Halloween is a time when it’s almost trendy to be afraid of something. I’ve only ever survived one haunted trail my whole life, so maybe not me, but some people. After Halloween, Mary Ann had sleepover with Christina Yang’s daughter. My favorite part of the kids having friends over is that sometimes kids are so honest that they blurt out profound truths and they don’t even realize it.
I overheard them talking in the backseat about things to be afraid of, like clowns or spiders or snakes, and Mary Ann says, “I’m not afraid of anything. I’ve seen people die. What’s left to be afraid of?” Which was pretty profound in itself, glass half-full kind of thinking. And she’s not even exaggerating. She has been present in rooms when last breaths were taken, and she’s lived through the fallout. There’s not a lot of ten year olds who can say that, Thank God. Then she adds, “Wait, that’s not true. There’s one thing. I’m not afraid of anything except getting attached to people.”
I turned around and looked at her with fresh eyes. “You are your mother’s child,” I said. Once again she has blurted out in mere seconds what it took me months in therapy to understand.
I told Christina Yang that I thought I’d had a breakthrough because I realized that some people I keep at arms length because I’m convinced if I love them too much I will lose them. “Huh,” she said, “you didn’t know that about yourself already? I knew that about you.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be raising a child who understands who she is and what she needs and what she’s afraid of. I’m sure it was completely by accident that I did this. But I’m also worried for her future. Is she going to turn out like me? Isolated and worried and distant for reasons she can’t even articulate?
I have always preferred small circles to large ones. I joke (not really joking) that I have Other Half and like two friends. And I like it that way. The only problem is that when your circle is so small, if you lose even a small piece of it, there’s a gaping hole that you don’t know if you can ever fill again. It takes so much time and energy to build the circle in the first place that I sometimes think I would rather be completely alone than start over.
But, as My Friend pointed out, “It’s fine to have a small group of people you trust. People are lucky to say they have one or two true friends. But now, since your mom is gone, your circle has been cut by 30 percent.” The visual did not bring me joy. My Friend, as usual, was right.
Choosing wisely is, well, wise. But isolation for its own sake is dangerous. It leads to loneliness and unrealistic expectations. It puts pressure on your few select people to be everything you need, and who can shoulder that kind of weight?
My reasoning behind it all is that I have never been one of those resilient people who bounces back from heartbreak. There are friendships I’ve had that dissolved 10 or 15 years ago that still bring me a twinge of pain sometimes. So my inclination is to avoid attachment until it is absolutely unavoidable because whatever effort I exert in building the relationship I will also have to eventually expend at healing when it’s over. That’s a big commitment, and to be honest, not all attachments are worth it.
It’s easier to never form a bond than to pray and cry and sob one’s way back to wholeness. Every relationship is a risk, and my emotional energy is a finite supply. As Leeana Tankersley wrote in my favorite book, Begin Again, “You are afraid that getting what you want will cost you what you have and that makes you feel caught again.” You said a mouthful there, sister.
I guess what I’m saying is, I hope maybe somehow over the next few years, Mary Ann learns how to embrace a medium circle. That she’s courageous enough to face her fear, and wise enough to appreciate the dividends of taking a calculated risk. That she sees the value in removing her mask rather than just the glamour of keeping it in place. And that she remains, otherwise, fearless.