I’m in the midst of tapering off the dilaudid I’ve been on for over three weeks now and it is uncomfortable. Or today has been, when I stepped down again. I’m just drinking lots of water and trying to ride it out. Nothing else to do. It’s strange to me that I’ve had four abdominal surgeries and three pelvic/abdominal abscesses burst, but my longest hospitalization and pain medication-stint was because of mouth sores.
I read a friend’s post today about how she was beat up by her best friend when she was 17 and she said something about how she used to fight for friendships even if they were toxic and how she doesn’t do that anymore and as an adult she realizes that friends aren’t supposed to make you feel guilty.
It made me think about my best friend, Jenifer, and being 15. Though incredibly smart and talented, we often teased her. She was charming and goofy and artistic, but spacey and a bit klutzy, though an incredible long-distance runner (the preferred sport of the spacey) and a bad speller amongst a group of girls who were all annoyingly and obnoxiously good at putting letters in the correct order. Note: if you will tease someone or be frustrated with someone for their lack of grammar skills or spelling abilities, you are a jerk.
One day, four or five of us were walking around the neighbourhood and teasing Jen about something — liking a boy or a period mishap or tripping over her shoelace or pronouncing a word wrong. I don’t remember what it was. I know it felt innocuous and innocent and good-natured until Jen said, my mom thinks you all treat me badly by the way you’re always teasing me.
I don’t remember how I responded or how anyone else responded, though I can imagine we got defensive and tried to convince her that we weren’t treating her badly and that it didn’t mean anything. I know at that time in my life, teasing was intrinsically tied with love — it was the main form of communicating affection in my family — and that I wasn’t capable of hearing that the way I was communicating my affection to my friend made her feel bad.
It’s not easy realizing that the manner in which love is communicated can feel good and bad at the same time. I remember being embarrassed when Jenifer told us what her mom said — embarrassed because I liked her mom and thought I was liked by her as well, embarrassed that I we had made Jen feel so bad about herself and our friendships that she had to go to her parents about it, embarrassed that she was a big enough person to say, This hurts me, but that I wasn’t a big enough person to simply say, You’re right, I shouldn’t have done that, I’m sorry. I know accepting responsibility for hurting someone is not an easily learned task and that it’s something I will always struggle with. But there it is.
I think one of the reasons I have problems with the whole bullying awareness movement is that it tends to separate us from our actions. We see bullying as something targeted and malicious when often the worst damage comes from those who are closest. It comes masqueraded as love or filial affection, the bad behaviour so subtle as to seem benign, but in fact it is the most confusing type of bullying when love is delivered, intentionally or not, in a way that causes pain. When Yuula said friends shouldn’t make you feel guilty, it resonated with me, though in a broader Friends shouldn’t make you feel bad sense. And I felt that shame of hurting a friend rise up again and I felt guilty. Jen didn’t make me feel guilty that day, I felt guilty and rightly so because she pointed out a major disconnect in my purported feelings of friendship and my actions of friendship.
I don’t know if Jen or any of the other girls who were there remember this conversation. I barely remember it myself, the words pushed mostly aside, leaving only the feelings. I think that we all toned it down afterwards with the teasing, though probably not as much as Jen deserved.
While I still feel some shame or embarrassment over this thing, I also remember that we were only 15, and 15 has a long way to go in figuring out love and hurt and right and wrong. These things are rarely black and white, no matter how much we want them to be.