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Everyone has a dark side. A place that is best left alone and not toyed with. Occasionally, though, something happens to make you think about your dark side and it makes you take pause. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the dark days and it’s made me question whether I’ve really gotten past it. I’m not even sure how to begin this topic so I guess I’ll just jump right in. A little backstory is required.

You remember the other day when I was telling you about my epic shenanigans of last week and I mentioned the old friend I went to visit in Rolla? She’s part of the backstory.

As a kid I was very compassionate. I couldn’t stand to see anyone or anything suffering. The downtrodden seemed to sense this about me and I was always surrounded by those who didn’t have a friend in the world except me. It was pretty much where I felt good. Knowing that I had helped someone through a difficult time was very gratifying for me. My mother used to worry about me and would caution me to not get bogged down in negativity while being the underdogs’ champion. As is common for kids/teens/young adults I was fairly certain she didn’t know what she was talking about.

Shortly before I got pregnant with Melissa a young woman moved into the apartment right next to mine. She was a single mom. Had just had her third baby. The father of her two youngest was married to someone else. The father of her oldest hit the road the second he found out she was pregnant. She had a hellacious home life growing up. Her mom was an abusive, arrogant, self-righteous woman and was embarrassed when her teenage daughter became pregnant. The mother’s friend had a son who was gay (gasp). In a quaint little mormon community. The two mothers got together and arranged for their children to get married so that neither of them would have to suffer the ostracization of their friends. My friend had no idea that her new husband was gay. Not until a year later when she found him in bed with another man. That pretty much set her on a downhill spiral thinking she was worth nothing as a woman, therefore turning her husband gay. (33 years ago, folks…things have changed since then.) To say this woman had some emotional issues is a horrible understatement.

So, she was living next door to me when her 3rd baby was born. I had two young kids at the time and was a stay at home mom. She was on welfare and went to school. I spent many, many hours holding her hand through rough times, wiping her tears, providing a shoulder to lean on as she clawed her way out of this hole that was her life. She got her degree. She got a job. But she never got the self confidence to see that she was growing. She continued to lean on me. She couldn’t make a decision without running it past me first. She continued to lean on me. I could see that she was totally capable of making it on her own. She couldn’t see that. And she continued to lean. And need. And cry. I had two more children during this time. My marriage was a mess. I was becoming dysfunctional as a mother. I felt like I had nothing left to give to anyone else. I was losing sight of who I was.

One day I called my mom in tears. I explained to her that I felt no compassion. None. This part of who I was, this compassionate, thoughtful, caring person was gone. I told her that I never wanted to help another soul as long as I lived. I was distraught. It was then that I understood my mother’s words about being dragged down by those you were helping. But it was too late. For years after that I did nothing to help anyone. Not even so much as making dinner for someone who was sick. Not even something as little as a hug or a pat on the back or a word of encouragement. I couldn’t. I felt like everything I had to give was used up on this one woman. I became cold. That conversation with my mother was the last time I shed a tear for a very, very long time. I was dead inside and it sucked.

Here I am nearly twenty years past the last time I saw her. She has still called me whenever her life had a glitch and she needed a shoulder to cry on and I would take her calls. But I never heard from her unless she needed to cry or complain about the injustices of life. So when my phone rang last week and I saw her number I just cringed. I struggled with whether or not I would make the effort to go see her. At the end of the day, I knew that it would mean a lot too her to see me so I went. The visit went pretty much like I expected it to. I was regaled with all the unfairness that abides in her world. She cried when I left and I practically had to pry her arms out from around me. And just like all those years ago, I felt pretty much dead inside. So weird how that happens.

As I drove home I had a lot of time to think about my life over the past 20 years since I have seen her. A lot of self evaluation. Have I changed? Has any of that compassion that I had as a kid come back at all? Did that situation leave a pock on my soul so deep that I can never recover from it? I honestly don’t know the answers. I know that I feel things again. I know that I’m able to cry again (that’s a good thing). I know that my initial response when I see someone hurting is to hug them. But I also know that I have less tolerance for those who won’t help themselves than I did before that experience. I also know that I can be quite selfish and think about myself first. I’m not really sure how to reconcile this in my brain. Hell, I don’t even know if there is really anything that needs to be reconciled. I guess I go on living my life and trying to be kind to people, but I know that the level of service (if you want to call it that) is not the same and I don’t know that it ever will be.

Welcome to the ramblings of an old woman who’s trying to understand herself.

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