Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stuck: Cut, Then Run

By Anneli Rufus on December 14, 2008 in Stuck

One poignant thing about the holiday season is all those Ghosts of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa past: folks who were once essential features around your table or tree but now ... aren't.

Why are they no longer with you? Some are literally gone; they're deceased, and you miss them and mourn them and know you'll never get them back. Others have drifted away. From some friends and relatives, you've grown apart. Yet others ... well, you snipped those bonds for what seemed like good reasons at the time but now you wonder, as the years go by and the gaps around that table or tree increase: Was losing that once-loved one really worth it? What fight was it, what quirk, what offhand remark in the wrong place, at the wrong time?

Sometimes the answer is clear, the moral crime in neon lights, the wound irreparable. She stole my husband. He stole my job. They ridiculed me in front of my children. But other times (most times), when we choose to end a relationship - intimate or platonic or biological - it's because that person insulted us in some way that felt unforgivable. These scenarios are as subtle and diverse as we are. And the trail of burned bridges extending behind us represents one of the trickiest paradoxes in human life: Where do we draw the line between forgivable insults and unforgivable ones, between wounds that will and will not heal? We are told from infancy onward that forgiveness is divine. Yet we are also schooled to sustain sky-high self-esteem, to not abide those who deflate it. Sometimes it's hard to have both. Where do we draw the line between forgiveness and self-abasement, forgiveness and selling out our own souls? At what point can you reliably say that someone has gone too far?

Granted, most people end relationships in stages. They announce that they're upset, they explain why, and the alleged upsetter gets a chance to explain and potentially redeem him- or herself. This either works or not. But at least he or she had a chance. I, on the other hand, am a cut-and-runner. Gone without a trace. Vanishing act. Now you see me, now you don't. I never was the kind to stay and fight. Not that I'm proud ot this: When interpersonal matters reach a certain degree of unpleasantness, rather than talk it out I flee. I always vow to change: Next time, I tell myself. Next time.

But no. I've always been this way. I had a college friend who liked to mock me in public. No sooner would I vouchsafe Gwen a secret than she would announce it at a party in front of everyone.

Guess what, you guys? Gwen would declare, pointing at me. She went to the emergency room in the middle of the night because she thought she had leprosy!

One night at one of those parties I shouldered my backpack, turned and left. This is how it is with cut-and-runners. We reach a saturation point and silently, without warning, flee. Gwen was neither the first nor the last. Cut-and-running is a desperate act and only vaguely punitive. Escape elates one at first, a giggly euphoria as one spends a few days relishing the tingly relief of the survivor. Afterwards - sometimes years afterwards, and often at holidays - regret seeps in. We should have talked. We should have had it out. If for no other reason, then at least to have said: You've hurt me and here's how. A kind of horoscope - if for no other reason, then at least to maybe save others from being hurt somewhere down the road.

This is a core theme in Elizabeth Drummond's intelligently tender new novel An Accidental Light. Two of its main characters are adults long estranged from their parents; after a personal tragedy, each ponders the option of rebuilding those burnt bridges.

How late is too late?

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | cna certification