December 17, 2015

What’s Your Superpower: The Alchemy of Pain.


I work with my best friend.

When a position came up at my cushy office job with regular breaks, a swivel chair, and a lanyard for our security access cards that beeped in the elevator, I immediately thought of her.

She had been working the same job for 10 years, in a bakery on her feet all day, flour dust appearing in places that should never be in contact with flour dust. Bubbly, happy, creative, talented, kind—she was everything we needed in this office, and I recommended her immediately.

Thankfully, she did get that job, and I’m almost certain you could taste the squeal of excitement as I walked in for our first day together to find that our boss had seated her next to me. I trained her, we told stories of high school antics to our colleagues, and quickly became the best two workers on our team.

We coincided our breaks, hid tears shed over heartbreaking documentaries watched in our down time, suppressed laughter as the memes rolled in thick and fast, and bonded with our team mates through our work Facebook page. In the same day I could turn my head slightly to the left to discuss our design for a better website than the marketing department had ever produced, and moments later turn again to talk about how absolutely definitely over my ex I was as we scrolled through photos of him and his new girlfriend. Sounds like a dream, right? It is.

I work with my best friend. Or, at least I thought I did.

Fast forward a year, two horrendous break-ups, a cancelled wedding, a dead cat and a scandalous love affair later, and I find myself learning a very difficult but very necessary lesson.

As we giggled over photos of people dressed up as Christmas trees, our boss asked us three questions, with the promise of a related surprise in the new year: What is your superpower, what is your superhero name, and what colour is your costume?

This was catnip to us. Both avid lovers of online personality quizzes, and self-appointed experts on the subject of superheros, my friend and I got to work considering the myriad of options before us. I’m a writer, I love words—could my superpower be wit? I’m also an environmental activist and all-round girl power enthusiast—I could be “The Amazon”.

Having tentatively settled on a shortlist of names, we went back to looking through people’s funny Christmas costumes as we took phone calls and replied to emails. Suddenly, there was a little flash of blue in the bottom corner of her screen, an instinctive click of the mouse, and the appearance of the familiar Facebook logo and my illusion was shattered.

There it was, in obnoxious white, black and blue—a little box of conversation between my high school best friend and her ex-fiancee. I went to look away, but something caught my eye. It was my name; they were talking about me. I couldn’t help it.

“She could be ‘The Reliable Two-Faced’, or maybe something with ‘Doomed and Annoying’ in the title”

I didn’t read anymore, I looked away, because there were whole paragraphs interspersed with laughter and encouragement and I knew that if I read them I’d have to leave the room.

I sat in silence for the rest of my shift, trying not to attract attention, because I really didn’t know what I would say if someone asked me what was wrong. Your best friend—the person that knows everything about you, who’s held your sobbing face on her shoulder as you mourned a lost love, who’s stood defiantly in the face of toxic boys who treated you badly, who’s laughed at your mishaps and reminded you to laugh too—secretly hates you.

As I walked home I tried to identify what I was feeling.

I wasn’t angry, not really, though I’d expected I would be. I wasn’t even really hurt—for something to properly hurt you, it also has to surprise you, and when I thought about it honestly I wasn’t all that surprised.

And then all at once I understood: I was deeply, deeply sad, not because of the nasty things my friend had said about me or the even nastier things she’d let her lover say about me without objection. But rather, because I had come to expect it.

This wasn’t the first time I had witnessed this behaviour from my friend, nor was it the first time I had been the unwitting victim of betrayal, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. There had always been reasons, circumstances—drunkenness, the pain of an ended relationship, simple human moments of frustration between friends. I was sure that if I looked hard enough I could find a reason now, but the realisation that I had a mental storage box of justifications for this behaviour to pick from just highlighted the depressing predictability of the whole fiasco:

Nothing is what it seems, and the ground beneath you is simply one rug in a large pile waiting to be ripped from under your feet.

As the sky darkened and my head lowered, slinking home in the rain like a broken woman, I stood outside of myself for a moment and saw how ridiculous I looked. Really, just add a slow violin solo and I was any sad cartoon character you can think of.

I remembered my spiritual training: I’m taught to be an empowered, whole person who fully recognises their personal power, seeing it for the raw and scarily beautiful thing it is. I’m taught to nurture myself, treating my soul and the world around me with respect rather than pity. I have learned to clearly define my morals, my boundaries and my desires, fulfilling them without fear or regret. I’m taught to be brutally honest—most of all with myself.

When I got home I sat on my back steps and breathed, just another plant among the many that line my small cement landing, soaking up the soft warm rain and feeling the growl of thunder through the air. I let the ambitious vine of my wisteria reach across with the breeze and brush my cheek compassionately—almost instantly my story shifted:

Even the seemingly most consistent things—the stones in the creek, the trunks of hundred year old forest trees, the sentinel mountain ranges—change every day. Most of that change is so slow we might believe it isn’t happening, but sometimes the creek is flooded and the tree is felled and the mountain is toppled. These moments alter a thing, but they don’t erase it, and the world is no less magical as a result.

In the practise of Paganism we’re taught that the world is a paradox—there is no right answer to our questions, there are simply many true responses; and the only mistake is to deny them. My feelings of sadness at the hands of change were natural, and in that moment on my steps I allowed myself to feel the full weight of that realisation; that no matter how much I loved something, it was never really mine. And in true paradoxical Pagan style, I also allowed myself to see the comforting truth in that statement; the consistency of change.

That my friendship may be over doesn’t change the fact that it existed, and it was grand! That people may cause us great sadness doesn’t change the fact that they also fly with us at great heights. That I am not in control or possession of the things I love in fact highlights the inherent and unique core of them that I care for so dearly.

As I smile across the table at my friends and family this holidays it will be in the knowledge that they and I are wild creatures, in a wild world, and I will relish the clumsy dance we do in the dappled light of time.



The Friend Divorce.

Author: Erin Lawson

Editor: Erin Lawson

Images:  Flickr/John mcsporran  //  Flickr/Avrajyoti Mitra

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