Flower On The Grate

There was a man crossing the road today who was carrying a bunch of flowers. A group of kids crossing from the other side of the road weren’t looking where they were going and bumped into him. As a result they dislodged the head of one of his flowers which fell, spiralling onto the grate on the stormwater drain. It stayed there for an instant, like an adornment on a birthday present before slipping into the murky water below.

If I were writing a play about my life this week one of the acts would be called The Flower On The Grate. The thing you want that is just bound to slip away.

Jillian and I haven’t spoken for six years. We parted ways due to her abusive, drunken husband. I watched for years as he abused her emotionally, but mostly physically. I took her to hospital more times than I can remember, packed up her things for an escape more times than I care to remember. But she wouldn’t leave him.

It led to the break down of our friendship. I ended up not being able to take her taking it anymore. It made me ill. It made me angry. I prayed every night for years that her husband would die in an accident or just simply die. But he kept on living. And drinking. And beating her.

Six years. That’s a long time to pretend you don’t know someone when you see them in the street. I used to walk past her house sometimes, listening, straining my ears for any sounds of conflict inside. I used to get my son to spy on her son in the school yard for any signs of bruising or abuse.

Even when you say something is over it is hard to end it completely.

Jillian rang me for my birthday back in May. It made me really happy to hear from her. I know it took her a lot of courage to call. All the worries I had harboured for six years melted away with that phone call. I thought that maybe we could give our friendship another try.

We’ve had coffee several times over the last few months and it has gone well. We have chatted and laughed just like the old days. But…..

There has to be a but in this situation because Jillian’s husband is still very much in her life and we hedge around him and hedge around him, pretending he isn’t there but knowing all the while that he is. He is the literal blight on the landscape, fly in the ointment, thorn in our sides.

If we are to re-establish our friendship we can’t keep ignoring him. We have to talk about him, but it was the talking about him that got us into difficulty in the first place.

How can you be friends with someone if you don’t accept some aspect of their lives? Imagine if you were someone who didn’t like children so you stipulated that every time you saw your friends with children they weren’t allowed to bring their children or talk about their children.

How can you impose terms and conditions upon a friendship and expect it to work? How can I say to Jillian : I’d love to see you and your son anytime, but your husband is virtually dead to me?

And then there is my husband to consider. He is not happy about me seeing Jillian again. She caused both of us a lot of stress when her husband’s drinking was at its worst. Her husband even took a swing at me one evening when I was helping Jillian get her things together in one of her bids to leave him.

Despite the buts I thought things might be OK. I was willing to give our new friendship a try. Until I saw him.

I saw him coming out of the pub on Tuesday as I was waiting for the bus. Drunk at 11 in the morning. Filthy drunk. I actually looked around for a weapon to defend myself with in case he saw me but all I could find was a plastic bottle and an old bus ticket. I could imagine the headlines – Woman defends herself against rampaging drunkard with a discarded plastic bottle and a bus ticket.

It’s not even funny to think of it.

I saw him and I knew that if I let Jillian back into my life I would let him in too. And I just can’t do it. I can’t go back to that place. Watching in the wings. It’s a play you’ve seen a hundred times before, that you keep hoping will end differently, but it never does. And the fact that it never ends differently destroys you more and more each time.

So I’ve had to let Jillian go. Again. I feel selfish. I feel sad. I feel guilty for feeling relieved.

Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. It’s the only consolation I have. Perhaps it was like the flower on the grate, slipping away before I could grasp it.

*Image by Aegis 13 at DeviantART
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35 thoughts on “Flower On The Grate

  1. She came back to you knowing full well what you think of your husband. She’s not around again because she wants you all to be friends, it’s because you are her safe haven and she knows when she’s with you, she’s not going mad with doubt and that you are honest with her.
    I think that she’s probably preparing to leave him, and even if it takes her years to do it, she wants your honesty, else why would she bother to try and mend the friendship?
    Be your honest good self.
    And sharpen the edges of that bus ticket.
    A paper cut can really hurt.

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  2. This is a sad story reminding me very much of a friend whom I have been avoiding for a very similar reason.
    You can’t help anyone unless they want to help themselves. It’s a huge waste of time and energy and affects the one trying to help in a most undesirable way. I know very well how you feel about it, but after all it’s not your fault. You are not even doing her a favour by showing concern and sympathy because perhaps this all she is after and will continue to nurture her experiencing herself as a helpless victim. Absurd as it is, this gives meaning to some people’s life. They can’t break the vicious circle because they are afraid of freedom. Freedom means taking responsibility for your life. Being a victim means you have no control and pass the responsibility to the victimizer. A third party must either get away from it all or they inevitably get involved into the circle and share all the negative impact.
    I believe you did the right thing. It will hurt though.

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  3. I think that Jillian knows by now if she really needs help, you will be there. But for now , not entering the event horizon of this black hole is wise.

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  4. You have no choice Sel. You have to let Jillian reach her “final straw” point (if she ever does). No one else can do that for her and sad to say, it might not ever happen that you can be friends again. I am sorry for your loss and most of all, I am sorry for Jillian’s loss. She’s lost so much in losing you as a friend and losing out on a better life for herself.

    Beautiful photo btw.

    Hugs, G

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  5. Sometimes you have to let go of the sinking ship because it can take you down as well. I have learnt to do that the hard way over the years. It still hurts plenty. My birthday is in May – what date is yours?

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  6. KATE:
    You wise woman you. You’re right. I didn’t think of it that way. Thank God I held on to that bus ticket. I had a paper cut once and it hurt more than when I sliced my finger when I was chopping onions. I’ll have him. I mean it.

    SHIONA:
    It’s so hard, isn’t it? Hard to know what to do for the best more than anything. I really don’t like deserting people, but sometimes self-preservation has to come into play. You’re right – it does hurt. More than I thought it would.

    PUNATIK:
    I have to stay out of that black hole. I really don’t feel strong enough to deal with having my atoms disassembled right now. Good grief!

    GERALDINE:
    I know. It might not ever happen. It’s so hard to think of it. I guess part of me has always hoped things could be resolved. Maybe one day.

    GABRIELLE:
    It really is a painful thing to deal with. I just don’t think I can do anything, anymore. Nothing seems to work.

    My birthday is May 10. Same day as Fred Astaire and Sid Vicious. When’s yours?

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  7. My birthday is May 16th 1966 (6 is a good number I’ve always thought). You have to look after yourself. They have to make their own decisions and it’s probably best if you don’t make it any easier for them – make a stand – if you are friends despite the hubby then you are giving them permission to continue on that path – an ultimatum is required. LIfe sucks!

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  8. Hi GABRIELLE,
    I’m 1965. You are so right – life does suck at times, but it’s great to be a Taurean. 🙂 I do believe that 6 is supposed to be a very lucky number. It’s always been quite good to me!

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  9. Oh dear! Poor Jillian. It is sooo hard to get out of a relationship when you feel like you are a nobody. I even found that when I was depressed so I dread to think what it is like if you are being abused.

    But no, you cannot do it for her. And if being her friend puts you at risk (which it clearly does) and makes you stressed and worried then you are right to back away. You must keep safe and sane.

    I suppose for me I do do friendships that are separate to people’s other lives. I generally see people on their own (people I consider real friends, I mean rather than chatting pals) and I know very little about their partners or children. I guess that probably seems odd to you but it works for me. So possibly someone like me might be able to stay friends with Jillian although I suspect she would suck too much out of me if she needed the friendship to talk through her fears about her life with her husband. And I certainly couldn’t cope with her husband out to get me.

    Oh I don’t know.

    But for you, yes, definitely best to steer clear. A brave decision but a sad one nonetheless.

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  10. Sometimes the healthiest decisions we can make seem selfish as well but they are not. We’re so conditioned to be a little bit co-dependent and put others first that we forget that it is okay to protect ourselves. 🙂

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  11. I don’t know about this Selma. I don’t think we need to accept everything about a person to love them. Why can’t you just be her friend and leave him out? Why is that wrong? Yes, if it is affecting your marriage that’s another thing. But a casual friendship. You don’t have to fix anything, it’s her life her problems. I just think there are so many kinds of human connections. She reached out to you for a reason, with not a small bit of courage.

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  12. Life is so complicated, yes. Jillian was lucky to have a friend like you — but unfortunately, you cannot make her see the light. You must accept that. But my question would be — do you choose not to get back with her because you worry about your own involvement with the abuse? Is it worth it to you to be friends — but remove yourself when it comes to him, their life? Can you? It’s all about choices….be content with your choice….

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  13. I read this post with mixed emotions. First, because above all I feel a selfish desire to protect YOU – you are priceless to a lot of people, and a rare and valuable person, and I don’t want to see you hurt.

    Second, I have BEEN Jillian. I know what it’s like to have my friends and family lose patience with me for not leaving. All I know is that I couldn’t leave until I could. Not that I didn’t want to. I didn’t have the strength. As much as it pains me to admit that, it was true.

    You know, I read something once where, like in meditation, you can “talk” to Jillian. Communicate your love and enjoyment of her, just love her and send her positive thoughts. And love. (Always love). But from a safe distance yourself.

    Sending you Nanna hugs!

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  14. We tried this … extending friendship to a woman in similar circumstances, but excluding her husband; he started putting it about that I was sleeping with her!

    All my friends (and my CO!) suggested make the break; I couldn’t bring myself to do it right away. We just saw her less and less … but we still felt bad about it.

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  15. She’s seeking a rock in you. And I’m sure you’ve been that, and would continue to be. But before you, she needs to find greater strength in herself. As much as you’d like, you can’t leave him for her. She needs to do that. And that’s what you’re showing her.

    I truly hope she manages it.

    In the meantime, love yourself, and love her. It’s the best you can do right now.

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  16. Six years is a very long time, Sel. …and I’m going to sound harsh here, but…Jillian has made her choices. No, she’s not well, and she’s made her choices from the mindset of a victim of abuse, but you have to do what’s safest and healthiest for you and your family. I know you realize that.

    I grew up with an abusive, alcoholic step-father. I saw what it did to my mom, and I watched – and experienced – her returning to him every.single.time. No, there is absolutely nothing more that you can do for her. It’s up to her now. Know that you did all you could, and then loved and respected yourself and your family enough to walk away again.

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  17. My heart actually clenched reading this Sel for so many reasons. I am sad for both you and Jillian that this ass hat of a husband has even managed to destroy a friendship that Jillian in particular must really have needed to have had the courage to contact you after such a long time.

    On the other hand you need to be safe Sel and knowing you as I do this would drag you into that dark place where nobody wants to go. Your family need you to be safe, happy and balanced and if you can’t be friends without it involving the rat bastard then you need to keep away for your sake and that of your family.

    You know I feel for Jillian having been there and done that. My heart literally breaks for her because I know the pain and fear she lives with. But….she needs to reach her limit and something tells me after so long living like that she is probably never going to.

    My advice would be to stick with your decision as much as I know it hurts you. The alternative will hurt you more, I really believe that.

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  18. Old Grizz has learned to face the difficult head on. I would let her know the frienshipe was OK one on one at a coffee shop.
    If she needs help after being beaten call the police. If she needs a shelter find her one. Do not ever go to her house. If he comes near you, scream rape and have him arrested.

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  19. RELUCS:
    It doesn’t seem odd at all. I have a number of friends where I don’t really get involved with their families and so on at all. We just keep it between ourselves. They’re mostly people I used to work with. Unfortunately, Jillian isn’t really happy for us to just keep having coffee. She wants family barbecues and things like that which just won’t be possible. It’ll cause a lot of conflict which none of us need. I guess I’ll just have to leave it for now.

    SNACKIEPOO:
    I agree. There is definitely some conditioning going on with me. I don’t like to let people down and in the past have put up with quite negative situations because I didn’t want to upset anyone. But you’re right – we do have to look after ourselves first sometimes.

    LAURI:
    I was all up for that in the beginning. But from her side it very quickly moved from just chatting and having coffee to organising days out and all that. Family days out. I don’t think you necessarily need to accept everything about another person’s life either but if there are things that make you uncomfortable there need to be limits. It’s hard because Jillian doesn’t seem to want to adhere to the limits. In a way I don’t know what to do.

    THE HURRICANE:
    I do worry about my own involvement. I worry that I’m going to get bopped in the head. I’m worried that Jillian is looking for someone to sort things out for her and that someone is me. If she will just stick to coffee we might have something to work with, but part of me wants to leave it completely….

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  20. NANNA:
    I know how hard it is for her to leave, for anyone to leave. There is so much more to it than just the abuse. I truly feel for you having gone through that and thank you for your kind words. I am really touched.

    I really like the meditation idea. I’m going to try it. I have tried a few things like that before and have found them to be quite beneficial!

    TRAVELRAT:
    That’s awful. You must have been angry and mortified at the same time. Sometimes an act of kindness can backfire, I know that all too well. And sometimes the only thing left to do is retreat. Even if it does make us feel bad. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

    MARY:
    Absolutely. What a wise, kind, thoughtful group of readers and friends I have. It’s brilliant!

    JENNIFER:
    What a lovely comment. It’s true, I can’t leave him for her (much as I’d like to). She knows I’m here for her anytime but I just don’t need any aggro at the moment. Zen, lotus flowers floating on the river. That’s what I’m after!

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  21. JONAS:
    You’re right. I wish there was a quick fix, but there isn’t. And it IS so hard to watch.

    STEPH:
    I really appreciate your comment because I KNOW you know what it’s like. Thank you for the last bit – I do need to do what’s best for myself and my family. In this case it’s not possible to tick all the boxes.

    GYPSY:
    Your intuition/insight is spot on yet again. I actually fear being plunged into the depths a bit with this one if I let things develop. And I really don’t want to go there. It’s a hard decision. It hurts. But in my heart of hearts I know it’s what I have to do. Thanks so much!

    GERALDINE:
    I will certainly do that!

    GROOVY:
    I love a Groovy hug. They are the best thing ever. Thank you!!

    OLD GRIZZ:
    You are so right. I just can’t get near that man. I might bop him and he might bop me. Who wants to put up with that kind of stress. Sage advice. And great to hear from you!!

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  22. I have a friend just like her. My friend also does not know how to take her life in her hands and has an abusive husband (drugs is the key here) who will probably kill her one day.

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  23. Wow.

    It’s so hard to let go of a friendship when you’ve put so much of yourself into it AND when you know another human being is in danger.

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  24. ROSHAN:
    I am sorry to hear that. I hope your friend is able to stay safe and that one day she has the courage to leave. I know how hard it is to see it happening.

    DANA:
    It’s well nigh impossible. I am finding it harder than I thought. I think I’ll just wait and see what happens.

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  25. “I saw him and I knew that if I let Jillian back into my life I would let him in too.”

    EXACTLY and YOU do NOT need that in YOUR life. You need to distance yourself from Jillian until she leaves him! Or until he’s gone.

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  26. I read this a few days ago but couldn’t comment because I am going through a similar circumstance, only in my case, I am having to let go of an entire group of women – I don’t want to, but I have to. It’s painful, but sometimes we just have to do what’s right for us, and let go the guilt and agony that goes along with it. Someday you’ll look back and see the mighty difference your choice has made on your life – and realize just how right it was.

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  27. MELEAH:
    You’re right. I know it. I just can’t go through that again. All my own stuff is stressful enough without having to deal with someone else’s. I have to leave it for now.

    TEXASBLU:
    I’m sorry you are experiencing something similar. It is very hard. It’s never easy to let people go. Never. I’ll be thinking of you.

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  28. Dear Selma,
    It’s poetic (and sadly true) to compare this aspect of life to that flower on the gate, but oh do I ache at the fleeting fragility and beauty (of a friendship lost) due to circumstances beyond your control. I’m so sorry this choice has to come to the reality of letting go.

    Please continue to heed your safety sense. This IS a man who could hurt you. You know the statistics. As for your friend, she knows you’re there (by phone) and someday, hopefully, she’ll come to her senses and knowingly get yourself out of this situation. Only then, could you resume a face to face friendship. Victims of domestic abuse have much trouble being survivors; no blame put here; I volunteered a lot with such folks; my heart goes out to them. It is so VERY difficult to break the cycle and walk away, but it can be done.

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  29. Sorry to hear about the problems with your friend. I think you are right to go with your instincts.

    It’s interesting what you say about the different levels of friendship. It’s a big step to move beyond ‘coffee’ friendship and I think it’s interesting that your friend didn’t seem to ‘get’ that boundary. Maybe a sign of the kind of person she is?

    I’ve known people like that too – people who you barely know but who want to have your families practically living together. Makes me very uncomfortable and I’m afraid I usually withdraw from the acquaintance at that point.

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  30. GEL:
    It is incredibly difficult to break away. I know it. I used to feel I could help, but now I know she has to do it alone. I feel like I’m deserting her in a way, but I really can’t handle any more stress in that area. I’m happy to continue to have coffee. So we’ll see how it pans out!

    PUDDOCK:
    I agree. I think you have to give things time to develop and not push it. She does seem to have trouble with boundaries. Good friendships take time. I am a little like you. It makes me uncomfortable too!

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