Thank you for your tremendous encouragement, love and support. You’ve replenished my faith. How refreshing to know vulnerability is still valued. The eternal optimist, Ms Pretty Woman herself said, “it’s never just one person that deserves the credit.”
La vie est belle. Yet it’s far too easy to lose yourself in the perpetuation of a false high. We are scared to talk about the times we crawl through the mud. “Look ma, I’m living the dream!” masks our shared loneliness.
There is courage in honesty. I will continue sharing the spectrum of my experiences: good, bad, ugly. Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first, the lesson afterward.”
I’ve failed a lot of tests. I’ve learned some life-changing lessons. Time has revealed who is willing to stick around. Through trial by fire, I’ve been burned badly before. Here’s to the scars that bear their mark.
Chapter 1: X
Frankly, despite the exuberant kindness shown, I had expected to receive a “you godless baby killer” message. It wouldn’t have been the first time. 9 months ago, I received an email from a friend we’ll call X. X and I met in college. We had survived too many boozy nights to count, bad breakups, and loved ones affected by cancer. X even helped me get a job with an excellent company: one I continue to admire and promote.
Before I left for Ecuador, there had been an event where one of my co-workers threw a piece of lettuce at me. My knee jerk reaction was to throw a piece of lettuce back. It was a moment of silly camaraderie, one among many I shared with some good peoples. Since that event, X and I stopped talking. I sensed something was wrong and reached out but never heard back. 3 months later, 24 hours before my going away party, I received an email with the subject “Hi”. This title was alarmingly misleading for what was about to unfold.
In 914 words(not including character), X declared their overwhelming disappointment in my personal and professional decisions. To start, there was my break up from a long term relationship. X felt I had disrespected my ex by moving on too quickly. Though X used to look up to me, my single girl choices were falling short of their expectations.
Next, X listed numerous no-no’s I had committed at work. The tip of the iceberg being…wait for it…the lettuce. Ba-da-dum. Not only did my actions show I lacked respect for the entire company, it also perpetuated nepotism, defamed X’s reputation, and supported the claim that people saw me as their “crazy” friend.
Lastly, X hoped none of the litany of attacks had offended me. They would still be attending my going away party to wish me well. To justify their means of communication, X noted that they would’ve had trouble saying all of these things in person. This is accurate, since that would’ve taken far more courage, cruelty, or both.
In shock, choking back sobs, I read the email over and over, trying desperately to understand how it could’ve gone so wrong. Was I really that terrible of a friend? How could 10 years dissolve into 3 paragraphs sent before I boarded a plane? Worst of all, if someone I considered family felt this way, was all of the above was true?
Chapter 2: Y
To understand the case of the X, let’s talk about Y, for we are bound by symmetry. Y and I also met in college. Y also helped me find a job at a blossoming company before my leap abroad. 10 years of the highest of highs and lowest of lows later, Y was my brother from another mother.
A month before my departure, I learned some female co-workers had been receiving unwanted advances from a male employee we’ll call UPS. I was surprised to hear this, since UPS and I were on friendly terms. He had never crossed the line with me.
The women were nervous about “tattling”. They didn’t want to stir up any trouble. Though the male employee was acting inappropriately, the women were worried about getting blamed. Sound familiar? This kind of twisted psychology is far too common. “If you were showing your legs, blacked out, or doing any of the activities guys do without second thought…expect something terrible to happen.” Even if it’s not as horrific as getting violated while you’re unconscious, please remember misogyny is real. Cue Mansplaining. We’ve got to teach our boys better.
Back to UPS. Since there had been no HR, the interim solution was to keep him and the women physically separated in their daily routines, while the rest of the team assisted with avoid and reroute. On my last day of work, I ran into UPS on my lunch break. After having a friendly chat about his daughter and my plans to teach, I broached the pink elephant in the room: “Hey buddy, you’re a nice guy and we’ve had some good talks. You know, we’ve all made people feel uncomfortable before, myself included. Live and learn, eh?” UPS seemed a bit awkward, but thanked me for the advice. We even shared a hug.
The next day, I received a wake up call. UPS had written an email to the top executives about how HE was being harassed by another employee. He felt unsafe, unwelcome, and uneasy in his work environment. He played the victim card like his last hand.
I flipped out. It was my fault this had happened. Did I just destroy two of my closest friendships in one week, both of whom were kind enough to help a struggling gal? I looked in the mirror and saw godzilla.
Y called me into their office and asked what happened. Heart racing, sweaty palmed, ashen mouthed, I stuttered out the chain of events. We had ended on a good note. I had no idea it would escalate. I should’ve kept my mouth shut. I apologized profusely.
Then I held my breath and waited. Waited for the barrage of criticism. Waited for all my mistakes to be dragged into the light. Waited for the inevitable, invisible, face slap. I prayed it’d be less than 914 words. At least this time I could answer in person.
Y listened attentively the entire time. When I finished talking, Y explained that although I had good intentions, it was a bad idea to have said anything given the delicacies and politics of the corporate enigma: “I’ve made the same mistake before and I’ve learned the hard way.”
Y got up. Y patted me on the back. And then Y forgave me.
They fired UPS.
Chapter 3: No means No
I had to read X’s email again to write this post. It still stings, but reflection and healthy detachment helps.
Yes, in the height of my co-dependence, I moved on too fast and made some questionable decisions. But gimme a break. I survived 5 years of long distance and was single for the first time. I was in the midst of uprooting my partner, career, and country. Anyone close to me could tell I was fragile and figuring it out. Did this justify a friend’s deepest disappointment and demoralization?
True, I should not have thrown the lettuce. I wasn’t working that day. I was not wearing gloves. Every company should hold their employees to the highest standards of food safety. So what about holding yourself accountable to equally high standards of communication? This should’ve been addressed within the proper work environment and in a timely manner. Why wait to write an email right before I left the country? Why bring up other people’s negative opinions of my personality? Was this professional?
X had every right to express themselves. I’m sorry for causing them pain. I’m sorry our friendship had to end like that. However, I will not apologize for who I am. I am flawed. I love too hard. I lose too much. I make stupid decisions and I learn from them every damn day. Will I bow to someone who climbs atop their moral high horse and glares down?
My dear reader, you already know the answer to that.
Though X wrote with the intention of mending, they tore new wounds. Fortune cookie says: don’t show up to bingo with a battle axe. This is what I wrote back:
Thank you for sharing your feelings. I understand that it’s not easy.
I think we are all growing, learning, and taking different paths in life. No single journey can be the same, nor can we do anything but share our perspective, live and love true to ourselves, and hope for the best.
Hopefully, the pain we’ve caused each other dwarves the good times we’ve shared.
Chapter 4: Don’t you know that you’re toxic?
We’ve all been an X and we’ve all had an X. Relationships can change drastically: it can take 10 minutes or 10 years. It’s the hardest thing in the world to face, much less fathom.
X’s are not bad people. They may be great friends to others, but toxic to you. If someone continues to deplete the hard-earned energy you’ve collected to survive, why stick around for more?
As someone who fights her own self-destructive tendencies, I understand the battle. Yet at some point, enough is enough. There has to be a limit. How do you know you’ve reached yours? Time. When it’s time to take a step forward, you won’t go back.
To avoid hypocrisy, I gladly apply this philosophy to myself. If I’m a drain on your soul, please let me go. I wouldn’t want me in your life either.
True friends call you out on your shit from a place of love, not bitterness. They do not attack, question, or make you doubt your self-worth. Let go of The Lost Ones.
Chapter 5: Growing Pains
In the hip hop song Matrimony, Wale asks Jerry Seinfield “Can you plan for growth?”
Seinfield shakes his head vehemently. “Absolutely not. It’s like any growth. You can’t be ready for it.”
I was not ready. I’m still not. I could either question everything I believed in, rerun a million “what if” scenarios in my head…or I could try my hardest to accept that someone who once nurtured my heart was shattering it.
In best case scenarios, we grow in a way that fosters a deeper understanding. In worst case scenarios, we are forced to acknowledge fundamental differences in beliefs, perceptions, and values. Sometimes, you have to stand back and let the bridge burn. It hurts like a mother, but from the rubble, you have the power to clear a new path.
Remember: every time you cut others, you slice yourself twice as deep.
Let’s staunch the bleeding. Let’s cauterize the wound.
Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.