Confusing Anniversary (trigger warning: discussion of death)

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Otillie

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Confusing Anniversary (trigger warning: discussion of death)
« on: September 03, 2019, 05:31:10 PM »
Three years ago today, a woman I knew passed away.

And, I mean, I barely knew her. Way back in the early 1990s, we were at the same workplace together for a few years. We had dinner one night (more on that in a moment). I moved on from that job, we didn’t stay in touch (we didn’t know each other that well), I thought of her now and then but that was all.

Then three years ago I saw her name on the front page of the newspaper, and it was her obituary.

And I learned what had happened to her in the years after I knew her. I was not at all prepared:

She'd become famous. No, it’s more like she transcended fame and moved into that realm of “what legacy do I want to leave the world.” The obituary I spotted (and all of the many others I then read) centered on one word: She was beloved.

When I knew her she was trying to get a children’s book published. It was almost twenty years before a publisher agreed to take it on. When they finally did, and when little kids—three-, four-year-olds were her audience—read her book, it took them about two nanoseconds to fall madly, passionately in love with her and her book and the world she'd created on the page. To a child, they felt like they had found a friend. To a child, they felt understood.

She wrote dozens more books. There was a TV show, a line of stuffed animals, expert testimony before Congress … I had known none of this. I mean, children’s books is a field that, unless you have children, you don’t really think about much. Until her death, I’d figured she was just living a quiet life somewhere.

Reading her obituary, three years ago, hit me like a boulder. Because I knew her, of course, and because it was just so much to take in about her after all those years without contact. But there was more, too.

She had the story I’d always thought I’d have. I grew up in a chaotic, abusive, neglectful family, went through a breakdown at age nine, lived a broken life for all the years thereafter … I was always sure there was a real, whole, thoughtful person somewhere inside me, someone who had things to say, someone who knew pain in a way that maybe eventually would come out and would help other people feel not-alone in the world.

For me, it didn't happen.

I think my friend (sort-of-friend) knew pain and hardship too. She knew anxiety. Her childhood family was not picture-perfect, and she tapped into that childhood pain in her books in ways that made them runaway bestsellers. It’s exactly the dream that sustained me through my worst years: “Someday I’ll tell my story, and the world will get me.”

For me, my trauma meant that I was scared of everything, everyone. When there was a person in a room with me, I tensed up. The anxiety caused a part of my brain (the Broca’s area, according to The Body Keeps the Score) to shut down—that’s the part that translate raw experience into words. Put me in the company of a human, any human, and it’s as if walls come slamming down inside my brain, separating me from words. And when, in childhood, my (narcissist) mom saw me unable to speak, it angered her. So I got shamed and punished for it.

So I grew up struggling to talk. The words were in there; they could not come out.

People gave up on me quickly. Talking to people, I was excruciatingly self-conscious, and I either stayed silent or stammered (“I mean, um, it’s like, this one time, you know, I mean, that thing, you know…”) I had no idea how to have friends—what friends did together. (Did they talk? How?) I had first dates and not second ones. Being at a job was hard. Being at a party was hopeless. I knew that whenever I wasn’t alone, there was a very good chance I would end up awkward and ashamed of myself. I would make my companion uncomfortable. I don’t really know what people made of me—I guess some decided I was rude, others that I was okay but too shy, probably most that I just wasn’t interested in them.

In the few years I worked at the school with my friend: I was drawn to her. She was a gentle soul. She was intelligent. She was kind. I got the feeling she saw that I, too, was familiar with pain and anxiety. One day she came to me and said she and her husband knew this guy, and they wondered if I’d be interested in a blind date?

So I went. I can’t even remember the guy’s name at this point; it was clear from Moment One that we were Not Meant To Be, sigh. But the date turned out to be me & the guy, plus my friend & her husband, who were afraid I might be anxious on a blind date and came along to help put me at ease.

If I had been a different person … if I’d had different damage … if I’d been able to speak at all … it might have been the start of a real friendship between me and her. I saw a kindred spirit in her. But I sat near speechless all night, almost immobilized by anxiety, and nothing ever came of it. (It’s happened so much in my life. Friendly overtures that go nowhere because I freeze. Deer in headlights.)

And then it turned out that my friend found the way to open her heart to the world, and the world loved her.

I never had her life. (I hate that this hits me so hard. I feel petty and small. “I want to be loved! How come she got that and I didn’t?” I don’t know what to do with this feeling. Especially now.)

I never had her friendship. (I hate that I met a kindred spirit … and my brain wouldn’t let me talk to her. I don’t know what to do with this.)

And three years ago, she was gone. My brain has no way to understand this at all. Isn’t there supposed to be a moral to the story? A nice ending that sums up what it all means? It’s still just a boulder slamming into me.

I hate that she’s gone.



This ended up super-long and to anyone who's read this far: Thank you!

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Blueberry

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Re: Confusing Anniversary (trigger warning: discussion of death)
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2019, 09:17:15 PM »
I read it :hug: There's so much in it, so much just makes sense. I don't have the wherewithall to write any more this evening. But want to let you know that you're heard.

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Three Roses

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Re: Confusing Anniversary (trigger warning: discussion of death)
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2019, 10:08:52 PM »
Quote
I never had her life. (I hate that this hits me so hard. I feel petty and small. “I want to be loved! How come she got that and I didn’t?” I don’t know what to do with this feeling. Especially now.)

This sounds pretty normal to me, I think it's common among us here that we sometimes experience the lives of others like we're outside in the cold, faces pressed up against their windows, watching them interact, having normal lives, laughing, etc. It's a form of grief for me, to see the people I know (or knew) and what they were able to achieve with the level of support and functionality they had but we didn't. Grief for a normal life that I will never have.

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Jazzy

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Re: Confusing Anniversary (trigger warning: discussion of death)
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2019, 11:35:16 PM »
Sorry this has bothered you so much, and you're hating some of the feelings. I can relate a lot to what you said about being unable to speak, being frozen etc. I think it is okay for you to have these feelings. Hopefully you can process them and they will go to their proper place, and stop being so overwhelming. Take care! :)