Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gin and Tonic

I really appreciated this piece in the Times a few weeks ago. My parents raised me in this fashion, allowing me a sip of wine or cocktail here and there, which in my personal framework worked like a charm. I did not run and get drunk at my first opportunity (nor ever, really), and I believe I have this to thank for. May I also interject that I don't think this is necessarily a good Family plan; I'll go out on a limb here and say I don't think this sip-here-and-there philosophy worked horribly well with my brother. I believe it's a child-specific prescription, as most disciplinary measures are. And frankly, I don't know how you handle this particular subject within a family where children can be remarkably different. Subject for another post, I guess.

My parents, living in Arizona, were big G&T drinkers. It was a year-round thing there, and I loved these sips. It was so crisp, fizzy, refreshing, and sophisticated (they had these tall thin glasses they'd prepare them in with tacky tropical (undoubtedly leaded) designs down the sides). It was always consumed outdoors, in the stifling heat, usually with the smell of cut grass, and the whirring of a sprinkler. It was a drink I really grew to love as an adult, but had to have the right environment. This isn't a cocktail I gravitate toward in winter, or at a generic reception. Moving as I did from the East coast to the Midwest and back East again, the G&T became my way to inaugurate summer. I'd wait for the first really (really) warm day, and decide around 5 p.m. , this was it. This was the day. And prepare one, and savor the fresh lime contrasting with my own salty sweat. It took me back to my porch, my parents, and held the promise of warm days ahead.

I know I wrote that we only host the December monthly neighborhood cocktail party, but no one wanted April, so impulsively with little time to spare, we decided to host Friday night's get-together rather than see it die on the vine. After a stressful few weeks, followed by a frantic 48 hours preparing for this thing, I was set. It was 80 degrees out, I was sweating. The party would be outside on my long porch next to the magnolias, directly over the blooming yellow iris. And I started anticipating that lovely bubbly fizz under my nose. I was upstairs doing something, and heard the arrival of a few guests in the yard, when I heard someone call my name from the first floor of my empty house and came down to find . . . her. The cool neighbor down the street with the baby. The mother of the bellwether. And she had clearly already put a few back in order to steel herself to speak with me for the first time in 15 months, and I was stone cold sober. She wanted to talk. I told her I probably needed a drink for this, and went out and without thinking, fixed myself my inaugural '08 G&T.

I wrote in the comments last post that I had often thought I should take a tray of martinis down to her house, and sob it out. But never got the courage. I had no expectations for this conversation, I had never played it out in my head, because in my head I never made it to her doorbell. I will say, though: in my mind's eye, both the cocktail and the conversation were on my terms. This was decidedly not.

It was not a pretty conversation. She sobbed, she yelled, she practically wailed. I did not. She vacillated between extremely upset, extremely sympathetic, and extremely ignorant. She asked me a thousand times, with tears streaming down her face, "What can I do?" and I kept answering, stone-faced, "nothing." There is nothing anyone can do in this particular situation. Not her, not my husband, not my therapist even. What is left to do is up to me. This is simply an issue where I need to work out my own comfort level, and I haven't, yet. She was convinced I was mad at her, I emphatically told her I wasn't. (I really wanted to show her my blog post, and stress the words "cool" and the part about fantasizing hanging with her, but couldn't find my laptop.) I reiterated multiple times I wasn't ignoring her because I was angry at her, I was avoiding her because the whole thing made me very sad. She said she lost her mother last fall, I told her I was sorry, but it wasn't the same thing. Not better or worse, perhaps, but definitely not the same. She told me she can't go through life being mad at everyone who still has a mom. This was the point where my hand started shaking so violently that the lime about committed suicide and leaped over the rim onto the floor below, and the only time I raised my voice: One, not mad. Two, how dare you judge me. How dare you tell me how to grieve. How dare you tell me that it's wrong to be hurt -- or even resentful and angry -- if I lost a child and you did not. If one of your children dies, I will continue this line of conversation with you, but losing a child is different than losing a parent. But I was older when I was pregnant, she moaned, I was so worried I would lose my daughter. But you didn't, I reprimanded her sternly, you didn't. And so you don't get to be here, you don't get to empathize, you don't have a scintilla of a clue.

But what can I do.

We looped through religion (my lack thereof), Maddy's life (she never really got the particulars), what I'm doing for my grief. It was here that I glimpsed the cool neighbor, the sarcasm, the one that was such a cool mom -- the one I missed. I'm not sure if she heard me, but she at least pretended to listen. And I told her if she wanted to get together, just the two of us, I was up for that, but I was not ready to face her daughter. She is a dagger in my heart, and I can't. It's self defense, it's not anger.

I never apologized for ignoring her all this time, and I never cried. We hugged repeatedly, and left on -- I think -- good terms, wandering out to the porch together to check on our toddlers, who are enamored of each other, running around the freshly mowed lawn while the incoming crowd of neighbors chatted in the cool evening breeze. Last year, I couldn't taste anything. My much-anticipated inaugural tonic last year was bubbly water that couldn't bring back memories of my Arizona back yard, or tie me to more comfortable place, and got tossed down the sink. I had such high hopes for this year's tonic. It tasted like

Nonfulfillment. Broken promises. Involuntary Resolve.

I guess there's always next year.


CLC said...

I am sorry that the inaugural G&T wasn't as fulfilling as you thought it would be. I am impressed you had that conversation face to face. That must have been extremely difficult. I don't think there was a need for you to apologize, so I am glad you didn't. It sounds like this woman means well, but she just doesn't get it. It is different than losing a parent. And of course you are not mad at her for having a daughter Maddy's aga, but it's perfectly normal to feel pain upon the sight of her. And it's all about self preservation. On one hand, I hope she never understands, because that means she would need to experience this pain herself to truly know where you are coming from, but on the other hand, I wish she didn't seem so clueless in thinking that you were just mad at her and that she could do something to make up for it.
Well, look on the bright side, at least you got that conversation out of the way, because it was going to happen one way or another.

luna said...

wow, that is quite a story. I hope it was cathartic even if a little awkward to face her and tell her like it is. I give you credit for not biting your lip but being very clear. it's unfortunate that even well meaning people are so ignorant. it will be interesting to see how she digests what you've shared and whether she rally can deal with that and continue to maintain some relationship. either way, I'm glad you had your moment by the magnolias. it sounded like a scene from a movie or book (that is your life of course).

sorry it ruined your G&T ritual. maybe you can try again on the next really hot day, when it's just you and your hub on the porch. you know, since you didn't really get to drink it. ~luna

LAS said...

Wow. All I can say is wow. Your writing - I feel like I am right there with you. I can see the whole scene and feel the tension. I'm sorry the conversation was brought upon you the way it was and not on your terms. That must have been so hard to be caught off guard. I don't think you needed to apologize for anything. It sounds like she doesn't understand that it isn't about her.

orodemniades said...

I give you credit for only raising your voice once.

And boy, a G&T sounds fine right about now. My mom and Mr Oro's parents raised us the same way, with little sips of alcohol when we were old enough, and we intend to raise the Chieftain in the same manner.

Antigone said...

Tears can often be selfcentered and selfindulgent. That she cried, not you, speaks volumes.

sweetsalty kate said...

antigone beat me to it.

She did sound well-intentioned, and probably more than a little terrified, but still - so many missteps, starting with her partaking of liquid bravery.

That said, what would I have done, if I was ordinary, if I were her? I would have stayed inside my own four walls, I think. There's no booze on the planet that would have inspired me to do anything but watch that friendship disappear into "you live on THAT planet, and I don't, so that's that..." because of my own discomfort, being chickenshit, not wanting to be reminded that bad things happening to people like me.

That's the truth. So I admire her for trying, as clumsy as it was.

Julia said...

you know, her behavior sounds remarkably self-centered. It's not your grief that is hard for her, not survivor's guilt of knowing she has what you lost. It's the perceived injustice of you being mad at her, because, see, she doesn't deserve it. Boo for that. A long time ago, Sara (B) remarked on my blog that the way you can tell the people who are really trying even if clumsily from the self-centered ones is that the goal of the interactions for the ones who are trying is emotional intimacy. They are trying for you, not themselves. I don't think she passed that test. I am sorry, and I hope she thinks better and get a clue...

Becky said...

Aw Tash, that's a shitty G and T (like you I love it in the summer).

I'm shocked that she sat and got all emotional towards you. I can't imagine what might have been going through her mind to think that YOU needed to comfort HER about YOUR Maddy.

That's really crappy. I don't get it. I just don't understand what she was thinking.

Anyway, maybe the next G and T will be better, eh?

STE said...

Wow. I think Antigone nailed it. Though I think her self-centeredness was based in, I don't know, naivete. The idea that anyone's pain might be "worse than mine" and the idea that avoidance might be more about self-protection than anger.

The self-centeredness is not foreign to me -- I often get lost in my own perspective; however, there is such a thing as empathy. Even when suffering your own loss, be it parent or child, it is possible to *try* to understand the other's pain, and behavior in response to that pain.

It's too bad that your neighbor was not able to do that. I hope that your conversation has given her something to think about.

Sorry for the ruined G&T, too.

Beruriah said...

Not surprisingly I agree with Julia. And it makes me ill to think it was "brave" of her to go over, even if in her milieu it may have been.

However horrible it would be/will be when we lose our moms, she was so out of line there. Not fair.

niobe said...

You're awfully brave. I think I would alost literally walk barefoot through broken glass before even attempting such a conversation.

loribeth said...

Yikes!! As you said, I guess the conversation had to happen, sooner or later -- but couldn't she have held off until some other time, with just the two of you -- not when you were expecting the whole neighbourhood to descend on your house momentarily??

Next time Mel opens the Lushary, I'm buying you a G&T!

Newt said...


k@lakly said...

It seems she is more sad about what she perceives as her loss, you, than she is understanding about what you are going through in losing a doughter, in living without Maddy and watching her live with hers. The comparison to losinga parent with losing a child...losing a parent, it is expected, in the natural order of things, not to say it isn't horrible and sad but it could never be compared to the death of a child, never, and neither could the grief process. As it is said, losing your parent you lose your past, losing a child you lose your future. You prepare for one you NEVER prepare for the other.
I am sorry her attempt fell short of what you needed. I hope, if you feel up to it, you can keep trying with her. I think letting her read your blog would be a huge eye opener for her, if you feel comfortable enough sharing it with her. Soometimes we do such a grand job of masquerading around as normal people don't realize the effort that goes into it or the tears that stay tucked in just below our cracked surface...

Sorry about the G & T, talk about a buzz kill...I hope you get to enjoy a great one soon:)

Lisa b said...

As others have said I think this was about her and not about you, but perhaps it is worth talking over that tray of martinis just to be sure.
It baffles me that so few people can be understanding of others loss, they always have to focus on their own?

Megan said...

How utterly self-absorbed this woman is. You've lost your child – and she uses the encounter to complain bitterly, drunkenly, tearfully about her: her feelings, her loss.
I say this as something who has lost a parent – my father when I was 25 – and it's just not the same. I have 25 years of memories, not all happy, but the remnants of a life lived.
I'm so, so sorry that she spoiled your inaugural G&T.

Which Box said...

Wow. Last week was a weird one with friends, huh.

Well, there is some good stuff here. She's cool, you once liked her, she misses you, she reached out. As Niobe said, I'd rather do a thousand things than have that conversation, but now you've had it. So it's the what next part that will be, um, interesting, to say the least.

FWIW, I do think it seems all about her and not about you. But to look at the other side (something I do compulsively much to my mental detriment, I fully admit!), she did reach out, and she does miss you. Maybe there is something new to be forged here. Or maybe not. Time - and more liquor? - will tell.

Anonymous said...

I really wish people would attempt to educate themselves before making these sort of overtures.

I've learned so much about what to say, what not to say and the fact that there is never a "fix". I wish she could've stepped back and not made your life and your loss a tragedy about her or even her daughter. It's collateral damage from a heartbreak that has no remedy. And even acknowledging that means exactly squat.

I'm truly sorry you were ambushed.

c. said...

Wow, Tash. I knew I would need a good amount of time before I sat down and read this one and, holy shit, I was right. I am so sorry that the year's first g&t did not bring you the comfort you needed (I would have tried about 6 or 7 more to get the job done...but that's just me). And OMG, the fucking nerve of this women. I know she's cool. I know you like her. BUT. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when she said she's not going to be mad at everyone who still has a mom. WTF???? She CLEARLY does not get it. She CLEARLY does not get that she does not get it. I'm incensed right now. Off to read the comments...hopefully to gain some perspective.

I will say that I am SO sorry that you had to have this encounter, and that she turned out to be so less than cool (in my eyes. But when does my opinion count when it comes to your friends.)

c. said...

I also have to say how fucking IMPRESSED I am that you didn't turn and run, that you stood up to the comments she made that were just so wrong. Wow!

Natalie said...

Oh shit man. That's some evening to have unexpected. I'm just flabbergasted by the whole thing. It sounds like she's hurting and is trying but... man oh man. Some of those things she said just makes me want to beat my head against the wall.

janis said...

Holy cow. But first, G&T is my drink. Really, thus far, other than dh, none of the pple around me likes it. They think it's awful. But I like it. So, I'll drink to our good taste.
Second, what an encounter! And how you managed it... I'm in awe. I have realized that pple like us are god-awful to deal with, yeah, so why don't they just leave us alone and let be?

ms. G said...

Tash, I don't have time to read your most recent post, but had to comment quickly on this one. I am so impressed you were able to leave things on good terms. Really. I might have to have leapt over and throttle her for at least just a moment. I almost respect that she obviously likes you enough to care that you don't have a realationship right now, but the fact that she doesn't seem to *get* it, even a little, is annoying and would make me unable still to see her with or without daughter.

I'll catch up on the most recent post later!