The outpourings of love and support for Vicki —for her entire family —made me stop and wonder:
What if it had been Nik? Would I have those relationships to sustain me? Who would hold me up when I could not stand for the burden of my grief? Who would be there to laugh with me in those early days and to tell me it was okay —that laughter is cleansing and healing. Who would be there to celebrate the life he lived, the gifts he gave? To tell me it is okay to continue living?
The answer has been sobering —and a little frightening. I must do something to break free of the shackles of servitude I have created for myself. Anything else would not serve.