Monday, August 1, 2011

The Hardest Part

By Kathleen Bradean

I'm great at ending things. Last lines of stories often present themselves long before I've wound my way through the tale. I've moved so often that packing up and walking away has never been difficult. Being a military kid who hung out with other military kids while growing up, I learned to make friends fast, enjoy it while it lasted, and then to forget the person the moment they, or I, moved on. I've been that way with lovers, places, even things. Attachment isn't in my vocabulary.

It was the only way to live without going crazy with grief at the thought of a new school, new house, new town. At some point though, I stopped moving, but I haven't really set down roots yet. Considering that when we moved in to my current residence it was my twenty-second address in thirty years, you can understand why I felt it was just another place and that eventually I'd have to pack up again. Fifteen years later, I should rethink that. Almost a third of my life has passed in this one place. You'd think I'd be able to hang a picture on the wall by now. Instead, I feel as if I'm just house sitting for the next tenant.

I love Los Angeles. I know it's fashionable to hate it, but I have great affection for this city. That doesn't mean that I feel as if I belong here. Long ago, I made my peace with the fact that I'd never truly have a home, a place I belonged completely, but of all the places on earth that I could be an outsider in, this is one I want. I can stand back and shake my head at it, lament the tragedy of land use and loathe the Westside with every fiber of my being, but I can also be incensed that the media, which lives here, keeps pushing this image of vapid greed and intellectual stagnation that is as fake as their spray-on tans. Or maybe that's their Los Angeles. They're welcome to it. None of the city is mine, after all.

The other thing I'm terrible at is maintaining friendships. Oh, I talk to people through email for years, but there's no one locally that I hang out with. I returned to a place where I had some friends from long ago, but we don't have much in common now and while I enjoy seeing them, I don't go out of my way to keep in regular contact. I have no childhood friends. I don't even keep in regular contact with my family. They are always the ones who reach out to me. I have no real past with anyone. No one ever says, "remember when we..." to me. I can't remember the names of kids I played with, teachers, or even all eleven of the schools I attended. Past lovers are fleeting impressions more than involved memories. Sure, sometimes I wonder if they ever think of me, but then I decide that they don't waste their time. If they're only fleeting impressions to me, I doubt I meant much more to them.

I'm not even sure how adults form new friendships. I feel like an intruder in their lives when I start getting personal with them, so I back off. That instant camaraderie of military kids doesn't translate to deep, lasting relationships in the real world. I'm always amazed at the things that people know about each other. When did you find that out? How did that come up in conversation? Do you really just pick up the phone when you feel like talking and bond? I'm completely inept at it. The few relationships I have like that are ones that mean so much to me that I'm willing to keep inserting, shoving, and muscling into their lives to keep the connection. There are a few more people I'd love to build that with, but it doesn't come easily or naturally to me.

Closure is easy for me. It's a neat and tidy wrap-up. Like the end of a story. There's that last line, weighted with meaning, a period, and then the page goes blank. Sometimes, there are even those words, The End, to make it clear that everything stops at that point. The world may go on, the character may continue, but this episode is complete. The hardest part for me is saying, "No, it isn't, and it never will be."


  1. Great post, Kathleen. It's hard for me to put myself in your shoes. I've lived in quite a few places, and felt as though I belonged in almost all of them (except, interestingly, LA...)

    Funny, but these days I feel closer to you Grip folk than to most of the people in my "real" life.

    And by the way, your affection for Los Angeles (as well as your eye for the perfect detail) comes through very strongly in your Chaos Magic books.

  2. Lisabet - I know I'm a bit weird. My sister, who grew up the same way, is completely involved in her community, no matter where she goes. It's part personality, I'm sure. She still sees friends from high school.

    And yeah, my dysfunctional adoration of this city is hard to hide.

  3. Huge tracts of your post are so, so familiar to me. I don't have any friends from childhood. The most I have is one friend from college and even that's tenuous. I lose friends like pennies down the back of the couch - mainly because I feel sure they're tired of me and that's why they haven't called/email, and so I never contact them again. The only friends I do have are ones who actively fought to keep me in their lives, and they are few - probably because I actually am as obnoxious as I fear.

  4. Charlotte - or maybe we're just introverted writers with poor social skills... Nah. That can't be it.

  5. I found this rather painful to read, mainly because I have so much in common with it. Like you i moved around all my life, and had a very nomadic rootless life as an adult. Only recently have I tried to settle down and I also find it difficult to make friends, even though I like people, there's a kind of solitude you carry around with you when you grow up this way.


  6. This is a moving post, Kathleen. I agree with Lisabet's comment about your Chaos Magic series - it comes across as a tribute to L.A., including "layers" or dimensions not visible to the casual tourist.
    This post reminds me of a comment made by my spouse & several other people I know who immigrated from one culture to another - eventually you feel like an outside observer in both places, fond of some aspects of both, but not really at home in either.

  7. Garce - I know from previous discussions that we have a lot in common in this regard. Maybe it helps us as writers.

  8. Jean - There are good things about it too. You learn flexibility. You learn that there are a million ways to do things - and all of them are right. And you learn to have your own sense of fashion/culture/self, because you're never going to blend.