I struggle so hard with my choices in life, always second-guessing myself. When I set boundaries and stand up for myself I worry that I’ve been too harsh. Yet if I don’t set boundaries I feel like I become the dumping ground for other people’s negativity.
I sit across the table from my childhood friend — the one I have known since brownies in second grade — as she tells me one more tale of betrayal and heartbreak. A story about a boy. I realize that every story she has ever told me has been about a boy. Even when we were small, all her stories were about boys. All my listening, consoling, cheerleading, even tough love, advice when asked, and each time she comes full circle to the inevitable. They men are all the same man, just a new name. I think of the song lyric “You can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable/ life’s like an hourglass glued to the table.”
I want to tell her about my husband’s upcoming brain surgery and how scared I am that he won’t wake up, or that he will wake up not quite himself, and the months of tests and trips we have made to Sacramento for diagnosis. I am worried about the crush of medical bills that will soon follow. We will probably have to move to a smaller (cheaper)house. I want to share how well my son is doing in school. And my dad might have spinal surgery, but it might be risky and he’s weighing his options. My husband’s parents are struggling in their shoebox of an apartment after losing their home and many of their possessions in a storm and being forced to move. I feel so sad about my sister-in-law, but I don’t think I will ever speak to her again and I’m secretly relieved about this because even though it makes me sad, I now have zero expectations and will no longer be let down. My job stresses me out, but I’m doing really well in my Etsy store. I’ve self-educated to the point that I spot pottery on a random windowsill and can tell you who made it. I want to take ceramics classes and get my hands into clay again. A friend has asked me to join her art business as a painting instructor and I’m really excited but kind of scared about getting up in front of a group. Or what if I blank and can’t come up with enough paintings for my portfolio? But she never asks. I try a few times to share, but the conversation always ends up back on the same topic.
I want her to be my sounding board, cheerleader, giver of advice. But in that moment, I realize that she is the flower and I am the gardener. We are so long in our roles that this will not, and can not change.
She tells me she is leaving town. She is leaving the latest heartbreak behind, starting fresh. I know there’s an old flame in this new state, and were I to ask, she would probably reveal that they have already spoken. But this is a fresh start. I don’t ask this time. I tell her that I am happy for her, and I hope that she is happy in her new town. And I do.