I clutched the sides of the restaurant's copper sink and stared at the river of mascara on my cheeks. I'd worn my best dress (albeit from Goodwill). We'd gone to the best restaurant. I'd expected to have the BEST time. But my old "friend" had said something terrible--especially since I'm fighting death. Despite reason, her words rang in my head: "I just thought you'd do something with your life."
Thursday, January 13, 2022
Proving Patty Wrong
When doctors have told you that you'll die of cancer, you NEED to die knowing that your life mattered. I guess it "makes the medicine go down."
This happened months ago, and I'd honestly thought I'd moved past it, until I got COVID. Fevers plagued me for days, making life almost unmanageable. I woke up shaking at 3 a.m. one morning, and that woman's words echoed in the walls of my mind. "I just thought you'd do something with your life."
WHY did she think I'm a failure? I started checking off a list of meaningless accomplishments in my head: I've owned successful businesses, managed a newspaper, written nine books in ten years, purchased a home at the age of 19, attained degrees despite being a single mom, hit the bestseller list on Amazon several times, had over a million views on my blog, managed a medical clinic and its staff ... Yet, she'd dubbed me a failure. WHY? Sure I'm not the president of the United States, but I'm also not a serial killer! If melanoma specialists don't find a cure--and I'm going to die within the next several years--I need to know why she thinks I'm a failure. What am I missing? I shouldn't care, right? Well, let me explain ...
I met Patty in a writing group right before my divorce. She had a PhD, a fancy house, a husband you read about in bodice-ripper novels, wit and beauty, a traditionally published YA novel, a devote relationship with God, and more money than anyone I know. Our first fight started years ago. She didn't like Mike and insisted on setting me up with all of her wealthy friends. "I am NOT going out with him again!" I said after one date.
"Give me one good reason why. He's stable, older ... settled. You won't have to worry about anything. And he doesn't mind that you already have kids!"
"He said I had to kiss him just because my dinner was so expensive."
"Well, did you kiss him?" she asked.
"Hell no! That's ridiculous. Despite what you obviously believe, I am NOT a hooker."
But SOMEHOW we got over the fight, and when she heard I had cancer, she seemed deeply concerned. "I'm coming up, and I'm bringing you out to eat a fancy dinner." Then she drove all of the way from Southern Utah to my small town in Idaho.
I'd been so excited. I got out a black second-hand dress that has frills in all the right places and hugs my body so I look like I'm standing up straight despite not having all of my vertebrae. But when we got to the restaurant, Patty kept talking like I'd already died. Then she kept saying that I could tell her how bad it is and that I can be honest with her about how terrible my life is because of the cancer. "But you're happy with Mike?" she finally asked. And, as she probed further, I got a strange inkling that she isn't as happy in her relationship as she wants everyone to think.
"He's THE BEST. He's my best friend. Don't get me wrong, we've had some big bumps--mainly my fault--but I can't imagine life without him." I took a sip of my water. "It's crazy because I had an 8-hour surgery. They had to do a blood transfusion--and I almost died. When I finally woke up from the anesthesia, I couldn't remember my own name, but I remembered Mike. I swear that's how much I love him."
She scooted her silverware to the side. "I don't get you," she said. "You sit there, dying of cancer, you're wearing a dress that someone else didn't want, you have no money because of medical bills, and you honestly still seem happy. I'm almost embarrassed for you. I never thought you'd end up this way--in such denial! When I met you, you were getting divorced. And I thought you'd accomplish so many amazing things. I really took you under my wing and even brought you shopping with me and read your manuscripts. But then, you kept doing things that embarrassed me. Like when you treated my friend so bad after he went on a blind date with you ... I just thought you'd DO something with your life."
I mulled all these details from the past as my COVID fever raged. I even messaged a couple of family members, asking them for advice. My two oldest daughters wrote back such nice things like "you ARE NOT a failure," but it's amazing how onw negative comment can stick around longer than it should.
It wasn't until my fever subsided, that I finally got some clarity. I'd prayed, "God, please help me get this in perspective. Please help me see that my life has mattered."
It wasn't long after the prayer that I heard this woman's voice in my head again, but I remembered other things; I remembered all of the times she said that I embarrassed her. She'd been "embarrassed for me" before I got my bachelor's degree and before I got remarried. She'd been embarrassed by my small house and unappealing yard. She'd even been embarrassed by one of my other friends! I realized then, it wasn't about my accomplishments or if I'd even been a failure. She'd just wanted me as a means to a prideful end. If I couldn't benefit her in some way by following HER plan for my life, then I was an embarrassment. How arrogant of her to think that just because we'd become friends in some dumb writing group, she could dictate all of my future endeavors!
I thought then about what really matters. My books, my career, my "accomplishments" ... When I die that's like an ant going up to a human and saying, "Hey, I got this awesome degree from an anthill on the most prestigious side of the yard. And I had the nicest hole in the ground." "And I owned a lot of ... rocks." Wow! Neat.
Nope. My true accomplishment in life is making a difference--not just for strangers--but for the people who are closest to me day in and day out: my kids, Mike, my extended family, my close friends. When you strip me down to bare bones, I hope I can be positively judged by the people who really know me. I look at Patty, and I'm a bit sad. She might think I'm an embarrassing failure, but when I strip her down to bare bones--and how she's treated me, especially while I've had cancer--all I see is an a$$hole. I guess I might be dying of cancer, but that doesn't mean I can't cut other kinds of cancer out of my life too. I've decided today to surround myself with people who are worth my time. If her words ever gain credence in my mind again and make me feel like a failure, I'm vowing to simply do something nice for someone else. I've made more mistakes than most, but at least I'm trying to get through this the best I can. That's honestly all I can do. I AM NOT a failure.
I hope you've never felt like this, just because of something someone said. Just know, you're not alone in letting something negative "get you down." I guess it's a great opportunity to stand back up and prove them wrong. Continual success requires making daily choices to keep trying. Anyone who tells you that success doesn't take effort is lying.
To proving Patty wrong,