When the man became a man,
his dog became despondent, having been a man himself
for quite some time. "A fine
thing to do at our stage of life,"
he said. Best friends with the man
for many years, he understood
the strange things likely to happen
when a man became a man.
The TV would go for one thing
and who knew what else after.
He wasn't about to wait around
and watch the transformation.
He packed up his bones
in their matching bone cases,
dusted off his real-estate license,
and headed down the road.
~ Garret Keizer
My closest friend my last year of high school was Maeve. Having been raised in a very conservative household (curfew at 10 until I graduated, 5-minute phone limit, straight A’s were not only encouraged but expected), Maeve was a revelation – a solid-C student, she smoked, she drank, she dyed her blonde hair dark red with henna. She drove a ’77 Volkswagen mini bus and had sex in the back of it with her neo-hippie boyfriend. Her parents were divorced! She was glamorous and exciting and edgy. All the things I was not but wanted to be.
By the end of my senior year, having studied closely under her tutorial, I had remade myself. I moved out of my parents’ house before graduation. I was 17 and had a 30-year-old jerk boyfriend. I cut the long ropey braid that hung down my back into a short pixie and bleached it white. I smoked, I drank. I gave up the full-ride writing scholarship to a “good school,” quit my job at Pizza Hut and Maeve and I hit the road for San Diego where her older sister let us crash on a blow-up mattress on her living room floor. I got a regrettable tattoo in La Jolla. I got a tan. I dipped my toe into adulthood, and without plans, without goals, I felt listless and deeply out-of-sorts.
When we moved back to Idaho at the end of the summer (Pizza Hut savings don’t go very far), I went back to work and scrambled to enroll in the local state college. Maeve took dead-end job after dead-end job, but a schedule, and working, wasn’t really her style. She got involved with men who called her in the middle of the night for sex. They were always breaking her heart with promises they never made and she would spend hours on my couch crying or ranting. She drank, she smoked, she got high, she had sex without protection. She got a DUI. I was constantly helping her out financially, and on more than one occasion I took her to Planned Parenthood or bought her pregnancy tests at the Rite Aid.
Our friendship was emotionally and financially taxing. I loved Maeve and I wanted her healthy and happy. I also knew that if I continued with the friendship finding my own health and happiness would be a challenge. She would get pregnant and I would be a caregiver for the child. She would get in a car wreck, drunk, and get hurt, or go to jail. She would keep me up late on a night I had a test, or show up at my work fucked up. I no longer saw Maeve as glamorous and exciting and edgy - Maeve was a loser, and by association, I was a loser, too.
One evening, after a week-long drama about some guy, I listened to Maeve’s trembly voice on the answering machine when I got home from a long day at work. I didn’t return her call. Nor did I pick up the phone when she called late that night. For a couple of days, I told myself, I just need a break from Maeve. She called and called and called. The messages were whiney, and then anxiously worried, then hostile. Just a couple days more, I told myself, and I’ll call her back and apologize. A week went by, and then another. Her calls dwindled to every other day, then once a week. She had a mutual friend call me. I still didn’t respond. Daily, I would find myself missing her, wondering how she was, I’d see something in a store that I knew she’d like and I’d be tempted to buy it for her. I thought about calling her. About sending her a letter. I never did.
I heard through the grapevine that she got pregnant. She had a baby girl. Someone told me she was working at the Burger n’ Brew. For two years I thought of her every single day. And then I didn’t.
Just this spring I got another tattoo, one I don’t regret at all. Right under my sternum, two interlocking padlocks with heart keyholes. The locks represent loyalty – which I consider my best personality trait – and my worst. This trait has taken me into fearful dark places with regrettable people and provided me the satisfaction of being a faithful friend, a fiercely devoted granddaughter, and a dedicated girlfriend. Once I have given myself over to a friendship or a relationship, I am steadfast and committed. I will endure challenges, face adversity, and do whatever it takes to serve our joint greater good. Or I'll hitch my wagon to a man who'll leave me without a map in Las Cruxes.
I’ve recognized the dichotomy of my good loyalty and bad loyalty tendencies since I ended that friendship with Maeve. And, I wish I could say I learned a valuable lesson and that since, I’ve only bestowed loyalty on those who have earned or deserved it. But, it wouldn’t be true. I’m becoming suspicious that it’s a lesson I will have to learn and re-learn my whole life.
Not being loyal to the people I love is almost inconceivable to me; I think of love and loyalty as the two strands of a double helix, intertwined, inseparable. So when presented with people who think and act differently it feels alien and confusing.
I’ve written and written about my relationship with Rocco. Maybe more than I’ve written on any of my other exes. It’s been the hardest relationship in my recent past to process and I’ve thought a lot about why it left me feeling like I did (and do). Angry. Why do I hate him so much? I’ve been in relationships that have ended where I still think fondly of the other person and I wish them well. I’ve dated guys that I think are good, honest people and just because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean that I think they are bad, lying people. I have a not insignificant number of friends that are exes. I think it must be because I was loyal to someone who was, at heart, a deeply disloyal person and that bugs the shit out of me. Rocco never did anything unless it was self-serving. He only ever acted selfishly, and often belligerently selfishly. He wasn’t generous. He wasn’t thoughtful. He never did anything out of the goodness of his heart. He acted out of obligation. He knew he should do things, and he would, but he was resentful of having to do, and be, those things. He was put out if he was expected to give a gift, to me, to anyone. It was annoying to him to spend time with my friends and family. He was critical of my loyalties to others and discouraged me from acting on them. And still, I picked him, I was forgiving and understanding, and I spent a year trying to make it work. In the end, he did exactly what you'd expect a disloyal person to do: he cheated on me and then walked away. Unapologetic. Unfeeling. Unconcerned.
I wasn’t oblivious to his giant personality flaws when we were dating, but because I’m a sympathetic and empathetic person, I gave him a lot of free passes. It seemed (and still seems) possible that nobody had ever shown him the support of fidelity so he just doesn't get it. And while I took his lack of loyalty personally, maybe I wasn’t good enough to have garnered his devotion, I see now that he wasn’t just lacking as a boyfriend: he wasn’t a loyal family member, he was a crappy friend, a crummy parent, he was universally disliked at work and by people he knew socially. He wasn't even a good dog owner. He cared more about his car than any living thing in his life.
He may have loved me, anyway, he said he did, but he never proclaimed loyalty, and when his actions proved his lack, I should have kicked him to the curb immediately. Love without loyalty is a shoddy structure. A cartoon wolf can blow it down.
I learned one thing from Maeve and that is that once I end something, it’s done. My loyalty is extinguishable, and while it is fierce, it is not unconditional. I can turn out the light and close the door. I haven’t stopped thinking about Rocco and how disgusted our relationship and break-up made me feel and WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING. Except for responding to a couple of emails, since we broke up, I have not had any contact with him. I haven’t emailed or called Rocco, texted him, nor have I looked at his Facebook page. And when he started following me on Instagram three weeks ago (which, luckily, he has since stopped doing) I was not even tempted in the slightest to review his photos. It made me sick to my stomach and I was horrified that he was still lurking around. I have avoided giant swathes of town, restaurants, events, any place he might go, in hopes that I never have to see him again. I can count on one hand the number of beers I’ve had (also, it’s fattening). He hurt me twice and he wasn’t worth even once. Or a half of once. My loyalty, my love, my fondness, my kindness, my curiosity and interest about him was a massive waste of time and effort.
I’ll admit it. It’s obvious. I have exceptionally bad taste in men (thankfully, I’ve made much better choices in friends). I have a habit of picking the absolute worst boyfriend for myself, every time: if there’s a guy with a borderline personality, a commitment–phobe, a pathological creep, an abusive asshole, I will inevitably decide that that is the guy for me. And I will proclaim my love and loyalty on the highest hill at the top of my lungs. Though I have very little faith that I can be trusted to make a better decision, I’m do hope that the lovely lady luck with present me with a better, more loyal and lovable man. Eventually.
That’d be pretty cool.