If I were to use one word to characterize much of my life, it would be aloneness.
I was never able to make friends, comfortable making friends, or able to keep friends. If I didn’t run a way from friends, friendships ran away from me. I did not have a single friend in childhood, nor a lasting one in my adult life. Close relationships – any kind of intimacy or closeness – made my intensely uncomfortable and still do, in many ways.
In recent years, I got serious about healing myself and understanding myself and several wonderful therapists and spiritual counselors – and my own hard and determined work – helped me to open up to closeness. The dogs kept the door open for me, then Maria and I found one another, I can say honestly she was the first person apart from my daughter and my sister that I have ever permitted to stay close to me, or who I never gave up on. Maria was surely the first truly intimate relationship of my life, we are both friends and lovers.
I love my life, I do not complain about it, but sometimes it is unbearable for me to look back on my life and not shudder at how sick I was for so much of it.
Relationships are no longer terrifying to me – the first Bedlam Farm was a castle with a moat in many ways – but they are not simple. West Hebron is a good place to go if you want to be alone and unapproachable, and yet it was there I met a person to finally love.
Perhaps because of that, and for the first time in my life, I have one or two friendships that are close and that I have begun to trust and accept. I am wary of them also, I have learned that men run from friendships, find reasons to break them off, put them aside when life becomes complex. I don’t really trust men either.
I was getting close to Paul Moshimer, I thought we might be lasting friends, that was not to be. He and Scott Carrino and I formed a Fabulous Old Men’s Club, it reinforced my wariness of men and friendships. It seems I did not know Paul well at all.
I told Maria that my friendship with Scott Carrino is perhaps the most serious and honest friendship I have had with a man. I hope it lasts the rest of my life, yet he and I are both complex, and in some ways, volatile people, and I would be reluctant to predict the future, I suspect there are many broken relationships in both of our past lives.
I have a fear of closeness that will always be a part of me, perhaps an attachment disorder, which would hardly be surprising given my shattered family. I could not ever learn how to attach to people in that awful maelstrom of anger, abuse and fear. I am exhausted just writing about this, which is why I need to do it.
I am 68 now, getting to be old, and there is a voice inside of me that says “don’t screw around, you don’t really have the time for it any more.” I will be authentic, or die trying. And I might just die anyway. I have nothing to lose, nothing to hide, a sacred space.
I am in touch with no one in my original family apart from my sister, no one in my family of marriage apart from my daughter, no one in my life farther back than four or five years. No one. Not from college, from work, from the 20 different places I have lived. That is a profound kind of aloneness that was inviolate and impenetrable for me – it was my very identity – until Maria burst through the walls without firing a shot. I am most at ease being alone, it my natural state, my default position.
In one way or another, I have felt betrayed by almost every friend I have ever had. I remember just a few years ago, when I got divorced, broke down on my mountain, went to pieces, every friend I had in the world vanished and ran away from me, I was just too much to bear I think. Maria saved my life, and not figuratively.
Love is powerful, it can break through the thickest walls.
As I move through this next phase of my life, I am thinking about friendship, how to keep those doors open, the castle gates unlocked. I am open to the world, vulnerable yet stronger than ever. I am liking myself these days, but I know i need to keep changing, keep the hinges oiled. I need to know how to work through problems rather than storm away from them, how to accept rather than judge, how to let go of the past, rather than live it again and again.
I often talk to the five-year-old me, shaking in terror in his pitch-black attic room, waiting for the footsteps on the stairs, and I tell him it turned out all right, we got the girl, we made it to the other side. He didn’t even know what a friend was.
I have learned a lot, about relationships, about boundaries. Boundaries are the foundation of friendship, it’s glue and nourishment.
I do not put past troubles on my friends, they do not matter anymore. I do not try to save my friends, they must save themselves. I will not accept friendships that are one-way, we must care about one another. I am not seeking to be a savior, but a friend. I am not a therapist, but a sympathetic ear. I hope my friends help me if I am in trouble, but I do not look to my friends to soothe me or be my guru, I have learned how to soothe myself and be my own guru.
Being older means learning something, understanding something, viewing the world with perspective and humor.
I am not here to tell them what to do, to mother them or harass them into living my kind of life. Friendship is about trust and acceptance as much as anything. But I have been alone for more than six decades, that is a lot of change to accommodate. Yet I have. Maria challenged me to change in profound ways. So have my new friendships.
I think I began to trust my friend Scott after my open heart surgery. He appeared at the door regularly without being asked, and came with food. He is a busy man, but he found the time to come. He came once or twice a week to sit with me in my shock and bewilderment. I suppose you are never more alone than when you wake up after they take your heart out and stop it, and then put it back. If feels as if your very soul had vanished.
Scott was just there. I didn’t ask, he didn’t ask, he just was a presence. It mattered. Not too many people know how to do that, not week after week.
Scott and I are honest with one another, I see. We worry about each other, but not in an oppressive way. We support one another but we don’t take over one another, or try to. We each do some things the other person would not do and does not like, but we accept each other as we are. We can not solve one another’s problems, it would be unhealthy to try.
Still, I get wary of it sometimes. I get wary of everything sometimes except my wife. When I get the impulse to run away or withdraw back into my other self, I recognize it as my flaw, as a symptom. I am tired of running away from friends. I talk about how I feel, I always ask myself if I am being honest, and if I am not, or can’t be, then the friendship is no good. So far, so good. I don’t have enough time left to make and lose friends. Maria has opened me to love and trust and new experience, she has given me a great gift. I hope I have done the same for her. That is something to build on.
I know I am not the kind of person to have many friends, nor do I want many friends. I don’t love everybody as Maria does, and everybody does not love me. One or two good friends would be fine. I am very close to accepting that. I also know that with men, friendship is a difficult and troubling story. The women I know seem to gravitate naturally to friendship, they turn to one another when life gets intense. Men tend to run the other way when life gets intense.
My new friends have not run away from me, nor me from them, and life has been intense. So I am letting go of the past and embracing the present. It is, as they say, what it is. It will be what it will be. I cannot control the suffering of the work, I can only make a joyful noise.
One day at a time. The motto of every broken human being trying to put the pieces back together.