I had a close friend, for decades, who always said that maintaining healthy friendship takes work. He was always ready to jump in any time someone needed him, his expertise, his services, his sympathy, his honest counsel. Then, a few years ago, he started putting up a fence around certain subjects he’d always been candid about, they were no longer up for conversation.
Something was clearly tormenting him, he was looking increasingly grim and reporting awful moods, agitation and sleeplessness, but he was no longer willing to discuss it. His walling himself off was a mysterious process. The unexplained closing down of certain topics was subtle at first, then it began eating at our friendship. After a relatively simple conflict arose between us, this shutdown of our ability to freely discuss problems devoured what was left of our long, close friendship.
“No matter what you say, you will never convince me that you have a legitimate point of view,” was his stance on the question of whether I had a right to feel hurt by things he and his wife had done. That they had both vented at length, while demanding I not mention anything ever again, was my own fault. “We made MISTAKES, and you want to crucify us, for mistakes, while you…” a knowing look, “what you did was no mistake, which is what makes it so hard to forgive.”
He’d get indignant if I pressed, or asked “what the fuck?” or looked at him the wrong way. I had no real idea of what was suddenly making my old friend act with so little friendship. We were now locked in a zero-sum conflict, familiar as a kick in the nuts from a childhood that had featured a long-running, zero-sum, no-holds-barred conflict with my brilliant, implacable, tragically damaged old man.
At a party a few months back I met a charming, mischievous looking man who told Sekhnet and me a heartwarming story. Two minutes in I was greeted by someone I hadn’t seen in 35 years, who burst into the little circle to hug me, smile and reminisce, and so I missed the remainder of the man’s anecdote. Over the course of the next few days it emerged that the charming, mischievous looking man had fairly advanced early onset dementia. He would stand and sit over and over, uncontrollably. He would get agitated and cry out. He was unable to speak. He was always attended by a kind, attentive young man who steadied him, calmed him, gently got him to stop calling out, directed him back to breathing, helped him reel himself back in.
I think now of my friend’s unwillingness to discuss certain things, the downright silly defenses he made several times over the year of our unsuccessful peace talks, the stubborn irrationality of points he insisted on, and wonder if I missed a similar decline in faculties. Maybe his change in behavior was not unwillingness to be himself but inability with an organic cause. The charming guy we met at the party was able to put on a front, at first, maybe I was unable to see that my friend’s torment is related to the terror of losing his ability to maintain his personality in the face of a disquieting change in his capacities. Unable to face what is happening to him, he lashed out at someone who had always reciprocated his care, concern and friendship. Ironic and terrible, that.
Even if the theory is true, it leaves me with no real option at the moment. After all, I am the trusted old friend who deliberately, and with depraved indifference, sadistically stuck a dagger into the hearts of these two beloved old friends, for absolutely no reason. I pressed on when I saw they were upset, and their defensiveness and anger were entirely natural, and 100% caused by me. I am the kind who does not make mistakes, my hurtful behavior is knowingly malicious and I operate under ruthless principles, justified by the “abuse” I suffered decades back when I was a helpless, angry child, my distorted point of view supported by demonic skills at argumentation and persuasion.
The thing about a traumatic childhood is that when the trauma is reawakened in adult life, as mine was after a long glare of rage was directed at me by a frustrated old friend going through torments she couldn’t openly discuss, the pain is identical to the original. As an adult you have tools to resolve the pain that are not available to the child, or so you would think. Another adult may act childishly in response to your need for mercy but, until you see this clearly, you remain locked in the pain of the reopened childhood trauma.
“I need to talk about what happened,” you say, seeing that the current situation is intolerable.
“You need to shut up about what you think happened, unless you want some more,” is not a response that will cause your roiled emotions to relax. “You brought this all on yourself with your aggressive, threatening, angry reaction to my attempt to be considerate, you vicious prick. You want to accuse us of being insensitive bastards who don’t know how to treat people. How dare you, you unforgiving, unloving monster!”
Demented or not, that’s some fucked up shit, Larry.