So I’m through with saving you
A gift unto myself
A tired savior, a wasted favor, I’m lucky I’m alive

— Pantera

I just got done talking to the woman who would have been my mother-in-law, had I been married to my ex-girlfriend. Since she and I split almost six years ago, her parents have inherited the unenviable job of trying their best in a likely futile attempt to keep her from total self-destruction. So her mom calls me regularly when she needs a sympathetic ear, since no one knows better than me what sort of tiger she has by the tail.

Over these past several years, my ex has systematically used up and tossed aside everyone that has tried to help her, friends and family alike. Tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours of effort and goodwill, all for naught, not even counting what she put me through financially and emotionally. She had been sharing a house with the last friend of hers patient enough to try to help her get back on her feet, and now that’s come to an acrimonious end amid the usual accusations of lies and theft that follow her everywhere she goes. She venomously disowned her mother in a hateful letter a couple years ago, so this all gets to her through the grapevine. A devout Christian with deep reserves of generosity and patience, even she’s given up on her daughter, calling her crazy and hopeless. In debt, unable to hold a job or domestic arrangement for long, and with a toddler to care for; no one at this point would be surprised if she’s soon homeless, or even dead.

I only briefly enjoyed epicaricacy at her expense, shortly after we broke up, but even that started to feel cruelly gratuitous before too long, as it became clear what sort of avalanche she’d unleashed on herself with a series of astoundingly stupid decisions, which have only compounded themselves since then. I suspect she’s untreated bipolar, and said as much to her while we were still together, but she’s never sought treatment for it. I also suspect she might be a genuine sociopath, as she only seems to see other people as tools to be manipulated and disposed of as she sees fit. Kindness is a weakness to be exploited, not a gift to be appreciated.

I have to work hard at dredging up memories enough to genuinely feel any hate for her, and it’s almost never worth the effort anymore; there are much better uses for my time. The only reason I’m having phone conversations about her now is because of having to get involved to prevent her eldest son from becoming the latest victim of her machinations, but in general, she’s long gone from my life and I just count myself lucky to be as well-off as I am.

As I hung up the phone, though, in what has become the common ritual after these calls, I just stared out the window for a while, feeling sad about the sheer pointless, irrational stupidity of it all. I know she’s had far more chances to get her life together than most of us will ever get (or need). I know she doesn’t “deserve” any sympathy, as far as people usually reckon such things. I know she needs the kind of help, probably involving therapy and medication, that no one will ever be able or willing to give her, even if she were able and willing to ask for it. I know she’s just one of countless such people living miserable lives, dragging others down with them. It’s just deeply saddening to see such mindless, compulsive self-mutilation. It’s like watching someone in a frenzied rage, throwing themselves violently against the bars of a cage they created themselves. I see the apparently inexorable process that led to this point, but sometimes I still can’t help but wish for it to suddenly, magically just stop.

Is this compassion? Because it’s not really all it’s cracked up to be.