I’ve been thinking about people from my past a lot. The other day on my Other Facebook–you know, the one you keep as a repository for family members and people you don’t talk to that often so you don’t have to direct them to the account you actually use–a friend I grew up with posted something and the neighbor I grew up next to commented on it. These people never interacted in any significant way aside from being associated with the high school band, as I was. That’s just how small the town I grew up in was. It made me feel claustrophobic even though I’m half a continent away, even though I only observe them peripherally at this point.
Nobody from that part of my life prior to grad school, aside from my mother and one other wonderful friend, knows. Nobody. The only people on that friends list who do know are the ones from Seattle, with whom I interact regularly, and my boss, who’s a cool guy. (Yeah, my boss is my Facebook friend. It’s that kind of workplace.) I’ve kept it that way, and I’m not entirely sure why.
I’ve kept a lot of important things from a lot of important people in the past. The biggest, I guess, was the best friend I had for nigh on 14 years. We met when I was 14 and she was 13 online. We spoke intermittently until I was in college and she was in high school, and then we were really close. We had a lot in common. Our fathers were extravagantly crazy and both were abusive. We were pretty codependent with our mothers. We had some deep reasons to bond. She was my closest, most trusted friend for many years, so much so that we have coordinated tattoos. Both of us swore we would never stop being friends. How could we?
Then, as it does, life changed. I graduated with my second Master’s and got a job halfway across the country. She had stalled out on her Master’s and was moving home to lick her wounds. When I moved, the cracks began to appear. She was stuck in a dead-end job while I was entering my career. We weren’t in the same place anymore. It was half gentle but sad drifting apart and half an increasing tension between our lives and lifestyles.
She was there when I confronted the crazy father I mentioned in an earlier post. That was when a big crack appeared. Her crazy father was also dead, but she never got the chance I did to confront him. I think she was jealous, maybe even resentful. After a messy, awkward couple of months of her pulling away and being increasingly unsupportive of the shit I was going through, we had a friend breakup. I don’t claim to be the innocent party in that exchange, but I realized that I couldn’t hold on to her bitterness and negativity, because it was feeding my own. I had shed a couple of other friends in the same way, that same year, as I slowly began to realize I didn’t have to keep negative people around me.
About a year later, we started talking again. For a little while. Things were pretty strained, though, and eventually I realized that although I had changed significantly, she hadn’t, not really. And I still couldn’t take her negativity. So we haven’t spoken since.
She doesn’t know I’m trans. I never told her. I also never told her about my sexual abuse, even though she, too, was a survivor, or that I’m polyamorous (at least not directly). She probably would have been supportive, to the best of her ability as someone mired in her own shit. So why didn’t I tell her? Part of me wonders if, on some level, I didn’t trust her with that information, or I didn’t trust her to support me. Part of me thinks I didn’t trust myself. The biggest part, though, is coming to the realization that I didn’t think it was possible to form an identity separate from the baggage of my life. Acknowledging my sexual abuse experience and my gender identity and my relationship arrangement in the face of someone who had known me a certain way for 14 years felt impossible. The weight of that 14 years pressed on me every time I wanted to open my mouth or type the words into my phone. I’d have to explain why I hadn’t told her a long time ago when I had no actual explanation. So I didn’t.
I’m sure that’s another part of why I stopped talking to her. I’m sure it’s why I’ve literally moved all over the country since I graduated high school. I was trying to separate myself, to find my footing without goddamn everybody knowing me and pressing a false identity upon me. My friends here have really only known the person I’ve grown into, not the person I dragged along for 27 years like so much dead weight. I feel like I can actually breathe and get my feet under me. That’s why, when I see interactions like that on Facebook, I cringe a little inside.
Some recent experiences in my academic and professional life illustrated to me that I am in fact worthy of help and support. A few times, people I just met went out of their way to introduce me to people who would benefit me academically and professionally. Soon after I got hired, my boss, unprompted, asked me what pronouns I preferred. Later on, when I was filling out paperwork for the full-time position I’d been hired for, the HR person used my preferred pronoun. I’d never had that discussion with her. Somehow it had gotten around. One of my advisors got me in touch with a person I have a lot in common with academically, who offered to put me in personal and professional contact with a couple of trans male friends she has who had been through transition, because I’d told her I didn’t really have any trans men to talk to. This was during our first conversation. If people who don’t know me well are willing to do this, I should expect no less from the people who do know me well.
Was it unfair to cut so many people, including my mother and my best friend of 14 years, out of my life like that? I don’t know, maybe. I’m sure I didn’t handle it as well as I could have. Maybe I should have given (some of) them more of a chance. But looking back, I can honestly say that the people I cut out of my life were not what I needed in it. They wouldn’t, or couldn’t, support me as I moved forward. And the older I get, the less I feel obligated to spend time and energy on people that are less than completely supporting of me and my life. I don’t need them to prop me up, because god knows all of my friends and loved ones have their own struggles, but when I turn to them I know I’ll find a hand.
The weight of the past will always be with anybody who is going through a major life shift. There’s no denying that. I can’t escape it, and I don’t want to try anymore. But I can get out from under the parts of it that are holding me back.