By Ryan Jo Summers
Relationships; what a complex, important aspect of our lives. I can think of at least five relationships very significant to me. I will give them each a succinct page space. Years of emotions reduced down to a few paragraphs apiece.
First is my mother. My original birth mother had determined a baby was too much of a fun spoiler and the woman I always called mom had adopted me when I was three months old. A confidant in my younger years, she amazingly abandoned me in my late twenties. Giving no warning that I could see, she suddenly moved, along with my brother and his family, and left no forwarding address. Stunned, confused and shattered, I spent years wondering what I had done that was so terrible. I felt like an orphan.
Finally, a few years ago we reconnected. It has been a painful, slow and emotional reconnection, complicated by a distance of about a thousand miles and many unresolved questions. What did I do so wrong? I often wonder if I really had been such a terrible daughter or is the fault not wholly mine? There are obstacles and barriers I cannot find my way around. Sometimes lately I am wondering how much longer I should even try. My latest visit this past August made me realize it is possible for some to simply outgrow their families. But in good conscience, I cannot just walk away, closing the door behind me.
Many of my friends are dealing with aging parents, sharing their cares and concerns. I listen longingly. Compared to alienation and the infrequent and complicated conversations my mother and I have, I sometimes find myself jealous of my friends. The recent acknowledgment that we will never regain our earlier closeness leaves a gapping, bleeding hole in my soul. I am at a loss how to end the pain. It makes me sometimes think my time spent with them, never fitting in, had either been a waste of my youth or meant to mold me into who I am today. While I try hard not to dwell on the loss, the pain finds ways to invade my daily thoughts, leaving fresh trails of questions with no answers, a renewed sense of failure and cold emptiness.
The most recent crashing blow was in October. My birthday came and went. I had expected at the very least a simple card with a generic message. I was looking for at least the thought, not the pictures and prose. A call would have been nice too, to acknowledge the significance of the day. I was left open mouthed with surprise when the day came and passed with no card and no call. No indication I crossed her mind at all. Oddly though, it made the lovely cards and thoughtful calls I did receive all the sweeter for the glaring lack of hers.
Her birthday follows mine by about two and half weeks. I spent the time wondering how to handle it. Finally I called, deciding to be the bigger person. I left a polite message on her cell phone. Within moments, my phone rang, her number on the screen. Smiling, I offered up the politest ‘hello’ I could and was immediately rewarded with a hollow click. I swear my heart actually stopped beating as I processed what had just happened and saw with shocking clarity how locked and barred that door had just become.
A pleasant take away from my married years was a full and satisfying relationship with my father-in-law. When the marriage ended, our friendship grew stronger. I treasure the phone calls when we hold our coffee cups and reminisce on the past. He says I’ve given him happy fantasies and shown him what love looks like. I say he gave me true acceptance and showed me what unconditional love looked like.
Now he is in hospice, moving to a nursing home. After so many years of him being there for me, I am angry at the demons I cannot change for him. Again, distance is not our friend. This summer’s visit opened my eyes to undeniable truths the phone calls had veiled. So I wait now for the phone call that says our relationship has come to an end. But I am grateful fate gave us the time we did have together and the precious memories, like coffee and conversation around the table and sharing dinners of KFC. I will never forget the day we got water from a rock while stringing fence posts or when the barn plumbing sprung a leak of flooding proportions and we had no clue where the shut off was. We soon moved the shut offs to a more proper location. And in my heart, I know I can never look at a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken the same again.
Fate also brought me a special person several years ago. Our relationship was born from an unlikely origin but we ended up sharing a house and a life. We fought and we loved as only we could. Our close friends often remarked we seemed more like brother and sister or an old married couple than just good friends. We wondered why we never grew intimate when every finger pointed to the fact that we should have. Life was both enjoyable and challenging with my friend. We butted heads over many issues, laughed at endless situations and always had each other’s back—eventually.
We bounced between being friends and being fiends. We had highs and lows, ups and downs and I would not have traded much of it. I do believe the battles and emotions then made me a more mature, more patient person now. I have more compassion and empathy. The many memories of our time together stays with me like a warm blanket on a cold night. And sometimes they seem more like a thin blanket full of holes on an even colder night. But regardless of the feelings, the memories are an ingrained part of the time we shared a life together.
Today he is far away, reunited with his family and doing so well. I miss him to the point of tears, pray repetitively and savor the occasional communications. While we know we can’t live together, we also agree we will always hold a unique space in each other’s heart and memory. And in the deep recesses of my mind, I silently wonder—maybe someday …
And sometimes fate can be uncommonly kind. Many years ago, I had a great job with good friends. They came and went and ultimately we would lose touch as it sometimes happens. But one has stayed true. She worked there for a while before her retirement. Instead of parting ways, we ended up becoming the closest of friends. She has joked, saying she is my ‘udder mudder’, knowing of my prior maternal failures. Indeed, she has been at my side in medical emergencies, making those decisions and looking out for me, fulfilling the role of family. When I had no place to stay, she and her husband graciously allowed me to stay with them until I could find my new home.
It is an indescribable feeling of happiness to know the door is always open for me there. Within those walls, with those people, I have found acceptance of who I am, not needing excuses or reasons and feeling a true sense of love that for many years had been lacking, especially in those early ones. Help, if I need it, is only a phone call away. And there will be no repercussions later for asking. I count it an honor and pleasure to spend time at the holidays with them. Even just stopping by only to chat is richly fulfilling.
After failing so miserably with two other mothers, I wonder what I finally did right.
The final relationship is a paradox. It is with myself. In my younger years, I had been vibrant, strong and full of energy. Suddenly, one day, I awoke with some bizarre symptoms.
Over the weeks and months, the symptoms continued to come, spreading and multiplying at alarming rates. I endured a battery of tests, repeated tests, paraded before endless lines of doctors and spent considerable time in the hospital and emergency rooms.
In short, my body has betrayed me. It defies my wishes, leaving me aching and exhausted on a daily basis, taunting my mind with memories of what I once was—and will never be again. Because of my body’s infirmities, I am forever changed. Not just by routine aging but by chronic conditions that can only be managed and never cured. Managed is a bit of a misnomer in the sense it takes a lot of combined effort on the part of doctors, medications and myself to keep me functioning on a daily level.
I feel as though my body and my will are two different entities who happen to share the same space. Sort of being trapped in an elevator with the person you like least in the world. To be honest, there are days I just want a divorce from my body. Like a barely tolerated co-worker, I just wish it would go away, forever, letting me get back to what was before its interference.
However, since that is impossible, and I am stuck with this body, I try making efforts to co-exist peacefully. I make better dietary choices, avoid bad vices, (though I am still a non-reformed chocolate addict) and I exercise when I can. I work on the rest-stress-work ratio, find balance and maintain my focus. I have learned to listen to those subtle signals, cueing me something needs to be altered or something is changing. And some days it all aligns right and other days it does not. Some days I feel good and can find a sense of accomplishment and smile at the world at large. Other days my body and I are at odds once more. Sibling rivalry, quarrel, whatever one wishes to call it, I don’t like my body and want that divorce again. But since that is not an option, I must both endure and persevere.
Relationships are complex, molding and shaping us emotionally by the experiences we have with each one. Some last a season, forever changing us for the time spent. Others last years, maybe a lifetime. Each one, for whatever the length we spend actively in them, leaves its special touch on us. Each individual contact will affect how we govern our future relationships, how we value them or don’t, how much we invest in them and what we both give and take away from them. This will continue for the rest of our lives.
Like birth, breathing and death, relationships are an integral part of our lives, inescapable and undeniable. If we are smart, we will learn early on to value and protect good ones and release the bad ones and to quickly spot the differences.
Ryan Jo Summers is a WNC writer. Her short work has appeared in ‘WNC Woman Magazine’, ‘Vet Tech Journal’, ‘Critter Magazine’, ‘Journey Devotional’ and on line e-zine ‘Wend’. Black Lyon Publishing released her debut fiction novel last year. Readers may follow her blog at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her website at