Unwitnessed Suffering

Unhappiness.

I am a big adherent of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a very well-vetted theory, and has always made sense to me. For much of my life I was stuck in the center of the pyramid, lacking what I perceived as a necessity, romantic love. I had it off and on, but never with much promise or stability.

As I thought about this…

“My life is filled with undocumented suffering.” ~Journal, 1998

I listen to music as much as I am able. I am particularly attached to it when I am in my car, traveling around for work. My car has a USB port, and can control my iPod from the dashboard stereo and even from the steering wheel.

I almost always have it set to shuffle the songs.

What if you wanted every word you said unheard?
What if you wanted every word you said unheard?

Sometimes a song will shuffle through that will take me back, often way back. 1997. 1992. 1986. 1979.

As those songs shuffle past to memories, particularly memories of times after breakups, I think about what it was like then. Maybe I felt like a failure. Maybe I was angry. Maybe I was down. Maybe I was feeling sorry for myself.

Then, as I was walking our wolfhound recently, an epiphany: no one else witnessed that, and especially, the ex girlfriend the song was about didn’t witness it. It was just me, in that small downtown apartment or in my room in high school or on the road trying to do my job far from home, night after night, thinking about her. She never heard those songs or had any idea what was happening to me. She moved on.

So I assumed, anyway. Maybe she was all torn up inside and listening to a whole different cadre of music to wallow in it or get over it.

In any case, when Forever Autumn or Mercy Street or Impossible Things or Do What You Have to Do shuffles past again, it will mean something different to me. Melissa never heard those songs. They meant nothing to Michelle. Pam moved on. Kathy found someone else. And so on.

This is me in 1998 with my journal. It was a hard year, filled with unwitnessed suffering about yet another woman. Do I look pensive? Thoughtful? Self-indulgent?
This is me in 1998 with my journal. It was a hard year, filled with unwitnessed suffering about yet another woman. Do I look pensive? Thoughtful? Self-indulgent?

A ginormoose advantage to being married is that I don’t have to deal with courting. I somehow ended up going out with quite few women in my youth (a friend told me her 40-something husband was a virgin when they got married and had never been out with another woman more than once… eeep!), but I got smote on five times that many occasions trying to get women to go out with me, or, fate forbid, go out with me again. That was an even harder blow… “he seemed nice, but after lunch with him, ick.”

A long-ago girlfriend, who I had loved very deeply at the time, recently confessed to me that, “Now – I know with all my heart – you were who I should have been with.” I have to admit to being very flattered by such a pronouncement, but at the same time understanding that it was neither true nor had any relevance. Or maybe I should say that there was certainly no way to determine it was true, at least not without a time machine. Sure, I would have loved her like sunshine, but that doesn’t mean we could have married and stayed married. Marriage isn’t magic or in the stars, but the result of patience, planning, working, forgiving, building and rebuilding it every single day. I was 29 and she was 27 when we were together, and neither of us was ready to be married.

She was a writer, a good one. It’s one of the most interesting things about her. Now, decades later, despite my encouragements, she doesn’t write much. She puts pen to paper and nothing comes out, a result of her physical disabilities and the treatment for them. It breaks my heart, because she was brilliant, and I think she could still be brilliant if she could find a way.

There was a fair amount of unwitnessed  suffering about her and our breakup as well. Songs. Pictures. Smells. Memories. I had no choice but to let her go, with no real idea if any of her feelings for me were real or if she felt anything after I was gone.

Through it all I wrote and wrote. I don't know if it helped, but it does help me remember what it was like.
Through it all I wrote and wrote. I don’t know if it helped, but it does help me remember what it was like.

2 Comments

  1. You have to have filled as many physical volumes of journals as you have taken photos. Each word and image.

  2. The higher I perceive myself to be in the theoretical hierarchy, the more I empathize with those who may be at more elementary stages. Most days, lately, I think I’m near the top, and so I grieve that much more for those who are kept near the bottom.

Leave a Reply