Preparing to leave Chicago is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. While I’m about to embark on one of the greatest adventures of my life, I’m also leaving behind four years of friendships and experiences.
As I do during most great times of change and the turmoil that comes with that, I’ve spent a lot of time lately reflecting. This week, it’s on my own actions and the actions of the people around me.
I was reading an article in The New York Times today that discussed the problem of not knowing what you cannot know. (I’ve been wondering a lot about this specific thing lately, so it was pleasant to find an article on it. It made me realize that perhaps my thought trajectories have a purpose or at the very least, some semblance of normality. Linked here.) I often wonder how much of my life has been spent fumbling around simply because I did not know that there were alternate opportunities. This has lately made me wonder if I might have flourished in marketing or business during my undergraduate career, where I spent four years floundering in confusion as to my future. I wonder now how much floundering I’ve yet to do, simply because I’m unaware.
However, at the moment, I’m resigned to my fate because I’ve got a plan that will take me to at least December. During that time, I do believe there will be a lot of soul-searching and a lot of re-designation of life’s particulars. I am going to take August to revel in myself, do some volunteering, and hopefully do some meager babysitting in an attempt to get some petty cash. And after that, I’ll come back in debt, homeless and jobless, but at least I’ll have had adventure and experience and a slightly thicker resume and I’ll be lacking all of the student loans that my peers have accrued throughout their collegiate experience.
I’m looking at the great Cape Town adventure as a semester abroad, something that nobody should be deprived of and something that will be life changing no matter what happens. (It’s also costing what the five week Rome study program would have cost, so for that, I’m wildly grateful. Rather than spend five weeks, I get to spend eight-plus and do something so much more worthwhile [hopefully].)
I’ve digressed, of course, but you knew that I would.
You’ll remember our friend Ian, unless of course you don’t. He was Hunter’s roommate during their junior and senior years of college. He had two suicide attempts during the time that I knew him, once while they lived on the South Side, the night that Emily and I left to drive back to St. Louis the summer of 2008 and then once again January 31st, 2009. Neither of them were particularly successful: once, he took some Adderall and then immediately told a bus driver what he’d done and the second time, he disappeared from a party to send veiled text messages and to wander the city by night. We were frightened both times, but the second was the last straw.
I’ll leave out things that happened in the interim, things that I would prefer to forget myself, but I’ll say that it wasn’t as though he was without any fault in the ultimate outcome.
My last words to him were, “I love you,” at five o’clock the next morning, when he came back to the apartment on Magnolia to collect his things. He left through the back door, down those gray steps. There had been tears and shouting that night, anger and hurt feelings shared by us all.
And he was gone.
We went out to breakfast that morning. Me, Emily, Hunter, Coupe and Kyle. We gave thanks for our strong friendships, for the love that we shared together. After that, we didn’t hear from Ian and we made no attempt to contact him either. He settled things with Kyle and Hunter and Coupe, figuring out the bills, etc. We made cruel jokes, said hurtful things, and shut him out. The butt of all the jokes was Ian. At the time, it seemed like the sensible thing to do: band together and knit back together our hurt feelings.
I often wonder what he’s doing with his life. I don’t really care to know, as some of the things that happened between us don’t deserve an answer, but now I wonder if we should have handled it differently.
I never foresaw the outcome of the breakup before I did it. I sometimes wonder if I should have stayed in the relationship just to avoid the aftermath, but then I realize that there was no option to do that. The reaction to the breakup confirmed everything I was thinking and solidified the fact that what I had done was right. (The manner of the final break up may not have been the most tactful, of course, but there was a complicating situation that had arisen in the meantime that necessitated an immediate and complete break up.)
After, I realized firsthand what the group mentality can do. I’ve lost more friends than I can count simply because of that group ideal of banding together. Because I’d hurt him, that I’d disrupted the flow of normalcy, I was no longer welcome. There were incidents, of course, and there was the final end. People who I counted among my confidants, among my very best friends, no longer speak to me. They pretend that I’ve committed some unspeakable act against them, that I’m despicable. They joined in calling me disgusting names behind my back, spreading lies and betraying confidences.
Running into mutual friends who’ve “de-friended” me on Facebook is always a sick pleasure for me. I love being polite and nice, and I love to see their reactions. I’m not the evil person I’ve been made out to be. But to them, I am. I hurt one of their own and have suffered the consequences. And while I’m not particularly hurt by it as I was never truly one of their company, I am more hurt than I thought I would be.
The immaturity and lack of respect shown by these individuals toward me makes me think about how I acted when I was a part of that group. And it makes me think about the Ian situation.
What could we have done differently?
What should we have done differently?
Were our actions correct?
Probably not, but at the time, we were unaware of different avenues of expression of our grief and dismay.
I feel badly, and while I’m not sure exactly what I would have done differently, I do know that we handled the situation immaturely and disrespectfully. Perhaps we were right to cut him out of our lives based on the stresses we were facing as a direct result of his actions, but we were not in any way correct to say some of the things that we did. We were in no way right to make the generalizations that we made.
And so, I am apologizing. None of us were right. Not you, not me, not us, not them. But we could have acted differently. And we should have.
Next time I’m faced with a situation that involves the termination of a friendship or some other severe conflict, hopefully I will be able to step back and take a look at the situation before I act in a way that I may someday regret. At the very least, that might present a positive outcome from an otherwise miserable situation.