12 May 2008

Let the Dead...

Claire knotted the paper napkin into a damp wad, tried to smooth it out again, failed. Shreds clung to her fingers as she reached across the table to where our waiter, a quiet man with gentle eyes, had left a small stack of spares.

"OK," she said. "This is not going to be easy but I'm tired of being unable to stand myself... I'd rather have someone else unable to stand me for a change.

"You remember Theo, and all that ugliness involving Jade." Her eyes flashed up to meet mine, closed.

Yes, I remember him. And her. And ugly is too kind a word for what they did to you.

She blew out a long breath, scrubbed a hand across her forehead. "How we were teamed up on several software projects, and Jade had been married maybe nine months, and she started trying to get me and Theo together for lunch. Pushing it. Really pushing it. And watching me like a hawk. And I'm thinking what a nice guy he is, smart, cute, funny, interesting, but damn if I'm going to make anything out of it in front of an audience. And then he never shows any interest in me when she isn't around, so I never have a chance to make anything out of it without an audience.... God! It took me two whole months of that sleaze to realize they were using me as a screen, the whole time she wanted him for herself, wanted to have an affair with him, and then when I refused to be used that way anymore... how they rubbed my nose in it. Her not married a year, cheating like that, right out in front of God and everybody... "

I remember, all too well. How you cried, how ashamed you were... ashamed of caring for him and of caring about the situation. And how they reveled in your tears, and made sure you knew it.

"But one of the ugliest nastiest things I never told you... and I have to now, because nothing that's going on now will make sense unless you know what happened then."

All right then. Tell me. It's OK, I'm here, I'm listening.

"We had this really nice guy in Shipping and Receiving... Mike. About 50, married, kids out of the nest, looking forward to graduation, grandkids. Sweet man, really kind. I knew him because I'd started out on an inventory software project, and wanted to set things up to match the way they actually handled the inventory, and he was a huge help. Anything that worked on that project, worked because of him.

"So... while all this ugly stuff is going on, Theo and Jade rubbing it in my face, Mike gets what he thinks is an ulcer. Doesn't go to a doc. No time, he says. Doses it with Rolaids, Pepto-Bismol. Can't figure how he got one so bad so fast out of nowhere. Stops coffee, stops eating anything but white bread and cream of rice. Tries to deal with it for about a week, then his wife finds him curled up on the bathroom floor and calls an ambulance. God, Luce, he had a ruptured appendix the whole time... he nearly died, they were pumping antibiotics into him for days...

"He made it, he got through. S & R passes the hat, you know, and some of us sent flowers and a couple of us took some meals over, lasagna and like that, so Kelly, his wife, wouldn't have to cook...

"I got a couple of cards, passed them around. I couldn't actually take them to everyone's office so I put them out front, sent an email around. Everyone owes S & R, you know. We get anything, it comes in through them. And fast, too, when you really need it. They get it done. He gets it done.

"So I'm getting ready to seal up the cards, and I realize Theo hadn't signed them, and neither had Jade. Well, they were both around, the whole time, so I figure they must have missed my note, or they just forgot, and it's no big deal, I'll catch them on the way out.

"God, Luce, this is so sick, nasty. I caught them, in her office. Door open, nothing going on... not sick or nasty that way. Sick and nasty this way: they refused to sign the get well cards for Mike. Sat there, smirking at me, and refused to sign them. And why, do you suppose, did they refuse? Because Mike 'didn't know who they were'.

"Can you imagine that? This guy, he's lucky to be alive, and these two scumballs begrudge signing a CARD for him because HE doesn't know THEM personally. So I guess they can't be bothered to express simple gladness that he survived. It's not about him, it's about THEM.

"I wanted to spit, Luce, and I wanted to do it right in both their faces.

"The only good thing about it was that it cured me, completely, instantly. In that instant, looking at those two smug, mean, vicious little faces, I realized exactly what they were, and I was GLAD that Jade had gone after Theo. She did me a huge favor."

Yes, she did. And yes, it's nasty and sick. You're better off without people like that in your life. But of course, that's never a painless discovery...

"OK, now, this was over and done with years ago. Mike comes back, we're all glad to see him, he's doing great these days. Jade gets into Marketing, which is what she wanted anyway, and Theo goes who knows where. He leaves, gets another job. The affair lasted a couple of years, but it's over several months before either of them moves on.

"Now here's the part where I can't stand myself.

"Jade and her husband had two kids. She gets pregnant the first time right before she starts the affair with Theo. You know how that works... yecch... and she has the next one when the first one is about two. I remember feeling really sorry for them both, those kids. What's it like to owe your existence to the fact that your mother wants to cheat on your dad? God! But anyway... the affair is over and the kids are still there. I don't know if her husband ever had a clue, about Theo, or about why he ended up a daddy when he did. Meanwhile, Jade starts on all this hypercompetitive Mom crap... hires a live-in nanny, gets all hoity toity about preschool, private school, tutors...

"Luce.... the kids... they were in a car accident... with their nanny... nobody made it. Two weeks ago.

"So we passed the hat.... and we bought cards... and took up for flowers...

"...and Luce, I could not bring myself to put in one stingy penny. I couldn't bring myself to sign any of the cards. I didn't go to the funeral...

Did you rejoice? Were you glad those children died? Did you care about the nanny?

"I felt horrible for the nanny. And the kids? I felt even sorrier for them, poor little things. They only got born because Mommy wanted to mess around. Then they barely got any life at all... God, the whole situation is awful.

"But I could not, I cannot, just cannot scratch up one single particle of sympathy for Jade. None. Zip. Zilch. Those kids, they didn't deserve that. The nanny, she sure didn't. Jade's husband, the kids' daddy, he didn't deserve any of it. But her? I hope she rots before she dies. And I can't stand myself."

I can stand you just fine. You have plenty of sympathy, more than enough, for those who deserve it. If you had a way to help the nanny's family, or Jade's husband, you would do it, wouldn't you? But you don't have any connection to them, right? The only person you can extend help to is Jade.

"That's exactly it. And I can't get over what she did... not to me, believe it or not, but to Mike. I saw the cards, the invitation to donate for flowers, and all I could think of was the mean, smug look on her face, back then, and the way she tossed her head when she told me she was - basically - too good to care about the guy."

Did you make an issue of this? Have you been talking about it?

"God no!"

Well, Claire, I think you've done the best you could do with a bad situation. I know plenty of people would insist that you be Gracious and Big and extend yourself in sympathy to Jade... but Claire, she gave up all claim to your sympathy, under any circumstances, years ago. She hurt you for pleasure, and she knew she was doing it when she did it. And then she withheld kindness from someone else, deliberately, and in so doing she hurt you for pleasure again, didn't she? Can you see that?

"Oh yes, I saw it then, too. But Mike's emergency wasn't about me!"

No, of course not. But your kindness to him was, very much, about you. And it's that kindness that she targeted, far more than Mike. She was an abuser, to you, to her husband. And Theo was too.

Claire, if you're hating her now, that is wasted hatred, and when you're ready, you'll be able to stop. But as far as being unable to bring yourself to make any sacrifices for her now... well, Claire, this is what He meant, this is exactly what He meant, when he told that nameless young man, so many years ago: Let the dead bury their dead.

He didn't mean not to care. He didn't mean not to give. He meant not to waste your giving and caring on those who are incapable of doing the same. You will be kind, if you can find the way, to her husband, to her nanny's family. You are simply refusing to waste goodness and mercy. Sometimes we have to make that choice. But it's always a choice that the abuser makes first.

My niece sighed as her hands unclenched. And she looked at me again, and smiled, with understanding and relief dawning in her clear and honest eyes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope your niece doesn't mind that you wrote about her. It's a sad story. You said the right things.

13 May, 2008 21:25  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Hi Anonymous

You're right, it's a very sad story.

I promised to change enough details so "Claire" and the situation wouldn't be easy to recognize.

There really was a brutal, abusive betrayal and a tragedy that came upon the abuser afterwards.

The person who was abused really did have to face their inability to offer support to their former abuser, and really did feel badly about this.

And there was comfort given along pretty much the exact theological lines that I described here.

The most important aspects here are truly told. I can't say more than that.

13 May, 2008 21:45  
Blogger CZBZ said...

"...I know plenty of people would insist that you be Gracious and Big and extend yourself in sympathy to Jade... but Claire, she gave up all claim to your sympathy, under any circumstances, years ago. She hurt you for pleasure, and she knew she was doing it when she did it. And then she withheld kindness from someone else, deliberately, and in so doing she hurt you for pleasure again, didn't she? Can you see that?"

Your story haunted me all night, Stormchild. May I send you the bill for my Excedrin this morning?

I couldn't quit thinking about what you'd written so beautifully, right down to conversational dialogue that could have been snipped from my own life. All those times I hated myself for not being true to my compassionate self. For not being able to 'rise above circumstance and extend myself in sympathy' to someone who had maliciously abused my good nature with what is hard for us to admit: sadistic pleasure.

I have done the wrong thing countless times believing that Extending the Olive Branch would result in reciprocal responsibility and kindness. NO. It doesn't. All it does is give an abusive person a second chance to attack our kind hearts. And o, how they love that. Maybe the first time we were naive, but the second time? That gives sadistic folks even more pleasure because we're laying our head on the chopping block in the belief they won't swing the ax.

I have so many thoughts about what you've written (as usual!) because I'm not a person who harbors grudges. I give people a second chance just like I hope they do for me. Everyone makes mistakes, after all. But what struck me as being so powerful in your story is how we ABUSE ourselves with guilt and blame when we are not KIND to those who abuse kindness because they MUST.

Imagine feeling bad about ourselves! That's exactly what happens in abusive relationships...we hold ourselves accountable. The abuser views our kindness as an opportunity to abuse us one more time. And a second or a third and the more we blame ourselves for not living up to our higher ideals, the more the abuser achieves his or her ultimate goal: destroy the goodness and kindness they envy in others.

"You are simply refusing to waste goodness and mercy. Sometimes we have to make that choice. But it's always a choice that the abuser makes first."

CZ with a big heart who is finally learning to get smart.

14 May, 2008 16:07  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Right back atcha, CZ.

Sorry about the Excedrin.

It's a hell of a world, isn't it, when decent people are taught to feel guilty about refusing to be hurt - again - by people who have already hurt them many times before.

Having a working memory is not, not, not the same thing as holding a grudge... but abusers strive mightily to persuade us that the exact opposite is true. We should discount, trivialize, and forget their abusiveness, so that they can keep on discounting, trivializing, and abusing us.

Hugs to you -- Storm

14 May, 2008 19:25  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Oh dang, I published that last comment prematurely.

CZ, I also wanted to thank you for your kind compliments. I have been reading The Narcissistic Continuum regularly - I check in several times a week looking for new posts. You are an incredible writer. A compliment from you in that regard is high praise indeed.

14 May, 2008 19:34  
Blogger CZBZ said...

O dear...thanks for the validation but like a typical partner of a narcissist, compliments make me uncomfortable. No one is more acutely aware of my literary limitations than myself.

So I hope everytime you read one of my messages, you see an AUDACIOUS woman doing what she can to bring about positive change in everyone's lives---including my own.

Healing, true healing---increases our responsibility. If we knew that before immersing ourselves in the process, I wonder if we'd go ahead and do it?


15 May, 2008 12:57  

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