August 22, 2007

Repairing the Irreparable

My late mother always said that I should have moved heaven and earth to save my relationship with my longtime best friend. I thought that was incredibly insensitive and unsupportive of her, given all that I'd been through. No one who knew and loved me would ever say such a thing, I believed.

Of course, it turns out she was right. (Don't you hate it when your parents are right about you?)

Annie Newman, nee Ann Rachel Berrol, now tells me her father told her the same thing...and that she took his advice in much the same way. Until recently.

What had happened between Annie and me was, in my mind, the most shameful, unforgivable, irreparable thing ever, and everyone we knew, knew it. If ever I stopped believing this, either by blaming myself or getting spiritual, someone (usually a mutual high school friend, or a member of my well-meaning if overprotective therapy group) would set me straight, and I'd fear and resent Annie all over again.

I'll spare you—well, really, I'm sparing myself—the details, but suffice it to say that I had PTSD for years. The end of our friendship was like a nasty, contentious, litigious divorce; I tore up pictures of Annie, badmouthed her to everyone who knew us as well as to those who didn't, felt nauseated at the thought of our final encounter, frightened by the sight of her (and she by me; we glimpsed each other from a distance once during a High Holy Days service. I pretended I hadn't seen her, and Annie never came back with her brother to that synagogue), then all but forgot about her for years, I think because it was too hard for me to continue hating her (I've been known to be very angry and resentful, but it's an unnatural act for me to actually hate anyone), so I put her out of my mind entirely until someone mentioned her. ("You're not still speaking to Ann, are you?" "God, no. You know what happened between us. Why would I ever have anything to do with her again?")

Annie tells me she never forgot about me. I find that incredible, but she has provided proof, one and a half decades of it. Pictures of me and stories I'd published, found with Google searches. Memories of our friendship that I'd tried to forget. She's a lot braver than I am, not to have dismissed me altogether as I tried so hard to dismiss her.

Truth be told, I never forgot her either. Though I ripped up many photographs and damned her to hell in my mind for years, I secretly kept all the lovely things she ever wrote about or for me—poems, song parodies, fantasy plays about our lives in high school, some letters. I didn't look at them, but I didn't throw them out.

Annie—then called Ann—was one of my three best friends in high school. We remained close through our early 30s, seeing each other through all the major lifequakes: first hirings and firings, first lovers and lost loves, college, studies abroad, my graduate degree, her marriage, my father's death, the birth of her only daughter, our respective and seemingly endless therapies, my years as a pseudo-yogini on an exotic spiritual journey, the gradual decay of her marriage, our mutual and largely unsuccessful efforts to lose weight, get in shape, and stave off deep depression, our various betrayals of each other, and our grateful, tearful reunions.

I can't convey to you how deep was this loss of my friend. No one ever "got" me the way she did. I never had to explain myself to Ann; she knew. In the early days of our friendship, we were so relieved to find a fellow alien, and quickly we retreated to our own planet, a veritable Berrol-and-Skolnickland of humorous obtuseness. We had this way of talking in code, in bursts of song from Broadway musicals, or quoting things that we—and only we—found hilarious. We signed out letters to each other, "YBFITWWW." (Your Best Friend in the Whole Wide World. Sappy but true.)

No one who knows our history would believe this was possible, but after about 15 years, we are friends again. This, Meesees Onna, I believe to be entirely your fault. (That's one of those "hilarious only to Carol and Annie" jokes, paraphrased from The King and I. My pal is probably spewing her Starbucks upon reading this, and you, most likely, are not.)

How did it happen? Well, Annie's not the only one who Googles me. I look myself up every now and again to see who is quoting from, "borrowing," or critiquing my articles, and to check on my website rankings.

A few months ago, I saw a Google entry that said, "For Carol L. Skolnick, Wherever You Are." Source:

Deep breath. Click.

There it was; Annie's blog. With a jokey but wistful King and I reference that no one would get but me. Someone posted a comment pretending to be me, saying "I don't get it," and Annie responded, "If you really were Carol, you would."

I got more than the reference.

Was this a shout-out? What did I want to do about it? I had attempted no more than one Worksheet on Annie over the years, and quickly abandoned it because it was too uncomfortable; I wasn't ready to face my part in our rift. However, worksheets are a microcosm of mind. Cross out "Annie" and insert Mother, Father, God, Boyfriend, Body, Hitler, Former Employer, Noisy Upstairs Neighbor...not much difference, same old stories. They all betrayed me, didn't love me, wished me harm, ruined my life, deserved to be punished, disturbed my peace, needed to change, cooperate, grovel and enslave themselves to me in order for me to be happy...that was my former religion and I had already converted to TrueDayOh-ThisIAmIt-y. I may continue to "act as if" sometimes, but I'm a jerk with awareness; I haven't really believed my thoughts for several years. You work with the heavy-duty, universal ones, and the others gradually collapse like a house of cards.

Did I need anything from Annie? I checked in. Nope. There was nothing I wanted or needed from her anymore. If anything, I wanted to be able to apologize for my part in what happened between us (I haven't done The Work for all these years for nothing). That left me free to say hello, and it left me okay if in fact she wanted nothing further to do with me.

In her response, unasked for, Annie gave me everything I no longer needed from her, everything I thought I wanted from her all those years ago.

And so, as if no time had passed, last week I walked off my much-delayed plane from Amsterdam into the loving embrace of someone who had waited hours—and years—for me. What a beautiful sight. Within minutes, it was as if no time had passed at all. True, we're a bit grayer, a lot rounder, quite a bit smarter and I hope a tad less self-involved than we were in our teens, twenties and thirties. But we've stll got our legs. (That's another one of those jokes, don't even try to get it.) And I look forward to our sharing sushi together when we're on the same coast (she tells me it's all my fault she's addicted to the stuff), and sharing laughter and tears on the telephone when we're not. I look forward to seeing her daughter Tracy, who in my mind is still a toddler even though she's 17. I love that she has, once again, an Aunt Carol. I very much look forward to Annie and me being able to disagree with each other, even vehemently, and this not becoming the end of the world. (In the past, we were too sensitive to deal with much disagreement; one or the other of us would shut down and isolate until it blew over, until we hit the one that never blew over.)

I am willing and I look forward to the world telling me I am completely insane. They could be right. It doesn't matter. What matters to me is that in healing this old wound, I have more of myself back, plus a bonus.

Thank you for your courage, Annie. I love you.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

August 17, 2007

Nobody Needs Me: a Follow-up and a Photo

Here I am before School started, enjoying the scenery of beautiful Bad Neuenahr, in the north of Germany. BN is an old spa town; I look forward to visiting it again someday when I have time to hang out in the adorable little town, get massages, and eat ice cream (theirs is the best I've ever had).

Today I was privileged to be facilitated by one of my mentees in the BKI Certification program. (It feels funny to call myself a mentor; mostly I feel like a student in these relationships. It never ceases to amaze me how much there is to learn, and how great are my teachers.) I worked on—you guessed it—"I'm not needed." It has been so "up" for me that I dreamt about it last night. For the first time, I saw the arrogance in this statement; how much I am in others' business, and God's business, when I believe I am not needed. I always thought it was the opposite; to believe one is needed and necessary is the opinion of one with a rather overinflated ego, I reckoned. Interesting to see how the opposite stance is equally self-important, imbued with the idea that my "doership" makes the world go 'round, and if I'm not in perpetual motion, I may as well absent myself from the earth.

So here I am, and who am I to say that what I am doing or not doing should be different, or doesn't serve just as it is...that I am wasting my time and yours, that I am getting it wrong?

Where is my proof that I'm not needed? I don't have any. I can't know that things would run more smoothly if I were not there, if for no other reason than to provide contrast.

And so it is. Needed and not. Both true and untrue. Equally important in the grand scheme of things, it appears.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

August 16, 2007

Nobody Needs Me!

Some of y'all were concerned because I haven't posted or sent out my newsletter for nearly a month. No worries...I was on the road, staffing The School for The Work in beautiful Bad Neuenahr, Germany...playing and sightseeing a little in Cologne and Amsterdam... catching up with friends and family in New York...and you are all spared because at the moment, I'm unable to share my 108,000 photos of canals and cathedrals with you (I somehow messed up my computer's USB ports during my travels).

I take it you have enjoyed a fine life these few weeks without me.

While at the School, I had an ongoing opportunity to work on my issues about not being needed. This is something I have experienced on and off for many years, most notably after the events of 9-11-01 when I witnessed peoples' devastation at losing family members who supported them. At the time—parentless, spouseless, childless, and jobless—I had survivor guilt. Why did people who were needed have to lose their lives? No one needed me, yet I was allowed to live. It seemed like a waste for someone like me to be on the planet. Was God a sadist, or what?

During this school, I felt underutilized as a staff member as I watched others with "more important" jobs rarely having a chance to sit down. Instead of kicking back and enjoying this opportunity to "do" my school again, I spent a good part of the ten days feeling that I ought to have been given a fuller schedule of tasks in order to better support the participants and core staff. This meant that in my mind, whatever I was doing there (and of course, it wasn't nothing) was worthless. That's such a good one! And, ironically, though I let it be known that I was more than available to do whatever I was asked, I was unavailable to myself when I wasn't asked.

I am not yet sure why I think I need to be needed and useful. Why can't it be enough that my mere presence at the school was a comfort to some? If I'm doing nothing but standing, sitting, or lying horizontal, why isn't it enough that my exhalations help plants to grow? I'll continue to work with my thoughts, and I'll let you know what I discover.

While I was gone, my basil plant, which apparently didn't miss me, nor did it need my carbon dioxide, remained alive and well on the terrace, in spite of not being watered in three weeks. It even has a sprig of flowers on top, and several dozen healthy new leaves (I had denuded it for pesto right before I left).

See...I can't even neglect a plant properly! :-)

I guess—she says while digging in her heels—that this not being needed is a good thing. I would rather come home to a thriving plant than not. I'd hate to feel that I'm responsible for everyone and everything on the planet. I remember when I did feel that way, always trying to keep employers, family, clients, lovers, readers, and everyone else, happy and approving of me. What an impossible way to live.

Oh yes...just noticing that I don't need to live this way anymore, I am breathing more freely. There is great freedom in having no responsibility, and that doesn't mean I am lazy or useless. I am free to take care of whatever is in front of me, to not worry about whatever it is that I believe is more important than this, now.

It could be that I don't need myself either. I'm sure the basil plant doesn't fret about such things as a "you" or a "me," as it sways slightly in the breeze looking quite lush and luscious, having asked for nothing, and done nothing to deserve what it has.

I suppose if I had to go halfway around the world and back to discover this, it was worth it. And, as I like to remember, and as Katie says when people have big, life-changing epiphanies, "It's a beginning."

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.