I hadn’t spoken with Margaret in what felt like too long. Her responses to my texts had been uncharacteristically sluggish. I assumed she was busy juggling career and single parenting. Perhaps, there had been a minor misunderstanding. So, I scheduled a call.
I looked forward to warming myself in the friendship we created nearly 30 years prior. Margaret’s natural enthusiasm countered my default state of worry.
Less than a minute into our conversation, I recognized a strange presence: things left unsaid. “I’m in a different place in life, now,” she offered by way of obtuse explanation. I had said the same thing, decades earlier, when I asked my first husband for a divorce.
Life experience, business leadership and conflict resolution studies left me ill equipped to comprehend why one of my closest friends had just broken up with me. In the weeks that followed, I struggled to accept the empty space in my life. I removed framed Images of our friendship from the bedside tables, shelves and walls of my home.
Margaret had accompanied my family to Vietnam to adopt our daughter. Margaret had lifted my arm in the air as we crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon. How could she have possessed the energy for that grand gesture. How could I have run that far without the exuberance that came so effortlessly to her? She reminded me to enjoy the journey.
I debated how to move forward. Lashing out had gone out of fashion back in high school, along with big hair. Academic frameworks on reconciliation were inapplicable. I struggled to come to terms with this loss until the answer appeared in my Etsy shopping cart.
There it was, on the front of an ironic T-shirt I purchased for my son to wear to the Taylor Swift concert with his younger sister, a longtime Swift devotee: “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.” That confessional lyric from Swift’s “Anti-Hero” promised self-awareness that would set me free.
I started by identifying all the counterproductive thought processes muddling my mind. What an assortment! I observed blame, excuse-making, denial and passive aggression rotating like Top 10 hits on FM radio. But what about Margaret’s responsibility in all this? I had to accept the fact that she would never know my hurt. She might never assume personal responsibility for the part she played. Taking sole responsibility proved oddly exhilarating. I could only do what I could do; I no longer needed to concern myself with behavior beyond my control.
Finally, I placed all recent experiences with Margaret on a stage and assumed a front-row seat. I pulled back the curtain. What had I said? How had I said it? What didn’t I say? And, most importantly, why?
My admiration of Margaret’s optimism had become a craving. The challenge of navigating a pandemic gracefully and hopefully for my children had made me needy. My desire to be reminded of joy discoverable in the journey rather than by simply arriving at the finish line obscured my judgment. I denied Margaret my empathy. I retaliated when she judged my worry.
“One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving because you got tired of my scheming. It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.”
The songwriter who alchemizes painful breakups into solid gold possesses a particular expertise in this topic after years of wanting to fit in, and feeling the sting of rejection and the power of owning mistakes.
“Don’t know what’s down this road, I’m just walking. Trying to see through the rain coming down … I’ll be strong, I’ll be wrong. Oh, but life goes on.”