* * *
When I was a young girl and then a young woman, I had an older mentor who invested a lot in me—telling me about books, encouraging me to read. He invested a lot of hope in my writing, and desperately wanted me to be successful, perhaps, I now see, to somehow compensate for his own sense of failure.
Well, I was a disappointment to him. I did read English at Oxford, but he expected me to publish a dazzling book in my twenties. I didn’t. And then in my early thirties, a leading American editor, Ted Solataroff of Harper and Row expressed interest in a book from me.
I wrote one in blood through my first pregnancy, and the first year of my baby’s life, sent it to my childhood mentor, who got it bound, and to Ted, who rejected it. When he did so, I remember lying on my carpet, thinking, “I want to die.”
Well, I did not. Instead I visited my childhood friend and mentor. I had gained weight through my pregnancy, and had clawed 22 pounds off through walking 4 miles a day, and studiously avoiding fat. I was on an upswing, reading again, enjoying writing.
* * *
Mentors and tormentors. Be careful who you choose as a mentor, for there can be a thin line between them.
This man was bitterly disappointed in me, and let me know it. “You gained so much weight; it’s repulsive.” “I read your book, it’s piffle. And you thought Harper and Row would publish that.”
Gosh, just what I needed with a one year old daughter, a marriage under strain from our new daughter and both our fierce ambition for our own work.
I crumbled. I lost the plot. Gained back those twenty-two pounds, and another twenty-two. Slipped into a bleak, bad negative mood. Over-worked, and overworked myself into depression.
* * *
And my friend? Well, four days after my visit, he had a heart attack. He lived for another 9 years, and we resumed a friendly relationship through letters and phone-calls.
But I never visited him again.
When he died, I cried and cried for a few days. Partly, that I had never visited him again. I felt that I had been a poor return on investment. I felt guilty. I thought about the love that had been between us, and forgot that, because of that, he felt free to speak to me with such vitriol.
He was depressed and downcast towards the end of his life. In fact, with some trepidation, I had been considering visiting him around the time he died.
* * *
He died about 8 years ago, and I have always regretted that I didn’t see for the last 9 years of his life.
And today, I am letting that regret go.
Why should another visit have been any different? He was depressed, and dissatisfied, and so would have been even more likely to lash out at anyone who would take it.
To try to feel alive through rage. To feel powerful by trampling someone else down. To channel uncomfortable emotions about the frustrations of his life into a rage-filled demolition job.
But could I have stood it? No, it would have been very hard to deal with it. The last visit took me back several steps. Why do that to myself?
Why put myself into the path of a volcano of someone’s negativity and dissatisfaction, knowing I would have to put myself together again, once more?
Interestingly, I had known this intuitively. When I felt perhaps I should go and visit him, I didn’t because I didn’t want to.
For the last eight years, off and on, I have scolded and castigated myself for ingratitude, for not wanting to go and visit him one last time.
* * *
And today, I actually feel thankful I did not go. The visit could have been like the former one, tears, drama, and exhaustion. I have children. I cannot afford emotional setbacks.
And so I cast out remorse, and was thankful that I was spared more misery, more emotional turmoil, more tears!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.
martha brady says
nice to meet you anita. i see you learned that some people who are called mentors don't always understand that mentoring has more to do with guiding rather than control.
it is a sad story, more of how your mentors crushed you and weren't aware of the power of their words. the power of your story however, is that you learned how to change your story from one of regret and remorse to one of gratefulness.
I'm sure the lessons you learned will be helpful in your parenting!
Well written and well articulated. It's interesting how our perspective changes when we see it through grace instead of pain. Thanks for sharing!
Beautifully reasoned, Anita. I'm sure you made the right call. I have a feeling this is the first day of your new life! That some surprises are in store for you!