Boundaries are Sometimes Painful

I was going to go into details about all of this. It’s not really my story to tell on either one, but I’ll be vague about it. In the last couple weeks, I have had two friends spinning off the rails. The long-story short about it for both of them is one I put some boundaries into place. One I walked away from for good. The other I am heavily considering doing the same. It has been hard to listen to repeating, rambling stories about how they are making sad choices to consciously fuck up their lives. One was a friend for a short time, and the other has been my friend for 20 years.

Both are self-medicating. Both are thrashing and ruining their lives. And with both of them when we have visited, I have this almost prickly feeling in the back of my head. It’s a voice that says “You know what you are listening to, right? You are listening to someone destroying themselves. This is slow suicide. This is madness.”

There is something to be said for someone who will be there for someone no matter what, and I have had my share of friends who have sat with me in the pain and listened and we’ve worked our way through some serious moments in each other’s lives. The big difference being that when they have been going through some stuff, or I have, we wanted to get through these things. I’m learning that some people just want to live there. If you can call it living. They don’t want to get better. They are killing themselves slowly and I have a front row seat.

Boundaries are important, and I know I have brought this up a number of times. When you have been raised in an environment where boundaries are either not acceptable or treated as betrayal, you are reluctant to put up boundaries. You get the brunt of their anger, you are told you are the mean one, you are told you have abandoned them (even if they are the ones who detonated their lives and for some reason you are responsible for their happiness–you have to save them!) They might actually be the one knocking out three bricks for every two you are trying to put in place for their freaking foundation! You feel guilty when your tanks run empty. And the calls keep coming. The next wave of drama. The next catastrophe. The next time they light their hair on fire and look at you like you didn’t bring the right fire extinguisher. Quit lighting yourself on fire!

For someone who has felt the heavy hand of abandoment issues, there are times when walking away has left me feeling completely guilty. I have a hard time saying “I have a boundary against someone acting like a complete shitshow.” You feel so cold and detatched. But there is a difference between seeing someone who is fighting for the next day, someone who genuinely loves life but is having a hard time and is simply overwhelmed, and someone who looks at you dead in the eye as they do the next stupid thing, expecting you to rescue them. And then throwing guilt at you for putting your ringer on silent or simply not answering their texts anymore. But the burden of guilt is on you, because you were their only friend.

I didn’t ask to be someone’s ONLY friend.

As if that isn’t manipulative. You feel guilty too for wondering how that could possibly be? I mean doesn’t everyone enjoy being someone’s emergency contact for someone continually hurting themselves? Yet, you get to be the asshole when you walk away.

Good people are used by trainwrecks all the time. I’m not saying that sometimes I’m not a little bit of work, but what I am saying is that when some people slather themselves up in bacon grease, they shouldn’t be surprised when they get bit jumping into a pool of pirannahs. So, I’m not even saying I’m all that good if I’m willing to just call it and say, naw, I’ve seen enough. I hate funerals, so why should I hang on to people who seem in such a rush to make it to their own? It might sound cold, but I have my own foundations to build, my own fires to fight, and I can pretty much tell when the Return of Investment is just going to be me having to buy a dark suit one of these days.

I’m a white knight in retirement. It’s a fine line to be there for someone when they are in need, and when their source of attention is making sad choices that ripple out to hurt others and themselves. It brings me no pleasure turning my back on some people, which is why I reserve it for a worst case scenario. But sometimes you have to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.

Boundaries are not fun. They aren’t easy. And sometimes you feel like a son of a bitch when you set them. It hurts because maybe it would just take one more time listening to them or just reaching out to help them…but some people will attach themselves to you and all that compassion and optimism and hope for them just turns bitter. Like an infection it can reach into your heart and ruin everything good you have inside. And they just don’t even care, because like a drowning person, they will take you under with them.

There has been some rough, stressful moments in my life, and looking at these situations, I have perspective. You see, I actually love my life, in spite of the hard turns and knocks it has given me. I love watching sunsets and visiting with friends and writing and petting my dog and a good joke. I like that hit of cold water in the face you get sometimes when you are on a whitewater raft. I like so many things about this world. So I’m not sure why it’s my responsibility to answer a call from someone who prefers the mess they are in to things like roasting a hot-dog on a willow stick over a campfire or looking at a beautiful piece of artwork in a museum. Some people are artists in chaos.

That boundary will hurt like a bitch. But I have always asked for help with the desire to pull myself out of the darkness and move onto better things, so I can learn about more things I don’t ever want to miss out on. I guess that makes me a little selfish. But really, the truth of it is, when someone uses you up, they don’t give a damn. And they will do it without remorse. They might even blame you for not sticking around long enough to fix their problems. They might even say you were the problem.

I guess what I’m saying is I need to be better at boundaries, and making the call as to whether I should help or not. Because this sucks.

I’m doing okay, in spite of the challenges and worries. The big reason for this is because I want a better tomorrow. I might beat myself up a little bit, but in the end, I know that things are going to turn out however they are going to turn out. It’s never my goal to make them worse to prolong my suffering for just a little bit longer. Jeez, no thanks. I can think of a hundred other things I would rather be doing. Letting myself become as bitter as they are isn’t on the agenda. But it is good to remind yourself that boundaries are important.

Tonight I am tired. Exhausted. But I am resolved to putting my resources where they matter. Not just with others, but also myself.

Last Looks

There’s a quote that is attributed to Buddha, but I guess its veracity is such that it might as well be something from Mark Twain. “The problem is we think we have time.” It resonnates with Solomon in Eccelsiastes. And even if the Buddha didn’t say it, it rings true. We always think we have more time. Even now with the world behind held hostage in this pandemic. Our life expectancies have gotten higher than any other time in history. And yet…it isn’t just death, but the ends of things we take for granted.

I have several moments in my life which were last looks I had with someone, though I didn’t realize it until later. I’m tired of those moments, though I’m sure my life will be riddled with them until that ultimate Last Look.

In just a couple days, it will be the seven year anniversary of the beginning of my journey through divorce. Or lately as I’ve called it a house fire that has been burning for the better part of the decade. I talk about it plenty of times because when I was heavily considering making that change in my life, there wasn’t much out there to support me. The first page of a Google search was a lot of links to “Work harder to preserve your marriage.” They advocated counseling, all sorts of things that had been tried and were only perpetuating an unhealthy situation. That fire had already been burning and it was time to get out.

The last look I remember on the morning of Halloween, 2014 was that of my then-wife frantically clicking on the computer to buy Christmas presents on Amazon because “The kids should at least get Christmas.” She had found out that the papers were about to be served and wasn’t happy. She didn’t even look up from the computer when I walked out of the house. The kids were another story. The older kids were dressed as Walter and the Dude from the Big Lebowski for their Halloween parties at their middle school. As I dropped them off in front of their school, I called out, “Hey! I love you!” My son didn’t even look back. Just the unidirectional purposefulness of his mind telling him to get to class. My daughter turned and looked back, but didn’t say anything back. She just ran to class. They were never the same after that.

About a month ago, I was walking to get the mail. A former classmate of mine who I never really got along that great with was turning the corner as I was crossing the street. He raised his hand in a rare greeting, and for once, I waved back. A few days later, I learned that he had been found dead in his tiny apartment later that day. I might have been one of the last people to see him alive. What a strange moment to reflect on.

In August of 2009, I stood beside my grandpa’s hospital bed. My aunt was there and she called to him “Grandpa! Clint’s here!” His eyes fluttered open for a moment and his head lolled over to look towards us, but they closed again. His leg was black with gangrene. His kidneys had stopped functioning. I signed off on the papers that said “no heroic efforts” and they stopped treatment to clean his blood. They kept him comfortable, as they say. By the afternoon, he was gone. It was a last look I could have skipped. But it gave me closure, knowing that he was no longer suffering. That he had reached the end.

In March 2020, we were at the beginning of this pandemic. It was a Sunday night and my girlfriend at the time was about to spend Spring Break on a road trip with her family. I was originally going to go with them, but my youngest was coming back to me from Spring Break before their trip was going to end. So I bowed out. We spent the day together and ended the evening watching TV together on the couch. Her head in my lap as I brushed her hair to spoil the hell out of her. She nearly fell asleep like that. When it was time for her to go, it was beginning to snow. A chilly, wet evening with big heavy spring flakes falling almost like slush on shiny black streets. We knew quarantines were coming. Two weeks to flatten the curve. We kissed and because I was standing in the cold in my sock feet, she told me to go back inside before I got cold. She rolled up the window and waved as she drove off into the night.

Six weeks later, the quarantine had changed the world. We talked almost every night until the end, but I never saw her again. I was blocked. Erased. Forgotten. So easily too. No second chances. No regrets.

In July, I didn’t know I would have another moment like that. But, you never really see those moments until it seeps into your consciousness that they have happened. Kissing someone goodbye on their porch. Too many times. Maybe you knew it. Maybe you could have stopped with one kiss “until next time” but it became half a dozen until you were both laughing and they were telling you “Go!” and laughing with every kiss. Maybe you knew there would be no next time. Maybe you always know at those defining moments. If you realized it at the time it would break your heart. You’d never have been able to leave.

When I was a kid I wasn’t much of a reader. I could hardly get through a Dr. Seuss book. In Jr. High I started reading the Guardians of the Flame series by Joel Rosenberg, in which a bunch of college kids get sent into a Dungeons and Dragons type universere and are stuck there for the rest of their (usually short) lives. After that I read a LOT. One character in particular, a thief/frat guy by the name of Walter Slovatsky became one of my favorite characters. He had a series of quotes known as Slovatsky’s Laws. The one that seems resonant with all of this is this one:

When you say goodbye to a friend, assume that one of you is going to die before you ever get to see one another again. If you want to leave something unsaid, fine…but be prepared to leave it unsaid forever.

Walter Slovatsky

Things like this hit differently when you are older. It fucks with your abandonment issues. Your lack of closure. It’s not always a death, but certainly the end of something. You have to grieve the good and the bad. Grief is what allows them to become memories. Pile on enough of those memories and I guess that’s what gives us baggage. It’s hard out there. It’s hard to stay “good” when you just see patterns repeating. When you begin to suspect that every look back could be the last.

If you live long enough, I’d imagine it becomes more and more likely that those last looks back could be your last.

Things That Instantly Piss Me Off

In my curmudgeony middle-aged years, I have come to realize that there are a few things that just irrationally set me off. So, for fun, I thought I would share them here. Enjoy. (There will be salty language). Halloween might also be mentioned. Yeah yeah. Get off my lawn.

The Quadratic Equation. Back in High School, I can’t begin to count up the number of times they made us suffer through this horseshit. Today, I mistakenly clicked on a link on Facebook which took me here. I have since then blocked and reported the offender to the authorities for hate speech. Instant anger washed over me. Flames. Flames on the side of my face…

Other than the hours of suffering in school to learn this, I’ve never, ever, ever-ever used it. People do? Good for them. It got us to the moon? Wow. I’ll let you know what I think of that from my moonbase apartment. Oh, that’s right! We just got to the moon, but never did a goddamned thing after that! If you work in math or engineering, I’m sure you can defend the importance of this for the rest of our natural lives. But inflicting the rest of us with this damage should be forbidden by the Geneva Convention.

People who honk instead of knocking on the door. The other day while visiting my parents, some jackass had pulled up to the house across the street and instead of getting out of his running car to knock on the door to let his pal know he had arrived, he proceeded to honk intermittently for the next ten minutes until his friend presented himself. He announced loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear that he was indisposed in the bathroom.

I used to tell my daughter that if she ever had a date pull up and start honking for her to come outside, it would be in his best interests to continue driving. Move to another state. Change his name. And start a whole other life. Nobody wants to hear your stupid honking! If you can’t be arsed to get out of your vehicle, you should really just figure out a way to park your car on top of yourself in a closed garage. With the motor running. You stupid fuck.

People training for a Triathlon. Great. You can run, ride a bike, and swim! Amazing. Slow clap. You’ve been training for how long? Huh. You know, the rest of us actually have things to do with our lives. Like, adult responsibilities. This is the most blatant display of leisure time and flaunting having almost no responsibilities that I can think of. It always draws attention to how in-shape a middle-aged vegan is and why they are almost always superior to you in every way.

This is the same asshole who will show you pics on their phone of their complete knee reconstruction in a couple years. And they might shed a single tear when lamenting that time they ran a triathlon and how they wish they could do it all over again. With their $6000 bicycle they bought for the race, insulated speed swim suit, and all that running which wore out their stupid chicken legs because people in their mid-forties shouldn’t be running races like they are children.

Two trucks passing each other on the interstate. This is also known as a pissing contest. It’s what happens when two drivers of rival companies block up two or sometimes three lanes of traffic because one is going 55 mph and the other one is going 57 mph and that other guy is slowing him down! On a stretch of road with a speed limit of 75 mph. The reason for this is for insurance reasons, both drivers work for a company that has put governors on their rigs, which prevent them from driving too fast. Slower speed means fewer accidents. And lower insurance rates on liability claims.

For some reason these two drivers in their nerfed-out trucks can’t just resign themselves to the fact that they both suck and are causing traffic to pile up at an insane rate behind them to get that precious cargo of potato chips to the next Walmart on time like it’s Jerry Reed running that police blockade to the state of Georgia with a trailer full of crisp, delicious, and refreshing Coors beer. Meanwhile the 47 people I passed over the last few miles doing 90 are now inching up on my ass in my rearview mirror. I didn’t want to see them then. I don’t want to see them now. MOVE OVER.

Stores without grocery bags. I get that the less plastic we use, the healthier the planet will be. Which is why you can’t buy a half gallon of milk in a cardboard container anymore. Which is why all that plastic is being used to individually wrap each piece of Halloween candy, and why when you go to the deli counter, they first wrap your meat in plastic and then butcher paper before giving it to you. But I get that hard look when I don’t bring my canvas grocery bag with me, or get irritated that I have to pay another forty cents to purchase a paper bag to carry my shit out to the car.

I’ve just paid for something that will break down if it gets damp, but it’s like they suspect I shot Bambi’s mom or something and my purchase of a paper bag has bulldozed another thousand acres of Amazon rain forest. That $.40 bag had better last as long as a Trader Joe’s bag (which they give out for free!), but I’m not going to hold my breath. After all those disposable face masks everyone has to grab at the door, which they just throw on the ground of the parking lot, make it hard enough to breathe as it is. It’s the shopping equivalent of getting a toothbrush or a box of raisins for trick-or-treating.