Do we ever really “get over it”?
By Elizabeth Cutright
A long time ago, in a galaxy farther away than I can even imagine, I had a friend who could never let things go. An argument was never simple or about the subject at hand. Instead, you had to go into any disagreement prepared to defend yourself against a myriad of real (but mostly imagined) monstrosities of character dating back to the inception of the universe.
You think I’m kidding.
Suffice to say, this reading of the scroll-of-sins was tedious and destructive. The friendship could not, ultimately, survive the constant reminders of past misdeeds, failures, roundabouts, and clusterfucks. It was near the end that an acquaintance mentioned the theory of sandbagging, and I finally realized the extent of the problem.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term as it relates to this sort of situation, “sandbagging” primarily involves one person in an argument wielding a metaphorical sandbag full of hurt and anger merely tangential to the current quarrel. A sandbagger will go through life with their sad-sack held in a steely grip, every moment filling it up with more and more of the cuts and scrapes and bruises inflicted by their fellow man. Any time the weight becomes more than the sandbagger can bear, it is unleashed on the very next interloper – often with disastrous results for all involved.
When you get sandbagged, it’s tough not to sandbag back – even if your Hobo-kerchief of injuries barely fits in the palm of your hand. If you lose self-awareness, the next thing you know you’re throwing back as good as your getting, and as my father always says, “when you keep score in a relationship, everyone’s the loser.”
On the other hand, you cannot dismiss the past altogether. Those wounds you’ve suffered, those damages you’ve worked so hard to mitigate…those lashes and knife-cuts that never quite heal correctly; they’re all part of who you are, and they influence your everyday life in ways both cryptic and conspicuous. The trick is to lighten the load as much as possible, and always always keep perspective.
Then again, sometimes, all of the elements align perfectly, and you suddenly find yourself right back in that same hell you thought you’d escaped. Only this time, maybe, it’s even worse. Not that you’re a great judge of these things at the moment, blinded as you are by the multiplied pain of reliving past harm and experience new and unexpected grievances.
When I was younger and exponentially more naïve, I suffered greatly at the hands of a wholly shocking betrayal. It was Halloween, and Fall had fallen softly and gently with whispery winds and leaves that crackled underfoot. I was taking a midday walk, happy in the cooler temperatures and taking the time to enjoy the decorations adorning the houses in the neighborhood near my office. My head was in the clouds as I’d previously reunited with a lost love and I was looking forward to days, weeks and months of hearty reconciliation.
All seemed right with the world.
I should probably mention, at this point, that my stroll had taken me to a part of town I didn’t usually visit – a choice that in retrospect seems full of portentous fate.
I turned a corner and noticed a family walking towards me on the other side of the street – mom and dad holding hands, with a young child skipping wildly ahead. She was in costume already, and I smiled as I remembered how much I’d looked forward to October 31st when I was a kid (it’s still one of my favorite holidays).
Then I got a closer look at “Dad”, and I recognized the face (though the stony countenance in reaction to my welcoming smile was confusing). It only took a few nanoseconds – the longest nanoseconds in the world – for my brain to thaw and send decode the message this tableau was shouting loud and clear.
It was all a lie. There would be no reconciliation. The insurmountable obstacles and moral ambiguities that had kept us apart still existed…were, in fact, stronger than ever.
And more than anything else, I was shocked at the powerful revelation that all I’d assumed – that my entire understanding of the universe and my place in it, actually – was incorrect.
I was a dupe. A dunce. A sucker and a fool.
That moment – clichéd and no doubt repeated every day in some form or another all over the world – was a life changer in a way that is disproportionate to the importance of the fiend himself. I’ve moved on from the person, but I wonder if I will ever genuinely trust my instincts in the same way. Perhaps my reality has been permanently destabilized.
Life is long, I always tell my friends, and you never know where you’re going to end up. Sometimes things that seem ever-fixed and unchangeable can transform overnight. Maybe that thing you thought would always haunt you one day just throws up its hands and descends quietly into its grave. They say nothing lasts forever, and maybe we come to terms with just about everything when the time is right.
Or not…I think I’m still undecided.
- Sandbagging: A Parable (theparish.typepad.com)