Drawing the line

Most people, when asked “how’re you going/how are you?” know that the questioner isn’t really interested in their present state of being. It’s almost a reflex greeting these days, and replied to with the same reflexive muscle, “fine” people say, or “good”, and often, in Oz at least, with the classic “not bad”. The answer is often entirely divorced from the reality. A person may be a death’s door and more likely than not they’ll answer with a bright “can’t complain.” It’s considered bad form to answer with your honest woes, though I sometimes wonder what would happen if I opened up with a “well, actually…”. In reality the most I’ll ever admit to is the very Australian understatement, “been better”.

I buy into this convention even as I recognise how ridiculously rote that it is. When I ask someone how they are in that context I don’t really expect, let alone desire, a whole litany of existential complaints reeled off at me. Maybe later, over a beer, or in the occasional moments of authentic candour, such things can be said and discussed. I’m happy to be that friend, but anyone who spills their guts at the first opportunity will soon get a reputation for something akin to poor manners, and more likely than not will be rebuffed with a “settle down, mate”.

As it happens I am also one of the multitude of men who find it difficult to confess to any kind of vulnerability or deficiency. It’s something I’ve got better at in recent times, by habit and necessity, but it still does not come naturally. Like many I have a fear of being a burden to others. I may be on my knees and I’ll still put on a bright face, “no worries, mate,” I might say with a wink, even while I have every worry in the world. Often the person quizzing me will know that I’m fibbing. They’ll look at me as if to say, really? It’s ok to tell me if you want. Mostly I don’t though, though often I wish I would.

I’m immensely, ridiculously proud. It is a crushing realisation to accept that I can’t get by without help. Self-sufficiency is a cornerstone of my identity, and something which I’ve had to fudge in recent times. I’m not asking for any favours, I accept my predicament for what it is without making excuses. My intention, always, is to head into the gale, one foot after another. I can’t do it alone though, and there’s the dilemma. I must accept help. Occasionally I have to ask for it. Every time I do a little more of my self-esteem is chipped away.

What I won’t be is an object of pity. I absolutely refuse that, and would be horrified to believe that people think of me in such a way. Most of those close to me know that, and respect it. I’m still a man, and I’m not asking for any exemptions.

Truth is though that I miss being able to share the depths of my feelings. I’m scared sometimes. Sometimes I despair. I struggle to contain those episodes, but each time I do. Yesterday something more disastrous occurred, and for a few hours I felt the darkness around me and questioned the point of continuing to struggle. It passes though. It must pass. I’ve still got a lot of living to do, and even if my worse fears are realised I still need to strive forward.

What I want from people is understanding. I’m not even asking for sympathy. Sometimes you need to talk. You need to let it out. Someone asks how you are and you restrain yourself from letting it rip. Sometimes the situation arises and I can talk, and the words come from me like water from a spring. It’s soothing to speak, to simply express all the sorrow and the poison in me. People look at me solemnly, and I feel like telling them don’t take it so seriously. I don’t want their advice, though sometimes I may ask for a perspective. I certainly don’t want their pity, and I don’t want empty words of sympathy. I’m my own man, it’s a struggle, but I can manage. I just want an understanding ear, want to know that they’re there, rooting for me, caring for me if it comes to that, believing in me. Sometimes, I need a little tenderness too.

Which is where it gets to the pointy stuff. I lay in bed last night thinking about this stuff. I thought of one person in particular. I find myself going through different stages in this process, and this stage is all about shedding the things I don’t need anymore. It seems apt – I’m in a house where there is barely any furniture. This morning my sister came with a truck and collected her things right up and including the fridge, Literally, my existence in this abode has been stripped bare. Now I’m looking to do that – with more science and discretion – with my life.

Basically I’ve decided that there is a friend of mine that I will let go. I don’t ask for much, but I don’t get what I would think is the basic minimum. Though I’m apt to avoid fuss, I still appreciate people asking after me as if they really care. As I said, I want to feel that I matter still. Normal times that’s less of an issue, but these are not normal times. I don’t get that from them, at least not when I’m out of sight. I don’t get the respect or courtesy I believe is due either, more a dumb oversight than a deliberate snub, but typical. Once before I called things off, made it clear that their self-centred attitude was not good enough, and at that time was talked into giving them another chance – and I saw then the best of them.

I’m sad to do this. We have a history. We’ve been the closest of friends. At times they’ve been a true friend, and generous to a tee. We have a lot in common, have had some great times together, and I still believe that the best side of them is very engaging. But it’s the other side which turns me off. Enough is enough. I’ll let things go, and if it comes to discussion then have it. And perhaps that’s just the way life is: friendship can have a use by date.

Life is challenging. I’m inclined to say I need all the help I can get, though I still try and do without it. I’m not abject though. I’m here, upright, persisting. I don’t deserve this, and I’ve drawn the line.


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