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Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
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Saturday
Dec312016

Hall of Infamy

Like a recovering alcoholic making amends, I'd like to be cool with everyone in my life. No animosity, anger or flashes of rage at the thought of someone who once starred, or even guest-starred in just a few episodes, in the HBO series that is my life.

It's a nice notion, isn't it? Equanimity at the thought of anyone and everyone you've ever interacted with. Positive resolution for every not-so-great encounter or soured relationship you've experienced. Think how much mental energy that would free up! All the fucked up thoughts and feelings and rage and anger and regret and sadness and despair and martyrdom I impose on myself as a result of interactions and relationships that went bad somehow... GONE. Hell, half the people taking up real estate in that swampy acreage of my brain don't even know it, they're just out there trying to live their own lives, completely unaware I'm expending valuable mental energy on them.

There's this fucked up hall of fame up in my head where I've thumb-tacked 8X10 glossies of Those Who Have Wronged Monica. Here we have my dad, there we have a failed friendship from childhood that languished into adulthood when it probably should've ended in junior high. Oh look! Another "friend" from high school who began messaging my ex during our divorce. This guy over here is the ex-boyfriend from college who is a dick to me 20 years later; I obviously occupy valuable real estate in his Hall of Infamy. There's the guy who convinced me to fall in love with him then bounced in the unkindest of ways. There's the alleged "lifer" friend who wasn't around when I needed him most. That pretty girl over there is a potential friend who ended up being more interested in my ex-husband than me. There's that one guy at work, the secret sabotager...

I wonder what the size of my Hall of Infamy says about me or do we all have a sizable one just by the very nature of living life and having families and friends and relationships?

Regardless of size, we all have a Hall of Infamy. Even if you aren't one to hold a grudge, there are people who, when they occur to you, inspire a prickling of unwelcome emotions including but certainly not limited to anger, sadness, confusion. You feel like shit when you think about them not only because they hurt you in some way, but you're mad at yourself for not being able to move on. Sometimes you have a bad vibe with someone and may not even know why anymore. Most of the time, though, you know exactly why and your righteous indignation at feeling wronged has them locked in a position of honor in your Hall of Infamy.

Relationships are a perplexing tangle of beautiful Christmas lights: knots everywhere, but take the time and care to untangle them and plug them in and many lights will shine brightly, others are slowly dimming and several have gone dark. Yet the overall effect is still pleasing... Until more and more lights stop working. Can you replace the lights? Or is it time to toss the whole strand because too many have died?

Sometimes you pile on years without a member of your Hall of Infamy popping up and tangling your mind. Something inevitably happens, though, and you find yourself pacing contemplatively in front of their photo. Maybe you have a dream about them, perhaps a mutual acquaintance mentions them offhandedly or you inadvertently see them on social media and end up worm-holing their page for an hour and you come away unsettled, unsure how to feel.

I used to dwell on interactions I have with people a lot more than I do now. Shit, who am I kidding? In my quest to understand my relationships with people I analyze and obsess until my exhausted brain can't land on any kind of insightful perspective and begins haphazardly sifting thoughts like some kind of plastic beach toy draining sand through tiny holes. I'm infinitely better at recognizing my propensity for stewing but I still have to work hard to let it all go. Stewing only hurts me, of course. I know that but intellectual awareness can't heal a bruised heart. It's easier to let go when a person is someone from the past you have no cause to see; current and local Hall of Infamy-ers are another thing, entirely. I vacillate on the best way to deal: Pretend to myself that they don't exist and I don't care even though I know I do or confront them in a productive manner? Hey! That thing you did! It is still bumming me out and I'm having trouble moving past it. Can we talk about it? Can you explain your perspective of that situation? Direct confrontation with a positive outcome in mind is usually the fastest way to dissipate bad feelings and remove a photo from your Hall of Infamy, but not always. Sometimes you realize the other person just doesn't care to hear about how you feel or they're so lost in their perspective they can't find yours. You have to allow time to work its magic. People change, perspectives change and mutual understanding occurs. Or it doesn't but what went down doesn't seem as important anymore and the situation somehow gets resolved.

Lately I've been strolling through my Hall of Infamy, scrutinizing members, recalling situations and events that landed them there and revisiting my feelings for each person to see if time has afforded me a new perspective. The goal is to close up shop; no more Hall of Infamy. Who needs a Hall of Infamy taking up mental real estate? I wonder if it's even a possibility to get to a point where you've resolved all your relationships and interactions from the past? Where no one inspires a negative reaction within you?
Some people you can easily make amends with. You come together and realize you don't even remember exactly what went down and why bad feelings exist. With others you know exactly why they're in your Hall of Infamy but time has done it's thing and you can come together and explain your perspectives, apologize if needs be, laugh and move on. Other situations are much trickier, though. With some people the notion of ever reaching any kind of satisfying place feels impossible. You contemplate their photo, assess your emotions and realize you aren't ready...

As the year draws to a close and I analyze the people in my Hall of Infamy I realize I'm not ready in a lot of cases and I wonder if I'm not trying hard enough to move on; I wonder if I enjoy the martyrdom of feeling wronged; I wonder if some relationships just aren't worth it or if I should keep trying until my Hall of Infamy no longer exists and then I wonder if that's a realistic notion... But it occurs to me that maybe the ultimate point of being alive is to dismantle our Halls of Infamy.

Reader Comments (8)

god, I get it. And I might just write you an email.

December 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenternadia

I can very much relate to this. Last several years there's one person in my hall. It really hurts and has been hard. I've told myself the friend I've loved all these years is dead, and I don't know who this new person is.

I don't think it's possible to make amends and resolve all past troubled relationships. That's counting on others to meet you half, or a little, way towards resolution. You can't control someone else; they may not be interested in resolution, they may never think of you again, they don't care, they don't like you. Which leaves letting go. That's something I definitely need to work on and I wish it were easier to get there.

January 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGail

Thank you kindly. I needed to read this.

January 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

you know... for the more recent christmas lights, they claim that if one bulb burns out, the others keep shining on... that may be one way to approach our halls of infamy...

hope all is (even?) better than it appears to be...

January 3, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterfahrenheit

I think a lot of letting go has to do with realizing that other people ultimately have NOTHING to do with who you are as a person, deep inside. If they've wronged you, so what? It has everything to do with who THEY are and nothing to do with who you are. Know yourself, and accept yourself, with all the flaws and wonderfulness that make you up. And when you really accept yourself, you realize that no one person, other than you, can affect your core being. Similarly, forgiveness and letting go have everything to do with you/your self-acceptance and really nothing to do with those you're forgiving...

Love to you, Monica...

January 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterH.

I think it's nearly an impossible order to command this of yourself. As much as I have personally tried, via booze, drugs, therapy, exercise - healthy or unhealthy coping only paled compared to the passage of time. I know that I've steadily grown less and less self-destructive as I've aged into my quasi-adulthood (are you ever really an adult if you were never really a child? I'm not sure anymore now that I'm over 40). I still spend hours and hours shaming myself over things that happened a million years ago, but I don't crawl inside a bottle or throw myself screaming on the floor anymore because who has the energy to pick up the pieces anymore amirite?
I have dated a million abusive jerks and then some. I am a hole of self-doubt, a vortex of self-esteem, because I didn't get what I needed growing up and I became desperate for love as an adult. Of course I didn't know how to give love either, so all my relationships have been messy, and that has always been very shameful for me. But I don't feel so bad about it all anymore, probably because I finally have control over my own life, something that was missing for, well, always.
I don't think at all it's a matter of "trying hard" when it comes to working this stuff out, emotions have their own timetable. Therapy helps and wow do antidepressants pave the way to get there as well. It seems like this is stuff you need to work out, and it is totally normal to feel that way. As long as you're not obsessing and hurting yourself or others and going about it in a constructive way (therapy, journaling, healthy coping etc) than I really think you should give yourself a big, huge break. and a much much bigger hug. cause fuck all those people - the only person you truly need to forgive here is yourself, and when you see all that (see above) I think you'll start to feel a bit lighter.

January 5, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterfriends like whoa

This has had a big impact on my life. I made a list of my Hall of Infamy, the people I look up made oh so easy by the internet, and I put it on my desk where I can see it. It's a long list. Since that moment I have not looked up one single person on the list. I've been tempted but I've resisted. I've only got a couple of weeks under my belt but I feel so much better. It's all right to "not know." I've been using that spare brain space to do other more productive things. As I stated in my above comment, I needed to read this and I thank you for your insight. Really, thank you so much.

January 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

Have you been walking around in my head? This is what I go through as well all too often. Thank you for writing this, you are awesome!

January 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSara

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