Friday, March 26, 2010

Loneliness, Interrupted (The Healing Power of Facebook, Part II)

I had a best friend until I was almost 4 years old. His name was Paulie, and we each lived in apartments on the same floor of a building in the Rego Park neighborhood in Queens, NY. He was the “taken for granted” background of my life. We saw each other everyday. Our mothers were friends. He was my favorite person, and favorite activity. On one summer morning, in his apartment, we were making a magic rock garden. We were taking turns dropping colored rocks with special potential into the bowl. As they started sprouting crystals, my parents entered the room. I must have known something. I cried and clung to my friend and his furniture. They pried open my fingers and we left for the suburbs. That was the end of it.

I’ve never found another best friend. But I came close. Her name was Lizzie. After our move, I had remained unmoored for years. And then she was there in my 4th grade class. As I was an undersized, young appearing, waif-like child, I was always on the look-out for someone with my proportions and my perspective; someone who might also feel overlooked, undervalued, and vulnerable on the sports field. Lizzie was there, petite, ready to laugh, and open to my friendship. She interrupted the isolation that had become the background of my life. She already had a best friend for years (a Paulie), who was her neighbor. Their mothers were friends. I understood that was not my place with Lizzie.

What we had was a shared perspective. We were two tiny girls, who liked to catch frogs and puzzled over our classmates obsession with brand jeans and sneakers. Day after day for 3 years, we circulated among the same kids, witnessed the same classroom dramas, and avoided the same bullies. We giggled, pondered, and played. We found refuge from difficulties in our home lives, though we never talked of those.

One summer day at the end of 6th grade, we were playing at Lizzie’s house and I tripped over a rug. I landed hard and the wind knocked out me. Lizzie’s mother was on the phone, but hung up and dramatically came to my aid. “I was talking to my lawyer,” she said with emphasis. Soon after that day, Lizzie told me, “My parents are getting divorced and we are moving away.” That was the end of it.

I entered Jr. High School, unmoored once again. Lizzie and I talked by phone once or twice. She was remote and distant. No details. Yes and no answers to my searching questions. She was truly gone.

Thirty-three years later she is there on my computer screen. She is my new facebook friend. I tracked her down through her “real” best friend’s page. I asked with trepidation if she remembered me. I was sure I had been forgotten. I had assumed all these years that she had gotten swept up by a better life with better friends in her new town.

What came back in my inbox was a long and reassuring, but also saddening message. Lizzie treasured our friendship. She remembered details, exploits, and conversations that I had, in fact, forgotten. She had become remote, distant, and eventually disappeared as her family collapsed and she was pulled into that spiraling vortex of chaos. My little13-year-old fellow frog catching friend detached from her old life in order to steel herself for a new life defined by hardship and survival.

Through facebook we are now building a path back to each other. It comes in fits and starts. Lizzie’s adult voice is shedding a special light on a story I have told myself, so many times, I’ve believed it. In that story my life was hard and lonely and even my “best” friends didn’t want me. What I see today is that my “difficulties” would be another child’s good day. I was cherished by my friend. Yes, I lost her. But not for the reasons I thought. Through Lizzie’s recollections I am remembering the vastness of the interruption – not the least of which were giggles.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Healing Power of Facebook - Part I

Blue Sparkle by Julia Hecht 2010

I avoided facebook for as long as was possible. I am not one who enjoys knowing a million people and making small talk with them. I am more of a one-on-one, get-down- to-the-nitty-gritty kind of friend. I want to know what is really going on for people. I want to be able to tell my friends the truth. I guess I like connection, but I want REAL. I am also an emerging artist trying to promote my work. The more I read about being an artist in the 21st Century, the more I was pointed to “social networking” and yes, facebook. I realized my facebook-phobia was getting in my way of promoting myself as an artist. I told myself that if it was useful for winning the presidential election, it might be worth a try. I would keep it strictly professional. I would not post pictures of my children, or give private details of my life. I reassured myself that if I didn’t like it, I could always jump off, pull the plug, de-boot, or however one stops that sort of thing.

I started the time consuming task of finding and collecting “friends”. At first they were the people I see around town, other parents of my children’s friends, friends from old jobs. Then, I started finding the old boyfriends. Then friends I knew in other countries from what seemed like other lifetimes. I got discouraged (and resentful, hurt, and bitter) when someone I admired in Jr. HS (I’ll call her “A”) never wrote back after I shared something personal from my life story. I had thought we were having a good exchange. She had said my “honesty was endearing”. Then when I “opened up”...nothing. Empty inbox. I felt catapulted back to my “freakdom” days of awkwardness and rejection. I thought, “Here I am, all grown up and they still don’t want to be my friend.” I found myself trying to be cool on facebook so people would like me. Something was not right. Years ago I had decided there was no such thing as “cool” and happily gave up that futile fight. How had this happened? Why was I repeating the horrors of adolescence at age 45?

The first healing happened when I shared my despair about A not writing back with my dear friend, Judith, who I’ve known since we were 12. We’ve managed to stay in contact all these years, even without the aid of a social networking tool. I told her I thought I had offended A, and why. Judith thought I was probably wrong. Because of facebook, Judith and A had just seen each other, when Judith’s work took her to the city where A now lives. “I don’t get that impression of her,” she said. Judith and I then shared our own experience of those Jr. High School years. We had both been plagued by fear and loneliness that we could not articulate then, even to each other. “If you really don’t want to repeat the patterns of Jr. High School, why don’t you ask her what happened, and why she hasn’t written?” Judith is wise and she had a point. I could try acting like a mature woman.

I wrote to A - through email, which I got from her facebook info page. I said that I was glad we had connected, that I hadn’t heard back and I hoped I hadn’t offended her (I did have in mind a particular possibly offensive remark I had made). This person, whom I hadn’t spoken to for 30 years wrote back right away (from Australia, no less) to reassure me that she thought she had written back, was NOT offended, and really glad to be in contact. A very sweet message followed.

We did not become best friends on facebook . But every time I log on and see her picture, I smile. Because of my dear friend’s encouragement I stared down those rejecting faces from Jr. High School that had started to revisit me. With the strength of a 45 year old woman who wants to grow and heal, I took a risk. I took a chance at “doing it differently”. With the force needed to break bones, I broke a pattern. I “checked in” with A, instead of assuming the worst. I put myself out there with kindness in my heart, and true hope for a nice connection with someone with whom I share some history. I was rewarded. More importantly, I was, in some small way, healed.

If you have a healing story connected with facebook please share in the comments section.

Coming Soon: The Healing Power of Facebook: Parts II and III