[Word count: 654. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]
“When you’re little, you adopt survival mechanisms. But then they last too long. They last beyond their usable time and they become impediments to growth.” —Jane Fonda
I used to be horrible at taking compliments. Too often they’d be a bait-and-switch for devastating insults. So I became a ninja at self-deprecation. If I tore myself down sufficiently, no one else could take anything from me. It made me feel safer. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to stop… for decades.
At age 50, my friend Robin Hill was fighting brain cancer. I was fighting a kind of disease too. Mine was that I’d want people to like me. And then they would. I just wouldn’t believe them. Both maladies kill very slowly. Ultimately Robin didn’t survive hers, but she left something to make sure I survived mine.
After Robin passed, her sister Heidi and I leaned on each other a lot. One day during a road trip together, I heard familiar sounds coming from the speakers. Suddenly I couldn’t stop squirming in my seat. “I know this song. I hate this song.” It was my song. I wrote it.
“Heidi, what is this? I don’t wanna hear this.”
”I told you this is all we listen to! As soon as we get in the car, the kids either want to hear you or Mary Mary.” She says this all the time. She had to be kidding. I couldn’t believe…
Years prior, I gave some music I recorded to friends, including Robin. The response was chilly, as if no one wanted to outright say they didn’t like it. I was really disheartened and abandoned the recordings, hoping to bury the feeling of failure along with it. But here was the zombie I couldn’t keep in the ground, resurrected and lurching toward me.
“Please turn it off,” I asked… almost. But then thought, “Why is she listening? And she seems to be enjoying it. And singing along. How does she know the lyrics?”
She went on and on about how her kids each have a favorite on the album. She even said Robin’s was “It’s Heaven.” Apparently if she had a rough day of chemotherapy, listening to it would calm her down. Heidi told me how they talked about me.
“Why isn’t he making millions?” Heidi exclaimed.
Robin responded, “Oh, he doesn’t think he’s any good.”
“But Mark is fabulous.”
“He doesn’t know it though.”
She had to be lying. I couldn’t believe… Except for one thing. Robin couldn’t lie anymore. Ever since an unsuccessful surgery to remove her brain tumor, Robin couldn’t keep track of the last 15 minutes, let alone be a master deceiver. She could only remember what was reinforced over time. Names of friends & family. What she did for a living. And what was implanted too deeply for a scalpel to cut away: Mark doesn’t know his worth.
I didn’t. And I was dumbfounded. Is this the impression everyone got? I underestimated myself. I undervalued myself. I undereverythinged myself. Had she told me while healthy and living, I would’ve disregarded it. “Whatever, Robin. You’re just saying that to be nice.” It took cancer for me to believe. Since I’m as harsh with my opinions of myself as I am with others, Robin gave me the best gift anyone could. She gave me the gift of being wrong.
I found out after she died, how talented she thought I was. She bragged about me to everyone. I didn’t know I had a friend that good. I didn’t know I had that much love. Until then, I swore my low self-esteem was 20/20 vision and time honored wisdom. I thought I was simply… right. I was horrified. Beautifully. I couldn’t wait to find out what else I was wrong about.
That would have been the last gift she gave me if I hadn’t discovered one more little big gift after her memorial. Read “Gifts Robin Gave Me, Part 2.” In the meantime, read my tribute to her about how our friendship only got stronger in the face of the cancer diagnosis.
One year has passed now. This slideshow was the last kiss I blew to pay tribute to
my friend, “the princess” Robin Hill (July 29, 1962 – November 1, 2012)
Frankly, though, the first half of it is actually from a slideshow Robin did of herself.
Unlike me, she didn’t have any problems with self-esteem. Ha.
- Simple Test Reveals If Someone Is Trustworthy (huffingtonpost.com)
- In Memory of Robin Hill (junkyardsalvation.com)
- Every Day Can’t Be April Fools’ Day (junkyardsalvation.com)
- Worship, Unconscious (junkyardsalvation.com)
- What Do You Do When God Disappoints (junkyardsalvation.com)
- A Million Epitaphs (junkyardsalvation.com)
- Not Enough, But Compared To What? (junkyardsalvation.com)