She let him have it. How dare he speak to her that way? They were friends, she was hurting and he attacked her. He went right for the jugular, refusing to respect what was happening and what it all meant. Her heart was broken.
“I can’t believe you said that to me.”
“I can’t believe you asked me to believe something so ridiculous.”
“I never asked you to believe anything! I was hurt. I came to you for help and you acted like my problems are nothing!”
She’s incredulous. He was right there. He did it! And now he’s claiming he doesn’t know what’s going on?! She was livid. “I just finished telling you about how my boss has been treating me and you acted like it didn’t matter!”
“Okay, first off, can we at least try to calm down enough so that we’re not yelling back and forth?” He took a breath and steadied himself. His voice was warmer when he spoke. “Look Syd, we’ve known each other a while now. If you haven’t figured out that I care then pay more attention because it should be obvious for a variety of reasons. Who rescued you when blew your rent on that crazy gift for your Mom?”
“She was worried she was going to die!”
“I remember. That’s why I gave you money I really didn’t have. Of course I thought your Mom was important. Who took her special meals up every time you couldn’t? Who sat and played her dice game with her? Don’t act like I haven’t shown I care.”
She shuffles in her place, uncomfortable. He puts his arm around her. “When that guy dumped you I’m the one that invited you over for dinner, and it was me that was sitting beside you and it was me that put the mirror on the chair across from you because it was me who told you I wanted to make sure you had dinner looking across the table at someone beautiful.”
She jags a cry. She’s emotional, and he’s mixing a bunch of sweet and awful moments together really fast. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“That’s us Syd. That’s what we do. A girl dumps me, I come see you and you tell me I have a nice ass or that girls are dumb anyway and you help. Even if I’ve been a dick. You show you care. And I do too. So that’s who we are so you can’t take today and rewrite all of that. You can if you want, but to me you’re the same person, which is why I don’t want to hear this shit anymore.”
She’s incredulous that he’d attack her after they just calmed it down. “What shit?”
“This shit about you being weak. This shit about you going into a depression because of your boss. I know you. So it’s insane to ask me to believe that you’re too weak for this. It’s offensive to you, and you asking me to pretend you’re weak is offensive to me. I know who I know, I know who I see every day.” It’s weird. He’s complimenting her and giving her shit at the same time. She gets up, back to him, crosses her arms and paces nearby. It doesn’t seem to bother him.
His tone shifts down a bit. “And who I see is a strong woman who made it through her Mom’s cancer and her parent’s divorce, and her breakups and mine–and she survived Grady Marsh in high school and yes, she was knocked around for sure.” He leans in to stress his point. “But the weeble wobbled and it didn’t fall down Syd. You were fine then you’ll be fine now, so all of this dramatization is exactly that.”
“Don’t reduce my life to some lame plea. And so I’m just supposed to go everyday and get treated like shit? Is that it? I should just be fine with how she treats me?”
“Of course not. She’s a classic over-compensator. She feels like a fraud who doesn’t really deserve her job and so she feels uncomfortable around any capable person and she over-compensates. It’s classic. It’s hardly personal. She’ll do it like a robot to everyone who she perceives has the ability, intelligence or beauty that she doesn’t have. And don’t act like you’re helpless.”
“Oh what, I confront her and wait for her to get angry and undermine me and then just surrender my job? That’s what she’d do.”
“Maybe. Depends on how you approach it. But regardless, either fix it, leave it or stop bitching about it. She’s always been like that; you should either go in and accept that as the landscape of the job, or make a formal complaint and wait to get fired, or just leave. But stop talking like you’re weak with no options when you’re really only scared. You’re an adult.”
“This is a painful thing, why can’t you see that?”
“I can. But no one said there’d be no pain. You live around enormous numbers of people in horrible pain. My point is it won’t last so it doesn’t need us to engage with it so much.”
“I’ve put in five years there. Why should I have to leave!?
“Why not leave? Why are you assuming where you go would be worse? Maybe it would be better. Maybe you’d meet your new boyfriend who becomes your husband there. Syd, stop acting like these mental attachments matter.”
He urges her to sit back down next to him and she does. “Let me clear it up Syd: the world isn’t fair. Go to a children’s hospital and see people with real challenges. Even your own sister. She’s a single mom of a sick kid, she has to work two jobs, and your once-had-cancer mom helps but you don’t. Your life looks pretty good you know. I know it’s no princess-life but come on. We gotta remember, 25% of the people walking past us will get cancer and a bunch of the rest of them are those people’s families. Maybe that’s still us, so maybe this isn’t so bad really.”
“I don’t think you understand what being depressed is.”
He’s not angry, but he is firm. “Now you’re being disrespectful to me. Please don’t pretend you’ve got some feeling I don’t. Don’t pretend that everyone you know hasn’t suffered horribly in their life. All of us feel like just throwing in the towel sometimes. I know that hurts and so does everyone else over about ten years old, so don’t put a spotlight on your problems like they’re the only ones that count because the rest of us have some challenges too you know. When was the last time you asked about Brian?”
Her eyes widened and she hid a gasp. “I’m so sorry. I was so caught up in what’s been happening that I didn’t even think to ask. I’m so sorry.” She takes a step toward him but she can see he needs some space.
“Thanks. Mom says he’s good. We’ll wait and see how the chemo did.”
“I’m so sorry. We should go see him.”
The whole thing between them is a bit weird for her now. He seems comfortable, just stung. “Yeah. He’d like that.”
“Syd, just stop okay? Just stop with all of the whining. You’re not depressed, it’s just when small shit goes wrong somehow your dad taught you this habit of spinning it around in your head for forever and for what? What’s all that thinking do but dump a bunch of awful-feeling chemicals into your brain? How does that help you solve your issues with your boss, or Palestine and Israel, or climate change, or women’s rights, or any other thing you’ll get all down about? It’s just a stupid waste of time and a bad habit and you always defend it. It steals energy from our friendship that could be used more wisely.”
He turns toward her, almost intimately. “It’s why you forgot to ask about Brian. You’re always too wrapped up with thoughts about yourself that you never stop to ask what you’re missing and yet you’re famous for not noticing major things in people’s lives.”
“I am not!”
He just looks back at her. She can tell that it’s true. She has a moment where she caves in a bit. She hates the thought that among her friends she’s known as the one who hogs the pain limelight. But to her credit, that reputation doesn’t feel comfortable, so she takes a good breath, sits up straight and she turns to him. “Okay… okay… so you’re saying I’m strong and so you’re not mad at me and you’re mad at me for acting like I’m weak.”
“Yes. You I love. I know you. It’s the behaviour. It’s beneath you. It’s like watching an alcoholic hurt themselves. I won’t blame the alcoholic for drinking themselves, but I won’t buy them a bottle either.”
She sits with that for a bit. If her parents made it to Canada, through all of that hell back home, then how could the child of those strong people act like a shitty boss would be enough to knock her entire life off track. The longer she considered it the more the stronger feeling built until finally she turned to him. “Okay. Okay then tell me what your brother loves and then lets go get a lot of whatever that is.”
He turns to her. He’s crying. She touches his shoulder. “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”
“I’m not crying about that.”
“What’s wrong then?”
“Nothing. You’re just so beautiful when you love people.”
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.