Monday, January 24, 2011

Something or someone I can live without

My answer to this, having mulled it over, is very similar to the entries in which I talked about the person who has treated me like shit and the people who make life difficult (bullies, frenemies, etc.).

But in the spirit of uncomfortable truth, I can elaborate on someone else, someone who is a fine person on her own, but who wants me to give her more than I am able.

Back in another one of my past incarnations, I worked with dogs. I volunteered at a shelter and was told that I have a talent for dealing with animals. Fair enough. I trained shelter dogs to have good manners so that they'd more easily find a home. Then a big-time dog trainer named Ian Dunbar, who lives in Berkeley, set up a program at the Berkeley Humane Society, where I was volunteering. Soon I found myself teaching puppy Kindergarten classes two nights a week. It was fun; I liked the puppies and families, and I felt good knowing that I was helping these dogs stay in their homes.

One family came with their puppy, a mother, father, and young twenty-something daughter, whom I'll call Chloe. They were lively and friendly. The daughter was not quite all there; I sensed some lack of social awareness in her pushiness, but I was all about being pushed around back then. Seriously pushed around. The puppy class office gave her my telephone number, and before long, she was calling me four times a day. I didn't have the heart to tell her I was too busy to talk. I knew things were not quite right when she asked me to come spend the night. I was 34, pregnant and married, not 12. Her mother finally told me that she had a learning disability, but that she had the cognition of an 18-year-old. Over the next three and a half years, it became evident that her issues ran much deeper than that. We would set up dates for her to help me with my kids, and she'd not show up or not be home when I called. I was being stretched to my limit by the four to five phone calls a day, usually about nothing. I sensed how desperately this young woman wanted a friend, but it was more and more evident to me that I could not be that friend. Her mom encouraged me to let her babysit my elder son. I thought this meant the mom and daughter would do it together, but once I came over to pick him up and I saw him through the window, playing alone in his Pack-n-Play downstairs, with Chloe nowhere to be seen. I rang the doorbell, she didn't come. I called her phone, she didn't come. Finally, I knocked as loudly as I could. She had been upstairs in her room with headphones on.

That's when I realized that I was taking care of this woman's feelings--giving her a job, making her part of my life--at the price of endangering my son. Enough was enough, even with my terrible self-esteem.

I decided that we could get together for meals, but she canceled on me again at the last minute one day. That was it. I told her that I couldn't continue with our friendship, that I had so little time in my day with two small children I didn't have time for five phone calls or trips to go pick her up when she wasn't there. I realized, deep in myself, that I was letting this woman BULLY me in to a friendship. How sad for both of us. She didn't take what I said well at all. We still live in the same town, and she still wants to try. She would friend me on Facebook all the time, and I'd ignore her. The first time, I gave her a careful, polite response and told her why (not that I think she has the cognitive development to understand it, truthfully). I finally had to block her.

She still adds my husband about once a week, but he doesn't have the heart to ignore her. That's his business, I suppose.

While I see that she doesn't have many friends, and that it must be very hard to be developmentally disabled with a mental age of 12, it's not my job to take care of her. I feel for her, honestly I do, but I can really, really, really live just fine without her.

It makes me feel more than a little bit terrible deep inside to think that I let her down--she just cannot understand boundaries. I can't blame someone for something that lies beyond their capability, right? But I tried as hard as I could to be her friend for three and a half years, and I was worn down. My life is very messy and complicated, and she, moreover, lives in a family that espouses racist and homophobic ideas, two things that I abhor. I felt like I couldn't be myself around her, and that was WORK.

Some people are blessed with what it takes to work with special needs people. I am not one of those, and to be completely and brutally truthful, I would have aborted either of my sons if tests had indicated that they had Down Syndrome. I don't necessarily like this about myself, but I know what my limits are in terms of patience and strength. I would make a terrible parent for a child with Down Syndrome, and my husband felt the same way about himself.

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