Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Difficult Friend

I didn't know how I was going to write about this subject. I had breakfast with someone I have known for sometime. He was in town for some meetings regarding a business matter and a short visit with his mother who is in a nursing home here in Portland. I always found it difficult to talk with him, and I have disguised this friend in here so no one will know who he is. I am not writing to criticize him, far from it because a lot of good came from that brief meeting. Maybe, I will see him again someday; and I visit his mother from time to time.

I will call him Joe and he comes from Portland although I met him in San Diego when I was growing up and then we lost touch until I met him again in Lawrence, Kansas where he was a college professor at the University of Kansas. He no longer works there as he lost his job there for some reason as he has lost all of his jobs down through the years. Luckily, he inherited a trust fund from his family, the same one that pays for the nursing home his mother is in.

He gave me a call and since I was finishing an art class I met him at a restaurant near the airport on his way out of Portland. He now lives permanently in New York City at an apartment he inherited from some relative.

I had not seen him for about ten years, but the first words I heard was a severe criticism of the way the West Coast makes coffee. Then the conversation went on to the horrible conditions of the airport here in Portland and then to the airline he was using. He was telling me how he could not find any employment because of all of the complicated paperwork it now takes to get work in New York City. He is trying to get work in other states, and it is the same thing. He feels he is too old now to get a decent job teaching.

When I tried to say anything he got very irritable with me and gave me the impression that he did not think I knew what I was talking about. He tried to collect Social Security but was not old enough yet and his physical problems were not extensive in themselves to get Social Security based on disability although he was 60 years of age. When I mentioned working overseas, he said that he tried that and the paperwork was even more complicated than the paperwork in this country. Finally, he admitted that he did not think he could pass a background check because he got arrested in a demonstration. I told him that those are misdemeanors and not a problem. Many people had them. He then told me he was convicted and instead of serving the sentence of community service he took off. When I told him to see an attorney and get it cleared up, he really got mad at me. It was all the fault of the system against people of his age and education.

He irritated the server by making demands when she was the only one on duty in the section of the restaurant. They were very busy. He was cold towards her and talked down to her. I was getting more and more upset as the breakfast progressed. Finally, I took him to the airport and dropped him off in front so he could catch his plane.

I came home and was very upset about the whole episode. Joe was far more irritable than he used to be since I last saw him. I know he has physical problems and I really did not know why he continued to keep in contact with me as he considered me beneath him in the scheme of things. His mother was like that as well but although she was also born and raised here in Portland she had no one who visited her at the home and I saw her occasionally since moving here. I brought her little presents that she looked down her nose at but what can I do? She liked the soaps I brought when I could find them though. You would think they came from the nobility of France or Spain instead of a insignificant family in New York. Still, they were friendly when I went to school at the University of Kansas and she lived there in Lawrence with her son.

Joe never married and had no children. His father died when Joe was in his late 20's. He was a businessman but his mother and Joe never talked about him. Of course, I saw him briefly when they lived in San Diego. I think he was in the importing business, but I was never sure. They lived down the street from where my parents lived in Chula Vista. He did go to Yale for his degrees which was paid for by his parents. I have no idea which side of the family had the trust fund that was paying his current living expenses.

To be honest, I don't remember Joe being involved with demonstrations but he could have been when he went to Yale. He wasn't very attractive and never did have many girlfriends although he certainly liked them. I was too busy working at the nickel and dime jobs I did to get me through college at the community and state colleges and universities I attended. I served in the military when that road ended when Ronald Reagan was governor in California. I attended the University of Kansas when I met up again with Joe. I never took a class from him which I will be eternally grateful as many people were not happy with them.

I felt so bad the next day after he left, I had to sit down and figure out why. I use writing meditation as the method. I was astonished at the reasons I felt the way I did at that breakfast meeting. It wasn't because of Joe himself. However, there were many issues and subjects undercurrent in that meeting that had nothing to do with Joe. They all had to do with me and my own experiences. As with most things that come up and bother us, the people we meet are just the messengers. It didn't make any sense to get mad at Joe for he was just being Joe although in a more concentrated form. I had to face the fact that Joe, like myself, was getting older.

Joe is irrational and always has been. He can be smiling one moment and then rear back like an angry stallion and kick you metaphorically in the face. My father was like that but far worse than Joe could ever be. I lived my whole life in abject fear of never knowing how he would react in any given situation. I did not have to say anything for him to suddenly take offense at something I said, didn't say or something he imagined I said. No one never knew what was going to happen. I hated coming home if he was home from work. My mother would react in anger to us kids when he wasn't there and be silent and unassuming when he was there. I thought I left all that behind when my father died. I did not appreciate it one bit spending time with Joe, but I said yes when Joe called me. I was also mad at myself for being there.

Growing up, I blamed myself for everything that happened. I did not realize that I did that until I started to journal about my breakfast meeting with Joe. Being a good co-dependent kid, I tried to manage everyone so that my father had fewer outbursts and my mother got mad less. Of course, I could not do that but I thought I could. My mother was always trying to tell us kids to keep quiet as if that did any good. It didn't. My father still had the outbursts, still drank and still beat up on everyone including her. There was no magic formula that would stop his behavior.

I continued these assumptions into my adult life. I believe that I held magical abilities to stop people from over-reacting and when I could not I blamed myself for their bad behavior. I thought it was my bad behavior that created Joe's bad reactions, bad decisions, self-deceptions. I am not to blame. What I am to blame is saying yes to Joe when he calls. I need to stop doing that because I don't enjoy the talks. He sits and blames everyone under the sun for his problems. That is ridiculous. He uses me as a sounding board for his bad decisions. Then he uses me to feel superior to what he sees as an inferior person. I really must stop this.

That is another assumption on my part. I think I can change him. This is something from my earlier life in which I felt I could change the situation from the bad one I was in to a better one. I can't. It is nothing I have any control over. The only person I have any control over is myself. Maybe I am doing the same thing he is and allowing myself to be around him so I can feel superior. I don't know. What I do know is I can't change him in anyway. I need to go somewhere else. Maybe I don't think I have the right to say no. Yes, I think that may be right. Well, I do. I like this bringing things into mindfulness, into the light of consciousness. I have the right to expect better things to do with my time and I don't have to deal with people who are not where I am. There is a whole world out there I can't change and it will continue long after I am gone.

As I said before, the breakfast with Joe was a meal in Hell; but it wasn't all that bad. I learned a lot from the experience. The part of it that was not enjoyable was not Joe's fault for he has not changed through the years. The fault was mine and that means I have the power to change things. I intend to do just that.

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