Monday, August 14, 2006

An admittance of guilt.

I am a terrible friend.

Resist all temptation to argue with all the sweet words coming to your minds right now such as, "aww, you are not."

Alas, it is true. I am a terrible friend.

For several years, I had more "guy friends" than girlfriends, primarily because I just don't have a catty bone in my body, and I didn't play the games that all the girls played with each other. The level of social politics and teaming up in cliques, which often left some people feeling abandoned and alone, were not acceptable to me at any age. I was never a huge dorky nerd. But I really didn't like the way the "cool kids" treated other people. So I chose my friends carefully, and they were usually male. I was one of the guys.

In high school, I didn't really have a social life because everything I was involved with that provided some identity and cause for interaction with others who I had things in common with didn't last. I went to two parties my whole high school career. Yep. Two parties. I can remember a couple situations where I had permission to go and do something, but then my mother would pick up the night at work and I'd be stuck once again at home. I cheerleaded for awhile, amidst serious complaints of what camp cost and the times for practices. Many practices had to be missed, based on the mandate that my *responsibilities* at home be handled first. Anyone reading who has been on a cheer team knows this is unacceptable. Eventually, my mother forced me to quit altogether. Possible the most painful of all her actions that destroyed my self confidence and chance of any serious collection of treasured memories throughout my highschool career. The reason? A progress report that said: "C-D range." For two classes. Now, the school had a policy that was followed to the letter of the law that said you must keep a certain average, and have minimum grades each cardmarking. So I was very well aware of what my minimum grades needed to be to hold my spot. Thus, there is no logical explanation for this other than my mother was sick and tired of my running off to have a life of my own, and there were several weeks before any hope of my getting myself kicked off the team for academic reasons at the hand of the school's administration.

I was not accountable as a friend. My team couldn't depend on me. My study groups couldn't depend on me. I went home immediately after school just about every single day. Several boyfriends didn't stick around. I couldn't live the life that everyone else did. Or anything remotely close to it. You guys know how kids are in high school. Do you think anyone was sensitive to that? How could anyone be? Where would anyone else have gotten the frame of reference to understand this?

Rather, my memories are being so bored making spaghetti for my younger siblings that I would find tapered candles so we could eat by candlelight. Getting freaked out because I tipped the cookie sheet with baked chicken on it and had huge flames burst immediately out of the oven. (There were no casualties save for some of the hair on my right arm. It's all good.) Getting so tired of holding the baby that I'd stick him back in his seat and turn on The Little Mermaid yet again just so I could read some of my chemistry stuff for the next test, even though I felt totally guilty doing it. I can remember vividly the habit of getting frustrating to the point of tears at trying to essentially run a household for an evening, complete with three children, and just sneaking away to sit somewhere as far away as I could get. There is a closet underneath the stairs at my parents' house, and it was full of old clothes, I'd climb on top of a pile and just sit up there. When I smell that typical basement style musty smell, my mind usually goes right back to that closet.

I remember so clearly the summer before my freshman year in high school. My "big sister" was so frustrated that I couldn't participate in any of the activities she planned. I was able to help with ONE carwash, and I HAD to leave at a certain time to be back before my mother had to go to work. No exceptions. Of course, by the time I had to leave, it was not nearly overwith, but had progressed long enough for all the other girls to make plans for what they were all going to do together afterwards. I hadn't even gotten to high school, and the most influential girls on the yearbook roster stopped including me in anything. And I knew better than to blame them. I could never do anything. Why bother to invite me? Duh?

I became fiercely independent and focused on the FUTURE in a very unnatural way at the given age. I suppose this is a side effect of having a very high IQ. Instead of just rebelling and sneaking out to party and drop acid, I made mental notes of what my business suits would look like as soon as I could escape my reality and create a new one. And I didn't need no stinkin friends anyhow. I was fine by myself. And besides, I did have really great conversations with the folks in my advanced placement classes, which were so stimulating to me that it's all I looked forward to during many long chronological chunks of my high school years. We talked about everything from politics to technology. And, best of all, they never discussed plans for any social activities. It was a safe haven. Nobody there had any social maintenance involved in sharing a friendship.

That's really how I always looked at it too. Social maintenance. When I would talk to a girlfriend a couple times a week for three weeks, then I'd get hit with a monsoon of responsibility that overwhelmed me for the following week, the fifth week that girlfriend would certainly wonder "what happened." Um, duh? I got super busy, don't you ever get super busy? And the answer was always no. My peers weren't running home to change diapers and help iron clothes in record time. They were learning to have a social identity in this world. I truly thought my peers were incompetent, immature, shallow, and high maintenance. But no. They were all so perfectly normal.

So the friendships I'd fostered in elementary school and early junior high slowly fizzled backwards in high school, and very few, if any, distant new friendships were formed.

I remember my sophomore year, and the first good half or so of my junior year, leaving me to think that as soon as I got into college I'd be okay. I'd have some space, be in charge of my own time, and I could have friends and do fun things. Then, about midway through my junior year, I realized what school cost. I got depressed. My grades dropped to an ugly state of being. I was angry, frustrated, and alone. I had occasional thoughts of suicide, and my outlet was writing. Essays, sonnets, various forms of poetry, and sometimes even full blown plays. I'd kill to have some of them now just to represent that time of my life - but I threw everything away the same week it was written as a strict rule. I had no privacy at home. If a boy wrote me a love letter, I'd come home and it would have made its way, sometimes in less than 12 hours, out of my secret hiding place to the middle of the kitchen table, unfolded and blushing in plain view of everyone who walked by. So, very quickly I learned that anything I wanted private required proper disposal.

My senior year started without incident. Nearly three-quarters through, many of my classmates were pairing up to room together in their respective college destinations.

The week of my final exams, my senior year, school was dismissed each day at 10:30 a.m. My classmates came early to gather in the cafeteria before each day's agenda of two hour-and-a-half test periods. They'd wear cutoff denim shorts, and t-shirts or halter tops with bikini strings hanging out from underneath. Each of the three days that week, they'd all head immediately to Stony Creek Beach at 10:30 for yearbook signing, canoe races, or whatever the plan was that day. I arrived just in time for the first test period, exhausted from the all-nighter to study, wearing the dressiest clothes I had in my possession. At 10:30, I managed to dodge as many of the inquisitive minds as possible who wondered why I was dressed like that, why I was in a hurry, and why I hadn't been at the beach the day before, and I headed to the one-week training class for my first full time job. That job began the first Monday morning that I was officially a high-school graduate. I was 18 years and 4 months old. And I truly believed that not being able to go away to college would be okay - because I'd just meet friends at work or community college that had more in common with me anyhow.

Sha. Right.

I was the youngest person at work by a LANDSLIDE. People don't work high-end commission retail in that sort of environment for a simple job. It's a career. And the folks in community college? Don't even get me started. They were either weird, or they were 45.

My mother did something for me the following October that really made me feel like she gave a rats ass whether I had a life. She drove me to Michigan State University to visit my friends in their dorm rooms. It was very sweet of her. (Don't misread that - it's NOT sarcasm. I seriously thought it was very special that she bothered to do this.) It was one of the worst weekends of my whole life. It was my best friend, our mothers, and me, getting a tour of my best friends new college towns. I don't think I'd ever felt so insignificant. I remember wondering if I'd ever feel the sense of accomplishment that my high-school-best-friend so clearly felt. Granted, her ambitions were different. I'd wanted to be a cheerleader in college since meeting my freshman cheer team coach, and I wanted to join a debate team or some such activity. My high-school-best-friend joined the row team and a few other seriously technical sports. But she was doing her thang. I'd never felt so much jealousy and resentment in my whole life. (Until eventually my own sister, who came out of the same uterus I did, not only enrolled at MSU with a dorm buddy, monogrammed towels, and the whole nine yards, but also decided to be a college cheerleader.)

I did frequent MSU a few more times throughout that academic year. My first 4 - 6 paychecks all went towards necessities and work clothing. The next several went toward my second car. A blue Chevy Cavalier. I'd stick my cocker spaniel in the front seat and off we'd go to East Lansing. By this time, the folks I'd known from high-school had taken up with the party scene. Nobody cared as much about obligation, i.e. when are you coming back for another visit? Are you going to call me tomorrow by 2? My peeps were far too hung over each day to bother with any typical expectations. I was safe.

This was my first year out of high school. As it came to a close, I was shopping homes. I purchased my first one at age 20. And in true form, I thought for sure that I'd have a whole lot of friends once I had a house. One of my friends even came close to moving in with me when she dropped out of MSU.

But no. This time only began a bigger rat race of three jobs, college classes, and the rest of a list I don't want to think about much less take the time to write out. That rat race has never ended. It morphs a little here and there, but the rat race continues. As a matter of fact, it may be more crazy now than it's ever been. I've been a serious workaholic since the end of my junior year in high school, when I had two jobs on top of school. Therapy identified years ago that my career shapes my personal identity and self image. That just can't be good.

And thus, I have even less time than I ever did before to be a decent friend.

One thing I've learned over the years is that my girlfriends were never "high maintenance" in a bad way. They were just good friends. And good friends should support each other. Not be around and then disappear for three weeks like I always typically had to.

And, I honestly don't even know how to make time to be a good friend. I'm 30 years old, and still haven't even gained full comprehension of high-school level girlfriend relationships. When a friend gets too close - I literally back away and I've always used the excuse (even to myself) that "Oh gosh - I better create some distance, I'm not going to have time to shop and and return calls and hang out and all that.) When really, it would have been the best thing for me all along.

I thought about this whole deal as I realized that I am not even keeping up with proper etiquette with blogger friends. Folks, if you left a message or a comment and didn't get a response, please know that I just now figured out how to have comments appear in my email box so I can respond properly.

And thus begins friendship rehab for me. I want to be a better friend and put some time and energy on the things that matter most.

I'm about to shamelessly steal an idea from one of my all-time favorite cyber friends, Pajama Mama and leave the cyber world with a question... What are you in "personal rehab" for in hopes to change for the better?


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