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At the Stroke of Guilt

Maybe this will be a series of fiction. Maybe it won’t. But, this story begins with the fictional post, Expecting the Unexpected. Click here to begin at the beginning. And, thank you. Of all the hundreds of thousands of existing options for entertaining blog reading, I am honored you stopped here and chose me.

She didn’t buy the red stilts, after all. An unexpected call chirps from her mobile phone, arresting her click-happy finger as it arches over her centered mouse. Her mother. She had her mother to thank for the unbroken future of her two ankles, the extra dollars not glued to a credit card.

Impatience tinges the edges of her voice as she attempts a smooth hello. Why is it that the torn ends never quite lie flat in the timbre of her voice when she tries to seem unruffled? They always glare in the foreground of whatever harmony of words and sound she forces upon them. A faker, she is not, especially with her mother, leaving her hello bookended by two staccato sighs, pulses of air she means and immediately regrets.

News weighs her mother’s words like granite, giving her the facade to match. She had a stroke. Her mother relays the sanitized medical jargon with the hard sheen of falling rock, racing toward its date with gravity. I know she’s old. She’s still family. She used to be your favorite. What are you going to do?

The direct approach. The unsung path of throwing battered, dog-eared cards on the table. No time for subtlety, not where mysterious blights to the brain are involved. Why does direct confrontation with this news stab her conscience so? She can read some of those cards, after all. Distance and airwaves and time and absence don’t change the pictures, the words, the numbers they convey.

Can you stop being so obnoxious? one blares from the back of her mind.

You’re not worthy of anything another gleefully opines.

How dare you refuse to let me blackmail you screams the siren of a third.

For a while, she convinced herself this negative litany was merely her aunt’s regret speaking. Regret for choices made and paths not taken. Regret for love desired and squandered. Crossing a wispy imaginary line, what’s done can seldom be redone or undone. Regret lives on the other side of that divide.

She counted the cards, piled up the proclamations and knew better. Her aunt had been hurling them at her for years. Decades. Rising and falling in intensity of pitch, they always underscored the base: her lack of worth. When she was younger, she believed her aunt’s refrain, that she was worthless. Hearing it reiterated added feathers to her bed.

Age and maturity changed her, though. However she gritted her teeth and sent her mind elsewhere, she couldn’t stop herself from disagreeing with the elderly, droning refrain. Deciding she didn’t have to subject herself to it at all felt weightless. Light. Peaceful.

Right.

Except for the nagging guilt she feels.

Do we ever stop loving people, once we’ve truly loved them? It it ever okay to finally write someone off when they gave up on us decades ago?

47 Comments Post a comment
  1. We probably still have feelings of sorts for family that we once loved. I say family as it is a different love than we would have for someone we meet, fall in love with and then that love goes away.

    But, just because there may be feelings and some pangs of guilt about not really caring about them after all the years of mis-treatments, that does not mean we should simply ignore the refrains of the past.

    I believe one should try to live their daily life by the Golden Rule, and that sometimes means that if the treatment you have received has been so bad through the years, you just walk away from that person. That person has to try to live a little of the Golden Rule as well, or it just isn’t going to work.

    Since it’s family, there are certain protocols that one must adhere to, but, that doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself inside out to satisfy the “rest of the family”.

    Just do your family duty and then walk away and move on to those that care about you.

    December 13, 2011
    • While this piece is fiction, we all struggle with shattered relationships and the aftermath of feeling. I guess that’s why all fiction is a cluster of scenes from reality.

      The hardest thing for me in these situations is continuing to put myself in the position of being hurt. I finally had to stop. I’m not mean to the other person or even disrespectful. I just don’t seem them anymore or put myself in the path of their bile. I hope that approximates the Golden Rule, though emotional attachments do sometimes muddy perceptions in the heat of the moment. :)

      December 13, 2011
      • I don’t struggle to deal with my family. I medicate myself into numbness…

        December 13, 2011
      • Good thing you have a fresh round of drugs for that purpose.

        December 14, 2011
  2. Wow. You reached in and examined my heart and then traveled upward and examined my head. You could be describing me in the later half of this blog (because I definitely would have bought those stilts even though my knees would cry out in agony). Such mixed feelings I have.

    Lou, I so appreciate what you are saying and I wish I were strong (?) enough to follow it, but it seems so much more complicated than just walking away. I could walk away from a former friend but a parent? A sibling? What do you do with the feelings, the anger, the guilt for feeling that anger and the sense of obligation that you have been raised with? When you’ve been molested by your sibling and your parents turn a blind eye? Can you walk away? I haven’t been able to. Guilt and obligation are so strong that they overrule and there I am sitting at the Holiday table – not looking at one side of the table – yes, there’s an elephant in the room. Life. Golly. Life is sure complicated.

    Anyway Andra, once again…….you hit my nail right on my head… :)

    December 13, 2011
    • You are a much stronger person than I am, Lori. I couldn’t sit at the dinner table in that situation. I understand, though. Family is such a lethal cocktail of emotions, both euphoric and deadly. It is hard to navigate sometimes, hard to swallow.

      December 13, 2011
  3. Your post reminds me of how important it is to weigh our words carefully. Once the words are spoken you can never take them back. Words have the power to heal or to hurt. We can forgive people for the hurtful words but we will never forget them. I guess some people are more loving, respectful and nurturing than others. I have spent most of my adult life learning how to overcome the negative and hurtful things that our adoptive parents dished out to my sister and I. I have done everything in my power not to do the same thing to my own children. I have gone out of my way to demonstrate my love towards them no matter what. As for the people in our lives that have hurt us that we once loved, we can love them and respect them. That does not mean that we have to like them or put ourselves in a position to be abused by them again. We also do not have to let them conquer us with their negative and hurtful words. I have found that turning that garbage over to God and asking him for the ability to forgive works best for me. God is bigger than all of that garbage and he is better equipped to handle all of that.

    December 13, 2011
    • Amber Deutsch #

      “That does not mean that we have to like them or put ourselves in a position to be abused by them again.” Agreed, James! Wish I could remember that in the moment, sometimes…

      December 13, 2011
      • It does seem rather abrupt to get up and walk out mid-conversation, especially to a life-long Southerner. :) I’ve done it, but my manners are screaming RUDE RUDE RUDE!! :)

        December 13, 2011
    • Letting it go is about the only way I can deal with it, James. Thanks for your eloquent comment today.

      December 13, 2011
  4. Melissa Flynn #

    You hit that difficult issue of love and family spot on, A. To forgive and love even after so much pain and frustration and… It’s not a clear-cut answer that’s for sure. I guess I always ask myself that if/when that person’s gone, will I feel like I did everything I could to be “at peace” with the relationship–even if that means biting my tongue, eating crow, or trying desperately to take the high road even when I don’t want to. Here’s hoping. And when that doesn’t work, I turn to wine. ;)

    December 13, 2011
    • Having peace in our own individual decisions is very important. We have to live with them, after all. The other person doesn’t.

      December 13, 2011
  5. A wonderfully write on a tough subject – I love the title, and the hard questions are very familiar to me. I have lately come to love my mother through no fault (no doing) of my own… but just by allowing process (long, long story). And I believe that nothing good ever comes out of guilt…

    December 13, 2011
    • er, make that “wonderful” write…

      December 13, 2011
    • Ruth, finding a way through to another person is always a major life hurdle to leap. Sometimes, we make it. Others, we crash, because no matter how much we may want it, we cannot control other people. I am glad you have reached a good place with your mom.

      December 13, 2011
  6. Andra, truly poignant writing. And it obviously strikes a chord with us all.

    As the daughter of an alcoholic and morphine addict, who hid his using, until it burst through the partitions of his life into mine (and the entire family), I understand only too well how much it takes to walk away.

    After many years and many tries, only to be felled again and again by his (what AA calls) “character defects”, I finally realized that I had to love and respect myself first, protecting me from hurt, and just walked away. That he was “sober” and supposedly a leader of others through the medical process of recovery from addiction made it only more difficult for me to understand why his relationship with me, his daughter was so difficult. My brother had to do the same thing. Neither of us attended his funeral. Our sister did and ironically, she was the one who had nothing to do with him while he was alive.

    I never quit loving, praying or caring. I just stopped communicating directly and thereby placing myself in the path of emotional injury and damage.

    My personal philosophy evolved from years of seeking is what I term, “The Conservation of Love.” In my understanding of it, It’s kind of like the first Law of Thermodynamics…in a closed system, energy can neither be created or destroyed. So, where I’ve experienced love, even though there may be horrors, it can be conserved, and used or shared elsewhere. I can bless the things that are damaged, letting them go on in this world. It is not my mission to heal every person from everything. I do believe that that will be taken care of in ways I cannot understand or know.

    There is little enough love in the world, so it is my personal goal to preserve it and perpetuate it–in my own ways.

    December 13, 2011
    • Your personal story always moves me, Cheryl. You are such a strong, solid person and have arrived at a healthy place in spite of what must’ve been decades of emotional disaster. Thank you for adding your insights and experiences to the thread of this post.

      December 13, 2011
      • Thank you Andra, as does your writing and your story of self-revision. You are a fine woman, a model for me.

        December 13, 2011
  7. Quite a thought provoking post, Andra. I am a firm believer in looking within for guidance in situations like this.

    It is not selfish of us to do what we want/ need to do (even if that means walking away from less-than-stellar family members). It is selfish of others to expect us to do what they want us to do.

    December 13, 2011
    • It is selfish of others to expect us to do what they want us to do.” I like it, Nancy.

      December 13, 2011
  8. I have a friend who is playing out a very similar battle like this in her own life, and this fictional situation is so very similar. I don’t know the answer to the final question, but I love the way that it’s being asked.

    Also, I recently learned the defintion of “vocal fry” – it’s the lowest vocal register, the rattling growl you get at the end of a groan. Those “two staccato sighs” came to me as vocal fries. (Frys?)

    December 13, 2011
    • Vocal fry. Cool term, Jessie. I can totally imagine the sighs that way. Good luck to your friend. These situations can take years from life.

      December 13, 2011
  9. Wonderful!! Hard to read, yet cathartic, too because I think that specific pain and confusion cocktail is almost universal. From my own perspective, I don’t believe sharing DNA with someone obligates me to love them. It’s a hard line, perhaps, but it saved me from a lot of hurt I don’t need. I guess my father feels the same way, and what’s good for one of us is good for the other – it’s only fair. Oh, the complexities and mayhem of biological ties…

    December 13, 2011
    • Some people are not lovable, and that is sad, isn’t it?

      December 13, 2011
  10. I got caught up in the beauty of the way you write, Andra. For my tastes the best fiction brings me into the story, and in this piece, you surely offered a place for me to examine my own experience. It takes a lifetime, and I’m still learning, to forgive the “negative litany” that sometimes bludgeons, and then shake it off and move forward. It’s complex, though, isn’t it? Again, what beautifully descriptive writing. Debra

    December 13, 2011
    • The best fiction, at least to me, is informed by some kind of reality. All fiction is real somewhere, isn’t it? Thanks for your encouraging words today, Debra.

      December 13, 2011
  11. Jill Clary Stevenson #

    I struggle daily with forgiving Dan’s family for attempting to ruin us. They accomplished financial ruin but couldn’t take away our spirit or our love for each other. Were they to come to my door today, I am not sure what I would do. The Christian in me says I would open the door and invite them in but that’s not always the side that wins out, as you point out today. Good ideas abound in the comment section, as usual. It’s reassuring to know we are not alone!

    December 13, 2011
    • I have never believed being Christian means letting people run ragged all over us. We can forgive. We can move on. We can heal. But, that doesn’t mean we have to put ourselves and our hearts in harm’s way.

      You and Dan are inspirations to me, have been for a long time.

      December 13, 2011
  12. You transported me immediately to a fictional bedroom somewhere in England, hundreds of years ago, where Jane Eyre sat with her Aunt Reed, watching her in distress with compassion, even though this woman had only ever been poison to her. Aunt Reed can’t even let go of her hate and resentment on her deathbed. Somehow, Jane manages to rise above it, I don’t know how. I need her recipe, whatever it is.

    December 13, 2011
    • Jane decides to live her life on her terms. That’s what she was doing when it wasn’t cool or even really possible for women. She did it anyway. I’ve always loved that story. Thank you for bringing it into this post, Kate.

      December 13, 2011
  13. Andra, To answer the last question of your post: You bet it is. In fact, it is sometimes necessary for one’s emotional health and well-being. I really feel your pain, or should I say resolve, on this one. Within the last year, after having ENOUGH, put a certain relationship ‘in a box,’ as it were. Funny thing is, by the time I did so the anger about the mistreatment over 20+ years had pretty much dissipated, save the occasional and temporary flareups that occasionally ensue, usually prompted by something unpredictable. I was just done. I am still done. Not actively angry at all – as I was for quite some time. Mostly indifferent. Just: Not. Doing. It. Anymore.

    December 13, 2011
    • You have struggled for a long time with this one, Liz. I am glad you found a way to peace with it, because that is so elusive in these situations.

      December 14, 2011
  14. Thanks, Andra and Lou, especially for your insightful and useful comment. I think you said it.
    Sometimes it is hard to know when one should strive to understand what one might have done or said, and then again, sometimes it seems to be more about recognising that there was never really anything you could have done or said.

    December 13, 2011
    • You all have me so confused!!! Why can’t everyone just do what I want you to do and be done with it? That would make it so much easier for all of us.

      December 13, 2011
      • Confusing you is the objective, Carnell.

        December 14, 2011
    • You’re right, Amanda. A wise comment.

      December 14, 2011
    • Well you have succeeded. Especially you women types.

      December 14, 2011
      • We women types??

        December 14, 2011
      • Yay! Success! Woohoo!

        December 14, 2011
      • Yes, women types. There are women and then there are “women types”. Big difference.

        December 14, 2011
      • Yes, those “women types” are maddening.

        December 14, 2011
  15. families do seem to know exactly how to make members feel guilty, don’t they?

    December 14, 2011
  16. I thought about this a long while; about the truisms you have written and all the commentary added to it . . .

    I particularly like Nancy’s comment: “It is not selfish of us to do what we want/ need to do (even if that means walking away from less-than-stellar family members). It is selfish of others to expect us to do what they want us to do.”

    At 68 years and counting, I continue to struggle with this concept.

    December 14, 2011
    • I will probably always struggle with it, too, Karen. You are not alone.

      December 14, 2011
  17. This is big fear of mine… relationships that unraveled because of issues that I’m not able to fix … when I know the only healthy choice is to let go, detach, accept what I can’t change. It still doesn’t change the fact that one day when these certain people are gone and there’s no time left, I’ll be flooded with a pain I never want to feel.

    December 19, 2011
    • I think this is a very human fear, Angie. We all struggle with this with at least one person in our lives.

      December 19, 2011

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