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Community of Strangers | 2009 | Typhoid Virgin Mary

04.29.09 2:23 p.m.

All great truths begin as blasphemies.  

-George Bernard Shaw


Stripping the Clouds

We are punching lies in their snoots!

We lie constantly, to everyone we love, because it is the easiest way to get through the day. We don't tell them we disagree with their choices, don't stop them from digging themselves into deeper holes, we don't tell them how we actually feel, because doing so invites awkward conversations. We say we love them, but we also fear losing them and the comfort of the relationship at present. We don't tell them how much it annoys us every time they feel the need to tear into our partner because they have unresolved issues or are projecting, we don't tell them that we have grown past the week where our live revolved around a cartoon or drug, we don't tell them who we truly are or want to be, because we are afraid. But in doing so, we do them a great disservice and deprive them of the ability to actually be in a friendship of equals. Or, perhaps, let them know that they are not actually in a friendship, but merely a relationship of mutual resentment and convenience. At worst, we stop them from learning through operant conditioning which behaviors are socially maladaptive and unfathomably grating.

It pains me especially because I know the number of times I have let things slide, how much pain resulted because I kept a secret where I should have called someone on their issue so it could begin to be resolved. Like children, sometimes the best thing for us is someone saying, "I love you too much to let you get away with this." Or, rarely, "I love my life and friends too much to let you keep ruining things by putting up with your histrionic disorder. Goodbye." (You have to show compassion for yourself before you can begin showing it to others, though the two tend to correlate closely.) In truth, I had no time or energy for these false relationships any longer, as they detract from my true friends.

As an example of this analogy, two of my nieces are well into being brats. I was visiting my parents for my weekly dinner with them and the girls were wild. My mother was well past patience with them and so, when the time came for them to come in before it got dark, I stepped in and gave them a simple command and allowed them a minute to abide it. I did not have to interfere, but it was inauthentic to try to ignore what needed to be done. They did not come in, testing the boundaries, so I got out the Wrath of God voice (my greatest gift from teaching) and ordered them inside immediately with no arguments. They moved to the corner of the house, further testing, so I went onto the front porch and told them I was not amused by this game and that they had better learn to mind adults who care about them if they wanted the liberty to play outside. The youngest, all of six or seven, said I called them "babies," an elocutionary trick I hope she loses immediately. I glared at her, brought back the Voice, and told her that I did not but lying to me about what I just said was the surest way to get punished. They both came in without another word and were fractionally more pacific until their mother picked them up. They may choose to say they hate me for being stern, but I can only do it because I love them so much. I show my love for them more by setting and enforcing discipline than by pushing them on swings and feeding them sugar, though they are decades from realizing this. They can't see the blessing in being treated with authoritarian regard because they are too close and too young, but they won't always be. How many people in our lives act as my nieces do, running roughshod in hopes someone will be willing to strain the relationship to make it stronger, acting entitled if just to be brought back to reality?

I have lost the kind of relationships I wanted by telling the person that I would not interfere with how they were leading their lives, which I took for respect for their autonomy and they took as indifference to their welfare. At sixteen, I was on the other side of this sin, when I had repeatedly kissed the mutual friend of a girlfriend who insisted she loved me and she reacted with startling nonchalance ("Oh, well, you really like her") rather than the rage we both needed. I didn't cheat on her to evoke a reaction, but her righteous emotion (which I guarantee she had and likely harbors a little to this day) would have done so much more than her tacit permission to withdraw. I was already agonizing over what I had done, what I persisted in doing until I dumped the girlfriend, and just wanted her to show she loved me by giving me the gift of the anger to which she was wholly entitled instead of the milquetoast statement that she thought I wanted that it was okay that I was unfaithful to her. Had we been honest with one another immediately - actually stating our wants and needs in a way sixteen year olds cannot - she might not still be carrying a grudge against me even as she is happily married and leading a very different life. Had she not swallowed down her truth, it might not have manifested in her reportedly molesting her friend in her sleep one night, estranging her for this violation.

I am long past patience for keeping things soft and easy with my friends. If I really care about them, they deserve to know someone loves and respects them enough to be honest. Anyone who expects or wants sugarcoating doesn't want a friendship of equals, just one of utility. Yesterday, I was speaking online to Melissa and, where I would have once just agreed with her to keep the conversation on a positive note, I told her what I actually thought and felt about a slogging interpersonal quandary. She later took me to task for this "tough love" when she, unbeknownst to me, was hysterically crying over how hard her situation was for her and how unsympathetic I seemed. I thanked her for her honesty and meant it. We are truly friends because we can have this conversation and survive it, still loving and respecting the other person. We can have our relationship be open, rather than just the shadow of friendliness.

I welcome this honesty into my life. In my relationship with Melanie, she is almost unfailingly honest, even and especially when I don't want to hear it at that moment (often about my writing). There are times when I want illusions for a little while - we all do - but I don't need them. It does not mean that her words cannot be influenced by a bad day or a surging of hormones, but I am allowed to call her on these. And because she can be forthright with me when I just want to be superficial and cuddly, I know that her every profession of love and devotion is the purest truth. I wouldn't trade the fluffiest lies for that.

Soon in Xenology: When I was a girl, belief.

last watched: Army of Darkness
reading: We Shadows
listening: Mirah

Community of Strangers | 2009 | Typhoid Virgin Mary

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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