Shut Up and Listen
My best friend is in the early stages of a gut-twisting divorce right now. It's a little bit like witnessing quadruple-bypass surgery being performed on a kitten ... without benefit of anesthesia.
Ordinarily the sunniest and most forward-thinking of souls, this week my friend is mired in gloom and memories. Whenever I read his e-mail, his pain leaps right off my computer monitor and slugs me in the heart.
I don't know what to do.
I want to comfort him. I want to wrap him up in Grandma's quilt, make him cinnamon toast and Nestlés Quik, and sit on the sofa and watch "Head" with him. I want to listen to Roy Orbison records, and let him win at Scrabble, and remind him every couple of minutes that he is "this much closer to happy." (And -- more importantly still -- I want him to believe it.)
In other words: I want to *fix* things for him.
Not only because he's my friend and I love him and I want him to be happy ... and not only because all of my *Mommy Molecules* are still fully intact, and the urge to 'kiss the boo-boo all better' is overwhelming ...
... and not only because I [naively] believe that everybody's divorce should be as simple and as straightforward and as nonsense-free as mine was, even if *I* am the only member of that particular marriage who believes that it turned out that way ...
... but also because I feel like I owe him. Three years ago, he singlehandedly nursed me through the darkest days of my life. I want to repay the favor. But I don't know how.
So mostly I just shut up and listen.
On the phone, he is grimly insouciant. "I have no ties now!" he says. "I could just pack up and go anywhere!" A gifted writer/comic/creative kaz-of-all-trades, he is presently "between gigs," as he puts it. And the truth is that he probably could pack up and go anywhere in the country and make his fortune. ("Maybe even here in the Bay Area!" whispers the insensitive, everything-is-about-*me* Bad Angel. It WOULD be nice to have my best friend in my time zone, for a change. I give in to a moment's indulgent fantasizing about leisurely weekend brunches and Saturday afternoon trips to Amoeba Records.)
But he knows better, and *I* know better, and he knows *I* know he knows better, and *I* know he knows *I* know he knows better ...
... and at this particular point in the script, it is up to me to remind him of that. Even if he doesn't actually need reminding.
"You have your kids," I gently point out. "And take it from me: you don't want to live too far away from your children." My divorce may have been simple and straightforward and nonsense-free, from a legal/financial standpoint anyway. But it did not come without a price.
The irony, of course, is that three or four years ago, when my own marriage was falling to pieces all around me, he gave me exactly the same advice. Did I listen? No. Sadly, his quiet voice of reason was drowned out by the shrieking noises in my head ... and the box of Mountain Chablis in the fridge.
So I am the dutiful good friend, and I read the e-mails, and I try to respond in what I hope is a supportive fashion, and I try not to say anything to upset him further.
But after a while, just "shutting up and listening" begins to feel slightly less proactive than I am comfy with. Here I am, listening to accounts of all these grievous injustices being committed against my dearest friend. I am witnessing his pain. I am listening to him cry long-distance. I am watching him split apart. And after a while, all of this ridiculous, righteous, impotent indignation comes bubbling out of me and spills through my fingers and onto my keyboard computer.
And I make a crude and catty remark about his estranged wife.
I don't do it in a private e-mail to him, either, but rather, in a semi-public e-mail to our little writing group. I regret it instantly, but it goes out as an Internet e-mail and there is no way to "unsend." And then I feel like the pond scum attached to the bottom of pond scum when he immediately responds, to the group at large:
" ... actually, the weird thing is, I don't really want to get into that name callin' s**t about her. From a distance I still feel sorta ok about her in some strange way."
He's not exactly angry with me -- I don't think -- but it is clear that I have crossed a line here, and I feel sort of sick and horrible about it.
At the office I leave AIM running all day, just in case he finds himself near a computer and decides he wants to throw a cyber pebble at my window. Everybody ELSE in the universe i.m.'s me: my stepbrother Raymond (congratulations on your new baby boy!), my former boss, the ladies in the Accounting Department, my daughter's best friend from eighth grade, an old pal from the Boom Room.
But no *him.*
So now I sit here, and I wait, and I wonder, and I hope he's OK ... and I kick myself for being a big insensitive boob this morning ... and I vow to do better tomorrow, and to keep my opinions and my ghastly Hitler-with-tits ("Does that mean we can call her 'Titler?'") jokes to myself. Because the only person who really truly knows what he's going through is him. And the only REAL help I can possibly be to him, right now, is to simply shut up.