What Do We Owe Each Other?

The Scream by Edvard Munch

I got an email today from one of my best and oldest friends. That was about 6 hours ago, and all I’ve been able to feel since then is rage. You see, this friend stopped speaking to me nearly a year ago without giving me any explanation. I spent the past year really hurting about this and wondering what I did and trying to figure out what was going on. It hurt. A lot.

And today she emails me and says it wasn’t really anything. She doesn’t know why she didn’t write to me (or call me or talk to me in any way, shape, or form at all) this year. The last time we saw each other, we had a challenging interaction–the first I can ever remember between us in nearly a decade of friendship. I don’t know what went wrong that day, but I know it was the day we stopped speaking. And I’ve spent the whole year trying to figure it out. Only to find out today after all that, that it wasn’t a big deal to her.

I think the rage is that after all that: she could afford to just drop me for a year. She has a huge family that all love her absolutely no matter what. She has a partner who she is building a beautiful life with. So when we had a challenging interaction, she could afford to just put our friendship aside for a whole year. The trouble is: nearly my entire immediate family died ten years ago. I don’t have anyone, so my friendships are so important to me. And hers in specific was really important to me.

But the thing is: it’s not her fault that she is surrounded by people who love her unconditionally and absolutely. It’s not her fault that I’m not. I know it sounds obvious, but this is something I have trouble wrapping my head around. This friend doesn’t owe me anything. Nobody owes me anything. So why do I keep feeling like somebody should?

This brings me to the ultimate question of this post. Do we as human beings owe each other anything? Do we owe children something?

I spent most of my childhood with my eye on the prize (which was surviving and getting the hell out of there.) But occasionally I would be nearly overpowered by this sense of injustice. But I didn’t really know as a kid that my life was so messed up, not really. You get used to whatever is handed to you as a kid. But as an adult, I have felt a lot of anger towards various people from my childhood. And not really, as you might suspect, towards the people who really hurt me–not towards the men who sexually abused me or towards my mom who let it all happen while she was completely ignoring me or picking on me herself. It never seemed worth it to be angry at them.

But my teachers. Those teachers who I loved as a kid. Who gave me the only sense I got as a kid that there was something worthwhile about me. Those teachers who seemed to think I was awesome and supported me. I have such anger towards them as an adult–because they saw me every single day. They heard more about my life than any other folks. Did they really not know that I was being beaten and abused at home? Did they really have no idea at all? And if they did know, how could they not have done anything to intervene? When I was a child, did anyone owe me that? Did I deserve to be helped? Is there a difference between what someone deserves and what others owe them?

And then my extended family who I couldn’t wait to visit every summer in the idyllic Virginian countryside. My extended family that I wanted so desperately to belong to. Did they owe it to me to make a point of knowing what was going on in my life and to do something about it? Maybe the answers to these questions are obvious to others, but I have no idea.

Do we have an obligation to the people in our lives?

But then I think about this blog and my writing and the work I do with children. Do I do that work because I feel like I owe kids something? No. I do it because I can’t bear the thought of any child living through the things that I did. I can’t handle the idea that any child could feel that alone and utterly unloved. I just can’t stand it. And I know they do every day. But it’s not obligation. I don’t know. As usual, no answers here.


About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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8 Responses to What Do We Owe Each Other?

  1. Susan Lea says:

    Dear Pam,
    I love reading your blog because it most always hits home. And yes, I do wish I had known more about what was going on. Now that I’m older I would speak out, but don’t if I would have had the guts then.

    I hope you will forgive your teachers…in all my years of teaching I only had one student show me her bruises and tell me what was going on. This was before I got my certificate – I was subbing- and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t find out til later we are required by law to report suspected abuse. I never was confided in again, or saw signs I thought should be reported. Maybe it was the older kids I taught.

    I still struggle with being angry with my parents and sister. I think I’ve said I’ve been in counseling for years.

    Yes, YOU DESERVED TO BE HELPED. You should have been helped. All children deserve to grow up in loving, stable homes. But we have made a big difference in other kids lives, and can continue to do so. I would not be what I am today without the suffering in my past.
    And you deserve to be happy, now and forever. You have been strong and come so far despite the abuse. Keep believing in the wonderful Pam who has done amazing things!!!
    Love, Susan

  2. pamwatts says:

    You’re right, Susan. I’m sorry. I just wanted . . . here’s what I really wanted. Deep down I always just wanted someone to tell me that they saw me. That they saw what was going on and that it wasn’t fair. I wanted someone to tell me that I was amazing and strong and that I deserved better.

    And you’re right, it probably wasn’t my teachers’ fault. I was incredibly good at hiding what was going on. We are all so caught up in our own lives–especially me. We don’t see what those around us are hiding. We probably don’t see it because we don’t want to. Because it would mean that we’d have to do something about someone else’s pain and we can’t even handle our own.

    It’s just, I’m amazing. I know that now. I just wanted someone else to see me and see that and to love me. That’s all I wanted.

  3. Susan Lea says:

    Sweetheart, it does get easier…you learn to forgive again and again, you learn you do have power over the present, you realize they can’t hurt you anymore…I actually feel sorry for my Dad now – he lived an angry reclusive life, and died with his brain reduced to vegetable matter. He would never talk to counselors or anyone about how crazy his parents were (Granny still is!!!)
    When I was growing up, my Dad and later my sister, learned how to control me by holding long grudges and giving me the silent treatment. I actually thought for the longest time that NOT being able to hold a grudge was a character weakness!! How relieved I was in counseling to find out its mentally healthy to forgive, forget and move on!!
    I have to keep forgiving, forgiving and forgiving. Sometimes I have to make myself associate with other people…instead of isolating. I have to continually search for support, since like you I have no family support.
    And writing these things to you definitely helps me, I pray it helps you in dark times. hugs

  4. L. Marie says:

    Oh, Pam. That just hits me viscerally. My goodness. I can’t put it more eloquently than Susan already has. You deserved to be helped and loved. Thanks for being to transparent. We all want to be seen. None of us wants to be ignored.

    • pamwatts says:

      You know, I think that’s why fiction was so important to me as a kid. Sometimes I would read a description of a character like me or who had been through what I had–like, say, Jacob Have I Loved–and I would feel seen. And especially if the author clearly had compassion for her protagonist, I would feel like I was OK. That’s why all of this is so important, I think.

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