It is so hard sometimes to find out who people really are. Especially people you admire. Especially people who are mentoring or helping you. Especially if you find out bad things.
The last month of the year 2014 has been particularly painful. Several months of me being unemployed and searching for the right career home had finally ended, and after barely surviving financially—and I do mean barely, we had just let ourselves breathe. Note to self: exhale with caution in the future.
We were behind on everything—bills, Christmas, anniversary pictures that we usually have done in November—all of it. But it all seemed like it was going to be ok, finally.
Then, I was kind. We were kind.
We were kind to someone whom I had already started to doubt, and that gnawing doubt felt awful. I wanted to deny it, but it wouldn't go away.
For the last year, I had finally made some progress in my writing, particularly for my book, in workshops and through guidance and support-- and the very person who had been a key part of that, who I had thought so much of, turned out to have a different side, and I had seen it. I was pulling back, but one last time, I got pulled in again. And that one last time cost us dearly. Emotionally, financially, and for me, something went dark afterwards.
The first loss is too painful to write about here. It was the worst and most emotional.
The second loss--all the confidence I had felt in my writing-- swirled away in that one day; a mad rush of all the positive words and moments throughout the last year that were tied to those classes and interactions—all of it got sucked into a black hole and poof! it was gone. Almost instantly. I couldn’t associate any of it as good or true if it came from that person who I now knew as not a good person—even a really bad person. And what did it say about me if I had been fooled or charmed by someone who told me things that may or may not have been true? How hungry was I for compliments and positive feedback? Then, what if it was real? What if she meant those things? What did it matter if it came from her? All that I had learned, all that I found valuable—the things I had written, the progress I had made—the notes, the time, the lessons—I wanted nothing to do with it.
It wasn't just drama or emotion. The writing that I have been doing is so personal, and the most important thing to me has always been that I am doing the right thing in the right way. Now, so much of it feels wrong, especially if the inspiration and guidance has come from someone I now feel is just really, at the core, not a good person.
So what of all this good vs. bad? Who am I really? I can tell you that I have done a lot of soul searching in the last month, and that’s saying a lot, because I feel that in my 45 years I have done my damn share of that already. But really. I asked myself over and over if I am truly kind and what motivates me and if I am a good person. What motivates me to be that? Do I want praise for it? Do I want some kind of reward?
I can remember my mom promising me over and over when I was a little girl, that if I was a good person, good things would happen for me. She would lay the whole thing out—in detail. That if I would do well in school, behave, not get into any bad things-- that I would meet a prince charming-type guy, get married, have lots of money, no worries, and lots of babies, and be happy forever. She would get so excited telling me this. I asked her one day if she had always been good, and without a beat, she said “yes”. I remember my little seven-year-old self, standing there on our green linoleum kitchen floor and I looked around and said, “But you don’t have all of those things”. She didn’t know what to say. She was clearly annoyed and told me to go play or do something else. I was worried even then. I already saw how the world worked-- or didn’t work--and I didn’t like my odds. But I wasn’t playing for the odds. I wasn’t trying to win a game. I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t nice or kind, or didn’t do the right thing. I didn’t understand how people just did whatever they wanted with little regard for the consequences. I actually envied those people—and at times— I still do. How did they not worry or fret about things all the time the way I did?
So, the sequence of events that started on December 12 seemed to keep going. We ended up financially wiped out, suffering a huge loss to our family, and then having to further deal with someone who each day just seemed to show me how foolish I had been to trust or believe or be kind to them in the first place. It was both painful and humbling.
Then other little things kept happening, and I honestly felt like I was going to lose it. I was driving home from a work meeting, in a rain storm, and I was stopped at a red light. I was actually sitting in my car thinking perhaps we had gotten through the worst of it. Then – BAM! A car rear-ended me. Seriously. In the second after it happened, I actually laughed and said out loud- “You have to be fucking kidding me.”
It felt like a hard hit. I motioned in my rear-view mirror for the person to pull out of traffic with me into a parking lot. I feared the person would just drive off, but she didn’t. As I waited for her to pull in behind me, I thought- I have had it. I am going to let this woman have it. I am not going to be nice, screw being nice.
I actually got out of my car and slammed my door and almost ran into a woman a little shorter than me, already pleading her case, already in tears. I heard at least one kid crying in her car. She had been Christmas shopping, she was distracted. It was her fault, she was so sorry. Was I alright?—she should have asked that first. She was sorry.
She stood in front of me, defeated…in a Santa hat.
My car was fine. The woman was apologizing, pointing to a small dot on my bumper that I couldn’t see, as we were both getting drenched in the rain. She didn’t do anything on purpose. It was an accident. It was life. And no matter what had happened to me in the last few days, I couldn’t be horrible. I couldn’t be unkind.
I told her to let me drive home and make sure everything was ok, but not to worry, I didn’t think there was a problem. She stood there relieved and we exchanged information. We started to walk away and she asked if she could hug me. She didn’t wait for an answer. As she hugged me, she said, “You are a good person, thank you. Merry Christmas!”
I got back in my car, let her drive away, and started to cry. I don’t know if I am a good person. I don’t. I know that it hurts me if someone mistreats an animal, or a child, or another human being. I know that I lose sleep over these things. I know that I am not perfect. I know that I am not always kind, and that bothers me, especially when I slip and say the wrong thing in the wrong moment—or when I think I have hurt someone.
I know that in December of 2014, I lost a little part of myself and it will take a long time to get it back. That may not be a bad thing, but I think it is a sad thing. I won’t go out of my way to trust or help as easily for a long time, if ever. It was just too costly. But I will hold those dear to me a little closer.
I haven’t revisited my book, and I honestly don't know if I will. I can’t imagine it at the moment. It breaks my heart. I was just so far down that path and in that mindset; it is hard to go another way. I will see what the new year brings.
That’s all I can do for now as the year comes to a close, and as I say goodbye to December…and all that I lost. Wait and see what the new year brings.
Artwork: Head and Heart by Charlotte Salomon