[A Note to Floral, if you're somehow reading this: I am always willing to meet in person to continue this conversation, or you may send written responses through Elissa or Sky.]
We all know that we’re supposed to grieve when someone dies, but sometimes we don’t allow ourselves the same leeway when other aspects of our life die. It happens more often than we realize: the death of a relationship, of a job, of a home, of an identity; anytime we are forced to part with something that has been important to us, we grieve.
“There is a time for everything,” (I’ve always known); right now, it is my time to grieve.
Floral’s schedule no longer has room for me, and she has decided that she no longer trusts me with Rys. She claims to be concerned about my mental stability, and thinks I should focus on myself, without the “stress” of a child.
In September of 2009, I met Floral (hereafter just “F”) during Orientation Week at the Evergreen State College. She was a single mother, and I gave her my number, with an offer to watch her baby whenever she needed a night off. She took me up on it, and in the years that followed we became friends, partners, and housemates. Her baby, Rys, grew up calling me “Daddy” and knowing me as her parent; today she is a bright and intuitive four-year-old who continues to insist that even though her daddy isn’t a boy like other daddys, that’s ok, because she likes girls better anyway.
Now let’s talk about what F is saying.
First, I’m bothered by the implication that Rys is a stress in my life. When Rys is with me, my life changes in these ways: I cook healthy meals, I go outside, I laugh, and I remember to be patient. I sing silly songs and read books out loud, and I pause on the pages with particularly interesting artwork so that we can trace our fingers along the the path that Silly Sally takes to town, walking backwards upside down. I wake up in the morning with a smile, however reluctant I am to leave my bed. I demonstrate my best behavior, because someone is watching and I want her to grow up to be good. Yes, sometimes there are challenges that seem overwhelming, like being stranded in Davis after a twenty-two hour train ride, or speaking gently to a grumpy, obstinate child who doesn’t want to go to bed, but those challenges are what have forced me to grow. Having a kid around is what gives me the strength, and motivation, and energy to overcome them. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and one of my most treasured.
[Check out more of Katie's work, along with her friend and partner Marie-Pier, at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Photography-A-La-Mode/163847460405572]
The mental instability accusation is a whole other can of worms, and I’ll be talking about it in a different post. For now, let’s stick to what’s most shocking about this: someone who called me a close friend (and parenting partner!) has decided she no longer has time for me. It’s not unheard of, but it’s certainly strange and sudden. And even if her schedule does not allow for socializing with me, is it really necessary to be so cruel about it? to pull herself completely out of my life, without discussion or explanation? to take Rys as well, as if in punishment? It just doesn’t make sense, to experience this kind of treatment from a “friend”.
For three years, I’ve always been just a few minutes away, on-call and ready to lend a hand whenever needed. In the last six months, I’ve become less available, less convenient, as I’ve blossomed and started pursuing my own dreams. Now I am being told that it is time to stand down, that my services are no longer needed. Where I was once considered an equal, a parenting partner, I am now being treated like an unpaid nanny, under appreciated and now dismissed without reason. My years of service have been disregarded; this executive decision diminishes my relationship with Rys to no more than babysitter and child. Is it any wonder it took me two weeks to finally believe and accept that this was happening?
Unfortunately, she raised the stakes considerably when she changed her statement from “We don’t have time for you” to “You’ve lost your shit and I don’t feel safe leaving my child around you.” (Note that this change happened near-as-makes-no-difference-to overnight, and all that happened was that she dropped a heart-breaking bombshell on me and I couldn’t continue the conversation because I was so upset and shocked.) Now she’s made this about “what’s best for her child”, and not only is that hard to argue with, it’s hard to go back on. A proud woman will not readily admit to being wrong, especially when she’s taken the high ground.
When she finally agreed to meet with me, to hear what I had to say, I had little hope that my words would have any effect on her, but for my own emotional health, I wanted a chance to say my piece. (Also, my peace.)
Calmly, in a measured, even tone, I read her my letter. It started simply like this,
I’m not here to fight. I never wanted to fight…
I’m here for Rys.”
I’ll post more about the letter, and the process of writing and revising it, in the coming days. For now, that was that. She tried to answer a few of my questions, but as Schuyler observed, she seemed shaken by my speech. Despite my direct and carefully planned questions, her answers remained non-specific and without base.
But that’s beyond my control. Within fifteen minutes, the conversation was over, and she left, back to the lab buildings where she works every day, and I was left to pick up the pieces of the reality I’d once known, and start piecing together a new 2013, one in which I am a past-tense parent, instead of an active one.
Now all that’s left to do is wait. Keep on keeping on, grieve the ending of one chapter in my life, and do my best to enter the next one face-on. I’m lucky to have a best friend, editor, advisor, and general shenanigans partner in Schuyler, who continues to make me laugh even after an afternoon of tears. I’m also lucky to already have a support system in place: even when I was only hinting at trouble in my life I was receiving messages of concern and support. My family and friends who continue to affirm and comfort me are the reason I am capable of meeting this challenge and overcoming it, despite the intensity of this betrayal and the depth of this loss.