My parents are the sort of people that I am pleased to disappoint. In many areas their dissatisfaction could even be a healthy meter for measuring my life’s progress in how well I am developing as a decent human being. This may sound like an arrogant judgment, but I assure you it is just simple truth. They are damaged people who are living testaments to the amount of life that can be wasted and people wounded due to not choosing to be brave and abandon what hurt them. Both of them were betrayed as children on a couple dark occasions and went on to build fortresses around themselves so they would never have to look the world in the eye, cutting off the people who care about them most with no apology. My mother barricaded herself with Evangelicalism, my father with fortune. She keeps herself at a distance with damnation and righteousness. He repels people with sexual perversion and a peculiar strain of meanness. It would be one thing if the world worked the way it occurred within their walls, but unfortunately in the light of reality’s day, they are among the most simple-minded, frightened, and emotionally retarded individuals many have ever stumbled across.
My parents believe that rather than talk about the things that are heavy enough to shape a lifetime, everyone should just keep to themselves and put it behind them as though it never happened. While this is definitely an attractive methodology to deal with pain, I have yet to witness its success. The way they have moved on is by embodying the very habits that hurt them in that they both became abusers themselves – whether directly or permissibly. They sacrificed the well-being of their children in order to avoid any insightful reflection towards their selves, only to hide behind the generational cop-out “That’s just how I was raised” when they are called out on it. Given our childhood circumstances and seeing how our parents grow older, my sister and I can not think of a more shallow, lazy, and selfish motto to live by. As smart as my parents like to believe they are, my sister and I are fortunate to not have allowed ourselves the comfort of also avoiding rational thought. Someone treats you badly, you get hurt, and then you repeat it while using their example as the excuse? While I have compassion for people’s suffering, I can not respect such relational indolence.
Therapy is what people do when they want attention and a hand out – at least according to my folks. My mother isn’t as adverse to seeking help as my father, she just prefers these sorts of conversations be kept between you and a god rather than another flesh-and-blood human being. She has told me that I will never be any good as long as I run from her god. My dad has said my PTSD is nothing more than my choosing to dwindle on the past. They act as though the indignant mistrust my sister and I inherited are incantations called forth out of our own weakness to just forget about it all, that we prefer living in these memories over a reality filled with beauty and loving people. These are not unique views by any means as the world is full of people who use regurgitated anecdotes as advice in order to hide their own fear, negligence, and vulnerability. It is definitely not uncommon for people who treat their children horrifically to be so unapologetic and critical towards those kids later for the ways they become affected into adulthood. No one ever helped my parents and they became resentful to the concept of being open and loved because they were never shown how to. They were never given a chance. That resentment gave way to what they chose to nurture as adults because it became familiar. Crisis is comfortable. Distance is reliable. Pain is noble.
Well, fuck that. Here are a few lessons I have picked up from them thus far:
During an interview with a group of medical students back in September, I was asked about the details of my childhood and what it was that might have led to this most recent stint in a psychiatric hospital. After a half-hour or so when I was done giving them some of the more amusing examples of my life’s experiences, one woman asked bluntly at the end, “What do you want from your parents?” I paused and looked around the half-circle of people who were surprisingly still wide-eyed and obviously a couple years my junior, their pens ready to lap up my answer.
“Grace. I want them to know what grace feels like during their lifetime and to know what it means to be loved as the person they are.” They all sat in silent stillness. No one wrote a syllable but just looked at me. “I just understand now that it can not come from me.”
“Why not?” she quickly challenged.
“I used to believe I could, but a good friend once advised me that we can not give unto another that which we are unwilling to give to our self.”
It’s been an hour since a downpour of rain summoned me awake by gently rapping its knuckles along my tin chimney. Noticing the warmth night had mercifully spared throughout the cabin, I sat up and opened my window to a mild ocean breeze. A constant percussion of thuds, slaps, claps, and crashes plays a constant ditty in the dark as trees shake their heavy robes of icy snow off their shoulders to once again dance in the wind. Micro avalanches roar as they scoot down my roof on their butts, making inches sound like thunder. Without falling, it remains a heavy blanket over the cabin, insulating and protecting us from all the unforgiving ice that is getting tossed carelessly from above.
Winter has always been my favorite season because the snow makes me feel safe despite its merciless response to anything tempting to test it. The world makes more sense to me when it’s cold and white; everything is crisp to the eyes and its stillness allows by brain to breathe deeply while it thinks. I enjoy the solitude of people abandoning sidewalks and plans on account of the painful arctic air, allowing me to use my high pain tolerance to explore beauty all alone. The bite at my toes, heavy stiffness in my limbs, burn on my face, icy vapor thumping my lungs, the teary sting in my eyes, the throbbing scream in my pink fingers – I love it all! How often does the simple act of stepping outside punch us in the face with how physically alive we still are? The frigid winter instantly puts me back into my body, forcing my body and I to work together carefully as we maneuver the gelid world lest we lose track of the other and end up with frostbite or freeze to death. Going out in this weather is a great way to get reacquainted with taking good, basic care of ourselves while pushing our boundaries of comfort.
Now the Atlantic wind has returned and I realize while I sit here and listen to it churn the trees in the darkness that it was the first thing that became recognizable to me after moving to New England. I have always noticed it, and now I welcome it back as it bellows a thick fog through the forest. Pleasant familiarities are a good sign of home.
Bathed in rubbing
safe in the dark
to vulnerably wash
Sitting on my bottom
a cold glass of water
I spend time
While rain floods
with dull mirrors
from dark clouds
I am not alone -
dart and tease
make me flinch.
Some thoughts from
with such Guests:
1.) I am not afraid of the dark if it protects me, nor am I anxious about shadows if my eyes can adjust to their features.
2.) Age is reflected in the gifts we share.
3.) Do we tell lies when we are unable to express ourselves freely? My experience has found that people rarely turn down the nonjudgmental allowance to express themselves freely because it is such a deprived opportunity.
4.) Candlelight is much softer on the eyes and nerves on long nights.
5.) Sitting in the dark with the windows open can make night very lovely as it is spent with the forest rather than an enclosed room.
When I was nineteen, a mentor told me that I would be able to count all my friends on my fingers by the time I was able to look back and see who stuck around. At the time I thought she was just being her ol’ jaded self, but now I realize she was right. I am not a social butterfly and do not have a posse or crew. The people who matter most to me can be counted on both hands, a modest number that can make two very mighty fists when rolled together. I couldn’t be more fortunate. These are just some of the examples of their kindness and love that I have reveled in:
Before sending you on your journey, they always make sure you are well fed and not without something to keep you warm and cozy until you reach your own bed.
Your most enjoyable pastime together is conversation. It is your preferred way to spend time together.
They are not afraid to show you tenderness. A rough time could warrant any of (but not limited to) the following responses:
They know you well enough to keep you grounded in who you are when life becomes disoriented, as their site of you never gets muddled despite your best intentions to soil it.
They dote on you with warm embraces, hearty food, and very good coffee.
They love you enough to never need to pretend the hard times did not happen. Anger, disappointment, frustration, annoyance – these are rarities that can usually be laughed at later.
Heckling one another’s vulnerabilities is a perfectly acceptable form of affection because of its loving intention.
Generosity is a primary commonality.
Shame has no place in the relationship, no matter how idiotic either of you may act from time to time. You care about each other too much to let the other feel anything that may be detrimental to them.
When monsters appear, they don’t hesitate to step in front of you with their fists up.
You keep each other from taking yourselves too seriously.
They share their families and loved ones with you. Or rather, they make you feel like you are special enough that they want to share you with them.
Your phone calls can last for hours because bathroom breaks are not necessary; toilets are perfectly acceptable background noise.
There is no place you can end up where they are unwilling to find you.
Their first response to the absurd or psychotic is to research why it makes perfect sense that it is in your psyche; they do not discount your experiences nor do they allow you to feel isolated by them.
They are your biggest advocates when it comes to family dysfunction.
Disagreement is permissible.
Differences are welcome as they expose you to new things.
They are a source of constant joy and the occasional headache.
Marriages often take years to break down before ending in divorce – unless there is an explosive scandal – and that is why people are often so bitter and worn out by the time they happen. I’ve seen people keep each other and themselves on a sinking ship in fear of the loneliness of the wide open sea below them, only to realize once they jumped that they could float on just fine. This fact would have had them abandon ship long ago if they had only trusted their ability to take care of their own heart. By the time they get to the paperwork, they can be riddled with exhaustion, hurt, and fear. It is really difficult to be empathetic towards one another while your worlds are being severed apart.
This is where Nikki and I lose people right off the bat: we did not hesitate to jump when it was clear that the boat would not recover. As dear friends who have evolved lifetimes together, the most sacred aspect of our relationship worth protecting is our ability to love one another without resentment. Allowing each other to be true to who they are is far more important to us than fighting to keep our names on a certificate. Staying married should not shadow honoring one’s own truth. The core of our story is that neither of us are people who wear co-dependency very well; it fit us like a wonky sweater that inhibited our ability to move freely. We share the same craving to try on different hats and marriage at times only afforded one of us to do so at a time. Our time and resources were no longer our own and rather than relish in the comfort of partnership, we put up our fists and began to swing to keep enough room carved out to breathe. It is easy to bear self-inflicted suffocation, but when you see it happening to someone you care about, you let them go.
It so happens that neither of us are cut from the cloth that makes it natural to stomach the pain it causes other people to selfishly pursue what we want. We don’t have that self worth – a characteristic that was just as damning as it is redemptive. Loneliness, doubt, and the unknown are small prices to pay for the Love of Your Life to nurture who they are capable of becoming. With or without you. The key to avoiding resentment is to learn how to nurture who you are capable of becoming as well. I would rather continue growing as friends rather than stifling each other as a couple; I think she agrees.
One of the best gifts I have ever received is a mix of music. I love them. They are an emotional journal the entire body can participate in exploring. This one was made for me by my dear friend Ian. I love you sweetheart. Enjoy.
Songs Not To Die To