19 April 2007

The Ballad of Nellie H.

Let’s suppose for a minute that you knew a girl named N. Hauser. Wait, wait, no, Nellie H. Now let’s suppose that she didn’t have much time three years ago, but she started dating a guy named Felix. At first, she just liked the benefits Felix offered, such as a sense of security, somewhere to go after school, and some cultural prestige. Over time, she loved him more and more. Some of her previous commitments were freed up and Felix offered to deepen the commitment. Nellie put her all into the relationship. She gave up everyone and everything else in the sense that even if she was away from Felix, she was thinking about Felix. She would plan their next big date and how to make their time together more worthwhile. She made and received phone calls and emails at all times of day or night as long as they had to do with Felix. Never in the history of this man’s life had someone been so dedicated to him, who would spend so much time on him. Nellie H. made him her life. From dawn to dusk, she did what she could to make everything he did shine. She made awkward phone calls, she ran from project to project, always in hopes of making Felix better and better. Exciting offers were made to her for better relationships, but she turned them down because she was on a mission—a mission to do everything she could to help Felix. She never minded hearing about him or from him when the day was over. She liked to solve problems for him and never slowed down, figuring there was too much of too much importance to be done. She rejoiced in setting and reaching new goals. After a while, friends and family of Felix began to be jealous. They saw how dedicated Nellie was to Felix. They saw her never stopping to rest and secretly felt bad that they didn’t work harder to be good friends to Felix. Behind Nellie’s back, little whisperings began. Every now and then, Nellie would make mistakes that she heard about. Moving on, she vowed to do better and she did. Each day, her energy was renewed and she knew she could accomplish something great for the relationship. She knew that Felix’s friends and family were important as well in her relationship with him, so she did what she could to work on those relationships too. Unfortunately, they did not want to work as hard as she did at being friends. They began to look for things to point out. They criticized her every move, built up mistakes, and stacked them one on top of another without forgetting a few first. Still, Nellie knew that she had chosen to make Felix her life and she would continue to do her best with him and others despite the lack of support. Before long, things from Nellie’s hairstyle to the book she wrote for Felix were black listed. Nellie began to feel that everyone disliked her. Indeed, she realized that Felix himself had never done anything for her. In return for her dedication and love, she received harsh looks and constant undermining. Her energetic service and studied expertise in her relationship with Felix were rewarded with complaints reported to her by Felix himself. Characteristics claimed precious by society were abhorred when Nellie used them to build up Felix. She began to wonder if it was wrong to be dedicated and selfless and hard-working. Everyone who felt themselves above Nellie had traits more popular: they could find fault in the tiniest action, they could hold grudges like a drowning man could hold a piece of driftwood. Indeed, they had talents in every area that Nellie had been taught to avoid. She tried to stand tall, but she felt that her sense of values had been tricked. Felix began to discuss interviewing everyone else about how they felt about Nellie. She could not understand why people would talk to Felix about her, but never talk to her. He thought that maybe Nellie should move to a different part of his life. He told her about all the concerns that had been voiced to him. He continued to look past the wonderful things Nellie was accomplishing. Hadn’t he seen them blossom together? Hadn’t he seen his own quality grow? None of that mattered now, for she had become the minority. She may be wonderfully right, but the voice of the people must be listened to. Nellie felt alone and knew she had never been loved back. She knew that she had not made the difference she had wanted to, despite her every effort. Still, Nellie’s life was Felix and she would not let him go easily. She would do all she could to make this the best relationship ever, even as she felt the sun setting. She still kept the long hours, she still thought of new innovations. She saw others who dropped away from Felix without having done anything they had promised. Her heart tore within her and she recommitted to herself that she would finish everything she had promised for Felix. If she had committed herself before, it was nothing like now. Her phone, her sleep, her travel, her writing, her emails, her reading, her music: all revolved around Felix. Nellie was a gold-medal winner—one who learned from the bruises left by the swinging gold that winning was evil. She began running, running as hard as she could just so she could let out the pain and cry alone in gasps. Criticism came openly now. Looks were not sensed or discovered, they were expressly delivered. She slept long and heavy sleeps that left her feeling tired. Day after day, Nellie reminded herself that she couldn’t let Felix go until she’d followed through on her commitments to the best of her ability, even as she sat through a why-we-hate-Nellie-with-Felix conversation where she gave up on all diplomacy and hung her head. She shrunk from the replays of that conversation. She agonized over what she had been beaten to. Her pulped confidence betrayed painful truths. All that was left was . . . Nellie. But she had made Felix herself and all he had given her was hurt beyond any she had felt. Hurt that squeezed her insides and pulled at her temples. Nellie’s heart closed. Her neck and shoulders ached and kept her from sleeping peacefully. She dreaded waking up in the morning and longed to lie down on the floor and never get up again. Nothing mattered now. She knew what she had to do. She knew who, besides herself, would be the best for Felix. It was not an option to stay and teach her successor, so she prepared the role so it would be easy to fall into. She did all she promised. Then she told Felix she wasn’t coming back.

Now imagine that Nellie H. was really Michelle G., and that Felix was the Family History Library. Can you see, in some way, what adverse effects this experience would have on someone? Loving something and making it your life, only to have it thrown back at you until you are a withered pulp . . .

I suppose one could reasonably say that Nellie H. would need a lot of recup time, perhaps even counseling. Now what if Nellie were to jump into the arms of Victor Thimble too soon just to feel some sense of accomplishment and dedication and security again? What if she so wanted to please someone, anyone, that she forgot to think about it first? Do you think there would be more adverse effects because of the avoidance of feelings?

Nellie doesn’t know if she can ever be as dedicated as she once was. Her confidence is shot. Her options are endless, her potential soars above those who have not endured similar trials, but all she craves is peace and quiet and love. She avoids thinking about anything. With her self-love gone and her heart shriveled, where can she turn?

Today marks three years.

1 comment:

  1. Quite to ballad, Michelle. I laughed when you made the connection explicit--as if we couldn't tell. Anyhow, I think this ballad is good therapy for your emotional scars. Keep working through it.