I was still not feeling well on Wednesday when I planned to visit Susan in the hospital, so I didn’t go. But she said she wanted to talk to me. And even though I knew that she may not have long to live, and felt sad for her, I was still angry with her too.
I didn’t believe anything she would say would make me feel different than I did. And although I liked the idea of finding a small part of us that could connect in a way I believed we had at one time, I wasn’t looking to be her friend again.
But I was ready to lie if necessary, to tell her I wasn’t angry anymore. She had enough to deal with at this point in her life. I didn’t want to add to that.
So I called her on the phone.
Two weeks ago I wrote about Susan, who at one time I was close to, and how Jon and I helped her get to the hospital because she was very sick. Although at the time I didn’t use her name. Since then, Jon has been writing about Susan on his blog and she asked that he identify her.
I didn’t know what to expect when I spoke to Susan but I never imagined what actually happened.
Susan and I hadn’t spoken in months after our friendship had become unhealthy and we ended it. I felt betrayed by her. I had opened myself up to her, invited her into my life and ultimately I came to believe that she really didn’t know me at all and felt she didn’t really care about me personally.
So when I called her, I still felt some of that protective wall I wrote about that I had placed between me and her. But we talked for a while each owning up to our part in the deterioration of the friendship. I felt like we were both coming to a place of understanding.
Then Susan told me that she knew I was being a friend to her, but she just didn’t know how to be a friend back.
That was the moment it all became clear to me. “I get that”, I said to her. I’ve been there.
And almost instantly, the anger and hurt I felt towards Susan dropped away. I actually felt lighter.
Susan tired quickly and I told her I’d visit her over the weekend. Then I went to my studio to process what had happened. Because something had happened inside of me and I wasn’t sure what it was.
In my studio, I lit a candle, sat on my floor and cried. The sobs came from deep inside of me and the word “betrayal” kept coming to mind. I knew this feeling went further back than my friendship with Susan.
I had never used it to describe my feelings about the family I was born into. But now I could see that I had felt betrayed by the people who were supposed to know me, protect me and love me for who I am.
My relationship with Susan reenacted that. My anger towards her should have been shared.
As my tears stopped, I felt the lightness again.
Susan was not trying to hurt me. She just didn’t know how to be my friend.
The sense of betrayal I felt from my family came from a similar place. In many ways, they were different from me. They didn’t know what to do with me, didn’t know how to deal with my sensitivity, my feelings, my view of the world.
I always thought that my being different from them made me a bad person. I felt guilty for not wanting to live my life the way they did theirs, for not wanting to be around them in the same way they wanted to be with each other.
Although I wasn’t aware of it and didn’t have a word for it, “betrayal” was a grievance I carried with me throughout my life. And even though Susan, like my family, had hurt me because they did not know me, it wasn’t intentional.
It was this old grievance that fell away when I spoke to Susan, that made me actually feel physically lighter. And with it, and belief that there was something wrong with me.
I could finally and see and believed that it wasn’t a matter of being a good or bad person. We are very different people who cannot comfortably be around each other.
Part of the lightness I was feeling was finally the freedom to be unapologetically who I really am.
The day after I spoke to Susan she became more and more incoherent.
I would have loved to have been able to tell her what she did for me. How much it meant to me just that she cared enough to want to talk to me. How our friendship, as messed up as it had become, helped me to let go of this old hurt. That I was grateful to her.
But it was too late for that.
Today Jon and I visited Susan in the hospital. She was sleeping, in and out of consciousness. My heart went out to her again as it did two weeks ago when we found her so sick in her home. But what I felt for her today went beyond just the empathy one human feels for another in need.
I felt like we each knew a part of each other we hadn’t let the other see before. And we were closer because of it. So when I held her hand today and her grip tightened around mine, those moments that felt like true friendship came back to me.
I honestly don’t even know if Susan recognized me today, but I like to think she did. And even if she didn’t I did what I could to comfort her. We brought her a pillow from home, made from her father’s ties, I sat with her, kissed her forehead and told her she was a good friend.