Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Another Casualty

This past week I re-visited the oceanside vacation house where I spent one of the most miserable weeks of my life, two years ago. This house has the most glorious views, particularly in the morning, as the sun shines on the water and the beach is empty. There is nothing like sitting in the living room with a cup of coffee, and being able to see a nearly 120 degree view of the beach. The ocean breeze on the porch is heaven, and listening to the crashing of the waves while you fall asleep at night can't be beat. Most unfortunately, that house is also home to the lingering ghosts of that horrible summer, and as much as fought against them, those memories still intruded on my enjoyment of that house.

As my friends and I hung up the party lights that we always bring with us on vacations, the sight of the broken palm tree on one string brought me right back to the confused rage I felt when I accidentally pulled the string down from around the door. My friend Lydia was with me, and was behaving in a controlling and irrational manner that was at once frightening me out of my wits, and making me furious from the manipulative head games she was playing. I was frustrated beyond my capacity for rational thought, so I left the room in a huge hurry, and the palm tree was an accidental casualty.

When I realized that I was thinking about that incident, instead of getting excited about the wonderful week ahead of us, I tried staring at the lights and thinking of happy things they had witnessed instead. But the glowing green fronds frowned at me, remembering the anger and the swiftness with which they had been severed from their trunk.

The next day, while walking down the outside staircase, I had a twinge of panic, and I remembered the panic attack I had suffered on those stairs two years before. I had been intending to leaving the house to run an errand that Lydia was angry about. I knew that upon my return, I would be heartily punished for going against her wishes, yet I also knew that if I didn't go, I would be sending the message that I was a willing captive to the control monster upstairs. Torn between Scylla and Charybdis, I completely broke down on the stairs, shaking and crying. I felt so helpless and frightened, I just crumbled on the stairs and sat there for a long time, until I composed myself, and made the defeated trek back up the stairs, the loser of that battle.

After recalling that moment, each trip up and down the stairs reminded me of that day, even though the recollection grew fainter as the week wore on, and eventually I didn't think of it much at all. Still, there were plenty of other hotspots in the house to summon memories of unpleasantries past, and I constantly struggled to put them out of my mind or ignore them.

The first year back was much worse, because the wounds were fresher, and I was much more angry about the stupidity and meaninglessness of the bitter end of our friendship. My reasons for being there last summer were unhealthy too, since it was more about my insistance on claiming that territory as my own, and on refusing to relinquish my lease on the house, rather than being about looking forward to a lovely week at the beach. This year, my motivation was more about replacing old, decidedly unhappy memories with fun and upbeat ones. I was only halfway successful.

The piercing ugly memories, like those above, still came washing over me unexpectedly, but more often than the anger and pain, I felt sadness and mourning for a friendship gone horribly wrong. As much as I tend toward nesting, and wanted to hold onto a place that I considered "mine", it became clear this year that the time has come to move forward, and leave the ghosts of that horrible summer behind in that house.

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