No Man Is An Island

How do we reconcile shortcomings in others with our boundaries? What’s the line between forgiveness and finally expecting our worth to be reflected in the way we’re treated? Unless I accept my people as they are, I’m not going to have any friends left! My circle is getting very small indeed.

I told my friend I was hurt when she and her husband rode Zafod’s art car after what happened to me at Burning Man. I hadn’t planned to. “She’s my friend,” I decided. “I can’t hold her as close as I once did, and I love her. Not every wound requires discussion.”

I gave it real thought. I knew that either way, I would continue to spend time and be her friend. I’d been hurt, and it was done. I harbored nothing. Not the end of the world; certainly not intentional. I knew that.

I know, too, that it’s unfair to demand the same expression of camaraderie that I offer. I see something in my friend now that’s hard to know. It’s still friendship.

But… We were hanging out yesterday. She wondered why I had stormed off one night at the burn. I hadn’t, but I understood why it seemed like I had. In truth, some plastic women boarded an art car we were on and threw shade at me. (I have no objection to cosmetic work, incidentally, until they look freakish. Even then, knock yourself out. But silicone, starved, filled, frozen, Botoxed, and bitchy? ‘Bye.)

I hadn’t worn makeup all week, until burn night. That’s normal for the day. (Sunglasses hide many sins.) You might think the face of a middle-aged redhead with faded eyebrows would be especially bleached-out and colorless in the bright sun. In fact, I look more washed out at night. Featureless, pallid, even sickly.

I didn’t care. I wore my cute outfits, but I was all about comfort this burn. I couldn’t be bothered with makeup. I will again. I love turning it out. This year, when evening rolled around, I just didn’t want to. Makeup felt like a chore.

It was similar to my first burn, when I hadn’t known to bring all my fabulous gear and wore gym shorts and tennis shoes the whole time! (Why I didn’t Google it when my boyfriend told me playa would ruin all my nice things is beyond me, haha!) In 2007, I was intimidated and uncomfortable. Slacks at a black-tie affair.

What I gained was the experience, for the first time in my life, of disappearing. No one noticed me! It was discombobulating at first. Then, it felt like a secret superpower. If I had a meaningful conversation, it was a meeting of people, not finery. Yeah, I was snubbed, but those I spoke with mattered in a new way. No angle.

Showing up with only myself was a humbling, powerful lesson that I cherish. (The next year, I’d already learned it. I brought the glamour.)

This year was like the first. The difference was I chose it, and this time I needed nothing from those who overlooked me. Twelve years ago, I was shaken. It took work to bring myself up when someone looked down on me. Now I’m bored of people who tear others down, so when those derisive bitches sized me up, I was out. (One sneered, audibly.) I wasn’t mad, not rattled, not interested.

“Do I look like I’m dying of cancer?” I asked my friend at the time.

She said yes! I needed eyebrows.

I knew. If I cared, I’d have drawn them on.

I sat it out for a minute or two, but I don’t like mean girls. Those chicks changed the vibe for me, so I left. Simple. (We were just sitting anyway, and I wanted to move! Ecstatic dance is something I only find at Burning Man. Wordless conversation is magical, especially for one so blessed and cursed with words. I had an awesome night.

Oh, what was the name of that camp? Multi-level dance floors and mini-trampolines! Anyway, the beats were going off at some unicorny location and I danced deeep for hours, woke up sore. “Ooh, I’m getting my legs on now!”)

Back at home, my friend told me that she and her husband determined then that I must have been offended. Reasonable. Wrong.

“That being said,” I teased her, “when your friend asks if she looks like she’s dying of cancer, the answer is always no!”

“No,” she disagreed. “I don’t want anyone lying to me. Be straight!”

“No, man! There are certain things the answer is always no! ‘Does this dress make me look fat?’ NO! ‘Do I look like I’m dying of cancer?” Always no!”

We drank for a couple of hours. I don’t know if that opened the door to the truth. I wasn’t so drunk, but maybe it emboldened me to confess what I was wrestling with.

What difference does it make? I asked myself, again and again.

Be straight with me, I heard her say, again and again.

If this sat on my heart unsaid, it was between us. I needed to share my feelings with someone I’ve considered a close friend for five years.

Did I, though? Do we have to get everything off our chests? If I don’t need her to answer for it, do I need to offload something that won’t stop me being a friend?

But isn’t that making allowances for people who don’t value me? I hoped she’d care, and we could close the first gap our friendship has known. I had to say it, or the new distance between us might grow.

I want authentic connections, not acquaintances and drinking buddies. I spoke my truth. I didn’t accuse or attack. I owned my feelings.

“I was hurt when you rode the art car after what Zafod did to me.”

“When?” she asked.

“Anytime after he kicked me out.” What did that matter? 

It devolved from there. She was defensive, deflecting. It didn’t happen to them. (It’s inconsequential, then, that he endangered me in the middle of the desert after harassing, deceiving, fondling, violating, and expelling me?)

Wow. Compassion matters to me, and that’s the definition of its absence. No amount of explanation could communicate why that hurts.

In the end, all I could say was, “If the tables were turned…” Over and over.

She came back every time with confusion, and no feeling. It didn’t involve them. Why should they stand by me and not hang out with my attacker?

Now I’m screwed. Now I know. The obstacle is real, and growing. Empathy’s important to me. Recognition of unintended injury. Basic concern for friend. “I can see how you feel. I’m sorry.” They’re not. They don’t.

I want a little loyalty. All I got was discomfort, her own. She was in trouble.

“I’m not mad,” I told her. “I just wanted you to know how I felt. I haven’t blamed you or yelled. I shared my feelings.”

“But you’re the one who got fooled,” she shot back.

Oh. My. God.

I gasped and walked away. “Oh! I’m getting mad now.

“That is victim blaming!” I turned back. “I didn’t do this. He did this. It was traumatic and scary, and it hurts that my friends don’t care.”

It didn’t happen to her, and I’m the idiot.

You think I don’t already feel stupid enough? Every victim of sexual assault hates themselves for it! Not an ounce of concern. Not a moment’s consideration. Not even his mugshot was enough to convince her. He’s a serial predator, but I’m an idiot.

I paused in the kitchen, grabbed a drink, and went back. We were going in circles. “I know this has been hard to hear,” I sympathized, “but I wanted you to know how I felt and you said you wanted it straight. Maybe it’s the beer,” I shrugged.

I get that others haven’t spent 30 years in therapy. I get that others haven’t had to focus their whole lives on restructuring healthy relationships, and learning effective, loving communication. But void of empathy? For a friend?

Today, I’m anxious. “Are we good?” I want to text. “Thank you for hearing me.”

But she didn’t, really, and I think, why am I worried about a friend I rarely see anymore, who’s married and doesn’t need relationships outside of her husband and her twin, and openly rejects the concept of caring about others?

Is that a friend?

She did say in the end, “I feel guilty,” and she actually said the words, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” I rushed to her. “That’s all I wanted, for you to understand and care how I felt. I know you didn’t mean it. I feel closer to you if we can be honest about the hard stuff.”

Apologies matter to me. Not everyone will give that, so I respect it. Still, I’m sad and worried. No matter how fairly I handled a challenging conflict, now I’m “drama.” They think feelings and drama are the same thing. I don’t.

I don’t think it’s drama to ask a friend to care. They don’t want to be bothered. I can work with differences. Indifference to the pain of a friend, not so much.

My heart hurts. I can’t help that my regard changes, knowing this. They’ve stated their boundary. “What I do has nothing to do with you, and keep your shit to yourself.”

They can’t undo unintended consequences. Our choices affect others, and I can’t feel closer than I do to people who don’t care. I’ll enjoy their company  – can’t help that either; I like them – but I no longer feel close. I don’t feel valued.

Soon I’ll be happy that I expressed difficult emotions well. I was afraid of the possibility that she’d reject me, and she did. It’s the first time I’ve failed to get eye-to-eye with someone, but didn’t keep pushing. I accepted it and closed the conversation. It was relatively brief. I remained calm, respectful, and earnest. I’m getting better at this. I’m pleased with that, but today my heart hurts.

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