Today my many failures smirk from the corner of my ill-lit kitchen, leaned against the wall with arms crossed, sarcastically raising their eyebrows at my futile attempts to simply keep going. I’d been ignoring them for some time, primly folding fabric and wiping down counters and using my cheerful voice and washing and cutting up vegetables and all those typical things I do. I’d been thinking if I just kept working then pretty soon the failures wouldn’t seem so bad, and I’d have my little proofs at my competence and goodness and merit, and I’ll sweep these narratives out the gap like the dust from the back porch, close my door/mind and they will be gone.
Yet the failures stack up perfectly and make an airtight case. Many are small, incidental; some are large, oppressive. Perhaps no one wants to hear them enumerated here but I need them out of my mind, their crushing and entirely accurate little proclamations about my character and failings, their circular arguments that get louder and more tangled and mar my speech and thoughts while others around me have simply no idea how much I am preyed upon.
I’ve spent the last better part of a year ruminating on a particular encounter and unsatisfying and distressing conclusion with an acquaintance-friend. I have not given myself license to write about this freely here for fear of causing someone else pain or risking a reader taking my very vulnerable thoughts and using them against me with gossip and speculation. It is not that I assume the worst about people, it is that when I write or speak vulnerable words I do not wish to be re-traumatized by those who receive them. These are the very, very brief times I wish I had a private journal – the times I cannot synthesize my painful thoughts and speak in ways I that feel safe enough.
Yet the interaction is like a sore tooth, prodded, acutely painful, even months later. Before the final sundering took place I’d created a gift for this person. For months after dissolution I carried the gift and willed myself to send it – I believed like Thich Nhat Hanh instructs that when one is angry, one should give a (non-creepy or passive-aggressive) gift to this person, and the anger will dissolve and forgiveness ensue (this has worked for my relationships in the past), but I couldn’t bring myself to do this. I simply could not. I realized after a time I wasn’t Angry; I was (and am) Hurt.
I am hurt because at the close of our arrangement this person was a complete bully, yelling over my attempts to restore balance and discussion, bringing forth wrongs I’d committed that I’d had no concept were being experienced as such. Many of these sins brought against me were both unfair and inaccurate and at the end of this conversation the person admitted this (although did not offer apology nor attempt amends), but the words rang in my ears and are still rattling around all this time later. During our acquaintanceship this person had conducted themselves with a quiet uncomfortable evasion when I’d tried with every fiber of my being to be clear; in fact the exact misunderstanding I hoped to avoid is exactly what exploded forth in the end. This haunts me. I am not scared of bullies as a rule but when the person chooses to abuse me over the very thing I was scared might happen, my strength leaves my body and I have nothing, I am completely cowed and hurt and Done. They have Won in every sense of the word.
I know someone who must resort to bullying is a fearful person; either entirely damaged (as I do not believe in this case) or simply adhering to needs of Control and little depth of compassion. I know this. But it does not make me feel better.
Smaller and more exacting nonfulfillment on my part stares at me apace, even today while my hands busily handle my duties in false confidence. I spent much of my Friday making foodstuffs for company (and many for storage, as we have quite the farm bounty) and in the end analysis I feel I first of all did not impress anyone unduly with my cuisine, and secondly although in my mind I realize my efforts to cook for family and friends and prepare good, whole food, these are wonderful exploits, I cannot stop the cynical voice in my ear saying I’m a silly person, a self-demeaned woman for standing at the sink and scrubbing and peeling and slicing and then sautÃ©ing and mixing and straining and gently stirring and setting aside and doing the little math in my head about feeding Ralph this or that or the children or family or company this exact thing I think they’ll love. And even though I know I feed not only my family but others, and so often (not always) my food is experienced as delicious and healing and restorative and nourishing, there’s this terrible voice telling me what I do is Nothing, it is Drudgery, it is unpaid and unmerited and not cared for. This voice makes little sense to me from a logical perspective but it has been powerful these last eight years I’ve been home doing the Work I do.
And this morning I’ve spent quite some time feeling terrible because I was requisitioned to do a sewing project and I failed. I did my best and worked hard and thought I’d done well but it turns out I’d done a few things wrong. While I tell myself Anyone Can Make Mistakes it would seem my mistakes are so much worse than others, the pain I cause others seems so much larger than I would ordinarily assume, I begin to wish I had not Tried at all, had not said Yes I Can Do This For You, had not tried something that wasn’t a guaranteed success, and I am reminded of how little my skills really are, in every way, and anything I’ve done before I was proud of recedes into a pathetically small pile, it is actually not real but rather Wishful Thinking, and every compliment others have delivered were only false platitudes, and I was a fool to enjoy them.
My previous experience of relatively rugged self-esteem was rather an attempt on my part to think I’m someone I’m Not.
I sat down to write this precisely after cooking breakfast for my daughter and before writing an overdue email to a friend. The breakfast preparations were necessary because no, not ONE MORE thing could I do incorrectly, I could do one thing right, if I was struck dead on the way back to my bedroom I would at least have fed my daughter.
The breakfast and the email are not much. But they are things I want to do, things I can do.
That will, in the end analysis, have to be good enough. Because it’s all there is.