Greetings! Get your coffee, or your scotch, your Kool-Aid, or your whatever-you-drink; this is a long one. But a good one! Here we go…
Nature versus nurture is an age-old controversy with compelling arguments for both sides. In the landscape of our family, I’ve never been able to fence off a section predictable enough to even evaluate the concept. With our Dad at the helm, “nature” wasn’t exactly the standard template…in fact, “unnatural” would often be a better description. The “nurture” factor was often so skewed that to this day, I’d be hard pressed to flow chart the phenomena with any success (and I consider myself a student of people! Harumph!). What are the results when nature versus nurture is impossible to assess because you can’t quite pick up a thread, let alone follow one, in a wigged-out family dynamic?
I could run a hundred miles in any direction with that opening (either due to my utter inability to focus, or to my life-built coping skill of picking a direction and making it work no matter what). But for today, I only have one path I’d like to explore in this aspect, and that’s friendship.
I’ve mentioned in earlier entries that we were pretty isolated in our family unit…partially because we moved twice per nanosecond, partly because we didn’t want to expose outsiders to our “inside,” but mostly because you have to have friends to invite them over. Wait! Don’t tune out! This is not an “oh, poor us” thing! This is, instead, a weird introduction to the fact that we learned through our viewfinders, through which we never spied our parents make or keep friends (that would be nurture, aka environment, by the way). We learned from Dad in a plethora of ways (been dying to use that word! Bam!) that people, often including us, were either a means to an end or expendable. Of course, we had no idea what any of that psychobabble meant, because we were just kids! We played among ourselves, we got away with what we could, we picked our noses, and fought when there were no parents around. We kept dark secrets because that’s what we were taught, and those secrets did not extend beyond the walls of our various homes. And outsiders rarely entered those walls.
I read an article by a guy named Gareth Cook that says, “the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.” ( https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/ )
But what if we never learned the value of that social environment, and, God forbid, suffered not at all due to broken, threatened or severed bonds…because we didn’t have those bonds in the first place. What about that? The quote also implies we were shaped by our social environment. Home was our sole social environment (other than school) during our developmental years; that’s some scary sh-t, right there (insert shock-faced emoji here)! Talk about a horror-based concept; Stephen King, eat your heart out.
I’ve said many times, in many forums (yes, I’m this verbose at every possible opportunity), that in adulthood my friends taught me how to be a friend. I believed that for me, it was a learned behavior.
Over the years, my Air Force friends showed me the ropes. I learned to model their behavior and somewhere along the way, I figured out how to be a friend back, to reciprocate, and to desire the two-way street of real friendship. How sad that I’ve assumed for years that I didn’t know how to do this naturally, yet how wonderful that I found people (or they found me) who were caring and patient enough to lead the way, to insist on staying in touch even after I’d not return calls or mail for months on end. It wasn’t because I didn’t care. I guess I just didn’t know how. I’d learned that you could care, even love, yet simply walk away. We learned to believe that when you left, the break was clean. I maintained that belief until my pesky friends, true friends, made those breaks a little messy and often just impossible. Thank God for them all, but mostly for my decades-long Air Force partner-in-crime, Mary W.
So, those are the things I reckoned to be true. Until recently, that is, when I learned quite late in life that my logic and self-assessments were, at least in part, wrong.
I was wrong.
My hard-boiled self-assessment ended up in a heap, all because of one soul. That long lost friend whom I never forgave myself for losing. But whom I’d, nonetheless, allowed myself to lose.
I mentioned her in an earlier blog but didn’t give her the spotlight she deserved because it hurt too much. Ironically, like my later BFF, her name was Mary (there’s something about Marys!). We met in junior high during that critical, confusing, awful time in adolescence when there are so many forks in the road that it’s all you can do just to stay on a path, any path. We both had serious issues going on at home and when we linked up, it was instant and like magic. We were inseparable for a couple of years and in my memories the timelines blurred but the sentiment remained pure. We even had our own language. We laughed till we hurt. She was my friend. She was my soul mate. She saved me.
Due to some joke no one can remember, we called each other “Hon” and lost our real names; my parents even called her Hon. She was my other half. She was my Hon, and I was hers.
A quote by Anais Nin says it best: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
I felt like I first started to become myself with Hon. I got my land legs. She saw me for exactly who I was and liked me anyway! She taught me the value of laughter – huge laughter. She made me feel funny, she saw stuff that I never saw in myself, and it was all good. She valued me. She showed that “unconditional love” thing my dad blathered about all the time, but never demonstrated. I blossomed with her in our bubble. But bubbles are fragile.
Upon our sophomore year, she and her family moved to a nearby town. We stayed friends, even after I also moved, farther and farther away to other states and out of the country, but we drifted. Then I joined the military and we got caught up in our own lives. I was the one who let go. I just assumed she was the first casualty of my never-look-back way of being a friend.
Fast-forward through my coming-of-age (40 years, and still counting). I wanted to find her. Mind you, I now have great friends…AMAZING friends who have made my life infinitely richer. I had a fantastic career. I’ve been married to the same man for 32 years and have two sons I love beyond love. I had the honor of caring for my mother in her last years till her dying day; a massive blessing. I wrote and published three books…by life’s biggest bucket list item. https://tammyseleyelliott.com/the-novels/
Yet I had a hole, a vacuum. My Hon.
So, I started searching. My husband, Mike, and I scoured social media and used people-finder websites to try to find her. I sent letters to total strangers who had similar names and were about the right age.
For someone who used to let go without a thought, this was a profound thing for me. I was hurt, guilty, confused, and uncharacteristically regretful. This went on for years.
A few days before this past Christmas, I was telling my son one of my many funny Hon stories and after we finished laughing, I told him all I really wanted for Christmas was to find my Hon.
And guess what? The day before Christmas, I found an e-mail in my professional (author) account. The subject was, “Hon.”
She’d found me! It was like nuclear fusion from that first contact. Just like that, the Hons reunited, and we haven’t looked back.
I felt whole for the first time in many years. And I also felt like a fool.
Because I’d been wrong.
As it turns out, I did know how to be a friend. To her, I was not only a friend, but a lifesaver, as she was to me. As awesome as those days were, neither of us realized the true value of the moments, days, and months, until years, decades later.
I now know that I did know how to be a friend and I did need someone outside the walls of my home. I knew how to give and receive love. I guess I wasn’t socially crippled, at least for that short, critical time.
Even though I did in fact let her go, like all things deep inside twe believe we’ve buried or discarded, her memory came back with a vengeance…only I thought it was too late. Again, I was wrong.
We’ve been in touch daily for a couple of months now, and even had an incredibly emotional, hysterical, reunion. I think I might have blown my spleen laughing. Our weird language is back and growing, as is our connection. With no effort.
I sent her a text about halfway through this thing you’re reading now (I don’t even know how to classify this rambling mess): “I’m writing that friendship blog now. And in my true fashion, I’m making it insanely complicated. I’m taking a long, convoluted road to get to you. But I guess it was a long, convoluted road to get back to you.”
And worth every mile.
What’s the point of all of this? First, I wanted to share the unlikely and amazing story of the Hon Reunion, and I have a captive audience to do so (bwa-ha-ha-ha!!). But also, to make it clear that I can’t blame some of the stuff on my dear old dad that I’ve so willingly laid at his feet. He has such a proverbial pile there anyway; this one little thing won’t be missed!
I also wanted to prove to my husband that the term “I was wrong” is, indeed, in my verbal inventory.
But mostly, I want to reach out to anyone out there who has, for years, perceived yourself as having hard and unforgiving edges. I want to tell you this: you (whomever you are), might want to get a little closer and examine those edges. They might be a little rounder than you believed; they might have some give. You’re better than you think.
Nature influences, as does nurture. But the biggest influencer of all is that person inside your skin who has been with you from the beginning, from inception. You’ve been right there all along, before and after those “developmental years.” Give yourself a break and something awesome might happen.
Also, never underestimate asking for what you REALLY want for Christmas!
You just might find your Hon.