Many years ago, I was in the hospital, after deciding that nope, life? Sucked and wasn’t worth it. I was still during my lockdown period, where technically I was not allowed any visitors. But someone had misinterpreted the rules and told me otherwise, and I mercilessly badgered and cried and basically pitched a giant fit until I got what I wanted — a few visitors. It was really, specifically, one visitor I wanted, but he was a package deal with the boyfriend at the time.
We finally sat, alone in a room together, and I remember it as clearly as if it just happened. He sat in a chair, and I sat at his feet. He looked so sadly at me, and I’m sure I returned the look, laden with so much more. We had been friends through a lot, a lot of his problems, and I had been there for him, steadfast, often in the wake of others having enough. I was a rock. I would not budge.
Now it was my turn, my time. I needed a rock. And I told him as much, that I needed to know he cared, that he loved me, that I could fall apart and he would take care of me, he would make sure I was okay. I needed to know that he who I had given so much to would do the same in return, and I needed that return.
I remember everything vividly. I remember sitting, kneeling at his feet. I remember the yellow light, the sick hospital walls, bad furniture in the room, the feel of the industrial carpet under my feet. I remember looking at the floor, even then having such a hard time admitting I needed anything from anyone else, and I remember his look, his sorrowful expression. I remember the tears rolling down his face, quietly, as he understood what I was asking, what I needed, and what his answer meant.
And he reached out, ever so gently touching my face with his long, delicate, almost elven fingers, tracing the route the tears had taken down my face, and whispered so quietly, “I’m sorry, I can’t,”
You would think, those twenty years ago, I would have learned a lesson. That I would have not repeated it since. Of course, if you thought that, you probably haven’t spent too much time around me.
We were never as close after that. I still dropped everything if he needed me, which he frequently did for a while, until he got things together. And when he was more pulled together, he needed me less and less, and eventually he replaced the friendship I offered freely for nothing in return with someone else, someone without history. By then, I simply shrugged. I had walled myself off from him, from those moments where he touched me so gently and said no. In that time, he had proven to me just what he thought of me, just how he thought of me, and I learned that fast, and kept that lesson near and dear to my heart.
I could give, but he never would. It would not be an equal relationship, and I could either accept that and continue to give, or walk away. I chose the first, I gave until I was no longer wanted, and then I went away.
And people wonder why I have issues, especially with trust.
It came to mind because I recently found myself in a situation that evoked similar tone (if the details all different), and received similar results. And found myself that same mix of resigned and so frustrated with myself.
Why frustrated with myself? Because I know me well enough to know I will repeat what I did with the boy above, and have done with people since him. I will continue to care and make it clear I do, I will continue to be there, I will do all asked and more. And I will do it both expecting nothing in return — for that, truly, is what you must do to love, to give unconditionally; you must not expect anything in return. ((Insert Buddhist rah-rah justification, loving kindness, compassion, etc and here. Although truth be told, I think Buddha’d probably be getting close to kicking my ass. There’s a difference between practicing loving kindness, and allowing people to take advantage of your inclinations.)) But at the same time, I know I will build that wall, create an arm’s length distance, and I don’t know if I can stop that, or if anything can undo it.
I know that if, today, the boy from above were to show up on my doorstep, I would drop and welcome him with open arms, while not saying a word about my own situation to him. And now I fear I’m in that situation, once more.
And to be honest, I hate myself a little for it, for being such a doormat. For drawing boundaries that mean I pull back and away while still giving freely. Buddhism would counsel me on how this is a good thing, to give without expectation of anything but the generation of metta. It would also say I obviously still have too much attachment. This would be why I am a bad Buddhist. One of many reasons.
I would say that I am a hopeful misanthrope who is continually let down by the world, yet still keeps alive the idea that one day, one day, it will be different. And keep getting hurt, because one day hasn’t yet come.