Cleaving and Clinging
I may be the only person in America who has never watched Star Trek, which explains my puzzlement many years ago when I first heard about a Klingon. The term refers to an alien species devoted to war, but I imagined a Cling On was not so subtle lingo for someone who couldn’t let go. Someone exactly like me.
Flash way forward to a friend who moved to Colorado around the time I returned to LA, and an email composed in the red-hot aftermath of reading one of her wonderful short stories. I was impressed, depressed, overrun by emotion. It is precisely this moment when a Cling On should save her email as a draft and go for a walk.
The enterprise was fraught for a number of reasons. I felt guilt for having put off reading my friend’s collection until I finished my novel. Dogs were featured in both and I didn’t want to borrow unconsciously from her material, but is that any way to celebrate the publication of a friend?
My praise was mixed with envy. She had written the best story ever composed in the history of the world featuring a dog. He sits on your chest, his face to your face. Slobbering. Panting. Grinning, it seems. Nothing I could write would ever come close, no matter how many Beagle Pack Meetups I shadowed. The last dog I owned was over 38 years ago, a time so far away that the memories had grown sluggish.
Most importantly, I flat out missed my friend. Nobody understood so fully the nuances of a life spent locked away from the world. She could disable writerly self-doubt by telling a great story on herself to make you laugh. The list of her qualities continued. My email was too long, too ardent. I agonized and clicked the send button anyway.
It took three days of silence for anxiety to make my mind its home. I wondered whether I had read the story when it first came out and forgotten about it. Worse still, had I praised her work without having read it? I honestly couldn’t remember. The real crime probably lay in being so earnest. I had dumped a huge shipment of sincerity on my friend’s doorstep and she did what any sane person would do and ignored it. I read the offending email out loud to my husband.
“It’s so awful.”
He took another sip of his Kombucha and rolled his eyes.
“No wonder she hasn’t written back.”
I blamed him for letting me send it, even though he hadn’t been given a vote, and stomped off.
The writhing escalated the morning of the sixth day when I checked my inbox and found nothing from my friend. If it hadn’t been for a dinner invitation from a mutual pal, I would have spent the entire weekend in a knot of self-loathing. Part of me worried about whether our host had already been told of this incident.
Malibu, or at least our friends’ Malibu, is miles away from anything so messy as this. I ate our host’s delicious Risi e Bisi and stared at the darkening Pacific from the terrace, praying she hadn’t heard of this fiasco. We took our drinks to the outdoor fireplace and sank into comfortable couches.
“Have you read the David Brooks piece on letting go?”
It was all I could do not to rush inside for a furtive search on my iPhone. I learned when I got home that the title of the piece was aptly called “Leaving and Cleaving.” While Gawker can only speculate as to what this piece is about, I do not find the piece mystifying. It is written about and for Cling Ons who cannot let go.
We all know men and women who stalk ex-lovers online; people who bombard a friend with emails even though that friendship has evidently cooled…
How many similar missives had I sent my friend? I checked my sent mail and, sure enough, there it was — a plaintive, whiny response to a reasoned decision to remove her name from the mailing list for a monthly lunch group she will no longer be attending for the tiny reason that she lives in Colorado.
Communication that was once honest and life-enhancing has become perverted — after a transition — by resentment, neediness or narcissism.
I mourned her absence shamelessly, as one might do in the sixth grade when a buddy abruptly decides to take her lunch to another corner of the playground. Brooks didn’t capitalize the word neediness because he didn’t have to. It lay there throbbing in the middle of resentment and narcissism.
The person left behind also probably thinks that the leaver is making a big mistake.
Brooks falters here, but who wouldn’t? His judgment is clearly is off after days of steadily deleting emails and defriending one, or those, no longer held dear. I checked in with Facebook for the first time in weeks, waiting for the other shoe to drop. She hadn’t defriended me yet, but my former friend was right to get the hell out of Dodge.
Yet if the whole transition is going to be managed with any dignity, the person being left has to swallow the pain and accept the decision.
I announced my intention to become a new, noble me to my husband, who was bent over a refrigerator shelf.
“You forgot to get eggs. What am I supposed to eat for lunch?”
To cleave is human, to cling doubly so. I forgave myself and decided to focus on the bright side of the imbroglio. How do you maintain new friendships while nurturing the older ones as the years go on? I would get a lot more work done, now that my list had shrunk. Maybe I would be able to reread the draft of my novel with fresh eyes.
The next morning I swept a pile of papers from the folding chair in my husband’s study and plunked myself down. He turned down the sound on the horror film he was watching.
“I have a new resolution.”
“Can’t it wait for New Year’s?”
“I’ll never second-guess another friend again.”
My friend’s e-mail was lush with apologies and writing wisdom. It included optimism about my own work and plans for lunch when she’s next in LA. It had taken me 12 days to learn dignified comportment à la David Brooks, and two minutes to watch it dissolve. I slobbered like the dog in my friend’s short story, tremulous with gratitude. I reread it again for good measure and rolled up my sleeves for more work on a novel that wasn’t that horrible after all.