64. The Power Is in Your Hands

64. The Power Is in Your Hands

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Power Is in Your Hands

We acquire the strength we have overcome.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I unexpectedly became a widow at an early age. Even though he had been verbally abusive, I was still a basket case when my husband died. Mary, my best friend from school, dropped everything and relocated across the country to be with me in my time of need. I hadn’t asked. She was just there. “Don’t you worry about anything, I’m here till you get back on your feet again.” I was grateful to have her company, and soon her quick wit had me laughing and enjoying life again.

I had a house and she moved in. She was good at everything. She did the yard, the housework and the cooking. I worked. It was nice to have a warm meal waiting for me when I got home. I admit I felt so spoiled. Secretly, though, I wondered if she would ever leave. I couldn’t be ungrateful and ask her to go, could I?

She kept insisting she would find her own place as soon as a “real” job came along, although it didn’t seem like she was pursuing anything. I paid the mortgage and she worked part-time, covering her minor expenses.

First it was the little things that started to bother me. She’d complain to the neighbors that their dog was trashing our yard. My yard! She’d yell at the newspaper guy when he delivered the paper without a plastic bag. She’d tell my teenage nephew that only bums wore their caps in the house. I may have objected to the cap but wasn’t it my place to tell him? To keep peace, I mostly stayed quiet.

To tell the truth, I didn’t have the nerve to ask her to leave. The house was large enough so when things got really uncomfortable, I just retreated to my room.

One day I threw a birthday party for my nephew. As soon as the guests arrived she began barking orders: “Take your shoes off. Put them by the door!” A young relative drank a soft drink out of a bottle. “Where are your manners? Take a glass!” “Out of the kitchen everyone. I am trying to cook!” she barked. The youngsters were afraid of her. Older guests secretly referred to her as the Kitchen Nazi. “It’s okay, Mary.” I tried to defuse the situation. But her retort to me had been so combative that I just let it go.

The next day I sat her down at the kitchen table and gently expressed my dissatisfaction. “Mary, while I appreciate your desire to help me, it’s my job to set the rules.” She abruptly rose, shrugged her shoulders and dismissed me with, “Sure!”

In no time, her aggressive behavior reared its ugly head again. I allowed the situation to continue. I did anything to avoid confrontation. Yet I was becoming more bitter and angry. I snapped at her. She snapped at me harder. Resentment grew and festered.

When I met Larry and we started discussing marriage, I had a stiff drink for courage and announced to Mary that a couple should have privacy. She promised she would get a place of her own soon. But she never did. She’d argue. She’d fight. She’d cry, “I have no place to go!” Or “I can’t afford it. I have no money. I will move out when I have the means.” She reminded me that she had been there when I needed her and now I was discarding her like an old shoe. I had a roommate from hell!

I took my dilemma to Larry, who gave me this advice: “Honey, you must handle this problem like the grown woman you are. I can’t tell you what to do. The power is in your hands.”

I even sought the advice of a therapist. I took Mary with me. After a few visits, to my surprise, the therapist told me she couldn’t help Mary. “But I can help you if you listen.”

“Help me? But I’m not the one who is argumentative. I’m not the one who uses people and takes advantage of a friend’s good nature. I am the healthy one!”

Almost immediately as I spoke these words of protest and denial, I began to see a completely different picture of myself! I had been allowing Mary to take advantage of my good nature, just as I had allowed my first husband to verbally abuse me. I was too timid to take a stand! I had no backbone! I was a wimp!

The next day I smelled smoke coming from Mary’s room. This time I walked in bravely. “I have told you a thousand times you cannot smoke in the house!” I shouted. Brazenly, as she furtively dipped the cigarette into a cup she was holding, she retorted, “Who’s smoking? I am not smoking! You’re crazy.” Meanwhile, in full view, the smoke was blowing out of her nose!

That was the last straw. A week later, when she returned from shopping, I had her bags packed by the door. I handed her an envelope and firmly said: “I found a lovely apartment for you. I will pay for it for three months. And here is some cash for any expenses you may have. If you refuse this, I will have you evicted and you will get nothing.” It was money I did not have to spare but it was worth it. Her eyes were wide in disbelief as she took it and my offer. She was gone the next day.

It took a while for the bitterness to leave me. I had thought she was my dear friend, but she had taken advantage of me. Eventually I realized that I had contributed to this unhealthy relationship. It was a pattern that I had followed most of my life. In order to keep peace, I allowed people to walk all over me. But the anger had festered inside me. When I realized I would no longer be afraid to say, “No,” it was as if a stronger power released within me.

I didn’t see Mary again until I ran into her in the supermarket years later. The years had not been kind to her. Her face looked shriveled and resentful. But for old times’ sake, we had a cup of coffee and chatted as if nothing unpleasant had ever occurred. We talked about fun times, when life was easy. It pained me that she was not in a happy place. I no longer felt anger toward her. I had forgiven her and was almost grateful to her. Without her, I might never have learned how to become a strong woman in my own right.

We parted for the last time. I kissed her check and we said our goodbyes. As she walked away I think I saw her mouth the words, “I’m sorry.” I did see a tear trickle down her cheek. Then I recalled the advice Larry had given me long ago. “The power is in your hands. Use it.” The power to forgive was in my hands, also. I still live with these words today.

~Eva Carter

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