THICKER THAN BLOOD


Friendship

“There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul.” ~Edith Wharton

I am the survivor of a very complicated childhood, devoid of the critical elements necessary for healthy maturation. Because of this, I grew up, harboring lots of vacancies within me. I’ve always sought ways to fill the voids, attempting to make myself whole and bridge my gaps. Some of my methods were not ideal and resulted in poor and destructive behavior. Others were far more productive and occurred courtesy of some deep and meaningful friendships that I managed to develop over the years. Despite what I was lacking, I found it easy to attach myself to others, securing anchors along the pathway of my life that prevented me from drifting too far away. Before marriage and children – which finally enabled me the opportunity to build my own family from the ground up and, hopefully, heal some of the painful wounds that lingered – my friends were my salvation from orphancy. Marriage and the birth of my kids were a positive disruption on my journey and created critical and powerful connection points along with a new foundation from which to build. Unfortunately, I slowly learned that even they could not replace the deep chasm that still lingered because of the absence of those early familial relations. So, I continued to seek out relationships that would serve as a patch, masking over the holes and offering opportunities to plant seeds that might grow into deep roots that might ultimately feel like a real family tree.

When I was 42 years old, well into my expedition and still struggling to make sense of the ever-present voids that lay deeply within me, I received a gift. There was no gift wrap or bow and no card to indicate why it was coming my way. It simply showed up on my proverbial doorstep. The gift was my best friend. Only, I had no idea at the time what lay in store for me. I have written previously about My Gay Best Friend, highlighting the distinctiveness of our special relationship. Yet, no matter how deep I dig to try to evoke my most elemental feelings about this friendship, when I write about it, I tend to focus more clinically on the exceptionality of our connection. It is strangely difficult to convey, in the context of my own personal experience, how powerful this relationship is and how humbled I am by its presence in my life. But, today, I am going to try.

I am not a fan of the term “best friend” when referring to our friendship. It seems immature and feels like it trivializes the intensity and complexity of our relationship. I joke, instead, that he is “my brother from another mother” as this more adequately paints the picture. The way I usually process my feelings towards him and the nature of our relationship is more closely akin to that of a family member. Ultimately, there is not a common construct that applies to us, which makes perfect sense because it reinforces the uniqueness and singularity of our attachment.

But, in fact, he is my best friend. He is a friend above all others – the first rung on my friendship ladder. He is at the top of my pyramid. He is the one I trust above all my other comrades. This does not denigrate my other friendships – several of which are quite intimate and trusting – it just highlights how close we actually are. We have a symbiosis that often exists with twins. We can sense when each other is suffering and have an understanding between us on how to support one another. It is implied. It is implicit. It is fundamental. When we are trying to refer to each other and express the magnitude of our relationship, we pull out the “best friend” moniker to be clear of the relevancy in each other’s life. We are able to categorize our relationship (my need, typically) and ensure that it is tended to with intention and given the respect it deserves. Both of us acknowledge, like Edith Wharton suggests, that our relationship is singular and rare and meant to be adored.

In previous writings, I have referred to my relationship with my best friend as a marriage, of sorts. What makes our association so individual yet complex is that we share many of the deep intimacies that marital partners share but they are funneled through a very different lens. We don’t have the traditional burdens of households, bills, and kids. We don’t have to engage in the complexities of romance and sex that, while incredibly meaningful in a union, also create complications that platonic, loving friendships do not have to withstand. On the other hand, we have to balance the intensity of our bond with the other relationships in our lives, particularly husbands and kids. Because there is emotional intimacy, the boundaries become blurred and, admittedly, my friend does a far better job of managing that than me. At different intervals, we have to realign ourselves and readjust expectations. Plus, we live far apart and, while our work offers us many opportunities to spend time together, we are challenged by the geographical gap that prevents us from the typical interactions that friends share over coffee or drinks. We have to work hard to schedule our personal time and, for me, this causes stress and frustration and I have to continually remind myself that there is simply nothing traditional about our friendship. While I love that, at the same time, I am challenged by it over and over again.

My friend and I met five years ago on a cold February day in New York City. I had just joined a small consulting firm, where he was employed. On this day, I was attending an offsite meeting where I would be introduced to the whole team, flown in from all over the country. As the newbie, I felt nervous and intimidated because this was my first foray into consulting and I had a limited understanding of the business. As is often the case for me, I worried that expectations would be high and that I would not stack up.

When I entered the offices where we were meeting, I fortified myself by putting on my best game face and committed myself to winning them over. I knew I had some tools up my sleeve and planned to do whatever it took to be taken seriously. There was a lounge area outside of the conference room where we were set to meet and, while I waited for us to get started, I set my bags down on a stool at one of the high-top tables and sat down. I waited patiently for my boss to arrive so she could introduce me to the others.  Because we were at a client site, I was not able to identify my new colleagues as the lounge was filled with a mixture of people including the client’s employees. I was not prepared to start walking up to people and introducing myself. On the other hand, my future best friend, had a different strategy. While I don’t recall much before he came over to me, I do remember every detail that followed. Everything about our first interaction, through today’s lens, was authentic and represented our individual characteristics. He spotted me and figured I was the new one on the team. And he did what I have seen him do dozens of time since. He made his way over to me and, with a big bright smile, introduced himself and asked if he could sit down and join me.

Sometimes you meet someone, and it’s so clear that the two of you, on some level belong together. As lovers, or as friends, or as family, or as something entirely different. You just work, whether you understand one another or you’re in love or you’re partners in crime. You meet these people throughout your life, out of nowhere, under the strangest circumstances, and they help you feel alive. I don’t know if that makes me believe in coincidence, or fate, or sheer blind luck, but it definitely makes me believe in something. – Unknown

When you know someone as well as I know my friend, it is hard to reflect back on when you were strangers. Nowadays, I cannot imagine the absence of our daily text banter. He is imprinted on me in so many aspects of my life that it would feel unnatural to not know him. Yet, of course, that was not always the case. On the day we met, it was as if I received a gentle tap on the shoulder, encouraging me to pay attention and remember the details of everything that followed. In fact, as I write this, I can still see his smiling face when he sat down and opened up his egg sandwich, all neatly wrapped in wax paper. Clearly in my mind’s eye I can see him dig into the sandwich, wiping the corners of his mouth after each bite. It is tattooed on my brain – like so many important moments we have shared.

We launched into a friendly conversation and used our respective skills to interrogate each other, trying to learn as much as we could in a short period of time. I discovered that he had hoped to relocate to New York from the midwest and I excitedly volunteered to help him out when the time came (he never moved, by the way). I have no idea what he learned about me (and knowing my friend, he probably doesn’t remember either as I maintain the role of documentarian in our friendship). Most importantly, what I recall is how he put me at ease and how grateful I felt. Even our superficial connection helped to start the day off well. My friend has a unique gift of knowing what people need when they need it and this, in my opinion, was no exception. My deep belief is that he was brought to me that day – and I was brought to him. There were so many opportunities for the initial meeting to have not occurred. It was New York, after all.  My train could have been late and I would not have arrived early to the meeting. Or, he could have been held up buying his breakfast and he would have showed up without time to stop and eat in the lounge. And, perhaps, we would have missed that essential opportunity to connect.But it wouldn’t have mattered.  We would have found each other. I am sure of this because my most penetrating recollection of that day – something that remains compelling even now – is me continually searching for his eyes throughout the day and the reassurance and kindness that were returned each time I found them. I still search for those eyes now, in the most intense of situations, and the exact same sentiment comes across when I find them.

My friend will tell you that he did not authentically feel the connection with me that day. It was a bit more artificial for him because he was working and ingratiating himself with a new colleague. Knowing him as well as I do all these years later, I suspect this is true. And, I also would submit that something was activated in him that took longer for him to recognize. I have a profound belief in the power of the universe and the force of inertia over which we have very little control. I adhere to the philosophy that the occurrences in our lives are almost always influenced by the signs we read or choose to ignore. In my life, I struggle to pay attention to the signals but I can mark only a handful of instances where I truly followed my gut because I felt an intense gravitational pull. One was when I met my husband. Another was when I met my best friend. Those are not coincidences.

Despite our upbeat initial meeting and the quick bond that followed, our relationship has endured many challenges. Those vacancy signs within me still light up frequently, causing me to feel needy and creating moments of co-dependency. These disruptions force to me to make adjustments, re-balancing my friend’s role in my life. That symbiosis is a double-edged sword. I sometimes lose perspective and need to step back and administer those boundaries. Sometimes he has to force the boundaries on me. I have to proceed with caution, carefully managing my needs and expectations while continuously searching for ways to plug the holes that still leak out from within me. Co-dependency comes easily for us because our lives have become so intertwined, balancing our friendship and our working relationship and our endless desire to support each other. My friend is so skilled at nurturing me and administering first aid and TLC. Plus, as we are all amalgamations of our childhood experiences, I struggle with abandonment issues that rear their ugly head time and again. Because of our geographical distance, my triggers are sometimes activated when we are apart and I have work to address them with my adult brain rather than my juvenile psyche . I work hard to be respectful of his marriage and his personal life while also maintaining my own relationships at home. I force myself to remember that we are friends and only elements of each other’s tapestries. For both of us, it would be easy to get lost inside of our relationship. Personally, I become intoxicated by the rawness and purity of my feelings when I am with him. Like a child, I dance along the edge, indulging myself and allowing my vulnerability to show. And, while my spouse is my regular confidant and my primary source of support, my friend offers a tenderness that so uniquely matches my imagined sense of what I would have received in my childhood had my family been functional. The absence of that with my own family makes this relationship so enticing and so curative. So, I contemplate it. And when I get really close to the edge, fearful that I will slip off into the abyss of dependency, I run from it, looking for ways to diminish its importance from my life. I am textbook. I act out the drama that unfolded in my early life, trying to destroy any possibility of emotional injury. I create complications and challenges that are acutely tied to the past. But, of course, my wonderful friend is not like the family I grew up with. He is part of my new family and he patiently and adeptly works through this aspect of my life with me. What has resulted from these dynamics is one of the most authentic and mature relationships of my life. You see, with my friend, there really is no place to run, no place to hide. No matter how hard I might try to distance myself in fear that I am getting lost in my neediness, he finds me. He has a remarkable ability to pierce those he cares most about and inserts a tracking device that allows him to be intensely aware of your every move and mood. He feels it. Ordinarily, this would make me feel naked and exposed, crowded and suffocated. But, with him, I love it. I rely upon it. It is not foolproof, of course, and sometimes he misses the signals and fails to deliver. And I fail too. And we fight. And we forgive each other. And we move on. We’re best friends, after all. We’re family.

When you encounter close friends who’ve know each other for a long time, you’ll find many who share a common language and a private code that is imperceptible to outsiders. Friends, like long-married couples, tend to blend together, adopting each other’s characteristics. My friend and I are no exception and I appreciate how much we have been role models for each other. Early on, he introduced an expectation of behavior that I was unaccustomed to. Over time, the clarity of his intentions and his approaches to behavior helped me to shift my own style and expectations. I am spoiled by what we have created and I try to apply our dynamic to other relationships.  I’m only minimally successful because (a) I am trying to replicate something that is really authentically his and (b) the ability to operate in this fashion is so unique and is befitting our relationship because we both show up willing to do the work. I am grateful for the impact my friend has had on me and, when I observe others as they interact with us, I am buoyed. Most recognize the intensity and authenticity of our dynamic. Those who are not threatened by it, succumb to the force and fall right into step alongside us. Others that find it discomforting tend to back away and, there too, I am thankful.

“This is how it works. I love the people in my life, and I do for my friends whatever they need me to do for them, again and again, as many times as is necessary. For example, in your case you always forgot who you are and how much you’re loved. So what I do for you as your friend is remind you who you are and tell you how much I love you. And this isn’t any kind of burden for me, because I love who you are very much. Every time I remind you, I get to remember with you, which is my pleasure.” James Lecesne

I’ve been very open with my friend about the part he plays in my life, how much he means to me and the commitment I have to continually improve and build upon our important relationship. I am thankful that he willingly accepts his role and embraces it wholeheartedly. He doesn’t share my turmoil but he respects and honors it, ceaselessly challenging my reference points and offering a new framework and a new definition of family. He has invited me into his paradigm, helping me open doors that seemed forever locked inside me. And I know that is one of the elements of our friendship that he is most proud of and what makes him smile the most. One of his key purposes in life is to help others tap into their potential and discover components of themselves that seemed otherwise unreachable. And I am so grateful to be the beneficiary of his gifts. I know that I get to enjoy facets of his composition that he reserves for only the most special and deserved and I am appreciative of his generosity. Throughout my life, I have been drawn to too many people who resembled my family and failed to offer honesty and authenticity. My friend is a fresh face drawn from sincerity and filled with depth and insightfulness. And, for that and many more reasons, he is my very best friend. Some people surround themselves with friends who make them laugh, some seek out friends who have common interests, some search for soul mates who have their back as they trek through the muck. My best friend is all of those wrapped in one. And, admittedly, I am rather picky about those I let into my life, especially into my tight inner circle. My friend is more than deserving. He respects his place and never takes it for granted.

Every day I am aware of my friend’s impact on my life and the slow dimming of those vacancy lights. Some days, when I am in dark places, I struggle to understand why I was chosen to endure the pain that has been present throughout my life. If part of the purpose was that it would open me up to appreciate the gifts of my friend, then I have found a lovely silver lining. And I am grateful. I sure do love my brother from another mother.

NOMINATION


LIEBSTER AWARDI haven’t had a whole lot of time to write lately which, I suppose, is both a good thing and bad.  On the positive side, my lack of time is a direct correlation to the amount of time I am investing in my startup (and, I am pleased to report, not fruitlessly). What disappoints me is that I love writing my blog and I am always excited to see what will come out when I dedicate the time to focus in on what is going on in my head and venture out on the expedition that naturally follows. Sometimes the words call to me and sometimes, with focused attention and consideration, I can take myself to places to find those words and I am always amazed at what I find.

Fortunately for me, my friend and fellow blogger Claire Sinclair staged a little intervention by generously nominating me for The Liebster Award which is an online award offering from bloggers to other bloggers. Liebster comes from German and has a variety of definitions including dearest, sweetest, kindest, nicest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, and endearing.  All adjectives that come to mind when I think of Claire and ones I would like to have associated with me.  So, I’m grateful to Claire for paying it forward to me and I am excited to not only share what I am asked to as part of this nomination but also pay this recognition forward to other bloggers whose writing I find to be engaging and transformational.

First, I need to answer the 11 questions that Claire has laid out for me and then I need to provide 11 random facts about myself. I love these type of exercises but, if I had to do it differently, I would probably ask friends and family to provide me with 11 random facts about me. In fact, after this is done, I might just do that!

I was recently having a discussion with my best friend regarding how I might like to celebrate my 50th birthday. (Seeing that in writing, by the way, freaked me out just a little bit). It’s still 2 years away – or I could say that it is only 2 years away – so it was one of those wistful discussions about something that we really don’t need to focus on right at this moment but might be fun to think about.  Frankly, now that I have articulated it this way, I’m not seeing the fun in it so much! Anyway, he asked me what I might want to do as I typically celebrate milestone birthdays in a pretty vigorous way. My 40th was a big blowout in my yard with (as I phrased it at the time) “every single person I love.”  Apparently, I loved about 80 people because we had a packed house. I did truly love every minute of the party – especially the sea of friends strewn across my back lawn, passed out from way-too-much-celebrating. One of my friends had donated a bunch of feather boas to the party and I found loose feathers randomly around my house for months thereafter, reminding me of the joy of the celebration. It was a unification of people from all periods in my life. People who meant something to me (at 40, I thought I loved them all). It was wonderful and it made me happy.  Following on the heels of that, when I was approaching 45, a friend who had attended my 40th reminded me of how much fun we all had at that party and instigated a 45th birthday celebration. I don’t think it was ever my intention to indulge in a mid-decade acknowledgment but it sounded like a good idea at the time and, once again, we celebrated en masse.  It was a Hawaiian-themed event, again in my yard, and, while there were some new faces this time, it just made me happy.  Since then, my priorities have changed – my entire life has changed. So, when I think about turning 50, I think of it through a new lens.  And that lens is much more reflective. When my best friend and I had the discussion about how I might like to celebrate, I shared that I wanted to be roasted but, perhaps, not with such a negative connotation. I wanted to hear what the people I cared about the most had to say about me.  Seems fitting. As does this exercise.  So, let’s go!

Here are my answers to Claire’s questions:

1. What do you rant most over?  Hmmm.  That is a tough one.  There are definitely things that bug me in life but some of my big triggers are centered around people who are not accountable and people who are disloyal or untrustworthy.  Stuff usually does not cause me to rant. I might get really aggravated about how slobbish my husband or kids are but that doesn’t really get me going. People behaving badly really does.

2. Why did you start blogging? This one is easy!  I started my blog back in 2010 to help support my consulting business. It started, purely, as a business blog. It was intended as a vehicle to help give voice to my perspectives on workplace matters like diversity, women’s leadership, work/life alignment, etc. Almost without my realizing it, I suddenly started sharing personal stories about my life and noticed that people were paying attention and offering really meaningful feedback.  And, more importantly, I recognized the catharsis of sharing my story. Practically overnight, I stepped away from the business focus and made this about my life and my personal journey of humanity.

3. Do you have an idol, who is it and why? I don’t really have idols. I think idols are unrealistic because it assumes that someone is more than human. I have people who I really admire and who have inspired me. They are probably not who you might expect. They are everyday people who really motivate and excite me. They are my most favorite people in the world. So, my idols, if you will, are the following people and I’ll tell you why. First, my husband. He and I are completely different in so many ways but he is someone I truly admire. He has a sense of love and loyalty that I don’t always understand or appreciate. He has been so committed to me for nearly 23 years and has never once wavered on how he feels about me, despite me giving him lots of opportunities to do so. Next, are my kids. Perhaps because my older son is a teenager and more mature, I have begun to see aspects of him that I genuinely appreciate and applaud. I can envision who he might be as an adult. His confidence and sense of morality surprise and delight me. There are definitely days when it feels like the roles have reversed and he is the teacher, guiding me through unchartered waters. I cherish the moments when he stops and takes time to talk to me or ask for my help and I find myself transported and inspired. My younger son is also a role model for me because of his uncanny ability to express love and compassion in a way that I have never seen possible in my own life. He is an old soul who can empathize with those around him. Even when he is facing adversity, he finds a silver lining to adhere to and provide himself with a ray of light that represents goodness. I admire his openness and his kindness.  Finally, one of the biggest influences in my life is my best friend. He is an inspiration because he models behavior that encourages me to expand myself in ways that I never imagined possible. I have a genuine appreciation for his triumphs which he acknowledges modestly yet thoughtfully. He has taught me to be present and to appreciate the simplicity of my life that provides me with pure joy. He has forced me (sometimes reluctantly) to acknowledge parts of myself that I would have otherwise ignored. He is a catalyst for growth and change because I get to luxuriously cherry pick through the field of wisdom he offers both intentionally and passively. All of these people encourage me, whether they recognize it or not, to be a better person and raise the bar in my life.  They are my idols.

4. What is the best advice you have ever received? Believe it or not, the best advice I ever received was from someone I ultimately didn’t end up respecting very much. But, this one piece of advice has stuck with me for years. It is about parenting. When my children were very young, I lamented about not having any free time to myself. She, on the other hand, had teenagers and was seeing the world through a very different lens. She said to me “Right now, you just want 30 minutes to yourself. One day, you will be like me and wish you could have 30 minutes with your kids.” I have never, ever forgotten her words and I have honored that notion as my children have gotten older. It caused me to focus on being more present with my children and respecting the time I had with them. And, while I am not quite at the point where I cannot even get 30 minutes with them, we are definitely headed in that direction so I am very conscious about finding meaningful time with them and tuning into what they may want or need. I meet them where they are and find ways to incorporate myself into their lives rather than vice versa.

5. Where is the farthest you have traveled? I am not as well-traveled as I would like but I think I literally just came back from the farthest place I have been to.  Yesterday morning I returned from Ecuador. It was the first time I had been to South America and, outside of some trips to Western Europe like Italy, England and Germany, it is the farthest I have traveled from home.

6. If you could be living anywhere in the world, where would it be? I have thought about this one a lot. As I said, I am not well-traveled and most of my travel is domestic and as a result of work. So, I don’t get to experience a lot of the destinations I am fortunate to travel to outside of the airport, taxis and hotels. I never imagined myself living outside the U.S. and I don’t think I have any great desire to do so.  I might want to live in London for a while or somewhere in Europe.  I love cities with lots of energy. Having grown up around New York City, I have a healthy love and appreciation for it yet am happy to get to leave there and come home to the suburbs. I also really love the ocean. It calms me and grounds me. So, ultimately, I would probably choose to live in the Bay Area, near the water but close enough to go into San Francisco and experience the city that I love so much.

7. What is your favorite indulgence? I love handbags. Beautiful, designer, high-end handbags. I cannot get enough of them. I spend way too much on them and all my close friends know I covet them. I believe in earning my rewards and am holding out for a particular Louis Vuitton tote that I have had my eye on for years. When my business reaches a certain level of success, this will be my treat.  For now, however, I overindulge on lesser expensive bags like Coach, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, etc.

8. What are your pet peeves? My pet peeves are aligned with my rants. They are mostly behavioral. I have no patience for people who are not authentic. I cannot tolerate disloyalty, arrogance, or entitlement. Those things drive me crazy. I am not a neat freak or squeamish about certain foods. The word “moist” does not send shivers down my spine. I struggle with being tolerant of others who believe they have a different set of rules assigned to them.

9. What are your favorite television shows? There are probably too many for me to mention. I watch WAY too much television and am trying to cut back. I really enjoy well-written shows with incredibly deep character studies. Probably my favorite show of the moment is House of Cards. I became hooked last year on Orange is the New Black. I still love Mad Men and am sad to see it go. I am a big fan of most things HBO and Showtime. On network television, I continue to enjoy the drama of Scandal (it is my guilty pleasure) and cry each week at Parenthood, even though I would admit that it is schmaltzy.  And, I simply love The Good Wife.  Such great writing, such great characters and I am obsessed with Alan Cumming!

10. Do you have any tattoos and if so, what are they? I do have a tattoo!  I was always against tattoos until I wasn’t. One day I just knew that I wanted one and that it was the right thing to do. I had lost a great deal of weight and had injured myself kickboxing, resulting in a hairline fracture in my right ankle. Having never been athletic before, it was significant to me that I had reached a point in my life that I was active enough to have a sports-related injury! I wanted to commemorate this with a tattoo right in the place of the fracture. The big decision was what to put there. I knew I needed to have something somewhat discreet because of my work and, while I respect and appreciate others who have big tattoos, that is still not my thing.  I just wanted something symbolic for me.  I carefully researched it and ended up with the Japanese symbol for “truth.”It is meaningful to me because truthfulness or honesty is paramount to me and, when I fractured my ankle, I felt like I was finally living a truthful life. I have had the tattoo for nearly 3 years and I still get excited when I look down on it.  It makes me proud and happy.

11. Do you have any regrets? NO. (And neither should anyone else.)

And, now, 11 Random Facts about Me:

I doubt much of this will come as a surprise given how much I have shared in my blog but they are all little facets of my personality that, when pulled together, create the me that most people see.

1. I always believed I would die before I turned 25 so, as a young adult, I never made any plans for my life. I assumed I would be gone by some untimely form of death. Ironically, I met my husband 4 months before I turned 25 and we got engaged the day before my 25th birthday. I’ve always wondered if this was the universe providing me with more certainty of life beyond 25 and the bones of a plan.

2. Despite the fact that I most identify with being a Jew (because of my mother’s family), I grew up with no religion. This has been a struggle for me my entire life because it was one more item  in a series of aspects of my life that made me feel like an outsider. I did not even have a religious denomination to align with.

3. I watched a man have a stroke right in front of me and it was the scariest thing I ever saw. My mother’s third husband was a bit of an alcoholic and he was not very healthy. One Saturday afternoon when I was probably 11 or 12, we were sitting at the kitchen table where I was working on a project for school and he was just hanging out and chatting with me. All of a sudden I saw his arm go up in the air as if we was grabbing for something and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. Unintelligible noises came from his mouth and, at my tender young age, he seemed like a Frankenstein monster to me. I ran upstairs to my mother’s bedroom and crawled under the bed in fear. I knew I had to do something to help so I called our neighbor and asked him to come over and help us.

4. I am terribly afraid of developing Alzheimer’s. There are genetic links on my father’s side of the family and perhaps on my mother’s as well. As someone who stores everything so neatly away in my mind (memorializing all experiences through images, smells, faces, etc) and am dependent on this information to help me navigate the world, I cannot imagine how I will retain any portion of my identity if I lose the ability to connect to these memories or be able to articulate my thoughts through words.

5. I have an overwhelming fear of heights. I have never been on a roller coaster nor have I experienced most amusement park thrill rides. I don’t get motion sick. It is an intellectual fear mostly. I am perfectly content flying and never have fear looking out the window when taking off or landing or even looking down to the ground from midair. But, even walking up the steps to the High Line in NYC, my knees get a little wobbly.

6. I did not speak until I was 4 years old.  From what my mother told me, I uttered words here and there but was mostly silent. Ironically, I learned how to read by the age of 4 by studying books that my mother’s sister sent to me. I taught myself and would read quietly in my head. Suddenly, sometime after my fourth birthday, I started talking in very complete and thoughtful sentences. It was believed that the reading helped me to use my language. Frankly, I think this is all some family folklore and, in fact, that I was actually talking but, being the third child, no one actually paid attention to me and didn’t realize that I was talking in full sentences long before 4! The reading part is, for sure, true.  I remember the books that I devoured long before I went to Kindergarten and recall entering Kindergarten with a very advanced reading level.

7. I have a very hard outer shell and a very soft inner core. Most people who do not know me think I am pretty tough and hard to get to know. I tend to not be very friendly and inviting when you first meet me because I am still quite shy.  I was painfully shy as a child and would never introduce myself to other kids and used to be terrified of calling other kids on the phone to invite them to play because I so dreaded potential rejection. Nowadays, it is unconscious to me. I don’t realize that I often stand back and observe when I meet people rather than jumping into the fray. I have heard people refer to me as aloof, standoffish, elitist and I laugh. None of those adjectives even remotely accurately reflect who I am. I am definitely harder on the outside and tougher but I am thoughtful and reserved and, once I let you into my life, I am a total mush and you can easily break my heart.

8. I met my husband on a chat board before there were really chat boards. It was 1992 and we had both logged onto a very primitive chat board for work reasons. You had to come up with a name – a “handle” – in order to chat on the board and I called myself “Red” (because of my red hair at the time) and my husband was “Dano” (because of his name). Of course, the first thing I said when I saw his name was “Book em, Dano!” I needed some technical help but he and I somehow started a friendly chat that went on and on and on. We had a wildly-surprising instant connection that was palpable. We quickly moved our exchange to the telephone  and I remember laying on the floor of my bedroom in my Park Slope apartment talking to him for hours on end. He had a girlfriend and I was seeing a few people at that time but we both knew, after the first call, that we were meant to be together.

9. My husband and I got engaged 4 months after we met while living on opposite sides of the country. I was so young at the time and didn’t bother to think about the complexities of a long-distance relationship (or any relationship, for that matter, as I was a dater – not interested in long-term commitments). Nor did it occur to me the need to test drive the car before you purchased. I went with my gut. As I have experienced only a few times in my life, I was magnetically drawn to him and there was nothing I could do to tinker with that. I knew that I had no choice but to be with him. 23 years later, I think the same is true.  We had the most unconventional relationship and didn’t really “date” in the true sense of the word.  We simply met and coupled up instantly. Neither of us questioned whether it would last and we never broke up.

10. I am the first in my family to attend college. My sister, who is 14 years older than me, returned to community college after she had already worked in a series of administrative jobs in Manhattan. Both my mother and sister were legal secretaries and my father was a high school dropout who went on to become a NYC police officer and then a small business owner. My brother also dropped out of high school and went on to earn his GED after he enrolled in the Navy. My attending a university immediately following my graduation from high school was a dream for my father (and he had hoped I would continue on to law school – sorry, Dad). My mother never put much thought to it because it was out of her scope of imagination to think that I would attend a university on a full-time basis and complete my Bachelors Degree.  She assumed my life would look just like hers. It was a differentiator that distanced me from my family and was the beginning of my journey of understanding life beyond the very limited walls of my highly dysfunctional family.

11. I have been on television a number of times and had always dreamed of having a career in television. As a young child, I was on Romper Room several times and on Wonderama.  As a young adult, I was an audience member on the Phil Donahue show and was able to ask questions on several of the shows. I had a crazy crush on Phil Donahue and nearly stalked him in order to figure out a way to get a job working with him. That never panned out and I figured out I had to settle for a more practical job in publishing. I never lost my love of the talk show and always dreamt of becoming the next Oprah!

Now it is time for me to nominate and pose questions for my nominees:

1. What is your biggest fear?

2. If you were a superhero, what power would you most want to have?

3. What is a dream that has stuck with you?

4. Who has been most influential in your life?

5. What is your dream job/career?

6. If you only had three words to describe yourself, what would they be?

7. How do you think others describe you?

8. How do you define courage for yourself?

9. What stresses you out the most?

10. What is one behavior in your life that you would like to change?

11. Complete this sentence: I will no longer accept….

Thanks again to Claire for nominating me! This was fun.  I’m going to be reaching out to other bloggers to nominate them too!

UNBREAKABLE


 

“I can either choose to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of a treasure. It’s all a question of how I view my life.” – Paolo Coelho, Eleven Minutes

 unbreakable chain

 

 

 

 

 

My memories from childhood are very spotty. While I don’t spend a good deal of time trying to summon up those memories, there are times when I would like to reflect back to experiences to help me process my current state. I try to find connective tissue between the things that occurred when I was young and the experiences I have as an adult. And I fall short so many times. Instead of visual memories, I have emotional and visceral reactions to experiences in my life that are so tightly connected to my experiences from childhood but I don’t always make the associations. Because I find difficulty in summoning up a specific memory or experience, I am often left to dissect and analyze my feelings in an attempt to draw an inference and understand its origins. This is ironic and unfortunate for someone like me who works tirelessly to memorialize all events in my life and create a mental scrapbook that I can revisit when I want to reflect happily or even force myself to address the pain and difficulties. Very little, in my adult life, has been lost which provides me an abundance of material to draw from when working to improve my life. Regrettably, the foundational elements prove to be missing puzzle pieces.

It is hard for me to admit that I was abandoned at a very early age. No, I was not orphaned or left at the side of a road like an unwanted dog but, even worse, to some extent, I was emotionally exiled, left to fend for myself. My father did physically and emotionally abandon me as he disappeared from my life before I went to kindergarten and, while he would come back in and out of my life over the years, I was never able to form a proper bond with him. He scared me and made me feel very uncomfortable. I never felt his love and, mostly, saw him as a monster who hurt my mother and I felt a fierce sense of protection over her, despite the fact that she, as a result, turned her pain on me and unleashed it with the force of a violent storm. As a result, attachments are complicated for me. Anyone who gets too close to me knows that I waffle.  I am always ready to bolt – to flee the emotional connection that I so desperately crave yet am so terrified to surrender to. I close myself off in order to protect myself when I am most vulnerable and, in those times, let no one get close to me because I cannot risk being hurt or letting myself get too close to the fire. I do not trust that others will keep me safe. Not because they don’t care about me or because they aren’t protective of me. They can’t keep me safe when I won’t let them wrap me in the protective blanket they so readily offer.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and, during my travels, I have been listening to many audiobooks. Reading has been a fundamental part of my life since I was very young and a lot of my understanding of the world comes from hearing other people’s words. I learn through the connections they make with their own lives. I am a voyeur, trying to find associations in others that help me to make sense of my own place in the world. In two of the books I listened to – both autobiographies – the authors spoke of their very nurturing and loving childhoods and the space and security it gave them to explore parts of themselves that they might otherwise not have been able to. They were bold and adventurous and were able to take risks knowing they had a safe place to return to should they tumble and fail. I listened to their words and had two distinct thoughts come into my mind each time I heard them. First, I was acutely aware of how I did not understand their experiences. They were so unfamiliar and so counter to how I had come up in the world and I envied them. Second, I thought about my own children and hoped that this was how they might describe their experience growing up. I hoped that they would characterize themselves and their lives as having felt protected and nurtured and knowing that they always had a safe harbor. That is always my hope for my children and it is a lost hope for myself.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps I can still create that protective space for myself.

This past week I was on the road.  My life was all airports, meetings, hotels, rental cars, sleep deprivation, lots of coffee and delicious meals, wearing high heels and a layer of fatigue and exhaustion that takes days to recover from. Usually when I travel, I am delighted to be focused on all of the experiences that help to move my company forward and to spend time with my business partner, who also happens to be one of my closest friends – someone I only see when traveling. I generally relish my experiences away from home because they allow me to live my “other” life, the one where I get to hang out with my friend (even if we are working, we always sneak in a little bit of fun), let my mind focus solely on the business at hand, enjoy experiences that make my mind grow and watch opportunities unfold. This was a great week of meetings and lots of amazing opportunities were unfolding before us but I was not feeling my normal “other” self. In fact, for the first time in a very long time, I recognized that my dual persona – my home self and my work self – were struggling with each other. Typically, the moment I step foot onto the concrete curb of the airport, I shut down one part of myself and begin to journey into my other self. I leave the kids, the bills, the responsibilities behind and jump happily into my work life. I enjoy the anticipation of all that lies before me and bask in the glow of excitement of seeing my friend and others that I might encounter while on my journey. But this time I felt lonely and homesick from the minute I swung my leg out of the car. I didn’t want to go. I was disoriented and detached. It felt like I was being forced out into a cold dark night to begin to traverse a path that was winding and confusing and I had no interest in traveling. I forged ahead and sought refuge by texting friends and trying to keep myself connected to my home life rather than fully escaping to the other world of work. And, as a result, I left myself in a complicated state of ambivalence.

I marvel still, at 47 years old, how our early years both soothe and haunt us throughout our lives. For me, I regularly find new ways in which I am forced to overcompensate for missing elements of my development and, equally, I cherish how some of my seeming shortcomings provide me with a resilience and fortitude that allows me to brave overwhelming complications. I don’t break. I have cracks. I sometimes stumble. I often feel wobbly. But, I never break. Just when it seems like I am going to break, I recoil, regroup, and throw myself back out into the elements and prevail. Always. Inexplicably. Unquestionably.

With people, however, I have a harder time. I am forever in a wrestling match with my emotions. I struggle to enforce appropriate boundaries. I allow myself to be manipulated and influenced by others when emotions are involved. I am volatile and uncertain, constantly challenging myself to test new skills and toughen up. I desperately crave intimacy and seek it out, strategically and thoughtfully. Yet, on the rare occasions that I let people into my life and allow them to get a close look under the hood, I find myself so exposed and vulnerable that it terrifies me. That which I need the most, scares me the most. I am continually brought back to the emotional state of that little girl whose father walked away and whose mother abused her. I lose perspective. I sometimes run scared. I wall myself off. I lock myself away in fear that history will continually repeat itself. And, sometimes I create situations that seem to replicate my early experiences, all self-induced. Then, I run off and hide in my safe place which isn’t so safe because I am all alone and even more terrified than when I am vulnerable and exposed and in the arena doing battle.

When I got out of the car and stepped out into the rainy morning at the airport last week, I forced myself right into the closet, shut and locked the door and threw away the key. I was hiding from everything that was scaring me. I thought I was protecting myself from the demons on the outside when, in fact, I was trapping myself, unsafely, with the demons on the inside.  My life, over the past 6 months or so, has been incredibly difficult. I have faced off against challenges that dared to break me. And, as a result, I have been emotionally unraveling, seeking shelter in any way that I can and not in any of the ways that I should. I have walled myself off from those closest to me in protection because I am most vulnerable to them and am acutely aware of my irrational anxiety of betrayal or abandonment by any of them. So, seeming like a cliché, I beat them to the punch and continually stepped away, swaddling myself in a blanket of loneliness that felt like a protective layer, insulating me from the elements. During my trip, I had moments where I knew I was so far away from even myself. I had these odd moments of looking at myself in the mirror and seeing ugliness reflected back at me. I felt no love towards the person looking at me from the other side of the glass. She looked sad and old and unattractive. And, at various points throughout the week, I was consciously aware of my discomfort with my physical self. It was an odd sensation and a clear indication that I was not comfortable in my own skin.

For me, this abandonment issue is insidious. The word floats through my head constantly. I see its letters jumping around in my mind, weightlessly bouncing up and down, taunting me – daring me to dance. It is my kryptonite. And it knows it. We face off regularly in a sword fight to the death and, without fail, it always wins. I have yet to find the proper weapon or to hone my skills to effectively defend myself. Fortunately, I magically re-emerge again and again and go back to the battle. Every now and again, however, I have little epiphanies that make me stronger and arm me a bit more skillfully for the fight. During my trip this week, amidst my disconnection and dissatisfaction with myself, I had a conversation. It was random yet remarkably powerful in ways that I did not realize at the time. It was early one morning and I was sitting on the couch talking to my friend, recalling a memory that I was surprised I had not shared before. It was a wonderful memory of me and my husband and a time that seemed perfect and safe and wonderful. And, unbeknownst to me, a little switch went off in my head like they sometimes magically do.  I was completely unaware of this until I got home. It was several days later, at the welcomed completion of this trip that the months of turmoil, complication, confusion and fear washed over me. I was fully embroiled in all of the emotions and energy required to manage it and it was if I let out a giant sigh. I walked outside the terminal, with my bags in hand seeking out my familiar black car. My phone was dead. I could not reach my husband to let him know where to find me and, in the wee hours of the morning, I prayed that he would figure out where I was and rescue me from the bitter cold that I was woefully unprepared for. I stood at the curb willing him to me, desperately needing to find solace in the familiarity of my car, his face, my home. Of course, he did find me and when I finally returned home, so very late after countless flight delays, for the first time, in so very long, the messiness, the chaos, the bills, the responsibilities did not assault me as I walked through the door. What I felt was a sense of peace and safety. I felt like I had opened not only the door to my home but the door to myself. Every sleepless night on my trip, I wished to just find a safe space to feel secure and loved. And, albeit corny and trite, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I realized, “there’s no place like home.” For reasons, I may never understand, I was able to just unlock the door and let myself fall into the waiting arms of my husband and breathe. I exhaled in a way that I have not in so long. In a way that no one could teach me to do.

I have learned many things about myself over the years. I have unraveled many tangles and solved many mysteries. Yet, I am still humbled by the complexities of my inner self and the layers and layers of trauma I have experienced. Just when I believe I have cracked the code, a new lock presents itself and another door needs to be opened for me to get further down the path. I have learned to not feel ashamed of my brokenness and, instead, navigate it like a disability. It is part of who I am and something I can never change. I can only work hard to grow and evolve and hope that those who love me will work with me, even though I know, as my husband and I discussed last night, I make it incredibly difficult on them. But I know I am worth it. Because, at the end of the day, while I may have been kicked to the curb like an unwanted pet, I am, in fact, a magical creature who is one-of-a-kind and radiates the most amazing energy onto those I love.

 

 

FINDING MY TRUTH


truth“To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert

I have a tattoo on my ankle that I had inked right before I turned 45. Ironically, the thought of getting a tattoo turned my stomach and I never understood why people would permanently mark up their bodies. Yet, almost overnight, my position shifted and I felt an even stronger urge to imprint on my body something that was so overwhelmingly important to me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was in the midst of a powerful journey to discover my own truth and had just suffered a hairline fracture in my ankle (resulting from some foolish sparring in a karate class). When I was back on my feet and thinking about the significance of the injury – it was the first bone I had ever broken because, for the first time in my life, I was getting in touch with my athletic self – I had no doubt in my mind that I needed to symbolize the shift in my life. I wanted to honor the movement towards a new space in my life. I implicitly knew that the tattoo could only say one thing “Truth.” I settled for a Chinese symbol and am reminded every day how powerfully important truth is in my life.

Writing, for me, is a form of truth-telling. It is, for sure, a healing process – an attempt to declutter my mind. I write to sort out all of the experiences and related emotions that sit heavily in my mind, often blocking me from clarity. I write to expel toxins that are cleaner and more palatable in the written form than as random musings in my head. I write because I have to. When I am not writing, I get backed up and weighed down. Because the process allows me to find and convey truths about myself, the absence of it somehow robs me of my authenticity.

As a relatively private person, it is challenging to find opportunities to shed the blankets of lies that were the hallmarks of my life growing up. When I share my stories and reveal the truths about where I come from, I feel lighter and the healing process continues. I vowed not to perpetuate the sins of my parents and the only way I can insure that I don’t step into the traps left behind by them, I need to transform myself with full transparency. And that takes effort and courage and requires an endurance for pain that often seems beyond my capabilities. Writing feels like a safe shuttle to move me towards my destination but I know that, by doing so, I am shedding my cloak and letting the world see the shards of glass that surround me from the shattering blows I endured day in and day out for so many years. And that can feel a little bit uncomfortable.

I’m not entirely sure why I have exhausted so much energy trying to convince everyone that I am ok. I suppose it started as a shield to prevent anyone from looking any deeper because I was not prepared to reveal how broken I was. Then, as I became more accepting of my truth, the act of convincing others helped to enable me to believe the tales I spun about how I had healed and figured everything out. My brand has been that of a survivor. I have prided myself on my ability to rise above the storm and escape with only a few minor cuts and bruises.  Nothing that a band-aid and some rest can’t fix. I should be able to go on and lead a normal life.  My life should look just like everyone else’s.  I could fall in love, get married, raise kids, have a career, make a home for us, have friends and be joyful and fulfilled. I have always assumed that if I wove this tale artfully and set my intentions to create this existence, it would come to be.

Those were not truthful words. Instead, just a load of bullshit. Here’s the truth.

*************

My life sucked as a kid. I was born into a marriage that was destined to fail before it even began. My parents met while my father was a police officer walking a beat in the Bronx and my mother was a secretary. It was the 1950s and they were both married to other people at the time. They engaged in a very indecent affair that, for my mother, was exciting and validating because she was always living in the shadow of her decidedly more attractive and more acceptable older sister. Her rebellious self was pissing off her parents – Orthodox Jewish immigrants – and her insecure self was winning over someone else’s dark, handsome husband. My mother’s sole desire as a young adult was to escape her home life and she accomplished this by settling for the first Jewish boy to come along. She would satisfy her parents and seek refuge. This began a series of impulsive acts that would lead her down a path of destruction, taking out all who got in her way. My mother made choices that served her needs at the moment and did not have the emotional capacity to examine or understand the impact of her actions. She behaved like an adolescent through much of her life but never more so than when it came to affairs of the heart. Her neediness for the acceptance of men to validate her and attempt to erase her deep insecurities overshadowed everything else in her life. This rose to the top of her needs hierarchy, resulting in neglect in anything that did not drive her towards fulfillment of these objectives. At the age of 18, right after she finished high school, her parents threw her a beautiful wedding and she married a man she never loved – and probably never expected to. It met her needs at the moment and, until something better came along, she was willing to make that sacrifice. My mother was never formally diagnosed with any specific mental illness but she clearly suffered from some type of narcissistic disorder, resulting in erratic behaviors for which she was incapable of any remorse.

My father, born in Italy, emigrated to the United States as a young boy with his parents and younger brother and sister. They were traditional Italians who valued family above everything and worked hard to create the American dream. My father, a high school dropout, ended up in the military and, upon release, found his way to the police academy along with many of his fellow veterans. Being a police officer in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s was both exciting and revered and he quickly adopted the lifestyle. He also married young and he and his Italian wife started their family right away, bearing a daughter and son. My father was a handsome man and had no problems attracting women. Between his good looks and the cop lifestyle of drinking, gambling and philandering, it was no surprise that he ended up engaging in an affair with my mother who was quite taken with this man who was so very different from the world she came from. Their entanglement was exciting and taboo and built on lies and indiscretion – the unfortunate building blocks that formed the foundation for my family. As I uncovered the truth of my parents’ early life together, I never clearly understood how they met and ended up with each other. In fact, it was only when I was much older did I learn how their relationship began and that it produced a child. forcing them to make decisions which would shape the lives of those of us who came later. So began the lies. The lies that created more lies and, ultimately, destroyed all of us along the way. When both of my parents died several years ago, they left behind, collectively, five children, five spouses and an array of grandchildren, all of which were encompassed in the pile of lies that could fill the fiction aisles of thousands of libraries.

My sister – the product of their affair – became the unwitting pivotal story point in my family and, in many ways, her existence was the lie that held us all together. Her paternity was continually called into question as my mother created different stories, depending upon what she needed or wanted and how it could work to her benefit. The questions around her conception, while most of us ultimately knew the truth, became part of our family dynamic. This lie was the strongest element of our family. And, we all knew that, had my mother never become pregnant, my parents might never have ended up together and our family might not have existed. Throughout my childhood, I tried to piece together all the confusing and contradicting facts that I discovered while eavesdropping on conversations or searching through my mother’s private drawers in her bedroom. Like a sleuth, I was searching for facts to help me understand this life that never made sense to me. While other children were flipping through photo albums and were regaled with their parents’ love stories, sharing how their families came to be, I was searching for the missing clues to piece together the puzzle of my family. Conveying a sophistication inappropriate for my age, even as a young child, I inherently knew our story was filled with lies and I relentlessly sought out the truth. Regrettably and, perhaps, understandably, the adults in my family carefully manufactured alternate realities to preserve their lies in order to protect themselves but their efforts wore thin over time. And, I felt like a puck being knocked around the ice as I was swatted away when I went seeking out answers to the questions that would help me understand my truth.

By the time I was born – 14 years after my sister’s birth – my family was deeply shrouded in a fabricated life that was designed to preserve the truth from escaping. My father was a full-blown alcoholic, numbing himself from the guilt and shame that distanced him from his close-knit family and my mother had become a sociopath, physically and verbally assaulting her children for reasons I will never understand. She needed to maintain control and worked tirelessly to preserve her fictional existence. Anything my siblings and I did to jeopardize that was met with wrath and fury. In fact, as one would expect with someone as disturbed as my mother, there was no clear path to avoid her ire and, depending upon when she felt vulnerable or depressed, we could come under fire for no reason at all. Add to that the instability of the alcoholic who did not suspend his philandering after meeting my mother and the result is terrifying. And no place for any child to be raised and be expected to escape unharmed.

*************

I am no longer trying to convince everyone that I am ok. Because I am not. It has been 47 years since destiny brought me into the life of people who were consumed with lies. For many of those years, I perpetuated the lies and tried to blend into the crowd. But, in truth, most people don’t look like me. Most people don’t share my history. Most people cannot understand or empathize with what I have endured. Many people think I am cold and distant or uncaring and elitist. Others who have taken the time to get to know me and have pushed to unpeel some of my layers recognize that I am kind and loving and overly protective of myself and those I care about. At my core, I am simply trying to get from day-to-day and survive the truth of who I am. I strive to move beyond and live a wholly authentic and honest life and, yet, until I shed my own shroud, I will still be living someone else’s life instead of my truth.

WEATHERING THE STORM


storm“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami

Earlier this week I was trying to download an app to my iPhone and I received the dreaded message that my phone was out of storage. It is my practice to keep as much data off my phone as possible by downloading and deleting photos and removing unnecessary emails and apps fairly regularly. However, when I saw the message, it really was no mystery to me what was clogging up my system. I knew what was incapacitating my phone. And I knew it was time to free up some space.

Metaphorically speaking, I had a blockage in my heart. I had been hanging on to text messages from my friend. From my best friend. There were quite a few. In fact, a whole lot.

19,901 to be exact.

Over 790 days.

And, if you’re doing the math, that is approximately 25 texts per day.  I had given my teenage son a run for his money by this magnitude of texting and that reflected only the past two years of our relationship. Knowing that the volume was mounting, I had many moments over those 790 days where I was tempted to just swipe my finger across the most recent text and watch them all disappear. Sometimes because I felt foolish for holding on to them. Sometimes because I was angry when my feelings had been hurt about something. Sometimes because I simply wanted to free up some space – both on my phone and in my head. But, each time the urge came over me, I resisted. I feared that deleting these messages would negate so much of our relationship. The messages, which spanned an array of time in our lives and also reflected a broad range of emotions and experiences, felt like the connective tissue that affirmed the reality of my relationship. You see, my friend and I have a unique, challenging and, mostly, extraordinary relationship. We live 1100 miles apart so seeing each other regularly is rarely possible. We have to maintain our connection while operating at a distance. We also own a company together and have to navigate the associated challenges of not always seeing eye-to-eye, power struggles, disagreements, hurt feelings and trying to balance the personal and professional. Plus, we have the added bonus of having a third partner who needs to manage through all of our muck while introducing his own. Overall, it is complicated. Ironically, the text messages (which only represent a smaller portion of the time we have been friends) chronicle our relationship from the time we started our company. And, for some reason, that seems symbolic to me. It does not seem coincidental that I started saving them right around the time we began our adventures in this business. It seems so incredibly appropriate that I would have, as he would say, “memorialized” this journey through the text exchanges that have been a defining element of our relationship. Like love letters, they embody the highs and lows, the depths of our story. And I have simply not been ready to let that go.

I found myself at a crossroads that day earlier this week. I looked at the congestion caused by the text messages and recognized that I had to make a choice. I was not prepared to go out and invest in a phone with a bigger capacity for memory and I was not prepared to delete my history. I paused for a bit to think about my conundrum. Why couldn’t I let them go? Why did I need to keep them? Was it simply to have a record of this period of time? Or, was it something more. It did not take a lot of digging to locate my truth.

The text messages are a lifeline of sorts for me. My fear is born in the notion that deleting them might annihilate the relationship. In reality, I never look back and read them. It’s not like I spend lazy afternoons reminiscing over the laughter and tears, the adoration and the anger. But I just love knowing that they are right there, should I need them. I appreciate the concretization of a relationship that, otherwise, seems distant and whose image slowly evaporates in my mind when we go for long stretches without seeing each other or having time to talk. These words provide evidence of a component of my life that has always seemed so far out of reach yet incredibly pervasive and magnificent. Because our relationship has been put to the test over the past year with the challenges of building the business while trying to maintain the integrity of our personal relationship, the texts hold even more weight to me. They are a reminder of how deeply committed we have been to preserving our strong bond even as we struggled to set boundaries and define new rules of engagement. There are many texts that begin with “Hey friend” indicating that we were switching into personal mode. I have worried, over the course of the past year, that we would become a statistic reinforcing the notion that you should never go into business with friends or family. Despite the thousands (literally, thousands!) of messages declaring our love and adoration for one another, it appeared that we might not be able to survive the surging tide that was destined to wash away all the foundations we had built in our special relationship. Our symbiosis that people marveled at, wondering if we did, indeed, share one brain, felt, to me, like it was dividing. Where we once exchanged dozens of texts daily, it had become the new normal to go weeks without talking and even longer without texting anything but banal business matters like “what number should I call you on?” or “did you get a chance to look at that email I sent?” Long gone were the morning greetings, checking to see how things were going. It seemed like months has passed since I had sent a silly photo or had engaged him in my mayhem after having too much to drink with my friends. It no longer felt necessary to include him in my activities in order to bridge the divide that regularly kept us apart. My efforts to keep him close at hand in replacement for the wishful impromptu coffees or drinks that never were a part of our lives diminished and I began to envision a new world without him playing a central role. It felt off and disorienting but I pushed through because it seemed like a foregone conclusion.

I have endured dismantled relationships throughout my life, including those with my closest family members. And, I know how to manage the aftermath of the break. In this case, however, I did not have the luxury of stepping away because he was still my business partner and continued to be a regular part of my life. And, this is perhaps the most difficult aspect of it all and the part for which I am most grateful. I have had to employ a new set of skills to navigate, ensuring that my personal feelings and emotions did not interfere with the need to work together productively. And, while I have not managed this without challenges, I have evolved to a place where I can meaningfully compartmentalize. And, thankfully, where I would have normally bailed out, I have had to find a way to hang on and weather the storm.

The process of doing this has liberated me. I have had no choice but to change my behavior and my thinking. In fact, I have had to stop thinking and just move forward, trusting that the universe would guide me. I went from stubbornly trying to squeeze myself into an outfit that no longer fit to standing naked while I searched for a more appropriate new wardrobe.

So, this week when I confronted the decision that I could no longer put off, realizing that the technology Gods had forced my hand, I decided to opt for Plan B. Just as I managed my feelings and behavior, I could have a compromise where my phone would be liberated and my memories would be preserved. I scoured the web, found a tool and got to the task of downloading the 19,901 messages and free up some space on my phone. And, in doing so, the real reason of why I saved them revealed itself to me.

Well, actually, I already knew this but my thinking was confirmed.

After I downloaded the messages, I started scrolling through the 1800-page PDF document housing the last two years of my relationship with my friend. I steered clear of the emotionally charged drama and focused on the sweetest and most poignant exchanges.  As I read them, I had a surreal experience. I was transported back, remembering, in vivid color, the experiences surrounding the messages, physically feeling the emotional intensity. And, at times, it felt like I was watching a movie with two characters that were vaguely familiar. My friend and I often joke that we have invested so much time and energy into our relationship and that it has been so intense and so powerful that it feels like dog years. And, as I read the texts, I suddenly felt like those two chronicled years were more like 14. Some of the memories seemed like a lifetime ago. So much had changed.

And then, to my surprise, I wept. Like a flash flood, the tears burst from my eyes and I held my head in my hands just letting the emotions wash over me. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling – sadness and loss or simply nostalgia. And, naturally, this was a clear indication that the exercise of doing this was important and necessary.

As I sat at my desk, unburdening my phone of the excess baggage and, simultaneously, breaking down from the emotions at play, I did what felt absolutely natural – I shared it all with my friend. And, of course, I sent him a text. I candidly, summoning up all the vulnerability I could muster, shared my experience. I told him about the messages (knowing full well that he had long ago deleted his collection and secretly thinking that he did so with the confidence that I had saved them for both of us) and conveyed my reaction to seeing them and sorting through them. He fell right in step with me and knew, without me having to explain, how powerful this was. He might have even felt some of the emotion himself. He wouldn’t reveal that me but that is no surprise as he is far more private than I am and processes his feelings far differently than I do.  The whole exchange felt appropriate and familiar but disjointed from our current state and I simply stepped away to let it marinate.  This would sort itself out. It didn’t require any intervention from me.

This week, after two long months of not seeing my friend, we were drawn together for work. We have been settling into this undeclared new state of being so seeing him was different. He looked different – thinner, tanner, well-rested. And, I had to wonder if he was still the same friend I loved and cherished or if we had really shifted into a completely new gear. Would he still throw his head back and let out his loud guffaw so earnestly and brilliantly when I did something so absurdly stupid that seemed so genuinely hilarious to him? Would he still hug me and give me the patented arm squeeze that informed me that all was ok in a gesture to let me know that he loved me in a way that only he and I could understand? Would I look at him from across the room and, in a simple glance, give him a message as long as the Gettysburg Address and get a wink or a smirk in return, assuring me that he got it and was in sync with me? Would we be us? Two friends who stumbled upon each other one late winter morning in a meeting in NYC. On that day, we met and chatted like old friends, me magnetically drawn to him and him working his charm. Unbeknownst to me, I was also working my charm which actually drew him to me in ways that even surprised him. Was that uncanny connection, that bond that neither of could understand or describe all that well, still there or had the storm weathered us so badly that the energy that so tangibly coursed through us when were together, fizzled out and we were now just two colleagues on a job, respectfully and cordially working together?

I had no answers and, while I would normally seek them out, I simply waited to see what transpired. And, on the second day, with so many different thoughts and feelings in my mind, I found myself sitting next to my colleague and looked over at him and saw my friend. My mind was suddenly blank and my heart was open. It didn’t matter how much we had struggled and how many hurtful things we had said or done to one another in the course of our journey to find our way. Nothing was in focus except that my friend was sitting next me and, rather than wait for him to give me a sign, I gave him one, assuring him that we may have drifted off in the ocean current but we were only an arm’s length away and we simply just needed to reach out and extend a hand.

I have tucked away the document with the text messages and joked with my friend that one day I will probably write a book telling the story of this special friendship. The story is nowhere near over and I have no idea what the next chapter looks like. What I do know is this: when you are brave enough to stand up through the wind and rain and weather the storm, you will emerge stronger and bolder. I never let go but I also consciously surrendered, allowing the winds to pull me wherever I needed to go.  And, because the Wizard of Oz is always my metaphor for life, I recognize that, like Dorothy, who got tossed around in the twister, I have always had the power to click my heels and find my way home and that is where I am headed, continuing to memorialize my journey, every step of the way.

UNRAVELING


unravelling“Not everything in life needs to be hard. You do not need to struggle in order to consider yourself worthwhile. You are worthy of the life, love and relationships you desire, just the way you are, exactly where you are, at this very moment in time.” – Unknown

While I am not a huge football fan, I do enjoy Super Bowl Sunday. I love hanging out with family and friends and always find myself an instant fan of one of the teams. I revel in the silly traditions like football pools, overeating stuff that would otherwise never pass my lips and dancing around at halftime. Last year, however, I was traveling on Super Bowl Sunday and it was a very bad day for me.  Not because I was away from home and forced to watch the game alone.  Not because it felt like I was alone on Christmas day. It was a bad day – a terrible day – because I was beginning to unravel.  The day and the events are almost insignificant.  The outcome is the only part that is noteworthy. In fact, I probably would not even remember what day it was if it were not set to the backdrop of the big game. I have images burnished in my brain of sitting in my hotel, seeing the game out of the corner of my eyes as I sat on the blue sofa in my room, sobbing. Losing it as I became unhinged, allowing the demons in my head to take center stage.

Nothing was right that day. I was away from home in a familiar place that felt oddly foreign. I felt alone and abandoned but no one had abandoned me and I spent a great deal of time talking to my family that day. Unfortunately, I was operating from an old paradigm – deeply rooted in my old framework. Every hurt, every wound, every scar, no matter how convinced I was that they were healed, were raw and on display. Early in the day I sat on a plane for three hours and struggled. A war was being waged in my mind and I was losing control.  As I was sharply turning to the right, my demons took over the wheel and were forcing me to the left. In the early morning hours as I soared through the sky at 30,000 feet, I could feel the dust had kicked up and saw that the wind was blowing strong. The gusts were forcing me to unravel like a tattered sweater.

I was imploding. I was crushed under the weight of my thoughts. I was swallowed up in my pain. It was real. I could feel it like knives slicing through my skin. And yet it was completely manufactured.

———

As a victim of abuse, I rarely processed what was happening around me while it was happening. My job was to gather up all the information I needed and use it to protect or defend myself. It was critical for me to pay attention to cues that would indicate that a storm was rolling in. I needed to know when to take shelter and I had a finely tuned radar that went off the moment the first cloud appeared even miles away. My legs could carry me away so quickly to ensure that I had time to secure my armor to shield me from the onslaught. I was a well-oiled machine. So, I never stopped to think about what was going on nor did I analyze the information. All I could do was react because there was never time to do anything else. That was a luxury not afforded to me.

And, as a victim of abuse, I had to be suspicious of everyone. Even those closest to me could become my enemy so, getting too comfortable exposed me to the possibly of being slaughtered in a sneak attack. My defenses were always out front. Act first, think later. It was always a possibility that someone who looked like an ally could turn and it was imperative that I pay attention to every signal, every shift, every indication that something was amiss.

Yes, as a victim of abuse, I was a machine. Locked and loaded and ready for battle.

One year ago, however, I was not being abused. Nevertheless, I was still hardwired to assume that I was. Despite all the work I had done to move forward, there was still a deep residue, piles of ash that had not blown away, that left me vulnerable and suspicious. And uncertain. And insecure. And scared. Frightened.  Terrified. I could not bear to be hurt again.  I could not have my trust broken one more time.

On that day, this was not happening. But, I was broken. I was damaged. I was trapped in my history. I was still relying upon an old set of facts to inform me and, as a result, I mistook a critical ally for an enemy and it broke my heart for no good reason. I had not yet learned that ambiguity doesn’t always have to be bad.  I had not yet found the words to articulate what hurt. I didn’t have the courage to stand up to my fear.

So, feeling the weight beginning to bear down on me, I prepared myself to fight. I pulled out my weapons, ready to strike and, as I raised them, the tears came because I was confused. This one did not look like an enemy. This one looked like love and I could not understand why I was so confused. My heart ripped open and I bled, desperate to understand why I was fighting love. Struggling to make sense of something senseless.

———

This is one of my life stories that has a happy ending. I marched across the field, ready to fight and my opponent looked at me with confusion, not understanding why we were in battle. But, instead of drawing weapons in protection, my opponent raised the white flag and walked towards me with an open embrace, waiting to envelop me in love and comfort. My opponent was startled and confused but, more importantly, felt love and compassion.

My Super Bowl Sunday last year was difficult and painful and it was the beginning of the unraveling. It was the first stop on a nearly year-long journey to shed my skin, drop my cloak, store my weapons and hang a new picture on the wall. A picture of a life that is filled with lots of ambiguity that is met with a willingness to explore, to trust, to have faith, to indulge, to experiment, to believe. My picture is not of someone who is a victim of abuse but of someone who has overcome.

And, to my opponent — Thank You.

THE MAN ON THE BUS


woman at the back of the busThere was the man on the bus.

Long before the train took us directly into Manhattan, the only way to get into the city from where I lived in New Jersey was to take the commuter bus.  It was a long haul going in during rush hour but, usually, I was able to find a seat.  Standing for an hour on a bouncy bus was never fun and I dreaded those days when my stop – one of the last before we hit the highway – yielded me no seat and I spent my travel time doing my best balancing act to keep myself upright without falling into one of my fellow commuters’ laps.

On this day, so long ago, I found a seat in the back.  It was a different bus this day.  Not the usual coach with just two seats on either side.  This one also had a bench row in the back and that was where I ended up.  Squeezed into the middle of the bench row in the very back, two people on either side of me.  It was a sunny day, but it had to have been late fall or winter because I was wearing a heavy coat.  I had layers of protection in between me and everyone else.

I was a young girl back then.  Newly married and in my late 20s.  I was still so naive and, despite my journey to that point, I was still in my infancy.  Just learning how to crawl and certainly not yet pulling myself up to stand.  On that day, in the back row bench seat of the bus, it took a while for me to realize that the creepy man in the trench coat sitting next to me with his arms crossed in front of him and his briefcase on his lap had subtly inched the fingers on his left hand towards my side.  We had been on the road for a little while before I felt the odd sensation of something brushing up against my torso, through the thick shield of woolen coat.  I delicately adjusted myself in my seat assuming it must have been me invading his space.  Trying hard not to be obvious, attempting to disappear into my own little area, I ever-so-slightly shifted my bottom millimeters to the right, hoping to cocoon myself inside my protective barrier.  Then I felt it again and I shuddered.  For as much as I had moved to the right, he extended his fingers just a little bit further in order to make contact with the outermost portion of my being.  I shifted again, this time less subtly, in hopes of indicating that I was aware of him invading my domain and encouraging him to return his hands to his own self.  But, he persisted.  There was no place for me to escape to and it would only be another few inches before I would be pushing against the person on my right side, committing a similar violation.

I had no voice.  Inside my head I panicked.  I knew this man was out of line and, as benign as his inappropriate little touch might be, I knew I was not supposed to let this happen.  I was supposed to stand up in the crowded bus and yell “pervert!”  Instead, I sat there quietly.  I allowed him to strum his fingers against my coat, like I was his instrument to play with.  I allowed him to breach my safety zone.  And, aside from my squirming, which I actually think he enjoyed, I made no effort to force him to leave me alone.  I had no words to vocalize my discomfort and, thereby, was incapable of making him stop.  I was paralyzed.

A battle was waging in my head as I kept telling myself to say something or do something but I simply did not have the courage.  Yes, he was creepy but certainly not dangerous.  We were on a packed bus so he could not overtly harm me.  I knew he was just trying to “cop a feel” but I could not understand why I was his target.

Did he see me coming from a mile away?

Did he know that I had been silenced long ago in the house I grew up in being an object of abuse every single day?

Did he know that I quietly acquiesced as I was scrutinized, scorned, cast aside, rejected, abandoned, humiliated, manipulated, demeaned?

Was I wearing a sign on my chest that indicated that I would not yell, I would not budge, I would never object?  I would simply sit there and take it?  I would allow him to do what he needed to do because I did not have enough self-confidence to stand up for myself?

It must have been like pheromones that radiated off of me.  I was a glass house.  You could see all my internal bruises so clearly.  If you had the right set of glasses, all you needed to do was take a look and you could find the perfect target.  She’s easy.  She’s broken.  She’ll take it.

After I don’t know how long, I finally, in the mousiest of voices whispered in his direction, “Excuse me…”  He knew I caught him.  He knew I was aware of what was happening.  And with my mild exclamation, he was validated.  She’s not going to fight back.  She’ll fuss a little but, ultimately, will comply.  He moved himself away for a moment and then continued, barely grazing his fingertips in my direction but I could feel it.  I knew he was there.  Now, I was terrified.  More because of my powerlessness than of his power over me.

When we finally arrived in Manhattan, I raced off the bus but kept looking back to see if the man was following me.  I suspected that he was not the type to try to inflict any major harm but, merely, a pervert looking for some illicit titillation.  He got what he needed for his morning commute.  I, on the other hand, was torn up inside.  I was ashamed both by my inability to stand up for myself and my continued belief that I was not worthy of more.  In some way, I felt I deserved it.  It was my lot in life.  I went into my office at work, shaken and disturbed, and told my boss what had happened.  I downplayed it as she sat across from me outraged and disgusted.  She worried about me.  She wanted to make sure I was ok.  She wanted to go back to the bus and beat this man to a bloody pulp.  She wanted to stand up for me when I was incapable of doing it for myself.

Then I had to go home and tell my husband.  I had to admit to him that I allowed this man to get near me.  That I did not get up and move to the front of the bus and tell the driver about the man who was inappropriately touching young women in the back.  I was humiliated that I had let him down too.  It was not just me that was violated.  I let someone get close to his wife.  I allowed his bride to be scorched just a little bit more.

It took months – maybe even longer – for me to feel safe and comfortable on the bus again.  Every man in a trench coat reminded me of the creep.  I felt vulnerable and scared and I hated myself  for not being stronger and advocating for myself.  I struggled to figure out how I would ever find the courage I needed to stand up to others.

Fast forward the clock 20 years.  I have not forgotten one detail of that day.  In my mental scrapbook, it has a page of its own despite the insignificance of the incident compared to so many other events of my life.  However, the symbolism of that moment, of that experience, of that trauma is great.  I was a child without a voice.  A girl without self-esteem.  A victim of myself and those around me.  I crawled from place to place, trying to learn how to walk, how to run.  I didn’t even know that I couldn’t walk.  I just felt the weight of myself dragging behind me.  The legs that didn’t work, the voice that couldn’t speak, the psyche fractured from continual wear and tear.

The good news?  That’s all changed.  That is not who I am today.  I walk upright.  I speak loudly.

I’m not sure when it all shifted for me.  I’m not sure when I found my voice.  Last year, though, I had a run-in with someone I consider to be a bully.  A grown-up who preys on others to act out their own demons.  Someone who lashes out because they are suffering so deeply inside. I can now spot these people from a distance.  They have a special color to them – an aura around them that is so clearly visible to me.  When this person engaged with me in what I believed to be a very confrontational way, something snapped inside me.  I could feel the usual build-up of tension and the typical absorption of it ready to come.  However, in this instance, instead of just taking it and then walking away to lick my wounds, I opened my mouth.  I screamed loud in their face.  I didn’t love the way I handled it but I felt proud of myself for standing up for ME.  I knew I was done taking it.  I knew that no one could inflict that kind of pain on me again.  Surely, long before that day last year that I snapped, I had found my courage, I had cleared my throat and heard myself speak.  But, that day, I worked out the kinks.  I took it for a test drive and it feel really, really good.

Usually, I like to try to find a silver lining to all of the most challenging experiences in my life.  Unfortunately, the man on the bus offered no silver lining.  It was merely a reinforcement of how broken, how damaged, how dismantled I was.  Today, I’d rip his head off and let everyone between New Jersey and New York City know what a creep he was but these are different times for me.  I store this memory in the bank with the others to remind me that I wasn’t always this person and that there are many struggling to find their own voice.  Maybe I can help them to locate theirs.