a hug i failed to give

When, exactly, do we stop caring about a person?

Is it once the ink dries on the divorce papers? Is it earlier – when we’re climbing the stairs to the attorney’s office? Or did we leave the caring behind in the car?

I want to know. I’m trying to understand how the uncaring unfolds. Is it a gradual process, or more like flicking a switch? Is family something you can truly divorce yourself from? Or is it more like a wart? Something you burn or carve out of your flesh only to have it spring forth anew years later?

I ask because I’m still turning a conversation over in my mind that I had the other night. With an older woman I met at a screening of a documentary. A film about drug abuse. She drove an hour to see it.

Do you know anyone affected? I asked.

Oh no! No one in my family.

You’re very lucky, I said.

She paused.

My ex-husband’s son has a drug problem. My ex-stepson. He’s not doing well. But no one in my family. I’m lucky.

She came to the film alone. The showing was sold out. She lingered by the door just in case a seat became available. One didn’t. So she sat for 90 minutes at a table outside the screening. She attended the question and answer session afterward.

Later she found me outside. She wanted to tell me what she learned about treatment. About how it’s hard to find a good one.

I keep thinking about this woman. And what I should have said to her.

I keep wanting to tell her there’s no shame in having a problem. There’s no shame in being frustrated about a situation you can’t fix. That we can’t ever get well if we feel ashamed of who we are.

And I kind of wish I had given her a hug. I feel like she needed one.

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