2004-02-01 - 11:24 p.m.
The Man Who Came to Dinner.
The first-ever theatrical production in which I participated was a show called “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” It is a 1930s vintage theater piece in which a famous Hollywood actor visits a small middle class home, slips on the sidewalk ice, and is stuck in their house for weeks with a broken leg, much to the pain and discomfort of all. The unwanted guest then turns their lives on end, and stopping them from completing anything remotely productive (and naturally causing many comic scenes).
As I type this, my cats have returned to the kitchen and are sidling against my legs in relief. They no longer feel compelled to hide. Because The Man Who Came to Dinner just left, thankfully. Except, in this case, the scene was not remotely comical. He came for lunch and instead of slipping on the ice, he had a nervous breakdown in my living room, curled into a ball and shook for about three hours before falling to sleep. The whole day was rather distressing actually, because he went from bouts of tears and shaking to moments of sanity, and then later back to being an incoherent mass. I tried holding him and saying soothing words, I tried sitting next to him and saying nothing, or just telling him that this was a rollercoaster ride and that he should just hold on and get through it. But it was nevertheless disconcerting to watch a human being fall apart like this.
Tony is an old friend – we hung out a great deal in the 90s when I went to grad school and lived on the other side of the Hudson River. Tony is a great lover of music and an intelligent follower of the entertainment business. He is interesting and insightful, and mostly very funny. We saw lots of local bands together, talked about music incessantly, about love, about politics, we did a lot of shopping together! He fell deeply in love with my roommate, who rejected him rather coldly (she is a different story that binds us in a rather dark way that we both wish to forget). Anyway, after she dumped him, he then spent most of his time hanging out with me, and we had a wonderful time. I had to pick up the pieces for him a few times back then as well. Tony’s always had a wire that wasn’t quite tight enough – he needs a lot of nurturing.
I looked forward to meeting him again today – in fact I invited him down because I am lonely and wanted to see a friendly familiar face. We planned that he would take me to the mall and help me buy a television set. I am afraid that this all may have been a big mistake. Perhaps I am feeling a bit selfish, a bit stressed, but all I could feel from this encounter was that he was collapsing in front of me *again* and relying on me *again.* My needs were lost.
Perhaps I am being selfish here for viewing his pain through the eyes of my personal inconvenience. But I feel that I am not the only one who was selfish through this encounter. The man would not leave my apartment. When he did leave, he made not one move to clean up after himself. The blankets I had piled on him during his shakes remained in piles on the living room floor. Used tissues were left on the sofa, the floor, and the coffee table. The plates from the food that I cooked him: he didn’t lift a finger to bring them the ten feet to the kitchen, which is one foot from the door. We talked of him. We talked of his stress. Of his problems. Of how much work he has to do because he has been in the process of moving to a new house for the last few months.
Perhaps this is a clue that I am under sufficient stress myself…But I find it very hard to have sympathy for him. Because in his person he could find absolutely no recognition of the fact that I have just moved countries and surrendered the comfort of all of my dearest friends, and am currently working on the order of 15 hours per day to keep my head above water. In the end I asked him nicely to leave. It was reminiscent of many times past when I had to do the same – he had no clue that I was feeling any resentment.
I leave this evening feeling like my day has been entirely wasted. Not only did I not achieve any of the chores that he had promised to help me with, I lost all of my evening work time because he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) leave. On top of this, I feel somewhat coldhearted, or like there is perhaps a problem with my heart because I cannot simply accept that instead of work or chores I was called upon to devote my day to being a therapist for an old friend. Perhaps at another, less stressful time I could take the incident more lightly.
Or, maybe not? How would you react to watching someone crumble into an anxiety attack in front of you? I just stayed calm and resigned myself to losing the day. He has done this in front of me before. I think, rather than making me feel comfortable because I’ve seen this before, it makes me feel rather more frightened that he will continue to use me as a crutch as long as I let it happen. It’s a pattern I’d rather not have in my life. So…how do you deal with a situation like this? What do you say? Yes yes yes, honesty is a good policy, when it’s someone you see everyday, and when you feel you have the time to “work things through” – I think I first need to assess how much it is worth it for me to work through this, at a time when I’m pretty darned needy myself.
In any case, I’ve come away from this experienced greatly saddened. I remember having some very good times with this person. I remember some great laughs. But this experience showed me that he is a deeply troubled person, and along with this or perhaps because of it, he is virtually incapable of giving or empathizing. I remember the signs of this from the mid-90s. I fear that it has amplified with age.
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