This is my bag.
I like this bag and I hate this bag. I got it at the Cirque du Soleil store in Downtown Disney a few years ago. My Cirque bag looks like it has many compartments because the artist used zippers to create this design illusion. It isn’t the kind of bag one would use if you need to carry a lot of things with you. With two very small and rather shallow pockets in the front, the only useful parts of the bag are the two compartments on either side of it.
Even then, because the bag is a triangle there really is only enough room to hold a small wallet, my phone, a tube of lip gloss, a small tube of hand cream and a pen. Looking at the bag on the outside, I guess I love it’s soft smooth texture. I still find it quite interesting to look at and that I see something new pop out at me every time I take in the artist’s zany, whimsical use of colours and patterns. And while it truly captures the beauty and mystique of Cirque, it can also frustrate me if I happen to have it when I go grocery shopping and have to get in and out of it to retrieve my wallet. Those are the times the look of the bag is deceiving and I curse myself for not having the good sense to have chosen a more practical bag to take with me when I run errands.
The bag was intended as a gift for someone who was a close friend at the time. She was house and pet sitting for us while we were on our trip because she wanted to use the time away from her “normal” to sort out some stuff in her life. Of all the cool stuff in the store, the bag stood out and I considered it a good gift for her as, like me, she enjoyed unique, artsy and funky things. There was a blue one as well and I was going to buy it so I could have one too but (a) I didn’t want to do the “bestie” twin thing, (b) the blue one was not as bold and (c) the bag wasn’t cheap. You might be thinking I did a not-so-nice thing when I decided to keep the bag but as you read on you will see this bag is more than the story of me not giving a gift intended for a friend. To me, the bag is a beautiful piece of art that captures the essence of Cirque du Soleil which has a special place in my heart from the days when we lived in Montreal and they still performed there. It is a reminder of a great family vacation, a wonderful tropical night and is a symbol of a disappointing friendship that was doomed to fail, now that I think about it. It is a reminder of hurt, forgiveness and inner peace and is a grounding reminder to always listen to that inner voice of mine.
Rose Kennedy once said, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting it’s sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
If anyone knew pain, it was Miss Rose and as an admirer of hers, I too have subscribed to her observation because let’s face it, the old adage forgive and forget is so far from the truth because while quite difficult when someone has wronged you and hurt you deeply to forgive them, I believe that forgiveness is possible but forgetting is not only impossible but pretending to is foolish. I rather lean toward the saying “live and learn“.
So why was this woman my friend? Fair question. When I moved from Calgary, my focus was on getting Adam’s in-home therapy underway, managing our nutrition and getting Logan into school for the first time and basically raising my family and running a household while Tom worked. He met her at work and thought she and I would hit it off as friends. With the headway I was making with Adam, I didn’t really want to allow anyone new in my life, let alone get close to them but my mother thought it would be nice to have a break from my daily stay-at-home-mom-and-therapist-and-teacher routine. Taking my well-meaning family’s good intentions and against my instincts, I made a new friend and as it turned out, we did have many things in common and did enjoy spending time together. She introduced me to running, I got her practicing yoga. We shared a birthday and a love of the arts but there was always something that I couldn’t really put my finger on at first that made me question if we really were suitable as friends. As time went on, I realized it was her false sense of confidence and her inability to be comfortable in her own skin that never sat well with me. She found the silliest things “cool” and was a self-professed “whatever” girl who was “carefree”, “kooky”, “wild” and “dark”, glorifying herself as a crazy, haphazard mess, much like one might be at age 15. I always thought after age 24, the “cool” thing was working to get your act together as a grounded, well-rounded adult. It was frustrating watching her avoid grown-up life – basic things like being accountable for her work or standing her ground as a parent or not showing up at an event she’d committed to, not caring she was becoming notorious for backing out of things at the last second. She would rather appear helpless than face reality and with all that my family and I dealt with on a daily basis, I was disappointed in her childishness and lost a measure of respect for her because I knew if she made an effort to be a strong independent woman, she could own her world and not have to lean on anyone. I saw her weakness and I was amazed as I was annoyed by it, because she clearly found a way around seeing things through in her life. I blame myself for not cutting the friendship to an acquaintanceship at that moment. It was the right move to make but when I mentioned it to my mother in passing, she suggested perhaps I was being judgmental and that sometimes, though we have our own troubles and struggles, we do have room to be there for someone else. She ended her thought the way she always does with a simple sentence that makes me think – looking at me with those ashy grey eyes she said, “It’s okay to be nice Danie. It’s nice to have a close friend.” So, I kept on.
Unfortunately, I discovered like my Cirque bag, my friend was lovely on the outside and often shallow on the inside. Her sweet and at times convenient naiveté drew people to her and made them want to help her. To be fair, she wasn’t an ogre. I mean, she could be compassionate, kind and generous and she certainly preferred to laugh than sulk even though she had a lot weighing on her soul. But instead of doing something about her life, she chose to sweep every issue, conflict, responsibility and problem under a rug and as things built up and up and up, it spilled onto her children as well. She never cleaned up her messes because she never learned how nor did she want to learn. That took strength and guts and hard work. What she did learn was how to draw attention by portraying herself as a damsel in distress. She would proverbially throw her arms in the air and I would watch in awe as people would flock to her and wrap their proverbial arms around her, giving her advice, lending her their ear (whether sincerely or not) and assisting her in any way they could in the moment because her helplessness made them want to rescue her while giving them a feeling of being superior to her at the same time. Some people tend to like the misery of others deep down inside especially when “the other” has a tinier waist, a flatter tummy and an upright, firm, albeit artificial bust line. When “pretty people” flounder or fail, in some bizarre way it arouses a sense of comfort in some people who are less so. When a proclaimed “goddess” is knocked off a pedestal, suddenly it’s okay for the lowly mortals to not have the prettiest face or sexiest body, allowing the little devil sitting on their left shoulder to smirk once in a while. I was different with her. I wasn’t competing with her; wasn’t looking to have her at my side to be popular nor did I want to rescue her. I like strong, confident and hard working and lighthearted people around me. I wanted her to grow up and take charge. I was taking my mom’s suggestion and trying to be a friend but I made a major mistake. I did not accept her for who she was and when I recognized that she couldn’t take the advice she sought from me because it entailed hard work on her part; when she could not get herself to where she needed to be on her own, I needed to take a step back from the relationship we had much sooner than I did. But much like how I would make my bag work for me; stuffing all the important things I needed in there, ditching all the unnecessary receipts, pens and junk that was taking up way too much space, I made her ditch her habit of putting stuff off or not dealing with issues. I made her step up and be accountable for herself and her family and for a while it worked. But in the end, she was like my bag, nice to look at and only able to hold the bare necessities and not much more. I was wrong in thinking she could be more. I was wrong to think that she was going to turn into a strong independent woman, mother, worker and reliable friend. People can try to change. They can try to turn things around, be resilient and do the very best with what they have and strive for better. We can all dig deeper and rise higher if we want to. Not everyone wants to. Not everyone can. In the end, I learned my friend couldn’t be something she was not and I should not have encouraged her because she failed and did not know how to try again.
In the last year as the flame slowly went out on our friendship, I watched quietly as she frantically tried to preserve her youth dabbling in this, experimenting in that. I watched quietly as her work and things at home unravelled. I said nothing when I heard the rumours then saw the evidence of promiscuity and her unprofessional behaviour among colleagues which included her attempts to poach work. Who she was, that unsure, wild teenager who never grew up, rose to the surface and she was considered by many to be nothing more than a vapid, waste of time and a disappointment to the workplace. The “whatever girl” had nothing left to grasp and in the end all she could do was attach herself to a man (whom she admitted was not her type and one whom she and I agreed was not someone to get involved with until she had her life figured out) and “get the hell out of Dodge”.
When important contents are removed from my Cirque bag, it is mostly an empty vessel. There might be a receipt or two left in it, maybe a pen and a tube of lip gloss but nothing I would be concerned about if it were lost. My former friend and I did share some good times and I miss having someone nearby to do stuff in town with. Many of my friends live in cities an hour or more away from me and it was nice to have company at yoga occasionally or someone to have an impromptu breakfast out with on a weekend but now, in her absence, I’m back to doing what I do when I have the opportunity. I’m back to jumping in my car (mostly in the summer when the roads are better) and going to spend time with women who don’t need propping or fixing. They have their shit together and are worth the drive and my time. In a million years, I never would have thought a friend would give up her family and her friendships for a man. It was kind of like the girl or guy in high school who separated themselves from their friends because they were going steady with someone who was the be all and end all of their lives. There was no goodbye when she left and I have since heard that she’s been back to visit her children? or family? once? …I am not sure. I have had people mention to me and try to show me some of her social media posts (which I politely declined to view) that to them, seem dark and sexual and more in tune with the vibe of an angst-filled 18 year old. I don’t know anything about what she is doing now and I can’t comment on what she is posting and I have no intention of reaching out to re-kindle anything with her. The last communication we had was via text and I let her know then how I felt, that I was verbally ending our friendship and I wished her well wherever her journey would take her. She responded that she did not know what to do or say about my text. She admitted that she was avoiding me because, and I quote, “it’s what I do. I avoid things that are hard to deal with. I’m just an avoider” and she didn’t know what to say to me. Hmm… upon writing that just now, I realize the only thing I really regret is the amount of time I wasted with her. So much had taken place in the 7 or 8 years we had been close – mostly things with her because after a while, it’s apparent that all the relationships she’s had with friends were rosiest when things, ever so subtly, were about her. It makes me wonder if all the times she stayed here, ate here, cried here in my house…the amount of times I fed her children, made them get their homework done, drove them from school only to have her reciprocate a few times in comparison then distance herself and disappear…I wonder if she was my friend at all or if I was just another really convenient pit-stop for her like so many of her past friends were? Where was she when her family and friends needed her? This is why I did not want to open up my life to someone new. This is why I wanted to go with my gut instinct and not get close to anyone else. I can’t blame Tom or my mom for wanting me to not be lonely in this small and boring place but the only good that came of my experience with this friendship was the affirmation that I am best following my instincts every time. I have my friends I am happy to drive to Toronto to see and one I have recently promised to fly to a different province to see. I have my friends abroad – my SJC “sisters” I keep in touch with on line after a 30 year reunion that reminded me that everything I know to be true, everything I was, I am and am yet to be was created during my life in Trinidad and the years we spent together – years that transformed us into the incredibly admirable, strong and courageous women we all are today. I have my dear sister, my mother and my girlfriend in Trinidad with whom I am able to Skype when life here gets on my nerves. I have my wonderful cousins and friends from Calgary and Montreal and a few people I have come to know and enjoy in the area where I live as well. We are not “besties” but people – women who enjoy each other’s company. No drama, no issues no bull shit. That’s how it was before and how I’d like to keep it. No more wasted time on wasteful people.
But as my mother has said to me about all this – we all have experiences in life that help us grow and remind us of who we are. Nothing, she says is a waste of time (I ain’t so sure about that, but okay). She told me not all of my friendship was bad and what is most important for me to remember, is even though what happened hurt and at times made me angry and frustrated, she was my friend, and I did help her and she very much knows that.
I told my friend when I returned from my trip that I got her a box of amazing chocolates in lieu of the bag (why lie?). Though she really liked it, we both agreed that it was the better move as it may have ended up in the trunk of her car with the zippers broken and the material stained. I never told her this but worse yet, because of her “whatever” and “kooky” nature, I might have found the bag strewn on the shelf at yoga just like the way the shirt (one she really wanted) that I gave her for her birthday along with her worn underpants were left there for God know’s how many days (I shake my head thinking of the poor custodian who had to remove her nasty bits). Hmm…birthday present you really wanted carelessly left with your underwear on a shelf…kind of like the friendship I suppose that she tossed aside and let fade. I am aware you can always point a finger at someone but you will always have 3 pointing right back at you. No one is perfect. We are all hopelessly flawed and I have some blame in the failure of this friendship. As I head towards age 50, I have learned many valuable lessons from this relationship. I have gone through the anger and the bitterness where I really wanted to hear that she fell flat on her face. But then there was the lingering of a tiny shred of hurt that has been finally been replaced by forgiveness. When you forgive someone you can’t wish bad things upon them. I don’t want her to fail. I didn’t want her to fail when we were friends and I don’t want her to fail now. I truly hope her “re-do” is a success because she is entering the second half of her life and at some point, she has to make it a better one. That tiny shred of hurt has been the affirmation that the best advice for me will always come from my intuition. I have all I need and there is nothing I am seeking; no thing I want. This experience with this former friend in the end, I suppose, simply confirms I’m good.
For my friend and “word sister” Helen ~ Reading your words about your disappointments and triumphs with regards to your own relationships with others made me realize that admitting I too have experienced the hurt of a failed friendship, doesn’t make me weak. No matter where you are there are people who are great friends and others who are not. Your brave candor made me realize that I’m not above having unsuccessful relationships and that I am not too tough or strong to feel that kind of pain they bring because in life it is better to open oneself to all things ( even the not so good ones) in order to truly live.~