Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Being the guy (or in my case, the girl)

Lately I've been thinking of people's impressions of me, and my impressions of them, and how we all look at things so differently.

I stumbled across - in a completely random way - a person I know IRL's blog. And there was some stuff on there that I didn't know, that she hadn't shared, that I couldn't grasp through the random e-mails we exchange every six months. And I felt like the worst person alive.

As if I just will never be able to care about the people in my life the way they need me to care about them - the physical caring, the being there when things are falling to shit, the person who comes at the moment's notice. And, of course, that's who I most want to be.

There's a West Wing quote that I had up on my header for a long time, and it's just about the only quote I get right every time without having to look it up. That's because it was me they were talking about. The President says to Josh Lyman (a leader among men): "You want to know the difference between you and me? I want to be the guy. You want to be the guy the guy counts on."

I want to be the girl everyone counts on, and more often than not, I fall way, way short.

Reading this person's blog only really brought it home to me that for every birthday card I send or job interview I remember, for every "how are things there" e-mail I send or picture I make an extra copy of, there's a million everyday mishaps, disasters and heartbreaks that people can't turn to me for.

That because I suck at picking up the phone, and because I'm so often sick and wrapped up in what's wrong with me, and because it's such a god-damn struggle for me to drag myself through most of my days that I barely have enough energy to turn the damn television on and shut my brain off, that I am missing out on people's lives. The people I love's lives.

And that's somehow worse to me than the fact that I am missing out on my own life a lot of the time.

Which brings me to something else I've been reading lately that made me look at who I am a little bit differently. Facebook.

No, it's not the god-awful pictures my sisters choose to post or the fact that I rarely have anything interesting enough to post as a status update ("Am sore. And tired. And not sleeping, yet again." Yawn.): It's the status updates of some old friends who, not so much tracked me down as happened upon & friended me. These were the group of friends that, at one time, I felt closer to than my own family.

From ages 3-15 I was a dancer, and from 12-15, a dance instructor, at a local, neighborhood dance studio. It was a place where I felt comfortable, where I felt like I could be myself, where I felt accepted for the awkwardly geeky, musical loving, knows she wants to be a teacher even though she's twelve me that most of my world considered strange and annoying.

I danced non-stop during the week: three weekdays, every Saturday morning, practicing at home, rehearsing at other girls' houses, saving up for competitions and conventions and trying to make my body realize that it was made to jump higher, stretch further, move more gracefully. I was hardly ever uncomfortable there because I knew I could dance: I was long and not-exactly lean (the boobs, man, they grew early), and I couldn't jump the way some of the other girls could, and my ankles (after I broke and fractured them enough times) wouldn't let me en pointe any longer, but I was queen of kicks, and I could point my toe longer, stretch my legs straighter than most of the other girls, and I loved that I could fold my body in halves and thirds and back again.

When I joined the dance company, I knew I'd made it, that I was one of the best. When I was asked to be an aide, and then an instructor, I was beyond thrilled. I wore my purple leotard (the studio color) with pride and I took my responsibility as a teacher seriously: I showed up on my days off to help with other classes, to wash the glass mirrors, to set up for special events. I took vacations with the other teachers, babysat for the studio owner's kids, went to pool parties and on sleepovers. We formed a group of girls that I would practice with, that would watch old routines with me to help choreograph new ones, and I made what I thought were four true friends.

And then I got really, really sick. Those first three weeks, I couldn't roll out of bed for anything - not school, not dance, not food - and I called in sick and they all covered my classes without argument, hoping I'd feel better soon, being as upset as I was that I'd missed a meet. The owner told me not to worry, that my spot would be there when I recuperated.

Only I never did.

After that first month (October, if you're wondering), which the doctors think now was my 'initial infectious agent' (most likely mono), I lost a lot of weight, I lost a lot of ground with my schoolwork, I lost the sympathy and understanding of my family and teachers, and I lost a lot of friends.

Including my dancing friends. Who tried - for a while, they sent me cards and called to find out how I was doing. They told all my students how much I missed them, and told me how much the students missed me. They would ask my sister how I was feeling, tap my cousin for any new info.

Eventually I dragged myself back to the studio, only to lay on the mats, unable to breathe or move. I would pass out mid-pirouette, I would have to leave class to throw up (in the bathroom right next to the classroom, where everyone could hear), I would make it through the warm up and be too exhausted to actually dance. My vertigo got worse, the POTS got worse, and I know now that I actually made everything else worse because I ignored every.single.signal my body was giving me in order to keep dancing.

I didn't know that then. I didn't know what any of these things were - I had the CFS label, but none of the doctors could tell me what the hell that meant. None of them had any idea how long it could last, and more than half of them thought that I should just keep 'pushing' myself, because exercise makes you strong and giving in makes you weak. (Douchebags.)

The girls I was closest to were vaguely supportive - they kept me company on the mats while they changed their shoes for the next class - but they didn't understand it any better than I did. Part of it was the rumors that were going around about me - drugs, pregnancy, eating disorders - and I think now, looking back, that a lot of them were afraid - if I could get so sick, what was to stop it from happening to them? So they moved away from me - stopped calling to check in, stopped sending notes home with my sisters, just stopped - until we were so far apart that I couldn't figure out how to bridge the gap, and because I had so little energy, I didn't have any extra to try harder.

By June, I was out of school almost full time, but I was still pushing it at the studio. I was determined to be in the recital - after missing more classes than I can count, sitting and cheering from the sidelines at 2 competitions, paying for 3 conventions and having to sit them out as well. My mom had bought a costume for me - only one, instead of my regular 7 or 8 - and I was damn well going to dance. On stage. In it. And I did.

I nearly killed myself doing it - I laid down in the wings as I came off the stage, and had to be dragged/carried to the back room. Where I laid down for the rest of the show. At one point someone told the owner I'd had a heart attack and she came racing over to check on me. Good times. - But I did it. By then, it was mostly too late - the four girls I was closest with had moved on, bonded with my replacement over sleepovers and strategy meetings, and I was just the girl who couldn't dance anymore.

When September came around, I went so far as to register for classes, to drive out to the studio on the appointed day, only to sit in the car and break down, knowing that there was no possible way I could make it through the class. Mom was pretty pissed that I'd made her drive me out there, if I knew I was going to be able to do it, but here's the thing: Until I sat there, looking through the giant window at all of my friends at the barre bending and stretching and - fuck it - standing up? I didn't know. I couldn't let myself know. So we drove away, and I never went back.

And I've always been pretty hurt by how the other girls handled me getting sick - at what I felt (ok, still kind of feel) as their desertion. Because the only thing that had changed was that I got sick, and I couldn't help that. So, I've always looked back at those girls, most of them, with this mixture of pain and regret, with the sting of "they didn't care enough about me to stay close."

So having some of them friend me on Facebook has been an interesting experience. It's helped me realize that, yes: their abandonment of me was not ok, but I sort of abandoned them too - I just didn't have the energy to fight for our relationships, and so I just never came back. I never called any of them after that day I broke down in the car ~ I waited for them to call me, and was hurt when it never happened. But I could've done some of the lifting - made phone calls or sent letters (this was before I had e-mail, people: can you imagine??) - or just tried. But I didn't, because I was hurt and I was hurting, and I was sick and it seemed like no one cared.

And yes, I'm jealous now, that so many of them are still living the lives we'd planned for ourselves way back when - still dancing, still friends, still teaching, all mommies - but it's only because I want it for myself too, not because I don't want them to have it. I can wish them well when they open day cares and click the "like" button when they talk about how exhausting this week's dance class was. I can look at their photos of recitals that came after I left and be sad that I wasn't there, but still comment that they looked like they were having fun. I can congratulate them on their weddings and babies and engagements, and if I still feel a twinge of disappointment that we weren't able to do it all together, well, that's human.

But it the two experiences together - seeing how I can still feel joy for the people I felt have let me down so badly and seeing how badly I feel for letting the people I love down - have made me think a lot.

Not that I've come up with any answers, which is the least you deserve for making it through such a long winded post that really probably only makes sense to me.

But I haven't got any.

Just that I want to do better, to be better, but I don't know how to manage it. Which basically sums up every other single post I've ever written, so there you go.


Ashley said...

I'm printing the first half of this entry out and looking at it every day. I think that's a lesson that I need to learn, too. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget how to reach out to others.

(The second half of your entry was very nice as well, the first half of it just kind of punched me in the gut. It's kind of fitting that this week's topic at The Collective is assholes, right?)

The Goldfish said...

This is one of the reasons I've given Facebook a wide berth...

As far as being "the girl", the way I see the problem ļ¼©have is with numbers. There are a lot of people I like very much (well, perhaps a few dozen), but there is a limit on the number of people I can be in regular contact with - the people I can really be there for. It really hurts me that I can't be there for everyone I care about, but then if I was a more useful friend to all of the two dozen, I'd probably lament my uselessness to other people I know and like.

Everyone is limited like this, we're just more limited. It's a similar kind of limitation that leads thirteen year-olds to neglect their sick friend, I guess.

As for your lack of spontaneity and mobility as a friend, everyone has different strengths. The people I would call on in one kind of crisis are different to the ones I would call on in another. Some people are very hands-on, others are there when you need to take a step back and talk things over.

It's still pretty crushing when a friend in need could really use help that, because of illness, you simply can't provide. But you too have your strengths - you have certainly provided me with the exact thing I needed to hear on occasion, and we hardly know one another.

Hope this makes sense, really need to sleep now.

Ms. Skywalker said...

...This made sense to me, if that matters at all.

I know what you mean about being so wrapped up in yourself; it's hard not to do that--it really is. So forgive yourself and mail out a card today.

Start small. Stay small. Just can do it; I learned that about you from this post.