Not surprised?

Just about everywhere I go, I’m reading or seeing impressions of the Atlanta murders, opinions, reflections, what have you. Nearly every Black, Indigenous, Person of Color (BIPOC) reported nearly the same feeling…grief, anger, sadness, but definitely not surprised. Anti-Asian sentiment has been woven into the American story from close to its inception, including the exoticization, fetishism, and “otherness”. There has been legislation to bar them from immigrating, expel them after immigrating, and incarcerate them in order to “protect” us from insurgency. Ain’t that somethin’? Protect us…by employing the insane methodology of a dead and disgraced racist dictator who ran his country into the ground with ideological fantasies of a pure race. America, America, God shed His grace on thee…stand beside her (please, because she needs help to stand upright) and guide her (because she has lost her way), throught the night (because it’s getting very long).

I never had, or needed, a reason to make America great again. I did not think America had become anything less than great, only some of its people were a little…lost. Just as I’ve never had any reason to deny Christianity, or the Christian view of divinity (complicated though it is), I’ve found a bit of fault with some of its followers. I’m capable of separating the larger concept, the ideology, from human foible. It gets difficult when the humans make it so, when they weaponize their ideology, and make life a zero-sum equation. Even if life was not reduced to a zero-sum game, it’s hardly simple enough or linear enough to be merely an equation.

My writing prompt today asks me to consider a best friend in my life, past or present, and what that was all about. I don’t exactly know how to describe that in words, because it was about feelings. That’s what all of the nationalism is about, what communities of faith are about – comradery with people who appear to have more in common with you, and your way of thinking, than not. When I’ve had close friends, BFFs in the current vernacular, they have been people I wanted to spend lots of time with, have fun with, do alone things together with. I wanted to do alone-type things with someone else, and the someone else was them. They just felt good, supportive on a level, like they “got” me. Some people don’t “get” me – don’t quite understand the awesome mystique that is me, or something like that.

Humans are social creatures, for the most part. Some of us have shitty boundaries, some of us take up too much space, some of us are more difficult to be with than others. Those are relationship issues, usually on a deeper level, but in general we seek out each other. We’re losing our collective mind at this point in the pandemic response because we are feeling isolated and cut off from the energy exchange we normally experience, whether we realize it or not. Some of us need that exchange more than others, or at least at higher levels, so those folks are probably suffering more in the “lockdown”. Maybe those are the people most inclined to actively rebel and refuse to mask, refuse to follow the guidelines, fold their arms in the middle of the room and say “make me!”.

The people who rebel will be drawn to each other, and the people who figure “what the hell, it’ll be over soon, I’ll just wear the damned mask” will be drawn to each other. That’s just dandy. The problem comes in when members of either group want to force the other group to agree with their conclusion. Then the matter and the anti-matter are gonna mix, and everything is gonna’ go “BOOM”. I sometimes believe we all enjoy when things go “BOOM”. It’s exciting and causes an adrenalin surge, and adrenalin makes us feel good, makes us feel alive, makes us feel energized. OK, fine, except that feeling of being able to conquer the world doesn’t last forever. We crash, and that doesn’t feel so good. Makes us a bit cranky, like a hangover, and there’s nobody less willing to be problem solving and creating solutions than somebody nursing a hangover.

When I’ve had a BFF, I suspect I was a bit obsessive with them, and probably chose (or was drawn to) people who demonstrated similar obsessive tendency. That’s not entirely a bad thing, unless it goes entirely unchecked. Having a relationship, even a BFF kind of relationship, with blinders on means you run into a lot of walls and fall down a lot of sink holes. That’s been a lot of my experience, I suppose. I have a magnet somewhere inside me that attracts people who are going to sign, seal, and deliver some of my worst attributes…and usually, I am loving it. Until I’m not. It’s not the fall, it’s the sudden stop that gets me every time.

So, when you have the “wack” magnet, the least you can do is be aware of it, and respect it. If I meet people that cause me to feel inexplicably excited, always laugh at my jokes, and I can’t get enough of them…Danger, danger, Will Robinson! Back away from the obsessive tendencies, and somehow ground the wack magnet. For me, that means don’t give into the impulse to set up play dates immediately. Keep some distance. Don’t change my routines or give up my groove until I get to know what I’m dealing with, and what are the rules of engagement. Keep low…stay down…camouflage until you know it’s safe. Good lord, it’s a war.

I wonder if everyone has to go through such machinations when it comes to other people, but it doesn’t matter – it’s my trip. It’s not entirely pleasant for me, and truth be told, it’s damned frustrating, but it is what it is. It’s part of who I am. So, I have to go with it. That doesn’t mean I shirk the responsibility or desire to change that pattern, but I have to accept what it is at the moment. At this moment, it’s reasonably stable, but only because I am very intentionally staying the hell out of the way of just about everyone. I get my feelings hurt pretty easily, for starters, and will go out of my way to do what everybody else wants me to do, for an ending. The part in the middle is a perfect bell curve, but there’s no chime, no tone, no pleasant reverberation. It’s a cacophonous clanking that concludes in a resounding thud, and I find that, um, unfulfilling. So let’s not do that.

At this point, I suppose there are a few people in my life who I consider very, very close friends. There is give, and take, and a reciprocity of effort to maintain the relationship, to grow trust, to have integrity. As I have described before, these are people in whom I do have trust, who I would trust with my life. That is not an idle claim, either. I have reflected on that statement, and been very intentional about who to include in that group. I have a few other friends who I believe do truly love me, and are very supportive, but I would not trust them with my life. I do not believe they would harm me, or allow me to be harmed, but when it comes to making decisions when I am unable to speak for myself, I am not convinced we’re on the same level. The people I consider trusted on that level are different – we seems to be on the same page about what constitutes a good quality of life, about what my life is about, about what i would want (or not want) if I couldn’t speak for myself. That’s bigger than a BFF.

So, when I was in junior high school, I went to this new school in the 6th grade and it was REALLY new. There were white people, for the love of God, and rich people. I didn’t quite know what to do with either, except be wary of them all because that’s what my mother told me. Watch what you say around those people, she warned. Don’t say this, don’t say that, make sure you say this other stuff. And tell me everything, she said. So, I was pretty shy and more than a little insecure, but … through it all … I started to wind up in the clique that most fit me – the ones who were pretty nice, not jocks, not ultra wealthy, artsy fartsy, somewhat bright. That was my crowd. There was one girl who fit in more or less at the fringe of that crowd (she was not musical in the least), and she became my best friend.

In retrospect, we were probably terrible for each other. I made excuses for her, and she was willing to play along with all of my attempts to get “discovered” by the older girls, and the ones I was secretly attracted to. I didn’t understand the attractions, but I was living my own private hell at home, so I was more or less kind of a misfit who just acted weird. She forgave all of that, and we were just inseparable.

That went fine until we got to high school. Some of our classmates became boy crazy (good for them…y’all go play over there, ok?) but we just kind of did our own thing. I’m not sure if she had the same confusing feelings about her sexuality or not, but we remained virtually inseparable. Until…until…it was her birthday coming up. Her birthday wasn’t far beyond mine – mine was December 29th, hers was January 3rd or 8th or something, but still a Capricorn. She was having a party at her house. OK, fine…I didn’t give it much thought…until she had this uncharacteristically serious look on her face one day, and drew me aside.

She told me that she could not invite me to the party, because, well, her brothers were kind of rough, and um, well, her parents said…um…mutter, mutter, mutter. What she was telling me was that she couldn’t invite me because they didn’t have Black people over to their home. Truthfully, I didn’t understand what she was saying, so I just reacted to not being invited. But, of course, when I got home and related the story…things went *BOOM*. Then, I was hurt. Because my mother was hurt, and enraged. She was right to be enraged, but I didn’t get it, because I was still a kid. My mother was not a kid, she was a slightly left-of-center Black woman who had seen all of this before, and now it was happening to her kid, and She. Was. Pissed.

So, here was my supposedly BFF, but I couldn’t come to her birthday party because of something I didn’t ask for, and something I couldn’t do anything about. But the fact remained that I wasn’t invited, and that was just that. Most of the other girls – the white girls – were invited, but not me. I didn’t know how to act, or even how to feel, and I felt like everyone was looking at me to see who I was reacting, and to get a good look at the reject. But the rejection wasn’t enough for me to entirely disavow her, or enough to abandon the relationship. I didn’t feel that I had anyone else, I think, and so…I went on. Just like before.

After the party had passed, I still felt very self-conscious, but somehow…after a little friend and I just kept going. Like I said, we were probably not very good for each other, because we followed each other down bad paths. And I was mostly the leader, I must say. That’s probably why I didn’t want to just trash the whole relationship, but I didn’t know that. The first item of significance that I ever stole, she was my co-conspirator. Our class had gone bowling (it was supposed to be a privilege of upper-class students) and the propietors of the bowling alley had left an 8-pack of Miller High Life ponies on the shoe-rental counter. I saw that, and impulsively lifted one of the bottles and put it in the pocket of my uniform skirt. She lifted a bottle as well, and we both high-tailed it out of there.

I drank a few sips out of the stolen beer later, at home, alone. It tasted terrible, and I wondered what my father liked about it. That was probably my motivation for stealing it in the first place – my father always had beer, or a cocktail in his hand when he was home, so I wanted to figure out what was the big deal about that. Anyway, there was a big deal at the school, and the obnoxious gym teacher demanded the guilty parties come forward, not publicly, but just confess to her. My friend went forward almost immediately. I was more than willing to go to my grave with that secret, until my other classmates somehow figured out that I was the second thief and pressured me to confess. So I did. No big whoop, but I suspect my friend had ratted me out. Not sure, but it’s possible. Anyway, like I said, we probably weren’t very good for each other.

After graduation, my friend and I did not keep in touch. We both went to college, she a few hours away, me locally (but it might have been Mars because of all the changes I went through during that time – I was as far away from that high school experience as one could get). The friendship became just a memory, not anything I had any pull from. Not anything I wanted to put energy toward maintenance. With the advent of social media, I’ve seen her in the nooks and crannies of high school reunion groups and what not, but we’ve not conversed, nor have I had a real desire to do so. Her parents are both dead, I believe, as are mine. We’re different people now, and the period of our lives that provided ground for our friendship in the 70s has long since passed.

I don’t so much grieve that relationship as wonder about what the attraction ever was, other than me feeling that i had no other place to go. Here was someone who accepted me, or at least tolerated me, and so … I was in. I don’t feel terribly proud of that, because in retrospect it feels as though maybe I used her. That wasn’t a conscious thought at the time, but I can see how that might work. And when there was no need for her any longer, the need to be close evaporated. I’m not sure. I hate to consider myself that shallow, but perhaps I was. I don’t know if I’m shallow, although there are times I just can’t bring myself to put up with stuff that doesn’t stimulate me, so maybe there is some shallowness there.

So, there’s more about my startling journey through relationships, from another angle. The people I consider friends at this point in my life are definitely getting to have me as an actual person, and not somebody who needs them to prove to myself that i’m an actual person. I know way more about who I am than in my junior high and high school years, thank goodness. I’m feeling that I can truthfully say that I have more integrity these days than to just use someone because I have no other friends. I will have to work on forgiving myself for being that shallow and self-absorbed back in the day, because self-forgiveness does not come naturally to me. It’s one of the hardest things I have to do, but I try.

When I look at the whole gamut of why I am so dysfunctional about relationships, I am thinking part of that is about my dysfunction about my Self, that i am not perfect, that i don’t feel like I am good for anyone – including me. I’ve been told that I’m a good friend, but I have to be careful that’s not because I say “yes” whether I mean it or not. Because I don’t set or enforce healthy boundaries and in some cases let people get away with murder. All of that to say that I don’t take care of myself very well in relationships. I suppose that is where my healing work is located, and damn…I just want to take a nap and have that all be magically fixed by the time i wake up. Gonna have to summon a genie or something while I’ve having lunch…I’ll Google some incantations and stuff. It’s always something.

Sometimes, I just need some magic.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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