Let’s just say I have a friend. Maybe she is even related to me.
Let’s say she lived under the thumb of a truly bad man for 25 or so years. She emerged about eleven years ago and has slowly been undoing the psychic damage the marriage did to her. The main lingering effect of the cruelty and fear is that she is sometimes too nervous to actually exist—no small damage, that. Think about it.
My friend who is maybe related to me, maybe not, wants to always do good. Partially this is because her heart is pure white and filled with a true lefty desire to always choose the path of lesser violence and damage to the world. Unfortunately, partially it is because living with a man who would scream at you and worse for no reason at all brands you for life with a desperate, wild-eyed desire to always make everyone happy so as to subject yourself and (much more importantly) your children to the least amount of psychic and physical pain as possible.
Thus. When this person comes to visit me, the desire to be helpful—to make life’s load easier on everyone around her, to do whatever needs to be done to keep a peace that hasn’t been disturbed for eleven years but still seems tenuous in her heart of hearts—can get rather extreme.
Today when I was carrying many heavy things out to the car she was checking her e-mail on my computer. Here’s how the conversation went.
My friend: “Do you need to check your email?”
Me: “Nope. Later on I need to do a little Green Party paperwork, but no rush. I’ll probably be fiddling around in the basement for a while.”
“Can I help? How can I help? I don’t have to check my email right now.”
“Don’t worry about it, take your time—it’s a one person job, it’s a tight space down there.”
One minute later, I come up from the basement to bring something to the car, breathing a little heavy. I can feel the heaviness in the air and her unconscious thought pattern: “She’s working hard.” For 25 years, her husband’s hard work, rare though it was, always meant some sort of horrible blow-up activated by a childish hatred of hard work. She kicks into crisis avoidance-mode.
“Do you need to use the computer?”
“Nope, not at all.”
“That looks heavy, can I help?”
“I’ve got it.”
“It looks heavy. Don’t hurt your back.
Eek! Oh my gosh, my work email has 150 messages from the past 2 days. [Hastily:] Don’t worry though, I can look at them when I get home. I can help you out now.”
“It’s really OK, take your time and go through your email—otherwise you know they will build up and make you crazy.”
“You don’t need the computer?”
“Nope, I’m going to be in the basement.”
Two minutes later, on another trip to the car:
“I’m almost done with the computer.”
“I’m not going to use it anyway, there is no rush.”
“Can I help you carry something?”
And on it went.
If I could take her hand and talk plainly, here is what I would say:
You have the right to exist. You can take up space. When we are sitting on the couch, you can put your legs up and take up 1.5 cushions without constantly asking if I need more space. It’s OK. When you have 150 emails you desperately need to go through, you are allowed to go through them.
When you visit me, you’re on vacation, and people on vacation are supposed to be relaxed and self-indulgent. Every indulgence in your life—makeup and midnight snacks, catnaps on the couch and reading too many novels—is never reveled in, but always furtively meted out as if you’re waiting to be mocked or screamed at because of indulging in the comforts that make life bearable.
I live for the day when you are selfish and self-assured, when you radiate the happiness that comes from living without having to answer to anyone or be terrified of anyone’s irrational wrath. I am holding my breath for a time when you take unabashed pleasure in the things that make only you happy. I want you to luxuriate.
Toward that end, here is all I can offer you: this sad collection of pixels I’m sending into the universe especially for you. This is your hall pass, this is your signed permission slip, your ticket to the EZ Pass lane—you’re allowed. You’re entitled to exist, and to do all the things that people in the world do— spooning up ice cream in the kitchen in the middle of the night, relaxing after a hard day, not sacrificing your own precious free time to help others who take advantage of your malleability.
Stretch your legs, unfold your wings, and feel your freedom. It’s your life now.
You’ve helped others enough. Your time has come.