I think we’re all pretty familiar with the garden-variety of toxic people. It’s the person who, when he or she enters the room, you feel yourself wilting, feeling stupid, ugly, or suddenly unsure of yourself. You can almost feel your body shrinking about a foot or so. For me, one example springs to mind in 2.3 milliseconds. It’s a slam-dunk: my ten-years-older brother.
Probably the only interesting thing about this is how incredibly long it took me to connect the dots. When you’re, say seven years old and Oh-Toxic-One is seventeen and two feet taller, it just doesn’t compute that you could be seriously disliked or despised. That concept continued. Then I’m seventeen, in high school and Toxic One is now married and on his own. It just didn’t register at all. But, then one day it did. This would be almost humorous…almost. It was at my wedding to Pamela and after not having seen him in years, he showed up and when I introduced him to Pamela, the first thing he did was reach in his wallet, take out photo, and show Pamela the only photo he carried of me. He had staged the shot when I was asleep. He put callow lilies in my hand and made it look like I was dead and in a casket. It was then that things slowly began to crystalize, though over the ensuing decades it came through with extreme clarity. Nothing cute or open to interpretation, just flat-out nasty.
The New York Times and Time Magazine and a host of other magazines have each done extensive articles on older siblings doing their level best to minimalize or just plain eradicate their younger siblings. They usually start their articles by examining how rampant it is in the animal kingdom. If you ever watched the footage of a baby eagle pecking its littler brothers to death, the basic message comes through loud and clear. In many cases, the oldest sibling would really, really prefer to be the ONLY sibling…sometimes. And yes, I know that fully a score of you will write in to say how amazingly you get along with your brothers and sisters. I’m not contesting that. I am saying, there’s another more ominous slice of the pie. This slice can be lethal.
Inadvertently Toxic: In an effort to remain unbiased, let’s swing this spotlight around and focus it on ourselves. And, since I don’t see anyone sitting next to me poised over their keyboard, my only option is to focus the spotlight on me. Could I be toxic to someone else and not even know it? Oh, hell, yes… Sure. Here’s how that can work:
You don’t even have to DO anything to be toxic, your very existence can be toxic to others. Keep in mind, that one of the definitions of a toxic person is a person, whom when you’re around them, makes you feel bad. In that regard, it’s possible to be a toxic person merely by getting accepted to MIT or Yale….if….the other person just got accepted to Casa Grande Community College. The pain that person feels is genuine because in stepping beyond them scholastically, they feel diminished. Did you do anything wrong? No. Everyone has a right and a duty to go as far in life as they can go. Did you inadvertently make them feel like pond algae? Yeah, ya did, and there’s not a whole lot that can be done, except really try to put it behind both of you. Just remember: it’s much, much easier to be kind and thoughtful if you’re the one going off to Yale.
It’s no big secret that Pamela and I have been lucky about some things, BUT 97.35% of that “luck” came directly from working our little asses off. Really…
Think about the cliche of the starving artist. There’s more truth to it than you might think and if you’ve read some of my older blogs, I’ve held nothing back. Essentially, there isn’t much middle ground in the arts. You’re either pretty well-known or you’re checking the cost of ground chuck vs garbanzo beans. We’ve been there, done that, and strangely, those were some of our happiest days.
With the other fork of our lives, writing: pretty much the same adage persists. Most professional writers make less than $50K in their entire lifetime. Not terribly good money if you like to eat food and pay mortgage bills. And yet, scrimping and scraping along and finally getting somewhere, we’ve had more acquaintances than I’d care to admit allude: “Well, you guys have a pretty lucky, easy life. You just make little sculpture thingees and write some novels… Sounds pretty cushy. “ Can you hear that low ominous growl echoing in my den? It’s there.
Believe it or not, you can even become a toxic person with the mere purchase of the “wrong” kind of car. I’ve addressed this before: If you think the purchase of an Aston Martin or a Maserati is going to make anybody at all like you more…you’re in for a rude awakening. Fortunately or unfortunately, you can’t NOT live your own life. If you make people feel bad by your very existence, they and you should move on and away from each other.
And then things can get really complicated:
Your Boss is Toxic: This is dangerous, particularly if they’re toxic only toward you. Quite simply, it may be time to begin to quietly put out the feelers for another job.
Your best friend somehow became toxic. Now they’re your best frenemy. What happened? 99 times out of a hundred, the answer is rivalry or competition. Sometimes it can be fixed, even in this new hyper throw-away society. When you have nurtured a friendship that spans years, decades, and cataclysms of epic proportions, it seems a shame to throw it out because of the small stuff. And when it comes right down to it, most stuff is small stuff. I’d really rather face the issue and see if a new and better relationship can be forged. Sometimes it actually works!
We now have a social world that exists primarily in cyberspace, via tweets, texts and for more mature generations, even e-mails. I quietly groan and bite my tongue when I hear that e-mails are now prehistoric, while texts and tweets are the only way to go. Both are just tapped out on a keyboard and sent into cyberspace.
Ahhhh romance….. I understand Facebook is getting less cool by the hour. Too many trolls, too many selfies, too much crap… And tying that in with the toxicity issue, you can unfriend a friend with a click or two of a button. Or you can just not respond, now called ghosting. That’s the new RSVP. But I digress… I’m making a huge Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith that there’s a difference between the 3579 friends you have on Facebook, and the person you call when you’re contemplating a long walk off a short pier. There’s a difference. Personally, I wish they’d come up with a different word for “friend.” True friends take time, patience, empathy and one big ole reset button that has to be pushed from time to time. A friend is a person, not some new kind of verb.
Your in-laws: Can’t divorce ’em…can’t kill ’em. Short answer: You’re stuck. Way back when, during the dating years, I’m not sure why, but I was always aware of the fact that my girl friend’s parents just might be people that I’d have to put up with for the rest of my life. In Pam’s and my case, killing them wasn’t really an option. (We both get claustrophobia in small rooms: aka prison cells.) Moving across the country, however, was an excellent option, though we got followed several times.
Bottom Line: Nothing lasts forever. Not even our own Milky Way, which is now on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy. In a million or so years, it will be the Milky-Andromeda and we will be part of the ethos…stardust. If we don’t last forever, certainly friendships don’t either. Treasuring deep and long friendships and relationships is always best. Working to protect them and fix them is best. But…sometimes, like dying galaxies, they just run out of energy, or worse, they become toxic or implode. If it’s over, it’s over. Sorry to say, toxic people don’t generally morph back into being best buddies. And blood isn’t always thicker than water.