Thursday, January 10, 2013
Thursday, December 06, 2012
A Tale of Two Bears
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
It wouldn't surprise you, baby, to know that I've been having trouble sleeping lately. Always did, always will. But it's as bad as it's ever been. Can't even blame it on your snoring, anymore.
I don't wear the necklace with our wedding ring on it anymore. I flew out to see you, the week before last, and I found out then something I didn't expect: I don't really want our life back. Not the way I used to. Being there, I remember how it felt, sometimes. You get so angry, so often, and I don't react to that well. My new life, well, that's not a part of it.
It was refreshing at first. To feel like I made all the right choices. To feel like I was starting to get past it all. To think, maybe, you and I are on our way to whatever you and I are going to be, when we're not married anymore. When it's part of our past. Maybe, I'm on my way to being someone who can be completely with the person I'm with, without reservation, without regret.
And most days, since then, it's been pretty much like that. I had a great time out there with you, but it didn't feel like home anymore, and I was glad to come home.
Except, I've barely heard your voice since then. I've barely made the effort to hear it. I've grown complacent in this new world of mine-- or not complacent, but when I break down from missing someone, it's not you, most of the time.
It is, tonight.
I was laying in bed, not thinking of you, not thinking of us. And then it hit me, all at once, that I wasn't. It hit me, all at once, how little time I've spent lately, remembering the life we've had, remember that you're our there somewhere, without me, and that that's by my choice, and that that would have seemed unspeakable to me, a year ago.
I imagine, sometimes, it hits you that you're alone now. You probably can avoid thinking of it way better than I can, when I am alone, which isn't as often as you are. But when it hits you, it probably hits you hard. I can't stand that. My whole adult life, all I ever knew how to do was to give myself to you so you'd feel less pain. It's all I want to do now, when I imagine you realizing how far away I am. When I imagine you realizing that I decided to leave.
I don't know how to describe the discomfort I feel when I write that-- "I decided to leave." How hard it is to keep that reality firm in my mind sometimes. The best way I can say it, really, is that it's sort of like graft versus host. I've had part of me removed-- part of me that was sick, that was starting to make the rest of me sick-- and replaced it with something new, something that can work. But sometimes, my whole body rejects it. Me, getting over you, making the choice to sleep apart from you? That's...that's not me. That's not how I remember myself.
It's so disorienting. To remember that I've made a decision that I can't go back on, and I'm not yours anymore. It makes me dizzy and lonely and homesick, because, honestly, it's the only thing I know how to be.
Most days, now, or for most hours of the day, I can want what's best for all of us: for you, for me, for him. I can want you to get the job that will make your life easier, even if it keeps you far away. I can want for me to love him forever, for him to give me children, for my life to stabilize and grow happier. Most days, now, most hours of the day, I can want you to find just enough help that you can get better, that you can be in a place where you can love someone again, and for that to last.
But some days, some hours of most days, I look around at my life, and I feel so confused. Why did I make this decision? Why did I give up on absolutely everything my life was made of? From the walls I was living between to the man I was sleeping next to. I went from one coast to the other in every way that a person can. And I spend so many hours alone now, and I spend so many hours awake.
I know that I can't go back. Because I had all the right reasons for going forward. Because I'm here, and I've started to try to build a life, and because I've told him I'll be his forever, and I can't break that promise twice. I know that I can't go back.
But I also can't keep going this way, where I forget, most days, most hours, to grieve in earnest for everything that we lost. Where I tell myself, I don't need to wear that necklace anymore, the one with our wedding ring on it. Where I tell myself, that ring has already been replaced, if only in spirit, for now.
I can't keep doing that. I have to remind myself that it's okay to look back on everything we had, because so much of it was beautiful. I have to remind myself, it's okay to miss you as deeply as I miss you right now-- it's okay that, right now, I'd give anything in the world to hear your voice, to hold you. I'd give anything in the world if you could be crying with me, like we did in the hotel that night, just before I left. I'd give anything in the world if you could be here to tell me, you loved what we had, too, just as much as I did, and you remember it, and you'll always remember it, and it's okay that it hurts this much.
I wish you would do that, sometimes. Feel the pain, for me, and be there with me, in it. I need to grieve this loss, the loss of our growing old together, the loss of children, the loss of our home and the happiness that we never quite caught up with.
Some days, you took such good care of me: the last day of my visit, I was sick, and you packed for me, and you were so good to me. No one ever made me feel so safe and at home as you, when you took care of me. It'll be a while before anyone ever does.
I wish you were here. I wish we could talk about how badly it hurts, together. You haven't died, and neither have I, but we grieve alone, like we're at each other's graves. It feels like that. Like I'm talking out loud, to a ghost. But you haven't died. You're out there somewhere, right now. Snoring.
I just want to be able to talk about the pain with you. I know that's hard for you-- to hear me out and not feel attacked, to feel my pain and resist the urge to numb yourself. But I wish we could do it, sometimes. Because I need to know that we both grieve.
It was beautiful, you know? Our life together. It was tumultuous and painful and gritty and frustrating, but it was beautiful, it was so beautiful. We stayed together...so much longer than so many could have, under those circumstances. Because you opened me up to depths of love I'd never thought I would know how to feel. And that's something I benefit from, every day.
I don't regret it. I don't regret it at all. Just, tell me that you don't. Tell me that you never will. And hold me. And cry with me. I don't want to do it alone, anymore. I have so much grieving left to do.
And so little sleeping.
On with it.
Friday, October 19, 2012
The Only Gift I Can Give This Year
But I'm doing it for you. I'm making that promise as I slide the ring, which I once wore to remind me of another promise, off of my finger: I'll try. Because I won't ever be really happy until I do. And that's what you want for me. And I want that, for you.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
The trouble of it is that I’d be lying if I told you there were no moments where I was sure of exactly the opposite: that I am not the type of girl to leave my husband, that I love him more deeply than could ever be thwarted by however many obstacles, that we should stay together. These moments are fewer in number, but impossible to completely ignore. Conviction is about absolutes: it’s not about gathering marbles of belief on either side of an argument and weighing them against each other. Those marbles will scatter, mean nothing.
Far more common than the moments of certainty on either side is the more day-to-day reality: Zack and I are fine most of the time. Not sublime, very often, but fine. Fine at the grocery store, talking about whether or not our lettuce has gone bad. Fine, sitting down to eat as we watch something on Netflix. Happy when we wake up in the morning and, perhaps, two of the most compatible people in the world when we go to the Zoo, or Sea World, or a movie we both really like. Most of the time, there’s this overwhelming feeling of “what’s really so wrong here, that we can’t get through it?”
But the answer, when it comes, is never subtle.
Except for the betrayal I feel of the promise I made, one day, nearly nine years ago: to stand by him always, to be a better person because of him, to make him a better one, because of me. The betrayal I feel, when I imagine myself getting round with the child of another man while he loses his faith in the dream of having children of his own. The betrayal I feel-- against the man that I love more than perhaps anyone else in the world-- when I can’t give myself to him as a consolation in all of his greatest pains, at the moment when his pain is greatest.
On with it.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
To make someone happy.
Make just one
~Jimmy Durante, Make Someone Happy
Fleeting, mysterious, unpredictable happiness. This concept that we all chase, that we all suspect everyone has in spades over us. Something we shun as moody teenagers and then pine after as life-trodden adults. Wistful, powerful, energizing, amazing happiness.
And, when you think of it, really the source of most of the misery in the world.
I mean, okay. Not happiness itself. But the pursuit of happiness-- coming into this mindset that X will make us happy, or Y will make us happy. That we will be happy when we finally fix this problem, have this ability, own this thing. That we will be happy if we can just have one cup coffee, one cigarette, one piece of cake...or six. That we will be happy when we finally graduate high school, finally have the degree, finally have the job. Happy when five o'clock rolls around.
That car will make me happy. That locale. That weight.
If you think about how much emphasis Americans put on finding happiness, and how little of us actually, genuinely find it on the paths we're on, well, the forefathers really screwed the pooch on this one.
No disrespect, of course, to the visiter in England who found my site today searching for the phrase "I miss human decency" on Google-- that search term seems to indicate that maybe, they're not so happy across the pond, either. I suppose we put ideas in their head when we sent them that damn Declaration.
One of the many things I've noticed that you're supposed to have-- and want-- a lot of, but rather consistently seems to make one less happy the more they have of it, is knowledge. Knowledge-- and it's bitchy girlfriend, intelligence-- are supposed to be these incredible tools. But, working with a theory that being happy is more important than being successful-- and I'm not asserting it is, at the moment-- one could make a very reasonable argument that it's in fact, a hinderance.
At this point, I had hoped to link to an article explaining some scientific study that smart people are less happy in their daily lives; I was surprised when I couldn't find it. I was able to find multiple studies suggesting that intelligence does not correlate in a positive way with happiness-- except, perhaps, when living in a very poor nation where intelligence may give you the means to fulfill your very basic needs-- but I can't imagine who exactly thought it would? Who, precisely, theorized that smarter people are happier and set out to do a rigorous survey or some kind of double-blind study proving themselves right? My guess is it's those not-so-smart researchers. The ones that got into science and psychology because they couldn't get into med school, and now they spend their time needlessly envious of the brains around them, thinking they'd be in nirvana if they just had that bad skin and those focused, bespectacled eyes.
I say this, of course, because I've never me a truly smart person who suspected, for a moment, that their intelligence made them happier. Then again, I've also never met a smart person who would have been willing to trade their intelligence for happiness. There's a weird paradox in that.
But intelligence is just the bitchy girlfriend-- knowledge, I think, is the real criminal here. Intelligence is just a means to knowledge, after all, not often the other way around. Knowledge is what really makes you miserable, too: knowledge that, at any given moment, as you are drinking some divine, ornately-made choco-latte-grande-chino, there are starving children all over the world, and their helpless parents who could have fed them for a month on the three bucks you just spent on decadent caffeine. Knowledge that eating a banana or having a bottled, in an attempt to eat right and feel good about it, really equate to terrorism in South America or the dangerous privatization of water sources. Knowledge that there's acid in the rain, toxins in every food you eat, and that there's no such thing as the Tooth Fairy.
But, perhaps the knowledge that interferes the most with my own personal happiness is all the knowledge I've gotten in the past few years on the subject of personal happiness.
I just watched this TED talk, featuring Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling Upon Happiness. He presents the information in this super-uplifting way, making the point that your choices, circumstances, and getting or not getting what you want don't effect your happiness nearly as much as you'd expect, making the point early on that, on average, one year after their life-changing events, lottery winners and those who lost the use of their legs are equally content. He talks about your mind's ability to synthesize happiness, enabling a person to level out from life's disappointments, whether minor or major, with surprising ease. The message is very mellow-- hey everyone, relax. It's all gonna be okay. Whatever happens, your mind has the ability to make you just as happy as you ever were.
One problem with the upbeat message: he doesn't go into the fact that, despite your mind's ability to manifest your own personal amount of happiness whether you logically should have it or not, your own personal amount, well, it might be significantly lower than most people's.
I've talked about this before-- the concept of the Hedonic Treadmill, the current reigning pop-psychology theory that indicates that, despite changes in your life for the better or for the worse, you are destined to return to your baseline.
Which more or less validates a belief I've always had-- there are happy people, and there are unhappy people. And there's really not a lot the have-nots can do to catch up with those damned haves, in this case. So wouldn't it be lovely if they would just leave us alone already?
It's a little bit of a digression, but there's nothing more frustrating than a happy person who tries to force some platitude on you to get you out of your slump-- all the worse when that platitude is something along the lines of "Be grateful! There are people who have it worse than you!"
Two points for you, gratitude-platitude-punks: One, my glass-half-empty status is mostly genetic, not dependent on my circumstances, no matter how comfortably first-world those circumstances are. And TWO, I know all about those people who are miserable and suffering. THINKING ABOUT THEM is a big part of why I'm guilt-stricken, neurotic, angry and sad most of the time. So why don't you go have Poland Spring water and a banana, and stick them both up your socially unconscious, blind, arrogant ass, Smiley McLifeIsGreat?
Okay. Digression over.
Anyway. There's some hope, I guess. From what I can tell, the newest studies indicate that as much as 40% of one's happiness might be due to intentional activities-- IE, you can get, to an extent, happier. You'll still be anchored by the 50% that is genetics and the 10% which is uncontrollable circumstances. But 40%, well...if it's true, it's a little more hopeful than I was lead to believe.
I should point out that I have no idea how they got these numbers, by the way. What is 40% of one's happiness? Is it measured in time? 40% of the time they spend feeling happy? Or is it measured in the amount of happiness in one's...emotional set at any given time? If you, overall, are made up of ten parts happiness, ten parts regret, fifteen parts anger and five parts resentment...is forty percent of your happiness really just ten percent of you, overall?
It's a confusing number to say the least.
The other thing is-- and I am far from being an expert at this time-- I've never read anything that said you couldn't effect how often you veer from your "baseline" of happiness, though I suspect that if I were better at understanding graphs, I'd find that it can't be more all that often, as that would necessarily shift your baseline, unless you counter it with equal periods of sadness, or, I suppose, the occasional hour of absolute searing heartbreak.
So, I want to know more about this. I've made a lot of changes in my life-- I moved to San Diego recently, got on ADHD meds, got bangs-- and I'm finding mostly improvements with respect to these changes. San Diego is beautiful and full of things to do, places to explore. ADHD meds make me more productive and focused, and I'm having an easier time learning things I've always wanted to learn and being the person that I've always wanted to be. The person that I thought I would be the happiest as.
But I'm not really happier, I don't think. Aside from the fact that the medication, for some reason, never fails to give me a very mean, very upsetting irritable hour in the late-afternoon every day, the more pertinent reality is that doing these things I always wanted to do-- spending more time drawing and painting, learning the ukelele, and watching videos on Lynda.com to hone my design skills-- well, they're not what happiness is made of.
So I'm thinking of getting a book, despite my disdain for the happiness-intel, though I'm having trouble deciding between the many available on the subject. Daniel Gilbert's aforementioned Stumbling Upon Happiness? Happier, by Harvard Professor Tal Ben-Sharar? Or perhaps the How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, whose book's average Amazon review, at 4.5 stars, seems to kick the other two poseurs, with four stars each, right in their happy-sacks.
Then again, when it comes to books on happiness, it seems prudent to stray from my normal loyalty to Amazon ratings. I want science, not uplifting nonsense that makes people feel like they have more control than they really do.
Hmmm, and there again is the problem-- as Dan Gilbert points out in his TED talk, synthetic happiness is of just as high a quality as the "natural" stuff, though people are stubbornly skeptical of it. If reading that book made people happy-- if reading that book can make me happy-- than why would I care if it's fact or fiction? Why should I care what the controls of her experiments were? This isn't a cancer treatment, this is happiness.
Also, David Rakoff, author of Half Empty, would probably like me to point out at this point that, contrary to popular belief, a positive outlook does not improve one's likelihood of surviving a terminal illness, according to studies he quotes in his book. That's one that I think I will buy, actually. In the name of fairness and balance-- plus I love his voice, and I'm getting my choices in audiobook format.
It's 2:45 AM, yet again. I have acupuncture tomorrow at noon, and it will take me at least an hour of tossing and turning to sleep, probably more. So far, I have no real evidence that these community acupuncture sessions I've been attending several times a week are helping me feel happier, or, more to the point, helping to cure any of the problems that I, perhaps short-sightedly, blame my unhappiness on. But what I do have very compelling evidence of is that staying up too late the night before one does make me very unhappy when it's time to get out of bed in the morning. Thus far, despite the fact that better sleep is supposed to be a side effect of the treatments, I haven't been able to get my schedule back to any degree of normality, despite several attempts with varying strategies.
Last night, I stayed up making a drawing for Zack-- or, that's what it turned into. At first was a sketch to busy my hands as I watched reruns of "How I Met Your Mother" on Netflix-- if you want happiness in my book, it's eating and watching TV on the couch, but that knowledge-monster I mentioned before understands the causal link between that action and a pant size that, well, isn't happiness in my book. So I was drawing, and right around the time the sketch began to remind me Cthulhu with an eyepatch, I decided to make it into a little present for Zack. I finished up the transformation of Cthulhu into a full-blown Cthulhu-Pirate, and then carefully scripted a note on a treasure map in the corner:
Zack-Then I went outside and taped it to the steering wheel of his car, before climbing into bed with him around 3:30. A few hours later, he woke up, groggy and overtired, got dressed, packed a lunch, and left for work in the pre-sunrise dimness of a january morning.
Cthulhu Pirate wants you to have a marrrvelous morning!
He loved the drawing.
I don't do things like this often enough for him. It's a bit surprising, because, for money, the simplest route to happiness is gifts. Not for me. For other people. I love giving gifts, I love putting a lot of thought and effort into something that makes it clear to them, once again, how much I love them. An elaborate birthday package, a random amazon shipment, something they've mentioned they want but never gotten around to getting. I tried to learn Hallelujah on the uke for Sam's birthday-- and I basically did, but the idea was to record it in a video and post it on his wall, but my equipment was shoddy at best, and I was still another six weeks from being able to get all the way through without a mistake-- or at least, I hope it's only six weeks.
I bought a giant box of blow pops for Elorza one year, and the box set of MTV's The State another-- both were unexpected and thrilled him. I had Zack bring Holly, at work, a cup of ice coffee on a day when neither of us could leave-- I had asked her what she thought would make her day better, and that was what she listed. I set up a Happy-Birthday-Bill Hotline, and twitter bombed all his favorite celebrities to get him to call it: Felicia Day was the only taker. I knew she'd come through.
I used to have...more people in my life that motivated me to do over-the-top things, people I wanted to spoil. Still, it's time to refocus those efforts, though maybe more economically than I have in the past. See what I can do to brighten a day here and there, and hope that's enough brightness to get through a week. Between that, and whatever goddamn book I decide to buy, maybe I can get somewhere that's...40% more worth being than here.
And if that doesn't work, there's always Jimmy Durante. Come on. Just TRY to be depressed when you listen to this guy.
And you will be happy, too.
On with it.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
I'm your mangy little whore.
And you're trying to find your underwear,
And your socks, and then the door.
You're trying to find a reason
Why you have to leave.
I know it's 'cause you think you're Adam.
You think I'm Eve.
I don't know the relevance of this song, right now. It came on as I was listening to iTunes on shuffle, while I was reading old entries of this thing, while I was trying to think of all the messages of my life I've communicated on this thing, think about them in the context of how they came out, think about them in the context of trying to see the truth through the blur that is my language; my eloquence,when I have it. My bias, when I can't escape it.
Are those last few sentences even true? Or did they just sound good? What was I doing, why I was reading? Why am I writing now?
There was this time in session with Mr. L, the counselor at Lisbon High School at the time, where we had both been upset by something we were arguing about-- he was a tough love kinda therapist, some of the time. When he needed to be. And he was angry at me, I think, because I was irrationally angry at myself. All at once, he pushed me-- Why do you hate yourself so much?
I don't remember how my response, exactly. But it was a denial, I don't hate myself.
He protested. Yes, you do.
No, I love myself. Can it be that I said that? God, that doesn't sound like me, and maybe it wasn't-- it's unclear now. But I'm clear on the message, if not the exact wording, of what I said next: that I act the way I do because I want other people to love me.
Gosh, I wish I had a journal entry from a time that was closer to that day than now is-- I'm almost sure I wrote one, at some point in the innumerable hours between now and then. I want to know that I got it right, that I understand. My memory, very honestly, is not what it used to be-- hanging out with younger men and their total recall has led me to understand that. Anyway, what I know-- whatever it was I said exactly-- was that he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and made some kind of noise of sudden understanding. It validated what I felt already-- that something in what I said was ultimately true, true and deep in a way we hadn't gotten to before.
Goddamn, but I wish I had that exact conversation right now. How often do we have such revelations in our lifetimes?
The sentiment was more protective than insecure-- that there was a part of me who had developed to shelter this weaker part of me from the hatred and pain I encountered in my youth.
I made the decision, just now, to search for some keywords that might bring up an old post in which this conversation was mentioned. I didn't find one; perhaps, I would have, but the first post I found was long, and I read it, wondering if the memory would effect me the way it used to; if all these years later, that day described in the writing, those events could possibly have any ounce of the same power over me: aren't I an adult now? Haven't I worked out so many of my problems?
If I am to judge by the lines of thin, red paint running down my face, the sullied tissues at my side, and this uncomfortable lump in my throat, I'd say "no."
But if I wanted a clear understanding of where that protective part of me came from, if I needed an example of the things I faced in my youth that forced part of me to race towards adulthood and protect my weaker, younger inner self...if I wanted to know why it is that I write, why it is that I go back and read, then it's a better post than most to start with.
That was a link, in case you missed it. And if you didn't read it or didn't click because it was long, because you're just skimming, because you're more interested in the now than the then-- well, how often is the now just a strained reverberation of the then? Still, for your sake, the short version: it's the story of the mostly terrible day when I heard my father say "I love you." It's the story of the fact that that was the only day for years and years before, and, if you're curious, for years and years since.
He said it that day, and I changed a lot that day; but no, he hasn't said it again, and I haven't said it to him. Because how often is the now just a strained reverberation of the then?
I can say it, now, to so many people, and I do. I can tell Dan, Sam, Jeff, Elorza. I can post to facebook that "I miss the guys at Borders and send my love to all", I can tell people with whom I feel just the seeds of love that I know it's growing into it. I can write about love I feel for people who have left my life, wondering if they'll read it-- Casey-- or knowing they will because I can check the visitor stats from this website-- Emily. I can tell my nephews, I can tell my dead grandmother while standing at her grave. Occasionally, I can summon the courage to tell my mother and sister. I can tell Chad, who-- though unmentioned in that post-- was the next person I saw after all of that happened, which was undoubtedly instrumental in readying me for the vastness of what I would feel for him, readying me to feel love for someone utterly unlike my father. And Chad's rejection, in term, readying me to fall for someone who was a halfway point between them, perhaps; Chad's decency and gentleness, coupled, almost impossibly, with my father's erupting temper.
I tell Zack I love him every day. I make him tell me, ask him. I somehow believe that if he says it enough, that will give it more force; train him, almost. Make it true, because he says it's true.
The day all of that happened, and however many days later, when I wrote the post describing it, and for years after that...I hadn't learned yet, none of us had learned yet of my father's developing diabetes. Of the chemical imbalances in his system that were developing to make his rages all the more raging, to make him all the more thoughtless and impetuous and hurtful. To do to me....all that it did to me. To do to my family all that it did to my family; all those years, building, getting worse, undiagnosed.
And now, diagnosed, there are problems. My father has developed more medical problems, some a great deal more mysterious than diabetes, and it effects how he can be treated, and it effects how much of his nature-- is it is nature?-- how much of his temper and anger can be controlled.
Sometimes, when it's particularly bad, it gets easy to tell how much it's wearing on my mother. The way you can never really just discount something a drunk person says to you-- because isn't it really more likely that it was stewing in their mind the whole time and they just had the sense not to say it than that they didn't mean it at all?-- it's hard for her to ignore, time and time again, his unrefined, animal self.
There's a post I wrote not too long ago, in contrast, about losing faith in love-- there's a link there, of course, but don't feel like you have to read it. The topic isn't explored as deeply as I would like for it it to be, just the fear that I was losing it, and a comparison to the way I lost faith in religion, the way I couldn't get it back no matter how I tried.
To answer your question, if you had it-- I guess I don't really know how I faired in that more recent crisis of faith. Do I believe in love now? Or do I believe that it is a cheap, chemical trick?
I don't know, for sure, but it become all the clearer to me why I ran into the question at all-- for the past six years or so, I have taken to mending my wounds at the hands of my father. Taken to forgiving him for the things that I can, and, at the very least, intending to forgive him for the things that I can't. There are things I've found out about my father that I suspect no one else knows-- things that I believe fill him with a deep, consuming shame that shape his reactions and overreactions. Things that, I believe, might make him have a crisis of love-faith: would anyone love him if they knew?
I do love him; I can say that here, easily enough at the least. But I can't tell him.
I can't tell him that I love him despite all the tormenting shame and the crimes that caused it, can't tell him that I forgive him for who he is, or try. Hell, I can't even tell him I love him without confessing to that damned knowledge, and, if you didn't read it between the lines back there, I know that there's a chance that he's probably dying.
So if I can't summon the bravery to lift just some small amount of weight from his shoulders, to help cut through the suspected lifelong doubt that he was worthy of being known, worthy of being loved despite...well, if I can't grow up enough to do that, then how can I really maintain my anger at what he did to me in my youth?
I mean, I could, I guess. But it seems easier for me to declare it "sqauresies", and pretend that somehow resolves something.
But this was a tirade from my semi-original point-- I have taken to attempting to forgive him, to understand that, and the diabetes has become a tool of mine. It's impossible to know how much of his anger, how much of his screaming and shoving and cold distance was caused by the fluctuating of chemicals and hormones, was caused by a undiagnosed and misunderstood disease; my tendency is therefore to give him the benefit of the doubt.
People underestimate the value of giving people the benefit of the doubt-- you should do it more often. You don't know that the car that just cut you off isn't racing to the hospital to get help for a passenger or to see a loved one in their final moments before they die. You don't know that the cashier who short-changed you isn't grappling a lifelong battle with number dyslexia. You don't know that the person who scratched your car in the parking lot before driving off had any idea that they did it all-- perhaps they were being distracted by the news that their spouse has been diagnosed with cancer.
So why bother being mad?
Ironically enough, I probably developed this deeply-held belief in the practice of calm and forgiving because of my father's temper; because hearing him rail about things that seemed so unimportant made me angry, and made me want to be better than that.
But there is a downfall to this theory of benefit of the doubt, for me at least, and it's one I'm only finding out about tonight, as I write this-- and I was wondering why I felt compelled.
All of this pain in my life, in my family's life. All of these destructive fights, all of scars on the psyche of myself, my sister, my mother, my young nephew who was overhearing them during truly pivotal times of his development-- I'm trying to forgive father, to blame the diabetes where possible. So years and years of pain and suffering and family devastation becomes the fault of...sugar?
My teenaged life was a hell, my adult life is a strained reverberation of that hell, my father suffers, my family suffers, and we're all angry and twisted and trying to make it right; the happiness of my childhood was destroyed by sucrose.
And the more stock I put in that, the more stock I put into all sorts of chemical things. It's easy to notice now when Zack gets too hungry, because he gets grumpily dissatisfied with, seemingly, all of life. Struggled with it for years in the beginning of our marriage, trying to figure out what was what-- now I just feed him and that makes it go away. So, good. A win for that theory. That theory, strengthened.
But if men are susceptible to chemical change, then women, with our ever-changing hormones, so different from men in that aspect-- well, how many of our actions are just the fault of ebbing and rising estrogen, progesterone, testosterone. Not exactly like we're immune to that hunger-anger, either, since we're on self-mandated diets, like, half the time.
And so, now, with a little help from my own estrogen, there are really no women in my life, in an important way. I have a deep distrust for them, and a deep anger that they seem to think themselves so above the base realities of their bodies.
And I, so eager to be different by professing my weakness, both separate myself that way, and group myself back in, distrusting myself all the more. I don't have the self-respect that I should, because I know all too well that many, if not most, of the things I feel are just chemical reactions to what I've eaten, what I've taken, where my cycle is.
So, why, exactly, in this world where my father and husband have been bested by a little molecule of energy, in this world where the women I once revered are just time bombs of hormones and repression, in this world where everyone is just the sum of their physical, chemical parts-- why wouldn't I believe all the less in love?
I survived my love for my father and the hurt that went with it, ultimately, by making love less of....I'd like to write "what it is." I can't do that.
So again, did I make it through my crisis of love-faith? I don't know. I try not to think about it as often as before, I know that.
I think I've come to stand on the shaky ground that there are two emergent realities-- the one that contains, perhaps, some objective, quantifiable truth. The chemistry of love, the non-existence of right and wrong, the absence or presence of souls, of god, of energy.
And then there's a reality made up of what we experience every day. A reality made up of what we feel, not why we feel it. A reality in which anger is just anger, hurt is just hurt, and-- hopefully more powerful than those, if I am to survive this parallel reality-- love is just love.
You can believe in that first reality, you can talk about it and write about it and help it humble you and ground you and make you more practical and less judgmental and more forgiving, when it fits. But you have to live in that second reality, I guess.
It kind of reminds me something Casey-- who I loved, who I love, who I do not really speak to now-- told me once, about how some important Saint-- perhaps Augustine-- believed simultaneously in free will, and the omnipresent control of God. I'll have to look into that. Maybe I could get love and faith back in one fall swoop. I keep writing it together anyway; love-faith. I like what it represents, and I like the way it sounds: like something you'd read on a Dr. Bronner's soap label.
And now we're back to theology, and maybe somehow, I can work in that song from the beginning, Adam and Eve by Ani DiFranco. Not a song about love-faith, so much, as a song about lust-religion. Or, put another way that's not so different, about regret and shame.
There's a part in that post-- the first one, the important one, though I'll forgive you if you didn't read it-- where my father is trying to explain why he's been so absent all those years: "He told me that most of the time he had only stayed away from me because he thought that was what I had wanted, because he was afraid of messing me up....He kept rambling, almost senselessly, saying over and over again that he of course he loved me, that he wasn't perfect, that I shouldn't allow him to mess me up."
There it is: my father, saying that he didn't want to damage me, saying he'd been trying his best. And here I am, all these years later, never having told him back.
Do I honor him? Am I doing the best I can? Which reality am I really living in, here? Have I become stuck in the reverberations? Or have I, with my love, with my words, with all that I strive to be-- have I ridden those waves to a higher place?
Just do me a favor.
It's the least that you can do.
Just don't treat me like I am
Something that happened to you.
And I am,
I am truly sorry about all this.
On with it.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
The episode-- number 449, available to be listened to here-- was about Middle School. They began the show talking about the neuro-development of early puberty, the middle school years, and how learning in this time period has a unique effect on your life. Linda Perlstein, the author of Not Much, Just Chillin', who researched this developmental stage while writing a book that closely followed the lives of five middle schoolers, had this to say about it:
"This is the time of biggest growth for a human being, aside from infancy...During the middle school years what happens in your early stages of puberty is this vast overproduction of brain cells and connections-- far more than you actually need...So if you think about what you learned, at the early stages of puberty-- I don't know what that was for you. For me, it was tap dancing and french. I know french much better than any language I learned after that, and not because I had a better teacher, I was learning it at the right time. I can still do tap-dances, though I won't, that I learned when I was twelve or thirteen...It's embossed on your existence."Interesting. This got me thinking about what, precisely, was the most important thing for me in middle school. Certainly, it was the time when writing became more than just a passing thought for me, which can probably be at least partially attributed to my seventh-grade English teacher. But what else was on my mind?
If you knew me back then, you knew the answer. The blond, blue-eyed boy that I met in sixth grade and continued to crush on at least until sophomore year, arguably until graduation. Maybe until today, in some way or another. I've made a point of staying in contact with him all these years, even though our lifestyles don't overlap now, and our social circles were vastly different even then.
Still, he was always nice to me...okay, not always. But how different could I have been today if I had spent the ridiculous amount of time I spent thinking about him back then thinking about somebody with the sadistic whims of the average popular middle school kid?
So I wrote him a note, explaining the episode, and continuing with this:
So I thought back to what I was learning in middle school-- I guess, when I think of it, it was the time when writing started to become really important to me, and it has stayed really important to me. Academically, that's what stands out.
But they made another point in the program: that, perhaps unfortunately, due to these changes and all the hormonal and social chances happening to kids at this age, there's so much drama going on in a middle schooler's life that it's probably the age when they're least likely to learn anything in school-- anything in a textbook, anyway.
There's so much drama and social stuff in a kid's life at that time that many experts think that traditional schooling for kids that age is a waste of time-- nevertheless, being with other kids at that age helps to shape the adult they will become.
So I start to think of what my social life was like in middle school, what my day-to-day interactions were, who I hung out with, who I was thinking about-- and that's where you come in.
I fell for you in sixth grade. You were not, at all, the first popular boy that I'd been crushing on with undeniable hopelessness- there were a parade of them at Marion T. Morse.
But I met you under different circumstances-- Marion T. Morse and Lisbon Elementary had merged for the first time. You were aware of my stature, but didn't really have any preconceived distaste for me. Like most of the boys from Lisbon Elementary, you were just nicer, overall.
And something in that made you different. Something in that made me braver. Perhaps it was sitting in that first four-group desk in Ms. D's class with Jenn and Dan F., the four of us interacting with no real outside pressure or influence. In Mr. M's class, I passed you notes. After school, I'd call you sometimes. When I was brave enough to try to talk to you, you'd talk to me for a while. You didn't seem to see any reason that you shouldn't.
It wasn't like I had a shot, and I wasn't exactly declaring my love. But I knew, you knew, and it was just...okay.
All the rest of my life, my relationships have had a lot of similarities-- I've never felt the need to hide what I feel from people, to play some coy games or keep things to myself. When I'm attracted to someone, I tell them that-- whether or not they're in my league, whether or not they're available to me. When I love someone, I tell them that, too-- and it's okay when they don't say it back.
Interestingly enough, having the confidence to tell someone that's out of my league that I find them hot-- at least, guys-- has changed what my league would have been. Guys like a confident woman, they seem to respond to someone who doesn't play cagey games.
So, I learned how to interact with people that I was drawn to from you-- because you were kind, and (most of the time) didn't make me feel awful about myself, now, as an adult, I'm fearless and straightforward. And I like that about myself.
So I guess I just wanted to say thank you-- whoever you are now, whatever you took out of middle school and beyond, you were a great kid. And you helped to make me a better woman.
The other thing that struck me about this episode is how much it seems to explain about other people in my life-- specifically, in this case, Zack. (My husband, for newcomers)
Zack was home-schooled in middle school-- though not in elementary school or high school. I'd never thought too much about it before now, but what they said in the episode makes a lot of sense. In a time where most people are learning, in the company of other, awkward kids, to deal with their emotions and hormones and figuring out precisely how to interact, figuring out exactly what it is that's going to make them into themselves, Zack spent most of his time, in those years, burning through a day's worth of schoolwork in an hour or so, then spending the rest of the time playing video games in his room.
Today, Zack is very, very good at video games. But he still struggles with expressing himself, with his emotions, and, especially, with making friends and lasting connections with other people.
It's always been hard to discern why-- Zack is eminently likable. No one who spends any time with him ever has anything bad to say-- unless they've been privy to one of his rather loud outbursts while playing a video game, should he start to lose, or suspect he might. But overall, when he does talk, he's boyant, charming, and irreverent in a way that people can't resist-- and when he doesn't talk, they seem somehow intrigued by his charismatic silence.
Still, making friends is difficult for him, and keeping friends has proven almost impossible. Notably, he seems less anxious when surrounded with people who are younger than him, which may have been a result of the fact that his mother ran a day care all throughout the years he was home-schooled, putting him in frequent contact with younger kids.
Sadly, this loneliness seems to have become the defining sorrow of his life, and my closeness to so many people only serves to highlight it, bitterly.
I want to discuss it with him, but I'm frankly not sure I should. I've always put a lot of stock into these neuro-development things, and other biological facts that contribute to who we are and what we can do-- the kinds of things that the masses, I think, like to casually ignore, not willing to be defined by the science of our bodies. I wish I was like that-- I'm all too aware that I'm past the point where it is easy for me to learn new things, that, if I had studied French a few years earlier than I started, I'd be fluent now, because it's when my mind was ready for it. If I had learned to paint back then, would these horses today be realized with full, vibrant beauty? All too often, that knowledge is what discourages me from trying harder-- can I ever be what I might have been? Can I hope to compete with the people of tomorrow, whose parents and teachers will understand these important truths far better than I ever did?
And, Zack, too often pessimistic-- maybe he'll find the information interesting and satisfying: a reason he struggles the way he does, something concrete and scientific and not at all his fault, something to motivate him to work harder towards what he wants to be. Or, more likely, he could take it as just one more point against him, a scientific bottom line proving that he missed the popularity train.
I suppose all I can do is keep working on my shoddy French, keep painting my disappointing horses, and hope to set a good example, that maybe, just maybe, it's worth it to keep trying. Maybe I can paint him a picture that will be worth looking at.
On with it.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
If I had to track it back to where it all really began to go wrong, I guess, upon inspection, I'd have to say it was there.
Tucked into a drawer, I believe, in a green desk in my room. The largest, if I'm not mistaken, on the bottom. I'd written it weeks before, maybe in a study hall at school, and she'd seen it. She'd seen my quick, harsh reaction to her glancing at it, she'd heard me forbid her to read it. I may as well have told her it was the holy grail.
I don't think she ever intended to find it-- I could be wrong, I suppose, but I believe it was an honest mistake. And who could have controlled their curiosity once it was in their hands?
So she read it. Alone, in my room, while I was gone.
There's this thing I understand about myself now, and must have understood even then. These tiny seeds of doubt get stuck in my mind, and they grow and they grow until I commit them to words. Then, often, they dissipate. It's a tendency that has lead me to have to confess some thoughts that I wish I never had to share-- and doing so, I regret, has done some damage to those who have had to hear them, sometimes.
But these doubts, I knew I could never share with her.
I knew it wasn't worth it. I knew they were the children of confusion and fear and societal pressures, I knew they were more about how I thought I should feel, than how I felt. Most of all, I knew they weren't important enough to be spoken, and I knew that she was too important to hurt.
"When I was young, I knew everything..."
So I wrote them down. In that damn, red ink, that made them so vulgarly conspicuous, so easy to see at first, so easy to remember when she saw them again-- red, like a target. Red, like the burning, destructive flames that they were.
People I've related the story to have told me that she was the one who should be sorry, that she invaded my privacy, and that I had every right to express myself. At the time, I thought they were so short-sighted. The reality is that I hate written hateful, hurtful things on paper, and was careless about it, and she suffered for it. She suffered more for it than I ever would, more than I could ever predict she would. I apologized then, I tried to explain. But there's only so much damage you can really undo. What a betrayal-- to cut into the beautifying glow of early love with ugly words, to make someone doubt every time you tell them how you feel.
Privacy? What a trivial idea, in the grand scheme of things.
Then again, I'm suffering along with her now. So maybe I add the privacy thing along in the list of things that I try not to be me mad at her for.
It was the beginning of the end in the short term-- when it ended, she made me feel like I was the one being rejected, because I never knew just how completely I had made her feel rejected in the first place. At that age, I couldn't comprehend what I had started. When she lied and told me that everything that had happened didn't mean that much, I believed her.
I believed her, and after a harsh, broken-hearted time, I started going on with my life. And she, who ended our relationship with a lie, never had the opportunity to believe anything clear. All she knew was the red ink of my doubts versus the blank ink of a hundred notes passed between us that told her I felt just the opposite.
I guess she spent the next however many years loving me. I don't recall that I knew, clearly, back then that that's what was happening. I don't believe I ever understood, and even now, it's hard to fully grasp the damage someone takes being rejected by someone who doesn't know they're rejecting. The attraction never really dissipated, and things happened. Maybe we were both fighting to be validated by the other-- both of us had been hurt.
I don't know. We were kids. We were stupid. Both our hands were stained with that damned, red ink.
"We tried to wash our hands of all of this..."
About a million things happened between then and the day I had to write my final note to her-- a lot of them contributed. But, rereading the last of our correspondences now, I can see the red letters between the lines-- she wrote of things that happened in our past that she never really got over, things that we would have to work on when we were done with this break that we were on for reasons that were supposed to have been unrelated.
The truth is, nothing is really unrelated. It's a domino effect. For a brief time, one summer, I gave her some of the confidence that she'd lacked all her life; then, all at once, I took it away and more. You don't just, get over that.
"Now I'm guilt-stricken, sobbing, with my head on the floor."
So now it's, I don't know how many years later....twelve, thirteen. The girl I was closer to than any other in my life, for most of the life that I remember, is gone. Because of a series of mistakes we made before we could begin to understand what the hell we were doing.
There were a lot of factors. There were things that she did that angered me, anger me now. They aren't worth talking about, not now, not with this beautiful song playing in the background and me feeling this melancholy longing.
It came down to a decision on my part. I don't know what to say about what I why I made it-- that I was hurting more deeply than I could make her understand, that I was trapped in a fight where I wasn't allowed to throw a punch, that all of my instincts were telling me to do things that could only make everything worse.
What I can say about the decision is this: I lost one of the best friends I ever had. I miss her...not quite every day, because, by sheer force of will, there are days that I avoid thinking about it. I love her, I always will. I often wake up from dreams about us finally being friends again, when I do sleep-- and I have doubts, enormous doubts, that keep me up a lot of nights. Doubts-- we all know what damage they can do.
I have doubts about my decision, and they get stuck in my mind, and they grow until I commit them to words. Having done that now, what I can say about my decision is this: If I had to do it again, I would make the same decision.
It was the only one that was right at the time. It was the only thing I could do, given the circumstances-- the adult thing to do. The thing that caused the least amount of damage for both of us. Because I caused enough of it already, all those years ago.
"For the life of me, I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins. We were merely freshmen."
On with it.