Defining the “Self”
What defines a person and shapes them into the individual he or she is meant to be? This is a question that every human being, at some point in their life, thinks about in terms of themselves. Who we are and what we become is caused by a multitude of incidents that occur throughout our lives, leaving behind the memories with which we judge ourselves. These recollections form the root from which we allow our futures develop.
In Lucy Grealy’s autobiography, at one point she says, in secrecy, away from my family and our shared scorn over the cards and their simplistic sentiments, I sat down in my bedroom on the blue carpet and asked, “God, if you exist, prove it to me.”
This need to believe in a divine power, overshadowed by a nagging fear that this God does not exist is an experience most children go through at some point or another. Some, like Grealy, choose to put it behind them and except their faith for what it is, although lacking in material proof, while others, like myself, never quite recover from their childhood skepticism and continue their adult life refusing to believe that any celestial being as powerful as a “god” could allow lives to fall to shambles as they often do. It seems to me that believing would be the easy way out because when you believe in s superior being there is no reason or need for explanations. Anything that happens happens for a reason, as part of a greater purpose. To me, that just never seemed realistic and I think that I felt this most strongly throughout my high school years.
The most pivotal of these moments came to me during my freshman year of high school. It was a late May night and I was sitting on the asphalt in the park with my best friend, the same best friend I hadn’t seen much of over the past few months. Silently we sat just listening to the wind, watching the swings blow back and forth, trying to think of a way to open up the routes of communication which would allow the waves of emotions to flow.
Kasey spoke up first, asking me where I had been all those months and what it was I had been doing. She paused, waiting for me to respond but seeing no reaction other than the moving of my chest as I inhaled and exhaled, she continued, pressing me as to why I had changed, concluding her speech by telling me she’s missed me.
I struggled with my psyche, trying to communicate what I was feeling but where would I begin? Should I start at the part where I met Danielle? Or maybe when we started staying out late, getting involved in all sorts of illicit activities? Or maybe the point at which I lost all hope, lost my belief, and felt like if I didn’t stop, I’d lose everything.
I began to speak, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me. Danielle. She’s just so… manipulative. And the guys she hung out with were so much older and so attractive, so alluring . I couldn’t resist. If I had any idea this is how things would turn out, if I had known it would kill her, I would have stuck with her. Maybe I wouldn’t have given up on her so soon.”
“The funeral is tomorrow. Are you going to go?”
That was a good question. Was I going to go? I hadn’t spoken to her in weeks or to anyone for that matter, stranding myself in an island of solitude, refusing to come out of my room even to go to school. At first she didn’t want to talk to me either, saying I had abandoned her and therefore withdrew from our friendship but after a few days she was back, calling me almost every day asking me to go ride around with her and the guys. I gave her self esteem. She said I was the only person who truly understood her. That was mainly because I was one of the few people who deal with her immature mind games. Day in and day out it was the same thing over and over. She said she felt ugly, she felt fat, and she feared nobody could ever love her, but all this was just a clever means of getting attention. She knew at once everyone would say “Oh no! You are beautiful, Danielle. Everyone loves you,” and so on.
What was it that drew me to her, one might ask. I think it was the allure of her lifestyle. It was one which was filled with illusion of no responsibilities. Her parents never paid much attention to what went on in her life and although it the time it seemed like quite a bit of luck on her part, in hindsight I am relieved that I never had to live her life without the support of parents who care. I remember one night, after she had had quite a bit to drink we sat on her front steps just talking and she asked me, staring at the sky, if I believed in God. I told her that no, I did not, because he seemed like too great of a power with too little evidence to prove his existence. She had no response to that. Rather, she just lay down, passing out for the remainder of the night.
We spent many nights like this with her drunk or high on some drug or another and me as the mediator preventing fights with other drunks and trying to help her find her way home without hurting herself until finally I had enough. I had been losing patience with her for a while because she, much like a leech, hung on to me, not allowing me to go anywhere else or do anything else unless it involved her. At first, she being what I considered a close friend, this was alright, but eventually she tried to prevent me from seeing my other friends and even my boyfriend. She said she needed me, that I was her only confidant and she had no one else to talk to and for awhile this was enough to guilt me into sticking with her, just hoping this would all end soon. Little did I know how shortly the end would arrive.
I shivered as a few cold rain drops fell to the ground. “It’s entirely my fault. She would have never done this if I had been there for her.”
Kasey scooted closer to me, trying to comfort me. “It wasn’t you fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. There was nothing you could have done.”
I couldn’t help it. I was filled with a deep, soul penetrating guilt and nothing anybody might say or do could console me. I almost felt like indirectly I had killed her. My antipathy towards her in her time of need was the reason she chose to leave this world as violently as she had.
“So what were you supposed to do? Continue following her self-destructive path? Allow her to completely take over your life? Honestly, eventually things would have ended up the same way only you would have spent more time miserable.” Kasey’s little speech snapped me back to reality. It was getting chilly and I needed to go home and sleep.
When I found out that Danielle had been talking behind my back spreading rumors just to retaliate against me for not spending every waking hour with her and for having other friends and allowing my life to be more than just her I was devastated. For almost two years I had allowed myself to live in this daydream where everything would be alright in the end. So Danielle was self-destructive and had trouble allowing me, whom she called her best friend, to have other relationships be it with other girls, guys, or even family. Possessive was not the word. She was selfish, controlling, domineering, and just plain old insane. But was that enough reason to end our friendship? I gave up on her completely and tried to forget. I tried as hard as I could to return to my normal life but then she started with threats. She would egg my car or my friends’ cars and leave notes with threats, sometimes death threats and sometimes just threats of violence. Ignoring that was tough and my stress was exacerbated by the pressures of school and work. My grades had been steadily slipping and it was a rare day that I showed up for work on time and alert. It was a wonder I kept my job but my family was also beginning to notice the changes.
Finally, one night she called. She told me she missed our friendships and started to bring to mind all the good times we had evoking memories of laughter, joy, and possibly even a shadow of happiness but those feelings quickly faded when I recalled the pain, anger, and betrayal I felt at her disregard, and the isolation and loneliness necessary in forging a solid friendship with this girl. In all my recollections never once could I remember a time when I truly trusted her and could fully let my guard down the way I could with my true friends. There was always that inkling of doubt and distrust whenever I shared any secrets with her or told her any personal experiences and that was enough for me to want to sever all ties and start anew. I told her we couldn’t be friends because I didn’t trust her and her reaction only solidified my decision. She started off by saying it didn’t matter. We didn’t need trust to be best friends because, after all, she didn’t really trust anyone. When I told her that wasn’t who I am and that to me trust was the defining quality of a closeness of this sort she went mad, yelling and cursing at me, screaming that she hated me and never wanted to see me again. Before hanging up on me, I heard her sniffle, trying to hold back tears I assumed as she said “You’ll regret this. You have no idea how much you need me.”
With that it ended. I never saw her again. That night she apparently drove her car into a telephone pole. The autopsy said her blood alcohol content was at almost 1.5 and there was a bottle of pills found on the car seat, open, and half empty. I’ll never know if she did this because of me, if our friendship really mattered to her, or if she was merely unstable, a victim of reality but I do know that the creeping notion that it was my fault will stick with me for the rest of my life. That night I cried. Not so much over her loss, but over the loss of another innocent youth, someone who possibly could have been saved had her circumstances been different. For the next few days I stayed in my room refusing to come out. I didn’t go to the wake and coming to the park with Kasey was the first effort I made for any sort of human contact.
“I asked God why he would take someone away so young.”
“Sometimes there are no answers,” Kasey said, “sometimes things just happen.
“That’s because there is no God. We are in this world on our own and we have to face this daily struggle to survive by ourselves with no supernatural force to protect us. The only true protection we have is the support of our friends and family. Relying on God or Heaven or Hell is just a waste of time.”
And that is how I have felt ever since. That night taught me to live life day by day because there might not be anything to live for after we die which can be all too soon, and more importantly, I learned to spend as much time as I can with those I love and not waste effort on those that bring us down whether physically or emotionally.