Forfeit, by Kelly Grieve [Catechize #8]

The rain looms near and I can feel the pressure as though it were being applied directly to my bruised heart. I’ve had to hold my words hostage so long I can no longer tolerate it. I’m losing again and I can’t keep silent.  I’m losing something I never had. This has happened before, the aching and longing to know someone so intimately, to feel the honor of being their confidante and the devastation of never getting the chance. After moving away from home and for a long time now there has been a gap in my soul where I so deeply miss my “brothers”. They were the guys I could count on to just be there to run with, smile with and share with.

When I was little, probably about four years old, my mom was only a few months pregnant with what I believed to be my brother. My mother miscarried the child at three months so the sex of the baby was not yet determined but because I already had a sister, I was convinced that my little brother was on the way. When my mom lost the child, something in me pained me down to my core and I carried that grief with me and have been quietly mourning ever since. I turned to my sister throughout life and as much as we love each other, there will always be this chasm. Her life became chaotic in her early teens and as her older sister by two years I had to “watch out” for her, but I failed. When I was 15, she got swept away in a world of chemical experimentation and risky scenarios that I had to be careful not to get sucked in myself. I once carried her down a flight of stairs because she was unable to walk on her own legs. At the time I could not yet drive and a friend dropped us at a restaurant where we sat on a bench in the foyer, she half conscious lay her head upon my lap and I was terrified to call my parents to come get us. I didn’t want her to hate me. Our relationship already felt threatened as it was by just the volatile social climate we were in. Kids huffed paint and butane, did whippits and whatever else they could get their hands on over the counter. A range of kids from 12 to 20 were in our group and they had very limited access to legitimate street drugs so hardware store inhalants were the order of the time.

On that bench I sat, my kid sister’s groggy head upon my legs. A friend of mine walked in. He was 18 and had a way of acting too cool for me most of the time, but not this time. He saw the knocked-out child on my lap and signaled me to come talk to him. I was torn, I indicated through gesture that I couldn’t just walk away but he beckoned again, scooping a handful of air toward him and said in whisper-talk, “She’ll be fine, c’mon we’ll be quick.” I untied my legs from under her head, gingerly placed it down on the wood and walked through the double doors as they swooped, ushering us out into the evening. His car was parked close to the entrance. We climbed in and he asked what was going on. I explained that she had gotten into inhalants and that I found her this way at a college dorm room. I told him I was afraid to call our parents. I didn’t want them to panic and was trying to wait out the drugs affects but I didn’t know if that would happen anytime soon. I admitted I was scared that she would hate me if I ratted her out. He questioned, “Would you rather her love you and risk that she might die or hate you and have her live.” There was no debate in my mind about it. She would live, even if she hated me. I thanked and hugged him, called my mom and they came to get us and take us home.

After that my sister didn’t hate me and she struggled a bit to withdraw from her behaviors. Although no significant event that I can recall happened afterward. Her dabbling continued but I guess after that incident, everything paled in comparison. She found a “crowd” to run with and I couldn’t join. I would be left out from that point on because I refused to engage in the same behavior that they did. From that moment on the guy that advised me became a brother to me and with him entered a group of other young men that became what I felt were my band of brothers. I relished in their company. I didn’t have to be in charge. I didn’t have to do drugs. I didn’t have to fight peer pressure. I just basked in the company of my boys, my brothers. The brothers I never had.

But of course, repugnant human sexuality always has to muck up the best of things. I fell hard for one of my guy friends and it turned out, as a boyfriend, he was psychologically abusive. By the time I hit 18 I was ready to put out the candle I had burning for him for years and leave my hometown to try the city life. He faded away but what went with him was my family – my family of brothers. It’s been 25 years and the death of that bond is one of the most impactful experiences in my life. I have never recovered the comradery and the trust I had with them. After I met my husband, I foolishly believed for a decade that I was a precious person to the friends he introduced me to. Two family fallouts went down and now coming out from the other side of them both. I was faced with the harsh truth that time can erode the deepest of bonds: sisters, brothers, best friends, romantic love, chosen family. Its heavy and haunting.

Trying to put aside all of this, when we relocated I looked forward to meeting new friends. The local, social politics of my hometown became corrupt and felt too toxic to bear. No one felt genuine anymore, no one authentic was allowed to shine. There was always some dark player sitting on the fence of their scruples, with a hand in both worlds: the real and the imposter. Arriving here I’ve come to find everyone as terrified as I am, afraid to reach into the world of human relationships and get their hands dirty with love, rejection, awkward silence and judgments. I found a few people I was really excited to dive into knowing. But upon hearing a few whispers of their exclusionary sort of cliquish-ness, I stepped back and tried to remain on the perimeter of their endeavors. I realized that they were all doing that. No one dared to engage and no one got hurt. But no one learned anything either.

When people avoid the messiness of being intimately invested into deep and meaningful friendships they lead a safe, surface level, hum drum life. One time my husband was in desperate need of a friend and I in my haste slung an arrow of expectation toward someone here I thought he could become close to. Someone I thought was kind and compassionate. A person I believed was beyond the outer/upper crust of judgment. A soul I thought could, in time, become another brother. My flailing attempt at trying to connect them left me defeated in my efforts and in hoping to create new bonds. I was out of practice and too abrasive so I shrank back into myself once more.

I did not further pursue a close contact again and came to find that this friend won’t be around. I barely know this person yet felt the sting once more of my lost bond the minute I heard. I recalled the brothers I never knew taken away too soon. It was surprisingly painful to confess to myself that I would rather have tried harder to know him and have him reject a friendship. Aware that I had lived braver and experienced the scalding touch of life rather than have lost all the years I did never trying, never hurting. Sparing myself the emotional injury of life is folly and so it is for everyone else out there in the world. I vow not to submit to the fear of expectations or to opt out of walking the hot coals of existence. I would, without hesitation, don the scars of my battles instead of continuing to swallow the empty years of safe and sound in the hollow remorse that I never fought for anything.

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