“Sometimes it’s harder to deprive oneself of a pain than of a pleasure.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

 “Boulevard vu d’en haut,” Gustave Caillebotte
(1880; I was completely unfamiliar with this particular Caillebotte, so glad I came across it as I love it.)

                   

“My memories have turned into anxieties.” ~ Fernando Pessoa

“Le Brusq,” Lucien Pissarro (1925)

Saturday afternoon. Cloudy and windy.

I wonder if it’s possible to catch a computer virus because I’ve been flat on my back for days. Wednesday, when I tried to get back to the post, the one that never ends, the computer had a major temper tantrum, kept inserting <div> codes everywhere. Internet Explorer kept locking up, giving me those errors, even after I downloaded the most recent version. Finally, I said “Fine. You win,” and I went and watched “Criminal Minds.”

However, by Thursday morning, I knew that I was down for the count. I slept on and off for most of the day, and Friday morning, I couldn’t even get out of bed. I so hate it when this happens, when the weakness (for lack of a better term) sets in, and I am completely wiped out. To put it in terms that may help you to relate, it’s akin to recovering from a bad flu, real flu, not a cold, but the actual thing. The mind is ready to get back to normal, but the body says, I don’t think so.

Last night I had jelly legs, for want of a better term. I walked from the bedroom to the kitchen, and felt a bit like a life-sized pinball, sort of bouncing between walls. So today when I woke up and felt as if I could make it to the kitchen, I was elated. I was even elated that I had enough energy to wash the dishes, Yippee skippy!

Yes, yes. I know. Strange but true.

Now ordinarily when I feel better after being down and out, I immediately use that newfound energy to do things around the house. Today, however, I thought that before I did anything else, I’d write, just in case it’s only a temporary respite.

So where were we?

“. . . well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others . . . Beneath it all is dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“The Room of Flowers,” Frederick Childe Hassam (1894)

Ah yes . . . that open wound in my heart . . . my daughter Alexis.

I have debated over whether I should write about this, going back and forth over the whole issue of privacy—hers, not mine—hence, the snippets here and there but no details, but in the end, I decided that as long as I did not trespass into her life when writing this post, as it were, then I needed to get this off my chest in the hopes that the pain that I am carrying will not fester and turn into resentment, or possibly something worse.

I have not seen Alexis for over two months. This might not seem all that significant to many of you since she is almost 27 years old, but I should point out that she lives less than five miles from our home. She didn’t even come over for Eamonn’s birthday dinner.  And trust me when I say that I have always given her ample space and privacy as I know how it feels to be the daughter of a mother who respects no boundaries whatsoever. And it’s not that I want her at my beck and call or that I require her presence on a daily basis. None of that is true.

What is bothersome in the general sense is that her excuse for not seeing anyone or doing anything used to be that she had no vehicle. Not so any more. She has a brand spanking new Accord, quite a nice one actually. Yet it still feels as if she lives across the country.

If you were to ask me what was wrong, I really could not say for certain. Is she depressed? Probably. Is she sleeping all of the time? Probably. Is she taking her medication? Probably not. Is she doing anything to help herself? This is the big question, the one that none of us have any kind of answer to, but the reality is that until she is ready to do something, none of us can do anything.

Perhaps it’s that I’m so accustomed to intervening on her behalf for most of her life, making apologies and excuses for her apathy, her laissez-faire approach to life that to now find myself on the receiving end of her silence and disregard is irksome and unnerving.

“What is silence? Something of the sky in us.  There will be evidence, there will be evidence. Let them speak of air and its necessities. Whatever they will open, will open.” ~ Ilya Kaminsky, “Deaf Republic: 1”

However, if it were just the silence, I don’t think, no, I know that I would not be doing such a slow burn.

“Spring in Goscieradz,” Leon Wyczółkowski

It all began when her grandmother, my other m-in-law started becoming noticeably worse right after the beginning of the year. Ann and I were talking about things that we could do, especially to take some of the burden off Ann as taking care of her mother was becoming a full-time job. Ann said that if she could just get help for a few hours in the evening, it would make such a difference.

I suggested that we ask Alexis; after all, she wasn’t working, and this would be perfect. She could earn some money by spending two to three hours in the evening with her grandmother with whom she has always had a wonderful relationship, make sure she took her evening meds, ate something, put her to bed, and make sure the house was secure (as in no stove burners left on or doors left unlocked). I felt that it would also be a good way for Alexis to get back in the habit of having somewhat of a regular schedule without jumping into full-time work right away.

Ann and I both thought that it would be a win-win situation, and I thought to myself that I might even ask my ex if he could contribute a bit of funding if necessary. All that was needed was my daughter’s cooperation . . .

I called Alexis and left a message for her to call me as soon as possible. No response. The next day I left a voice mail as well as a text that she really needed to contact me regarding her grandmother. She called me the next day. I made my pitch.

Silence.

I talked a bit more about how it wouldn’t require that much of her, just a commitment to help out five evenings a week, and perhaps some weekends.

Silence.

Apparently, I was not being clear. I mean, it was actually a fairly easy proposition, not requiring that much of her time, and as she was family, my m-in-law would be more comfortable with having her in the house. Perhaps I hadn’t explained it well. So I tried again.

Silence.

Finally, I asked what the hell her problem was that she couldn’t respond. Was she not interested in helping out? Was she not interested in picking up a bit of cash? Was she not interested in working her way gradually back into a pseudo-normal state of being?

She just couldn’t commit, she responded. She wasn’t sure if she could do it every night, and what if she had other commitments? What if she got another job?

Well, I said as calmly as I could, you would have to work around it just as you would do with any other job. You wouldn’t make commitments from five to eight in the evening. And, of course, if you got another job, then that would take precedence. I could feel myself becoming angry, not just angry, but livid, but I held it in check. Perhaps she had a really good reason for not wanting to do this.

“You suppose you are the trouble
But you are the cure
You suppose that you are the lock on the door
But you are the key that opens it
It’s too bad that you want to be someone else
You don’t see your own face, your own beauty
Yet, no face is more beautiful than yours.” ~ Rumi

“Mulberry Tree,” Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

This is what I got as an explanation: She just wasn’t ready. She needed more time to get her shit together (her words). She didn’t think that she could do it. She was really sorry to be disappointing everyone, but that’s how it was. Then she tried the guilt card:

I know that everyone is disappointed in me. I have an Oma who I never see, who calls me. I have a grandmother and grandfather who are both really ill. My best friend is dying. But I just can’t. (I’m summarizing here).

I lost it. I told her not to even attempt the guilt trip. I was the master of the guilt trip, and it wouldn’t work on me. If she was so damned concerned about her grandparents and her best friend, then why didn’t she do something about it?

She just couldn’t, you see. She wasn’t ready.

Okay, the conversation deteriorated badly at this point, but in my favor, I did not say all of the things that I was thinking. I did ask here if she knew when she might be ready, when she might have her shit together (my words). After all, it had been almost a year since she had worked, and all she was doing was sleeping. I might be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that it’s darned near impossible to get a job when you don’t try—at all.

She just didn’t know. She was sorry. She knew that I was disappointed.

No. Truthfully, I wasn’t disappointed. I was shocked, and I was pissed. That was what I was. It ended pretty much with me saying that she should call me when and if she ever got her shit together. I told her that I loved her, and I hung up.

“. . .you and I together have gone down a single river with linked mouths filled with salt and blood . . .” ~ Pablo Neruda, Furies and Sorrows

“Vegetable Garden and Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pointoise,” Camille Pissarro (1877)

My entire body was shaking, truly. Trembling. Given all of the things that I had wanted to say, I think that I did fairly well. I didn’t want to say those horrible things that people say when they’ve lost control, when the argument has gotten away from them, and nothing but vitriol spews out, and then the words are out there, forever said, embedded in history, and no amount of apologizing will ever erase them.

I tried to process this. Corey and I talked and talked. Was I being too hard? Was I expecting too much? I mean, if anyone knows how paralyzing depression is, I do. I know that depression and anxiety can completely waylay an otherwise energetic person, and I know that those of us prone to wild mood swings (without medication) can be almost useless. So I try hard not to compare myself with Alexis as that isn’t fair; she is her own person with her own chemical imbalances. But geez, it’s as if she has absolutely no interest in helping herself. Her doctor prescribed her medicine that—when she takes it—really helps. But the key term here is taking it. She doesn’t. She doesn’t take the medicine even when someone else pays for it.

This is her logic: If she doesn’t wake up until 8 o’clock (PM not am), then it’s too late to take the medicine because she’ll be up all night. I suggested setting all 72 of her alarms (exaggeration, whatever) for 8 AM, wake up, take the medicine. No, no. That won’t work.

It feels as if I’m staring at one of those images, you know, the ones that look like a duck, but if you stare at it long enough, it’s really Albert Einstein. You get the point. I look at her, and I see my daughter, but the longer I look, the more she morphs into something unrecognizable.

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

“Chemin Fleuri,” Emile Claus (trans. Flowery Pathway)

One of the aspects that is so hard to bear is that I have always been my daughter’s biggest cheerleader, believing in her, encouraging her, telling her how much potential she has. In my own attempt to be my mother’s antithesis, I have gone to the other extreme with my children, writing them letters on special occasions in which I extol their virtues, urging but never pressuring them to try new things, to think about life as an adventure, and always to remember that we are not alone in this life, that many, many people help us to get where we need to go.

Yes, a bit smarmy, but it’s my own version of up-with-people for my offspring. But in the end, if she doesn’t believe in herself, in her own capabilities, then what I have to say doesn’t really matter.

So that’s the story. I called Ann and told her it was a no-go and summed up my daughter’s reasons for turning down the opportunity to help everyone, including herself. Since that big conversation, I have spoken with Alexis a few times, all but one time initiated by me. When her grandmother went in the hospital, I texted her but did not hear from her until the next day. So in the interest of keeping myself sane, I have compartmentalized, big time: There is all of the regular crap that makes up my day-to-day life, you know, bills, cut-off notices, more bills . . . and then there is the Alexis box.

This box is akin to Pandora’s box. If I open it, I have no idea what will fly out or how badly I will be hurt by it. So, for now at least, I’m keeping the lid on. Does this mean that I don’t care? Of course not. (I made the mistake of saying something along those lines to my mother, and she immediately went for the guilt juggler: How can you say that? What if something happened to her?) Does this mean that I wouldn’t help her if she asked? I’d be there in less than a heartbeat. But does the decision to leave the situation and her alone for now make me a bad person? Perhaps. Does this make me a horrible mother? Probably, but I honestly don’t know what else to do, so for now, I’ll do nothing, which grates against every Type A cell in my body.

Emotionally, I refuse to give up on her. I’ve already lost one daughter; I will not lose another. But for now, I have to step back and just suck it up. There isn’t a baby book in existence that has a chapter that covers the heartbreak your children can cause. No one wants to read about that aspect when life and the future seem so full of possibilities. If we knew all of the potential heartache in store when we thought about becoming parents, would we have done it anyway? Yes. Does that make us stupid? No, just human.

More later. Peace.

*I began this post at 1:35 in the afternoon. I finished writing it around 3. It is now 6:15, and I have spent the last three hours or so trying to take out weird coding and entering coding for borders around the images since the WP feature to do that doesn’t seem to be working. This is why posting lately has been so damned taxing . . . Update: It’s now 8:08. This post is still royally f-ed up. I am considering abandoning it in between my mother calling to say that the sky is falling (tornado warnings in the surrounding area), I’m losing track of the sections that have mysteriously disappeared . . . Spell check isn’t working, so apologies in advance.

Music by Jimmy Eat World, “Hear You Me”

                   

Going There

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.

~ Jack Gilbert

Say it and mean it: I’m proud of you

I wonder if we ever reach a point at which we feel that we have finally made our parents proud, that we have finally gotten enough A’s on our report cards, made enough touchdowns, earned enough certifications, learned enough skills, gotten enough degrees, painted enough masterpieces, won enough statues . . . or is it just a completely hopeless task? For me, I know that it will never be enough. I lost my father before I could redeem myself, and I know that with my mother, I will never quite pass muster.

This is not to say that my parents do/did not love me in their own way. But I remember standing at my father’s casket after almost everyone had left on that terrible night that they call “the viewing” and just keening (a word that my friend Kathleen gave to me years ago) and apologizing for not making him proud. It was an intensely personal moment, and one that I had not planned on, and I wish to god that everyone had left me alone until it had passed, but of course, my mother sent someone over to keep me from making a fool of myself, and so, it was left unresolved because it was an apology that I truly felt that I needed to make. My father never saw me dig myself out of the hole that I had fallen into. After my divorce, I went through a succession of short-lived jobs and he despaired that I would never find myself, but I did. I went back to school. He never had the chance to get to know my second husband, a man who stepped in and really was there for me and my children when we needed someone, a man I really think that my father would have respected and liked. My father never had the chance to see any of this. So much was left unresolved.

My mother, on the other hand, has been around for all of this, and still doesn’t quite know what to make of me. She still believes that I’m the same person I was ten years ago: lost, irresponsible, guided by my twofold grief. That I have changed she is unwilling to acknowledge for it is easier to believe otherwise. And so we have reached an uneasy existence: One in which I try to do my best by her with her many ailments and failing memory, and I promise myself not to be impatient when she makes remarks that could be construed as cutting. This is my only parent, I tell myself. I have no idea how many years I have left with her. She is not outwardly loving, and I remind myself that she is a child of the depression, that perhaps they did not have time to say “I love you” to one another in a family of 12 children, that hugs were probably sparse in a family in which the mother died young, that my own mother did not have a mother after 8, and was sent to live with sisters and so, while she was cared for, perhaps outward signs of affection were not passed out generously.

So I have to be content to know that deep in my heart, I am not a failure. I received many A’s on my report cards. I supervised a newsroom before I was 20. I finished graduate school at 21. I’ve done some pretty cool things in life. But that doesn’t stop the deep-seated insecurity that I carry with me to this day. Was my father proud of me? I hope so. The not knowing is a wound that pierces me. And this brings me to the second part of my entry: the fathers who are alive and have no concept of how they wound their children no matter how old they are.

I have tried to teach my children since an early age that they are all valuable people, yet I sense in each of them insecurities of different sorts: deep personal insecurities in one that come from a sense of abandonment, emotional insecurities in another because of a sense of not understanding the concepts of the give and take of love, and basic social insecurities in another because of a feeling of not understanding society and his place in it. Luckily, these insecurities can be worked on and there is still time for some parental love and understanding to help. Granted, motherly love can only go so far, and it is only a balm, not a curative, but if accepted, it can help. But in spite of it all, the one thing that we all give to each other freely are these three words: I love you. Each and every day. I’d like to think that that helps.

But what about the adults in my life who I see still hoping for recognition from their parents without ever getting close to acknowledgement? How much will it take for some parents to realize that their children are successful adults, living, working, and succeeding in a hard world that is actually not tied to their parents any more. The truly awful reality here is that some parents will not allow for that one moment of pride to slip between the overall facade of disappointment and bless their child with acceptance for being who they have become, choosing instead to hold onto the disappointment, whether that disappointment is leftover from a decade or even two decades ago. These individuals cannot let slip the noose of supposed injustice done to them, some wrong on some slate that has been tallied and memorized by only that person, while everyone else has moved on, happily ignorant through the years, thinking that yes, perhaps the purported love and forgiveness were genuine, not given with an unspoken caveat, i.e., yes, I forgive you, but only if you behave as I would have you behave.

Put that fatted calf back in the freezer. You haven’t lived up to my expectations yet. Well, sure, you’re a successful adult by everyone else’s standards. You’ve put yourself through school? Great! But it wasn’t the school I wanted you to go to. You own a house? Great! But it’s not where I want you to live. You’re married with children? Great! But it’s not to the person I chose for you, and those aren’t really your kids. You’ve expanded your horizons to learn about new ideas and concepts? That’s wonderful, but they aren’t in the approved curriculum. You’ve traveled to far away places and seen new things? My, my how you’ve grown, but was that really the best way to spend your money? You’ve become politically active? Well now, you know we don’t believe in voting for that party in this family. Actually, I don’t know who you are any more. I really think that you need to come home and spend more time with your real family. We have more work to do.

It’s been going on since Mars fought Jupiter. Since Antigone stood up for what she believed in. Those darned kids, always getting into trouble, not following the rules.  But seriously, I wonder how many of us have run out of time and let our pride get in the way and not said what we should have said. I swear it will never happen to me again. I will never stand before another coffin and realize that I haven’t said everything that I needed to say, as a child or a parent. Nothing is worth that moment of pain, that realization that that moment is never going to end.

Lowering Your Expectations

I was once having lunch with a co-worker, and I started complaining about the service. She looked at me, and said that I seriously needed to lower my expectations. After all, she commented, what did I expect for fast food? I thought about what she said and realized that she was right. I did need to lower my expectations as far as the quality and service were concerned regarding fast food. It was fast food; the people working in fast food were being paid minimum wage or slightly above. It was not haute cuisine. There were no linen napkins. The tables were made out of plastic, as were the cups. I needed to get real.

I was reminded of my exceedingly high expectations regarding many things in life just this morning by my husband when I went online to check the status of our refund from the IRS, and the site informed me that we could expect our refund around April 1, which was not soon enough for me. His comment was exactly the same as Colleen’s, that I needed to lower my expectations. This made me pause. Was I going through life with such high expectations just because I thought that things should work as the ads claimed they would? As the declarations stated that they would? Was I living in some kind of fantasy world in which life was a glossy advertisement?

Now, if you have ever seen the recent state of my house, you would find this last statement absolutely hilarious because we have been in a state of “redoing” the house for about four years now, which means that nothing is where it should be, and the last thing my house looks like is a page out of a magazine, but I can fantasize, can’t I? Some women fantasize about gorgeous men. I fantasize about a clean, clutter-free house in which I have hardwood floors and kitchen cabinets that actually work. Oooooh. Aaaaah. I can smell the lemon wax. I feel faint. But I digress.

Back to expectations. I think it has something to do with the old golden rule thing. You know the one–do unto others. I won’t spit on your cheeseburger if you won’t spit on mine, to put it into terms more worldly, or earthly. I suppose it comes down to saying simple things like “please” and “thank you” instead of “whatever,” or expecting people not to have loud conversations on their cell phones in movie theaters after just spending $40 on tickets and two sodas. I think that my family is always concerned that I am going to say things to rude people because I have no patience with rude or stupid, and the reality is that on occasion, I have been known to make comments when perhaps silence may have been the option voted for by the majority. But then, I have never been known for my willingness to go with the flow.

But it’s also a matter of treating other people the same as you wish to be treated. If that way is with respect and courtesy, then you should show ample amounts of respect and courtesy in your dealings with other individuals. That’s usually how it works, or rather should work, but not always. Let’s take the fast food example. These are people who are not making a great deal of money. Does that mean that they should not be treated with a great deal of respect? Some people act that way. Some people in our society, quite a few actually, equate how you treat an individual with how much money that person earns or how that person dresses or what kind of car that person drives, or the color of that person’s skin, or what kind of accent that person has.

We haven’t always had the money to buy our children the right labels for their clothes and shoes. In fact, I make it a point to buy things on sale or at TJMaxx or Marshall’s, simply because I find it ridiculous to pay full price even when I can afford it. What is the point? The point is that I am neither better nor worse than the next person. I think that my expectations are high about the right things. Not about clothes or cars or money. But about respect for yourself and others, and honor, and keeping your word, and doing the right thing when the time comes. I expect my children to try to do their best and to treat others well. They don’t have to be Rhodes’ scholars, nor do they have to be doctors or lawyers or even college graduates. As long as they are happy within themselves, they try to have kind hearts, and they are good to the other people in their lives, then they can be proud of themselves. That is all that any parent should want.