Fantastic Safe Havens and Where to Lose Them

“I sabotaged you and me,” Leonard said. “I see that now. I’m able to think a little more clearly now. Part of growing up in the kind of family I  come from, a family of alcoholics, is that you begin to normalize disease and dysfunctionality. Disease and dysfunctionality are normal for me. What’s not normal is feeling…” He broke off. “Remember that day you said you loved me? Remember that? See, you could do that because you’re basically a sane person, who grew up in a loving, sane family. You could take a risk like that. But in my family we didn’t go around saying we loved each other. We went around screaming at each other. So what do I do, when you say you love me? I go and undermine it. I go and reject it by throwing Roland Barthes in your face. And so you left,” he continued. “You walked out. And you were right to do that.”

A few days ago I began reading The Marriage Plot, a Jeffrey Eugenides novel that exemplifies my feelings about my current life and bits of my past. Overall, it’s one of the best books that I have read in years, simply because of its honesty and its relevance. After finishing the first section, I decided to take a drive down my favorite street, and on a whim I turned on the radio. After about the fifth song it became really clear that the universe was encouraging my odd, yet frequent chain of philosophical thinking.

Since then, I have been thinking about how I want to write this post. Right now, sitting in front of the TV with pizza and a fuzzy blanket, I think I have finally mustered the nerve to give it a shot. I’ll admit though, I’m currently procrastinating by thinking about how awkwardly attractive Jesse Eisenberg is, so obviously I’m a little resistant.

I guess I’ll start with a pet peeve of mine. Growing up with divorced parents is pretty common these days. Growing up with alcoholic parents is even kind of common these days. But as if these things weren’t hard enough for a kid, other parents, they make things worse. You see, I have experienced first hand the exile that comes with these things; the judgement, it’s the worst. You have friends whose parents automatically write you off as bad news. A 16 year old with a drugs and a record, they scream bad news. A 13 year old whose mom sleeps around? Not so much. That can’t be helped, but somehow, the child always gets dubbed guilty by association. I know I did. I understood the problem even then, but I still didn’t understand why that made me a bad person, a bad influence.

I moved to a lot of different schools, never staying in one place and often not being happy with where I was living or who I was living with. I didn’t have trouble making friends, I just had trouble making ones that I felt mattered. And when the time came that I had finally felt like I had a place, I was met with the above problem. I made a good friend, but I was well aware and informed that the parents weren’t fans of me or my mother’s habits. Looking back, I know that no one is who they are at 13 years old, or even 15 for that matter, and I often think, how dare they? My relationship with these friends fell apart slowly (around the age of 15), and at a vital point in my life I was left dealing with a pretty shitty parental situation, and no guidance, adult or otherwise. I went down a dark hole that involved what I thought was “meaningful” promiscuous sex (someone should tell 15 year olds that there is no such thing), and many nights looking for someone to want me.

One day in the Summer of 2009, my dad and step mom dropped me off at my mom’s as per the usual schedule. I hated it there, and I hated how they made me feel. But I also hated that when I got home, my mom’s house was empty, and I had no one there say “hey happy to see you.” What was worse: being smothered by over protective parents or being abandoned by the ones who could care less? My instinctive reaction to this was to call every friend I talked to regularly (or even close to that) until I found one that would talk for a while so I wouldn’t feel too lonely. I would pace the road in front of my house, sitting under my favorite tree when the asphalt was too hot. On this specific occasion, I called a casual guy friend (we’ll call him Levi cause I like that name) who happened to invite me to a bon fire right down the road. I called my mom to dutifully ask permission, and what do you know, she said sure. That night I met his mom, his family friends, and his girlfriend that I had been hearing about during our conversations. They had just started dating, and I didn’t think too much about the fact that he had kept me up to date on things. During that night though, I started to understand that what I considered a casual friend was infinitely more than that. He was telling her about how close we were, and how he was excited she could meet me. I was bragged on and praised for things that I didn’t consider to be that big of a deal. It was then that I realized that I had made another one of those friendships that mattered.

That night, Levi’s mom took me home, and just in the few minutes that it took to drive me back, I realized how incredibly cool she was to be around. She didn’t bullshit you, and something just told you that she cared. She cared about what I had to say, and who I was, and she didn’t waste time asking who my parents were or what they did for a living or if they went to college. Somehow, I ended up deciding that I would spend the next day with them going to Yard Sales and the like. It felt good to feel like I had plans with someone. That same night I went home to an empty house, and I woke up to one.

My friendship with Levi only deepened from there. His mom set things straight with me, and never hesitated to give me a piece of her mind. She wasn’t like my mom simply because she asked about things, and she knew her kids. She knew me. That’s something I had never experienced. I never knew that kind of kindness from someone that I felt should consider me a stranger. I stayed over and I spent time with the family. I felt comfortable in ways that I never did with either of my parents. I could actually sleep, and looking back, it seemed like that was all I ever did there. There was no screaming or slamming doors, there weren’t any worries. So I just slept, and I felt safe.

That Winter, my mother’s drinking got worse, but thankfully my relationship with my dad got better. It wasn’t perfect, but it was as good as I could hope for. One night things got really bad, more physical than ever before. I was alone, and scared, and I ran bare foot to the local park in the middle of February just to get away from it. I sat for a long while waiting for my dad to come and get me. The very next day, covered in bruises, the first thing I did was call Levi, and head to the only place I felt at home. I remember the look on everyone’s face when I got in the car. The hand prints on my neck and arms, the bruises on my cheek. No one asked any questions. They just took me in. I slept for hours that day. Looking back, I wished I hadn’t. I wished I would have savored that moment, that feeling of complete safety.

Not long after this, Levi and I had a falling out, and I was only consoled by my new boyfriend (still my current boyfriend actually) during that time that I was absent a friend. Things were never the same. We tried working things out several times, and there were days that I would come over and we would be pretty close, but it was never the same for him again.

Here I am at 19 years old (nearly 20 actually), and every time I panic, or feel vulnerable; every time I’m having a family strife, or I’m lost in a decision, I think about him. I think about how badly I wish I could curl up on that couch one more time, and just sleep. Sleep safely. As a girl, I know the rules. I know that losing him would have been inevitable. He would have found a girlfriend who disapproved or felt we were too close, and we would have been forced to part ways. That’s the price of befriending boys. Everything is doomed from the start.

The truth is, that did happen, and as I write I’m trying to find the right words to convey my emotions about it. We have resolved to not speak to each other for the betterment of his relationship, and I suppose in lesser ways, my own. There are days when I am angry at him for abandoning me which are always the worst (I come up with spiteful things I should say). There are days when I am sad because I feel like no one could understand the way he would, but I’m left blocked out. There are days when I am happy knowing that he is living out there, content and doing well. More often then not it’s a mix of all of the above, but I don’t think I can ever cease to feel someway about him. Sometimes I just wish that his girlfriend understood the full magnitude of what I went through, (not that it would make a difference), and what he helped me through. I wish she knew who I was now, and that a large part of that is due to him, even in the years that he hasn’t been around.

Most of the time I pretend like he’s someone who passed on or died (morbid right?). I often have a moment that I wish I could share or that he could see, and I’ll send unsolicited messages just to make me feel a bit connected; they’re like my own versions of voice mails to a lost friend.

My current boyfriend is my rock. He has put up with the worst when it comes to my life and the implications of being a part of it. But he will never know me as that vulnerable little girl because I have never let myself be that way with him. Since we have been together, I have built myself in to someone that won’t ever feel helpless again. I am responsible, and head strong, and I don’t make rash decisions anymore. But sometimes, when things get to be too much, I want to be that girl who can curl up next to my best friend, and just be the weak one. How is it that the safest I ever felt was during a time when I felt I was at my weakest point?

Normally, I would have wrote a post like this in the form of a letter (that is the easiest emotional release for me), but I wanted it to be in a format that people could understand. Do a ping back to your own story if you have one, or comment with you’re thoughts.

“After a few minutes, she started to feel a bit better. She dried her eyes. From now on, she wouldn’t have to see Mitchell ever again, if she didn’t want. Or Leonard, either. Though at this moment she felt abused, abandoned, and ashamed of herself, Madeleine knew that she was still young, that she had her whole life ahead of her – a life in which, if she persevered, she might do something special – and that part of persevering means getting past moments just like this one, when people made you feel small, unlovable, and took away your confidence”