Bas relief

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Yep, those are mine.

Yesterday I threw out karate belts I earned between the ages of 18 and 20. They were musty. Hidden away, like all the stuff I haven’t found places to display yet. I like space. I value space. Open, empty space and shelves that say, “We don’t need to be filled to feel important.” What they need to be filled with is essentials for survival, but that’s another story.

A friend on Facebook asked me how I could bear to throw them away because I earned them. I see her point; they are a trophy and I did earn them. All these years I have not wanted to throw them out (if I thought about it), but something’s been changing in me for a while now, about carrying baggage and grudges.

I carry a lot of grudges that I’m shedding slowly. The one I may never be able to shed, the one I need to shed most, the one I have to consciously shed every day, is the one against myself.

My 7-year-old self for an embarrassing moment.
My 12-year-old self for an embarrassing moment and hurting someone’s feelings.
My 15-year-old self for something that should have gotten me arrested for assault (that’s the one that’s killing me right now).
My 18-year-old self for being starry-eyed, stupid, and too immature to be let loose on the world with no guidance.
My 25-year-old self for …

And all the years before and in between up until yesterday. I’m sure today I will do something today that I will find beyond the pale after I’ve committed the offense.

What prompted this? I don’t know, but I think it was when I had to cut off a dear friend I’d had for years. The relationship had gotten toxic years ago, but since we were separated by distance, it wasn’t an issue. Then I got on Facebook and that changed everything. I tried to resurrect it, but that’s always a bad idea.

Crash.

Burn.

I hate that. I’m one to let friendships fade and it’s only in the past few years they’ve flamed out and left me grieving for a while. Those you can never patch up.

Being married has taught me the value of talking things through instead of letting things flame out. It’s difficult for me, and I have had to evaluate each to figure out if it was worth it. In two very recent cases (one yesterday, as a matter of fact), it was more than worth it. Their friendship means far more to me than walking away feeling righteous and hurt and angry and guilty. People are more understanding (of relationships, of my toxicity) than I ever gave them credit for. I faded away so as to not poison the relationship myself because, in the words of Jack Burton, “Sooner or later I rub everybody the wrong way.”

I realized I was making very slow progress on letting things go when a Twitter friend I’d had for years cut me off in a blaze of fury for … nothing important. That was the second time he’s done it. I grieved the first time. Deeply. It took nine months for him to cool off. This time … I didn’t care. It was time for that relationship to go bye-bye.

Anyway, in thinking about my friend’s question about trashing my karate belts, trying to explain it, I realized that what I got from my time in karate were life lessons and examples to follow (or not). I’m still operating on the principles two men (both my teachers) taught me.

Those two men could not be more different:

Number One was a charismatic lawyer, a salesman if you will. I am (was) susceptible to charismatic people, but I learned my lesson about that. Really well. Occasionally, bits and pieces of him come out in my characters. The bad ones. But. He said something to me one time that I have struggled with ever since and really sort of defined me. At the time it horrified me, because somewhere in my entrepreneurial soul, I knew he was right.

He said, “You paid for your training in sweat, money, tears, and sometimes blood. Why are you giving it away?” I was horrified. I said, “Knowledge should be free!” It’s based on the way I was reared. He just shook his head and walked away. But it spoke to me.

Number Two was a taciturn law student, really mature for his age, quiet, observant, discerning. Unapproachable. Nobody and nothing amused him. Except me. Suffice it to say, I was the teacher’s pet. I wasn’t very good, but I was funny. But then, as I do, I crossed a line and then I wasn’t funny anymore.

These two guys hated each other. I could never figure that out, but I was 18 and stupid. Number One owned the place. Number Two was a subordinate teacher fifteen years younger. There was no question who was the alpha.

Number One was making me crazy, but I didn’t realize it because I was 18 and stupid. I thought something was wrong with me. My time in martial arts faded, but I never let it go.

Anyway, these two guys ended up battling it out in a courtroom some years later. It’s a tale straight out of a lawyer novel (no, I didn’t write it, hint at it, or use it for the basis of anything). It involved knowledge. Who had a monetary right to it and who didn’t, which is where the “You paid for your training in sweat, money, tears, and sometimes blood. Why are you giving it away?” comes in.

Some years later, I was still carrying Number One’s crazymaking and Number Two’s disapproval—heavily—and I worked up the courage to call Number Three, somebody I didn’t know, but who could maybe let me vent and then talk me down out of the trees. It was a huge gamble. It paid off. And I got back in for a while, but first, training was logistically impossible by that time; second, I didn’t have the fire in my belly and I never did. So I let it go.

Almost thirty years later, I’m hanging with my Tax Deductions in the storage room of my house pitching and tossing. It’s past bedtime for a school night, but they’ve both got messed-up Circadian rhythms and I’m a night owl. My 12-year-old XX TD is tossing out sly innuendos at me, making me aware she knows what she’s saying, and, like the bad mother I am, instead of chastising her, I’m snickering along with her. XY is reading and offering his opinions on everything, as per usual. Dude is in his office busy supporting us like the awesome Dude he is.

I open the box (my dad’s wooden Scout ditty box, which is far older than I am) with my belts, nunchakus, bag gloves, and jump rope. It’s musty in there. “Eeww.” I pick up a belt, sniff it, and tell XX, “Those go.”

She protests.

I start singing “Let it Go” just to annoy her and it works. Natch.

And we go on pitching and tossing.

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