behind it all

I have some thoughts to share that are pretty high up on the vulnerability scale. Things about myself I don't love at all, and am working on. But I'm going to share them anyway, because I also had an idea that makes me happy--or at least more at peace--about those things. The idea is a visual concept, a really simple metaphor I guess, and it might be useful to someone else, perhaps? I don't know. But here goes. First I have to establish some context. Okay a lot of context...

Do you remember my friend Cameron? I sometimes called him Wally, which became his nickname after a hilarious autocorrect fail. He and I were extremely close, and we spent a great deal of time together between 2010 and 2013, before he moved to Texas. We met around the time of my divorce--he was a neighbor in the building where Mike and I lived before we split up. I think the last time I mentioned Cameron was on Instagram. I believe it was a post showing a bounty of food and treats he'd brought over to me when he came for a visit. At the time I had just broken my foot. I wasn't very mobile and I was still in some occasional pain.

Well, Cameron and I broke up immediately after that visit. And "broke up" is not typically a phrase you use when discussing the end of a friendship, but for Cameron and I, it's really the only way to put it. And anyone that knows us, knows that too. We were tight. Really, really tight. Absolutely best friends. We'd spend hours upon hours together only to wake up and do it all over again the next day. We texted constantly. He was my confidant and my partner in crime (literally sometimes). When I went out of town, it was he who'd watch Chaucer - sometimes for months on end. When my husband insinuated to me that he was gay (fuck it, it's been six years, statute of limitations has been well bulldozed past as far as I'm concerned...plus he got remarried to a woman he was dating while he was still married to me), it was to Cameron I turned, devastated. When I got into an abusive relationship in Arizona, it was Cameron who got in his car and drove, overnight, to come rescue me. Cameron introduced me to gay bars, some of which became our go-to hangouts. I spent so much time in the gay bars of Silverlake and Hollywood that to this day, they are more comfortable to me than straight bars.

But Cameron and I had our problems. We would fight sometimes. Absolute ragers. We are both highly opinionated people who are unafraid to get angry. And having spent so much time together, having gotten so close, we had a lot of emotion invested in our friendship. That's a beautiful thing but it can make for a powder keg, too.

The reason Cameron and I broke up was simple: he wanted me to accompany him to the wedding of a pair of friends of his up in SF. I'd planned on going with him for months...but then I broke my foot. Long story short, we disagreed on how easy or comfortable it would be for me to go. I didn't want to. I was afraid of being away from home, injured and uninsured. He really wanted me to. Really, really. It was a gay wedding, one of his very best friends, and it meant a lot to him for me to come. He promised he'd take the utmost care with my foot. That he'd rent a damn wheelchair if need be. That we could go as slow as I needed. He saw that I was able to get about with crutches and a scooter and didn't see the difference between limping around in LA and limping around SF.

Well, we argued. And argued. And finally I just had enough. I felt completely justified in telling him to take a flying leap.

Oh, and conveniently? I had just started dating Terence. What the fuck did I need a stubborn, demanding jerk like Cameron around for when I had this amazing, loving, gorgeous new guy to fawn all over me??

Yeeeeaaaah.

I ripped Cameron out of my life ruthlessly. I wrote him a scathing letter and then blocked his email. Blocked his phone number. Blocked him on social media. To this day I don't know what came over me. Why I reacted with so much anger. Why I felt it was okay to obliterate from my life one of the few, loving constants in it. Sure we had some issues, sure there were things we could have worked on in our friendship, but really Ellie? Blocking him, like a cold-blooded bitch?

Time went by. Regret is like quick sand. You don't even know you're standing in it at first, and then you're suddenly sinking deeper and deeper and deeper. And the one person who could pull me out? Throw me a branch and haul me to shore? Well, I'd made myself invisible to him, and him to me. Pride. Ego. Shame. I assumed he hated my guts, too. And I buried my sadness underneath the new joy that was Terence.

Can you see where this is going? I told you--not proud of this side of me. The side that claims her friends are her family and then sometimes proceeds to treat them like dogshit.

To my credit, I waited months. Of course I'm talking about how long I waited until after Terence and I broke up to reach out to Cameron, tail between my legs. Because of course I would do that. Of course I would be so predictably basic. Of course I would wait until MY hour of need to invite him back into my life, knowing nothing whatsoever about the hours of need he may have had in the interim.

The letter I wrote was simple and short. I'm sorry. I was wrong. You were a wonderful friend to me. I think of you often and hope you are well. 

He answered. And so proceeded a month or so of polite back-and-forthing while he, understandably, got his bearings on the roller coaster that is Ellie's emotional regulation and decided that yeah, sure, he'd give it another shot.

Fast forward to last week. Those of you who follow me on IG maybe saw my post of him, though I don't know how many of you understood the import. I sort of quietly stopped talking about him after our fight, so maybe you assumed we'd just fallen out of touch? I dunno. Anyway, he came to LA last week, for work. And I spent three glorious nights with him.

I won't go on and on about what it meant to me to see him again, because if you've read this far you already get it. But it was like my entire world shifted back onto its proper axis. Cameron is one of the great loves of my life and talking to him again? Laughing and sharing and catching up and crying and forgiving and drinking and watching Netflix and getting Nutella and cookies at 2 am from the grocery store? Best thing that's happened to me in months.

Of course, he still lives in Texas. He comes to LA often but Houston is his home. And anyone that's read my blog for any length of time knows that I have other very close friends who live either in AZ or in other cities in California. Bottom line: my nearest and dearest are not very near to me at all. I see them a few times a year. Mason I see maybe once a year.  And this is very, very difficult for me.

How difficult? Well, sometimes I lose my ever-loving mind about it. Sometimes I get so down, so unbelievably depressed and angry that my friends are elsewhere, that rather than turn to them I turn on them. I grow incredibly demanding and unforgiving. Unforgiving that they have the audacity to live elsewhere and have their own lives. Jobs. Partners. Hobbies. Sometimes? These bastards? They group text without me. Sometimes they even travel without me. Together. They take trips without me. Can you believe it?? Don't they know how much I need them? How much I need to be included? How much love I need, because I suffer from depression and have been through some hell?

DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND THEIR OBLIGATION TO MAKE ME HAPPY??!

K. So. Has the picture formed sufficiently, of how needy a friend I can be? And let me freeze right here to disclaim, with utmost confidence, that any one of my close friends would be the first to tell you that I am also fiercely loyal, loving, selfless, fun as fuck, and awesome. They would tell you that they adore me with their whole hearts, and they would mean it. I know this, because every time they pick up on the fact that my self-esteem is in the shitter, they swoop in and reassure me with the most unbelievable love and support, you'd melt to hear. It's real, true love, and I know it. Which is why I want more of it, more often than I can reasonably have, from people that live states away and are damn busy. And the last thing I'll say in my defense is that I am NOT the kind of "friend" who only ever cares about her shit, and never participates in the details of other lives. That's kind of the whole problem. I want so much to participate in my friends lives, to know what they're doing, their challenges and triumphs, how I can support them, etc. But again. Jobs. Partners. Hobbies. State lines.

Recently I took a really bad dive, emotionally. The details don't matter; suffice to say I was making plans and not for a vacation. I just felt really, really alone. I reached out to my friends with a mixture of pleading, punishing anger (why don't you call more often! you know I depend on you!), fear, and self-nihilation, and I ended up having one of the hardest but most necessary conversations of my life, with Mason. In a nutshell he told me I could have every last breath of his love and friendship, but that if things with me were so bad that not hearing from my friends was enough to make me suicidal...then no amount of love and friendship would matter. What I needed was a reframe, in the head and the heart. He then said a series of things that did fix me, as far as I was concerned, because my T-Rex brain was only focused on getting the love I needed THEN not the healing I need OVERALL...but the first bit was what was really important. Talk about your tough love.

I'm still thinking about all of this, still trying to figure out where the truth is. Because while I know that no one but me is responsible for my happiness, I think that fully needing and loving another is part of what makes us richly human. For a much better, clearer articulation of what I mean by this, see The Moral Bucket List, a NYT article by David Brooks that I can't stop thinking about.

And now I've come full circle. I started by mentioning that I'd had an idea maybe worth sharing. It's this:

Once, at Disneyland, I took a tour of the animation studios. I remember being fascinated by animation cels, and how they were created. An artist would paint on a stack of clear cellulose sheets; depending on whether what was being drawn was part of the background or the action, he would either lift the stack of sheets or lower them. So for example, if the animation called for a background of trees, the sheet painted with those trees would stay, stationary and constant, under the layer upon which characters would run, or jump.

I realized my life is like that. No matter what I'm coloring in on the top sheet, whether it's a new job or a new home or a new boyfriend, whether it's something scary and ugly I'm going through or something thrilling and fun--underneath it all is my same background. Friends I've had for years, decades in some cases. They're there, behind it all. And they're not going anywhere, as long as I don't erase them. They're sturdy and strong and they are in my life, always. No matter what else isn't.

It's a thought I can hold onto, to make the lonelier times less lonely.

I'm not very good at opening up to new people, which is precisely what I need to do in order to have more close friends locally. Especially now that Kerry and Ross are gone. I try, in small bits. See: Krista, who is truly a lovely, loving person. It takes me a while, but I do open up in a real way, eventually. I'm working on it.

Action and background. A richer, more complete picture. I'm working on it.