We viewed each other as projects. And in the end, became better for it. (Part 3)
When I told Jade about the breakup she wasn’t in the best of places either. Mr. Cute and Boring hadn’t worked out, and she was accumulating unfulfilling relationships. When she and I arrived at a liquor store one night, she insisted I enter by myself, because she was afraid the cashiers would judge her at seeing another new companion. You know how you get, I said. But it was no joke. She was spiraling.
Intending to cheer each other up, we had a Saturday of delights. After an afternoon of prosecco and wine, we welcomed the night with Miller Lites and vodka. I told her about the progress I was making in therapy. She told me about her recent struggles with drinking, with men, with sadness. Even though she had spent her entire adult life in therapy, I realized that she still had unexplored areas of her psyche, one of them being the man who occasionally reminded her of “how she gets.” She had once pushed me to address my illusions, so I pushed her. We did this safely, of course. Over giggles. And shots of vodka.
The conversation started with her most recent breakup. The relationship had been going well until she began poking holes in it. Eventually, like the others, it blew up. It seemed kind of self-sabotaging, I said, suggesting that maybe on a subconscious level it had something to do with feelings of abandonment she had with her father, and a fear that men who gave her love were destined to take it back. Unless she took it back first, which she always made sure to do.
We moved to the couch and spent an hour analyzing texts from her most recent boyfriend. I became frustrated, impatient, and took her by the face. “My God, you’re so caught up in your own head,” I said. “This isn’t … living.” I pointed to the park through her window. “Do you ever just look at the sky, feel the grass?” I was playing the role of sage, but it felt more real than the days when I regurgitated axioms on our porch.
We walked to the park outside and laid on the grass, watching her dog bounce from bush to bush. Again, I was reminded of The Painted Veil, the contrast between Kitty Fane at the beginning and the end. Kitty had achieved a mental calmness by the end. She was mature, redeemed. She was beautiful. I wondered if Jade would ever get there. It was my wish for her. And, if it happens, maybe I’ll fall in love with her. Who knows, if that time comes, maybe she’ll fall for me.
Around two in the morning, I stumbled to the couch. Peering into the kitchen, I watched her knock down one shot, then another. She slid onto the couch beside me, feet to head. We rambled. We laughed. Then the kissing started. In two years of knowing each other, which included a year of living together, we’d never once been physical. Now we were giving each other sensations. It lasted three minutes before we reminded ourselves that we were friends, and friends don’t give each other sensations.
We moved past it. No big deal. It happens. But she continued with the bottle-of-wine-a-night policy. She had more flings. More sadness.
And then she disappeared.
My texts went unanswered. Calls went to voicemail. That sinking feeling. Jade had always considered modern life insufferable, so much so that she said she welcomed a freak catastrophic accident, which would free her from this cruel, responsibility-filled world. Had she gotten the accident she had always desired? Or had she taken matters into her own hands?
I called her mom. “We’re in Colorado,” she said. At a treatment center for depression.
I was relieved. I told Jade’s mother that I thought her daughter was brave, and I was proud of her. I told her to give her my best and said I would be there for her on the other side. A month later Jade returned from Colorado. We had dinner that weekend on an outside patio at a restaurant in Back Bay. It was a warm summer evening. “What happened?” I asked.
She told me that she had gone to a dark place – the wine, the flings, one had been too forceful. But was she was feeling better. Her job had been discontinued in her absence, but she was on the hunt and had scheduled an interview for a new job with higher pay and managerial responsibilities (she works there now). She bought a keyboard, and was most fond of Beethoven. She was attending spin classes twice a week and looked slimmer and more athletic. She was also in the process of reconciling with her first boyfriend, having visited him in Utah to try and mend the wounds he had unwittingly left.
When we got back to her apartment, she played Fur Elise for me on her keyboard. After, we sprawled out on the couch, and unexpectedly gave each other a new type of sensations.
We played The Love Game.
Jade brought up the last night we saw each other before she went away. “I remembered you said that I should look into the real reasons my relationships fail, directing my attention to my father. That became the focus of my work in Arizona.” She said she never truly considered how her dad had impacted every relationship she’d had. “You’re insight started me in the direction of doing the real reflecting I’ve always needed to do.”
I thanked her for pushing me during our sessions on the porch. I told her that the cathartic nature of The Hate Game was likely the reason I had sought out therapy, and both had given me a better perspective on myself. While I still dropped the occasional bon mot from my readings, I thought I was less clichéd and pedantic. I didn’t take myself as seriously as I once had. It was also quite possible that, because of her, I had become more capable of compassion, a far cry from the days of pretending that I didn’t know anything about sadness or loneliness. If nothing else, my fashion sense had certainly improved.
“And maybe I helped you realize what a brilliant friend you are,” she said. I was thinking the same thing about her. “It’s because of friends like you that struggling people can hold on to hope,” she continued. “You showed me that I don’t have to feel so alone. And that is the best thing in this world.”
It’s been a few years since I was introduced to The Hate Game, but I always try and remember its purpose, which is to point out the bigger issues within ourselves. Jade and I live in different cities now, but occasionally we visit each other. When I arrive, we embrace and take turns squeezing her dog’s squirming face. Then we retreat to the proverbial porch by taking a walk through the park. There, we look at the sky, feel the grass and play The Hate Game, with love.