Until a few days ago, I hadn’t seen or talked to you since I was a teenager.
Back then, I think, I needed you. You were what I needed when I needed it, and you were in a position that let you be there to chat whenever I sought you out. I don’t remember you saying much or even offering much in the way of advice, but you must have been a good listener or I wouldn’t have felt so comfortable chatting you up and confiding my junior-high-aged problems.
I don’t remember much about who you were otherwise, though. When I think back, it occurs to me that you probably weren’t too well liked among your coworkers. You were a little older than the majority of them, and you always seemed to carry yourself apart, even a little haughtily. I went to church with you a couple times, and it seems like the church was small and evangelical, what I would nowadays consider a breeding ground for right wing nutjobs but then just thought was a little different than what I was used to. We never talked politics to children back then–not in the 80s–so it would be seriously unfair for me to saddle you with the heinous, right-wing label, but honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised. Evidently, you can’t do a ten minute public speaking gig without praising the lord and advertising for your current evangelical church, so…yeah. That doesn’t bode well.
I guess that you probably haven’t changed much in the 25 or 30 years since our last meeting. You strike me the same way as you did then, and it’s likely that if I hadn’t had the life I did, I’d be compelled to see you again at some point. As it is, I probably won’t call the number you gave me. I know you were happy to see me and that you gave it in love, but I was a different person when you knew me. I no longer need affection so badly that I’m willing to chase someone down who will sit in judgment of everything I ever did (or continue to do). I don’t need or want your Jesus, and the fact that I’m a non-practicing Jewish vegan former lesbian doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a hippie communist. I mean, not necessarily. Not that you would ever in a million years suggest such a hateful thing (because you wouldn’t), but I have known people like you, and they can hurl a “well, bless your heart” like nobody’s business. If you ever said that to me–and I know you well enough to know that you would–I don’t think I could ever again like you very much. I spent a lot of years of my life being quite fond of you, and I’d rather keep my delusions until you’re long dead if it’s all the same to you.
I didn’t get a chance to tell you much about my life in the few minutes before and after your presentation, but I did manage to tell you that I’d gotten married and had inherited a few kids. I didn’t get to tell you anything about them, but even thinking about them while I stood in the room with you made me realize how very much the world has changed since I was a teenager. In a lot of ways, they’re both smarter about the world (and the people in it) than I ever was. They would never have picked someone like you to trust, and the fact that I did just demonstrates (once again) how very broken my broken-ass picker was early in life. You were kind, but now I think that must’ve been mostly a surface thing, maybe even something that I only got because I was a human sponge and never challenged anything you said. But you didn’t handle my “no thankyou” very gracefully when you asked me to come to your church the other day. Nowadays, I tend to be instinctively repelled by people who shove their opinions in my face: I don’t want your truth when it comes to religion or politics–I have my own. The idea that I need to be educated on religious truth by anyone makes my skin crawl. There is no capital-T truth when it comes to religion, BJ. Everybody picks what works for them. And the ones that want to universalize such things make me very, very nervous.
I don’t know. I’m sure you would’ve backed off quickly if I’d said I was Jewish, but there were a few reasons I didn’t. First, it’s not something I’m compelled to share with most people. I don’t care to satisfy anyone’s curiosity by sitting still to answer prosecutorial questions about my beliefs (such as they are). Second, my people don’t proselytize. We don’t want you unless you want us, and if you do want us, you should take your ass to a rabbi so you can get that shit out of your head in a hurry. Third–and I’m loathe to even think that I could be this person–I didn’t want you know me well enough within the first five minutes of seeing me to know that you didn’t like me. I don’t handle rejection well. Particularly, I guess, when it comes to someone I liked so much as a young person.
I do understand that you’re doing the best you can, and I appreciate that. Not everyone tries to be their best self, and I think you always have. I guess the sad truth is that at the end of the day, I’m plopping myself down in judgment of you. Until the last few years, I think your mettle was entirely untested. You were decent because, well, why wouldn’t you be? You didn’t have to walk through a fire and come out the other side. I did. Everyone I know and love did. We were better and stronger because of all that. You breezed through most of your life unscathed, probably mostly praising Jesus for leaving you the hell alone. Of course, now you’re much older. You have health problems and no close family. You’ve been tested now, and I respect that you still act like you always did, still warmly greet people you haven’t seen in 30-ish years with a smile and an honest-to-goodness hug.
BUT. But I don’t choose you, now. I’m not a kid anymore, and I don’t need to be shown what to think or believe. But even more than all that, I know better than to try to be friends with someone who doesn’t recognize me as the interesting, funny, and smart person that I am. I’m a good person and a good friend, and although it was really great of you to be there for me all those years ago, I think I’ll save all my extra time and love up for the people in my life who need it, deserve it, and take me exactly as I am, no questions asked.
With much love for all you once were to me,