Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tonight, you stooped to my level.
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,
I am truly sorry about all this.

On with it.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

I listened to the Middle School episode of This American Life last night, while working on a painting of a horse-- my resolution for the first part of the New Year is to improve my ability to paint and draw horses and birds, though birds have thus far gone neglected, no surprise. It's hard to beat that pre-pubecsent, Freudian equine fixation out of a girl. Freud, however, and the entire equine population would be sadly disappointed, I imagine. I'm not making the strides with my new medium that I had hoped-- painting has never come exactly natural to me.

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.

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