Today, I took a trip back in time. Two, actually.
The first, at the airport. I am now part of the TSA Pre-Check program. I received an unsolicited email from United, my airline of choice, stating that I was enrolled in the program. I suppose, as often as I fly, and since I have not made an effort to blow up any airplanes, it is assumed I’ll have no desire to do so any time in the future. A safe assumption. So, I don’t have to remove my shoes, my 3-1-1 baggie, my scarf, my sweater or light jacket. I do not have to remove any of my computers from my bag. I just toss my bag on the belt and dash through the scanner. This reminds me of simpler times. Another loosening of the leash; upon boarding the plane, we were all told we no longer have to turn any of our small personal electronics off for take off and landing; my phones, my Kindle, my iPad, all can stay on, in non-transmitting mode. It’s like someone granted me a block of free time. I was unsure as to how I should busy myself as the plane door was closing. This time has always been devoted to frantically ensuring every device was completely off. This newfound liberation, this freedom, seems so foreign in a world that has been so up tight for so long. The TSA agents and flight attendants were near jubilant in their efforts to wave us through security, all smiles as they assured us we could leave our phones on during the entire flight. I haven’t seen such glee at the airport, on behalf of employees and travelers, alike, in a very long time.
While the plane door was closing, with my newfound block of free time, I opened up a black, hard covered book with gold letters on the cover. This, the other trip back in time, was a little less pleasant. This book I read today, moved me to tears. In public. On a fucking airplane. My dear, near lifelong friend, Clarissa, showed me the book when I visited her home last week. Clarissa Lynn Coupon. It was a book written, from the copyright, just a couple of years ago, but told of a time I recall well from nearly three decades ago. It was a self-published book, written for a group of long-time friends and distributed amongst some number of people. As books will, they have been circulating from family to family and from acquaintance to acquaintance. It is hard to say just how far and wide this story has travelled. I dare not hazard a guess.
The story is told from the perspective of a young man and spans a decade or so of his life, weaving the tales of his evolution from boy to adolescent to man, a story of drunkenness, debauchery, deceit, drugs, dishonesty, infidelity and God. The story revolves around friendships that developed and endured this period of time, and beyond. The story, I assume, was solely for the enjoyment of this misfit group of friends, sort of a 1980’s version of “Bro’s before Ho’s”. But, I am reminded, as I am currently in custody of this black, hard-bound book with gold lettering on the cover, that stories do travel, and sometimes their arrival in a particular reader’s hands is miscalculated and most definitely unanticipated.
The “hero” of our story is Stanly. Stanly had a healthy fear of God and an uncertainty about religion that he seemed to struggle with for most of the ample book. He suffered a certain amount of turmoil as his parents divorced and as he tried to find his way, painfully and pitifully, through the loss of his virginity, and any semblance of sobriety.
After high school, I’m sure to everyone’s relief, Stanly finally managed to lose his virginity, to a girl he used specifically and solely for that fait accomplit. Magically, and only with the assistance of his good friend Dan, Stanly hooked up with Wendy and for the next couple of pages, really liked her. Loved her even. But, pages later, Stanly was avoiding her and wishing for the company of other female companions and, in fact, cheating on her at every opportunity, which, he admitted, wasn’t often. For the next, oh, two years or so, Stanly continued to see Wendy, to use her, pretty much, as needed. I read on, which was painful. I got within thirty pages of the final page, page 547, and skipped toward the end to a chapter titled “Forsaken”. In this chapter Stanly finally did the honorable thing and broke up with Wendy.
I know, this does not seem like the type of book I would generally read. It isn’t. In fact, reading this book was, by far, one of the worst experiences of my life, because the story, you see, is a true story, I knew Stanly, well, I thought, because, I am Wendy. And of much of this, I had no idea. For four years. For the better part of four years, I was being used. A booty call, piece of ass, I guess, when nothing better panned out.
You know that feeling you get when you receive really horrible news? The edges of your vision turn fuzzy and white? Like all the blood just drained from your body and dumped, suddenly, and sickeningly, into your stomach? Yah. That happened pretty much, repeatedly, throughout the entire volume. Every time I flipped a page and saw the word “Wendy” on it, I gripped the arm of the chair and braced myself. Do you have any idea what it feels like to read about yourself in a story like that, where the entire cast of characters are real and they all know you’re just someone’s booty call, piece of ass? I still see these people, in real life. Nice, right?
I find myself in the weirdest position and one that has robbed me of some sleep, some self-respect, some self-confidence and a bit of my usual glee, for a few minutes, anyway. It is hard to describe a brand new, open and bleeding, thirty-year-old wound. How is it even possible to have a brand new, thirty-year-old wound? I am shaken, to the core, and reeling, and beating myself up for being shaken, to the core, and reeling. How asinine. Of me.
These questions floated through my mind as I feigned sleep, for a spell, last night:
Every man in my past, ever, has betrayed me, in some way, or in many ways, how will I ever trust anyone again?
I saw a quote the other day, by Ernest Hemingway, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” So, I shall. I do. I must.
Why do I care, thirty years later?
Because it hurt. I don’t really care, it just hurt. I’ll lick my wounds and I’ll be over it, or not. I only found myself Googling a list of therapists, once. The lessons I have gleaned from this and the ability to share those lessons is therapy enough. It’s all about the lessons we learn from our life experiences, whether ugly or utopian. And sharing those lessons in hopes they may help others in pain, guarantees bliss.
Is my self-respect in tact? To find out one has been so degraded, for such a long time, certainly must erode one’s self-respect.
Nope. Remember, we are solely responsible for our own self-respect, it is a reflection of us from within and has nothing to do with what other, lesser life forms, posing as people, inflict on us, for their own reward and benefit. Had Stanly been the least bit honest, or any more sloppy, had I known at any moment in time how I was truly regarded, I would have walked away, head held high. That this is a new, thirty-year-old wound diminishes my ability to walk away, head held high, none, whatsoever.
How, in the world, should I react?
Oh, I lost a wee bit of sleep fantasizing about public humiliation, via a Facebook wall post on Stanly’s wall, but what would that gain? Really, only further publicity and humiliation for me. And while it was mildly satisfying to talk of the tale here, I do so in fair anonymity, in a much less public venue, and with the careful passage of enough time to choose words carefully.
What have I learned?
Lots. That Ernest Hemingway is to be trusted on the topic of trust.
I am reminded, though I know, from the core, that self-respect, self-confidence and self-esteem come from within and are not the property of anyone but the bearer. No one can take our self-respect, our self-confidence or our self-esteem from us, no matter what. No one can diminish them in the least, we are solely in care, charge and custody of them and if they erode, even in the slightest, it is at our very own hands, solely, and only we can repair them. That alone is empowering beyond anything else.
I also learned that when someone you once respected, honored, trusted and admired, whether for three minutes, or three decades, shows their true colors, when honesty, integrity and even chivalry are replaced with selfishness, infidelity, dishonesty, deceit and disrespect, the only thing to do is to observe, acknowledge, accept and forgive.
In observing the true nature of the person, we realize they are completely separate from us, their actions are separate from us and lessen us in no way. In acknowledging that they are completely separate from us and that their actions are not for us to react to, we rise above them in honor and integrity and common, human decency. In accepting what has happened as something in the past, that can never be changed, we release it and relish, again, the only time in which we truly live, the present. And, the hardest part; in forgiving those who trespass against us, we are freed from the hurt, the pain, and any power our trespasser may feel they hold over us is diffused, forever.
It may seem odd to say, but I am grateful for having had the opportunity to read the black, hardbound book, with the gold lettering on the cover, dreadful as it was. The pain and the horror of the tale subside with each breath I draw and release, and I have had another rare opportunity to take a horrific situation and use it as a catapult to further evolve into the person I am destined to be; great today, greater, even, tomorrow. Thank you, Stanly.