Traumatized Butterflies

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I’ve got two things running around in my head right now (significantly neither one of them are my final undergraduate paper I should be working on right now) and I want to put them both into this blog entry, but I don’t know how well they’re going to fit. They’re connected but maybe not connected enough? Who can tell without trying.

Also I feel odd and nervous because when I finish this, my next step is to go email a link to this blog and a few other things to my entire class. Some of them may look, some of them won’t and it’s fine either way but it’s quite an entry to start with. Hi friends, if you’re here. Nice of you to stop by.

The way to begin both of my thoughts is with a little bit of background. I am about to graduate college. Assuming I finish this last paper anyway, but let’s not concern ourselves with that. I’ve been planning various things for the past few months, including the normal things, I suppose. Where will I be living? Where will I be applying for a job? Who will I be inviting to the ceremony? Where can I throw a huge party for a large number of people I love to celebrate me? What do I think about possibly allowing my parents to speak to me again? Okay, one of those is probably a less common problem.

However, in answer to all of them:

  1. Moving in with David and the Superhero and I am SO EXCITED.
  2. Don’t talk to me. I don’t even want to think about it. I AM applying but ugh, it’s awful.
  3. I have ten invitations to the actual ceremony and so many more than ten friends but I now have it down to eleven and that’ll just have to do.
  4. NYP has a party room that they don’t charge for and we can stay as long as we want. Sweet deal! So far my confirmed guest list is at almost 30 and I am beyond excited.
  5. See Below

A couple of months ago I began to toy with the idea of allowing my parents limited access again. I had details pretty much all worked out, I was only waiting on some stability. Initially my plan was if I got into grad school but, when that didn’t happen, I shifted it to waiting until I got a job and felt more comfortable with whatever my new life looked like. No one can make me feel like a failure as fast as my parents, so I wanted to make sure I was on good ground when I made that decision. Still, I felt good about it overall. I didn’t particularly need to see them again but I felt like I could see them again and maybe it would be a healthy thing for me to try. Also, I was curious.

At the same time I have been making my guest lists for my graduation. I’ve been very excited. I love parties and this is like getting to have two birthday parties in one year. For the actual ceremony I invited my mother’s whole family, which was kind-of essential. My aunt and uncle have allowed me to stay at their house rent-free for two years so…. kind-of required? And the family is sort-of a package deal (last time I graduated I invited only my aunts and my aunt and uncle just showed up). My parents were also on the guest list, because it seemed like the right thing to do. And there was a part of me that wasn’t sad about the idea of them seeing me surrounded by people who were proud of me when I knew they wouldn’t be. That wasn’t the reason, but I’m being honest and including it because it was there.

Last weekend my brother messaged me to let me know my parents were not coming to my graduation.

To be specific, my parents are coming to the party afterwards but they are not sitting through the ceremony.

I don’t know what their reasoning is. I can speculate, and I certainly have but it doesn’t really matter. None of it really makes sense. If mom is angry and trying to punish me, why are they coming to the party? If they don’t want to see me, why not come to the ceremony, where they can more easily avoid contact? No amount of turning it over makes it make sense. I am sure if I confronted them there would be a reason. One of them would tell me that they were sure that I didn’t really want them there (again, why come to the party? or why not at least tell me you weren’t coming so I knew I could invite extra people?), or that they thought the party was more important, or that they didn’t feel like sitting through a graduation. I have no idea what they would say but they would say something.

What I know is that my parents cannot be bothered to come to their daughter’s graduation.

This extremely long introduction is what leads me up to my two thoughts. One of them is what I was thinking about last night, and it is something I have thought about a lot over the last three years, about my parents in particular and about toxic parents in general. It is a speech that Sidney Poitier gives to his father in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. What I took from it is not the point of that movie in any way, but it still rattles around my head a lot. The whole thing is great (watching Sidney Poitier lose his mind always is) but the part that stands out to me is –

You tell me what rights I’ve got or haven’t got, and what I owe to you for what you’ve done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you’re supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another.

The first time I watched that I felt it everywhere. It was the opposite of everything I had ever been told or taught, but I knew it was true.

My parents had over 28 years with me before I walked away. In all of that time it was me who scheduled time with them, who begged for my father to come see me once I was living on my own, who called them, who initiated every conversation. They had so many opportunities to get to know me and yet the best case scenario here is that they don’t know me well enough to understand that something like my graduation is important to me. They are incredibly angry with me because they feel I owe them and I have backed out on a bargain. But no one ever asked me to sign.

I won’t be re-initiating contact with them.

The second thing is something I read on Facebook today, about butterflies. I don’t even know if it’s true.

“Do you understand what happens to a caterpillar once it’s in its cocoon? It completely turns into goo. That’s right, GOO. The damn thing dissolves and then reforms into the butterfly. Even crazier, the wings of the butterfly are already inside the caterpillar, ready to go, just waiting to float around in some goo and then be a beautiful butterfly. The craziest part?!? A study was done where some caterpillars were exposed to a certain smell and then given an electric shock so eventually the caterpillar associated the smell with the shock. Well after those little hairy noodles came out of their cocoons as butterflies, they exposed them to the smell again and the butterflies reacted super negatively, as if they were being shocked. A.K.A. not only is there wings floating around in that goo cocoon, there is also a brain, the same, unaltered brain as the caterpillar. The butterfly can recall its days as a caterpillar even after basically being turned into soup. And then it all somehow gets its shit together to be a stupid majestic little beast, and I can’t even remember where I put my damn phone.”

So I have not looked up this study. I have no idea if it’s true. And let’s not think too hard about the idea that somewhere in the world there may be scientists who are being paid to shock caterpillars (academia is genuinely the weirdest fucking place) but like a lot of these things it doesn’t actually rely on truth for it to resonate.

See, what’s most upsetting to me about all of this is how upset I was. I was so angry when my brother told me. I sent him a text message swearing at my parents (which I never do, I try to keep my brothers out of our whole thing as much as I can), I messaged a whole lot of people. I swore, I cried, I hit walls. I reacted MUCH more strongly than I would have expected. I took a shower and yelled at my parents the whole time (I was alone in the house, for the record). And then the next night I got ridiculously black-out drunk and David had to put me to bed and everything was the worst.

The worst part about all of this wasn’t even being upset, it was the idea that parents could cause that reaction. It was the feeling that maybe I haven’t really changed. I’ve worked so hard, I have been through so much, I really thought I grieved and processed and fell apart and came back together and I truly, truly thought that I was good. And then this like single thing happens and it all goes to hell?

BUT. None of that is true. It was a shitty 24 hours, it totally was. I am definitely still angry at them in a low-key kind of way. But probably it’s more like the butterfly. I absolutely did go through all of that. But before I did there were more than a few people who did a whole lot of shit and my brain still remembers all that. That is, after all, the reason I had to leave in the first place. And just because my brain (and body) still remembers what it was like to be in that traumatized place, doesn’t mean that things are the same. It just means it can take a minute to remember that I’m actually safe.

I can live with that.

Butterfly

Christmas Things

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As whichever two of you it is who read my blog have probably noticed, I haven’t really been writing this month. I always have this thought in my brain that on my vacation I will be particularly productive. I will get all the writing done that I don’t have time for during the rest of the year. I’ll read all the books, I’ll watch all the movies. None of it ever happens quite like I think. I do tend to read more and watch (somewhat) more but never in the way I initially plan.

I essentially never write more.

I suppose that when I am on break, I am looking for an actual break. I work pretty hard during my time in school and I guess it makes sense that when I have time off I don’t want to think as much. Still. It’s always disappointing.

That said, I felt like writing tonight so I figured I would grab the moment.

This has been a remarkably good month. I choose my words carefully there, because it in fact feels pretty remarkable to me.

Christmas 1

I feel like it was in another lifetime that I really loved Christmas. Like truly, truly loved Christmas. I was one of those people who waited every year until Thanksgiving night so that I could finally play Christmas music. I often started my shopping in July. I own — somewhere in a closet — one of those giant, inflatable lawn ornaments in the shape of a penguin, as well as a full set of light-up snowmen for a walkway. Tacky? Maybe a little. But there are things that are tacky and adorable in equal measure.

I know that for a lot of people who come from emotionally traumatizing and abusive backgrounds the holidays can be a major trigger point. I was unusual in this sense. My family was a mess and I struggled with a lot of things, but Christmas was different for us. My mother truly loved Christmas. She was happier at Christmas, and that meant we all were happier. Her lift in mood meant the whole house felt lighter. I didn’t really understand that was why Christmas felt so magical, but I knew that it did.

That really  had not been true for the last few years before I broke things off with my parents. There were several Christmases where things got worse and worse. I felt suffocated just being in the same house with them, I started making plans to spend most of Christmas Day at someone else’s house and one year I was so overwhelmed that I left for their house (an over two hour drive) at 1am just to be out of there. It was, for me, actually one of the more drastic pressures on me as things fell apart. I couldn’t imagine being so miserable on Christmas.

My first Christmas on my own, I was terrified. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I still thought of myself as Someone Who Loves Christmas. Again, maybe that sounds silly, but it was actually a huge part of my identity. It was something people knew about me. And now I was scrambling. I knew I could not spend it alone.

I’ll admit that first Christmas didn’t work out well. I spent it with someone who was not in an emotionally healthy place themselves and I don’t think we did particularly well by each other. I was depressed and anxious. I just wanted it to be over.

Last year I decided it would be different. I would spend it primarily alone and I would just not pay much attention to it. That would be okay. I wouldn’t be frightened of that, I would accept that was what was happening. For years that was one of the worst case scenarios I could imagine — to be alone on Christmas. So here I would do it and I would be okay.

It helped that David and the Superhero were not gone very long last year. They were in fact home until Christmas Day, as I recall. So I did see them some throughout the time. But I spent the day of Christmas watching action movies that had no Christmas theme whatsoever. I made myself spaghetti. I stayed in pajamas all day. I was nice to myself.

I was okay.

Twelve months ago I began to think that maybe this is what I would do for the rest of my life. Maybe I was not Someone Who Loved Christmas anymore. After all, I no longer believed in God so there was no religious element. I had effectively orphaned myself, and my Friend Family (who it should be mentioned, are some of the most wonderful people on this planet, and we have a yearly Christmas celebration of our own within a few days before the actual holiday) had blood family obligations of their own on the actual day. Even with presents, I was starting to feel a little worn on. The whole commercialism aspect, which was something I had never focused on at all before, suddenly seemed painfully apparent everywhere I looked.

When I imagined that as my life, I thought perhaps that wasn’t the worst thing. Perhaps it was okay to change my identity in that way, to change how I related to holidays and such. I thought I’d wait and see.

That was a really long build up for this year, but I felt the backstory was needed. The point is that this year something has definitely shifted. Not just in relation to Christmas but in myself. I haven’t had any emotional breakdowns, no panic attacks or even undue moments of melancholy. I have been remarkably happy and adjusted. I feel relieved, I feel strong, and I feel proud of myself.

David helped me get a tree this year. We were going to put up more lights, on the banisters, in my room. That didn’t happen this year but I am okay with that. I’ll save them, put them away in a Christmas box in the garage. Next year I’ll be living here and there will be less shopping to do. Next year I can plan more effectively, and I will. Right now there is a tree a few feet over from me and it is covered in ornaments, some of which I’ve had for a year, some of which I’ve had for 30. I am happy it is there. It soothes me.

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This is our tree, Ned!

I bought presents for almost everyone this year. I felt effective and on top of it. While they were not necessarily completely required presents, and I wrestled a little with commercialism thoughts, I mostly felt good about my ability to pick the right gifts. I didn’t spend too much. I’ll start earlier next year.

Finally, this Christmas I won’t be alone. I will be spending it with a new friend, L. We have plans to drink and talk, make Christmas ornaments (I am totally positive that this crafting thing will end in failure and I will post pictures of the results), eat delicious things and watch fun movies. It’s a really great plan. It’s going to be our Atheist Christmas.

I spent almost 30 years of my life connected to Christmas tradition. I loved what I had, and it was one of the things that consistently brought me joy. Probably there will always be a few traditions I will love (like buying presents and being able to have some Christmas lights around) but for the rest, I think it’s okay to be flexible. Maybe I won’t know year to year what will happen. Perhaps I am still Someone Who Loves Christmas, but I am just getting more willing to expand what that means.

Christmas is one of the few parts of my upbringing I’m genuinely grateful for. But my mom made the house lighter by being happier in that season. I think I’d rather be happy all year round.

Found Family

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Over ten years ago, I moved in with one of the kindest people I have ever met in my life (still true, and there’s been a lot of competition since then). We became friends because she was dating my ex-boyfriend, who was then my best friend. Many people warned us this was a terrible idea, that nothing good could come of it. We rolled our eyes at all of them and did it anyway.

I was nervous. I had never really lived with a girl before. I had no sisters, I hadn’t even really had a lot of female friends. I wasn’t great with women and I wasn’t sure how it would go. But I was tired of living alone, I wanted something new. I had no idea just how new things were about to get.

Before the end of that year there were five of us girls living in a two bedroom apartment. That was only for about four or five months, before we moved out and found a properly sized house, but four of us girls stuck. We were all varying levels of crazy, we had all come for different reasons. I had invited the others in. I believed in collecting people, believed in them having a place to stay. I wasn’t yet very well versed in the idea of boundaries.

Let me be clear that from most perspectives, the next five to seven years were something of a disaster. We were all so messed up. Me and one of the girls were sleeping together, sometimes more off than on. I was busy insisting I was certainly not queer and God hated all of that but like she was super hot and the sex was super great and I’ve never been awesome at avoiding temptation. Especially when it’s right in the next bedroom (or at the foot of my bed, depending which living space you’re referring to). We fought furiously, alliances were forged and ever-shifting. Sometimes one person was more crazy than the others, there were group confrontations, gossip, text wars, etc. When I look at my journal entries from that time, it is an ongoing record of truly insane fights and drama. It seemed like such a hopeless mess.

I’ve been giving the mess a lot of thought, because it seems so distant now. See, something happened in those years. We are not all still friends with each other in the same degree but the same group is all still in touch in varying degrees. We eventually realized who actually had things in common and who was just forcing it. We’ve adjusted. We still come together a few days before Christmas for our yearly celebration. And when I think about that, I realize that what happened in those years changed my life. Looking back on all of the drama, I know I could never live that way now. I don’t think any of us could. But there are some important things to point out, at least from my perspective.

The first is that I had never had a better living situation than this before. My home most of my life had been with my parents and I think we all know how trauma free that was, and with very few choices involved. This may have been a mess but it was our mess, it was my choice. We were clumsy and stumbling through it but we were adults making decisions. It wasn’t like home. After my parents, I had lived for six months by necessity with a friend and her parents after I was kicked out. It was not the worst place I could have ended up but it was a fragile living situation. And then I had spent a year living on my own. I was desperately lonely and depressed, I had only two friends. One of them was a judgmental and cruel person, surrounded by an equally cruel family who I clung to because they were what I had. And one was my ex-boyfriend. We fought or we fucked and sometimes we did both but in any case, these were not happy times for me. This new life was tough, but compared to my previous situations, it actually doesn’t stack up so much worse. A large part of why I know I couldn’t do it now is because I know there is so much better.

The second and third things are what doesn’t show up in the journals. I never wrote about them and it’s too bad. We had so much fun. When we weren’t at each other’s throats (and sometimes even when we were), we were constantly doing things. Someone was always planning group trips, going to the zoo, going to concerts, we ate out constantly, we shaved our heads, got tattoos and piercings,  and watched so many movies and shows. We had a ridiculous amount of disposable income because we all worked full time and had pretty low bills with so many of us. We laughed constantly, we played, we did things. No matter what time of day or night it may have been, someone was home. You were never going to be lonely.

I don’t know if I can overstate the importance of that in my life at the time, and it is part of the third thing, which was simply the security of who we were. No one was leaving. I’m not saying that was always good. In fact, if we had been healthier people it almost certainly wouldn’t have been true. But we weren’t and at this point we had all chosen to be here and somehow I think we all knew that no matter what happened we had picked each other to love, for better or worse. Even if it was often worse.

When I talk about family, these are still more of the people I think of. I have brothers and I have sisters. Let’s not worry too much about the specifics of the metaphor, given that at least some of us have had sex. But you know. In spite of all of the fights, in spite of the fact that some of us have had distance for a while and come back, or some of us have settled into what will probably be a more permanent distance, we all come home for Christmas. We eat food and we drink cider and we look in our personalized stockings that we’ve had for ten years now. What I didn’t realize when I was younger was that in some ways chosen family isn’t always that different from blood family. It takes time and effort and it’s not always what you expected. Sometimes it’s about faith and just hanging on. But to those of us who tattooed ourselves as part of this family… I think maybe our instincts were more right than we knew.

Parents and Feelings

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Today while I was trying to write a failed blog entry, I had a momentary lapse of reason and I started thinking about contacting my parents again. It has been over two years now since things really fell apart, about a year and a half since I cut the cord entirely. I am so much better off. I am happier, healthier, more balanced and stable. When I hear stories about what is going on with them right now, my most common reaction is “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with this.” But there’s another, deeper reaction that happens too. It just runs on autopilot and I ignore it for the most part. It’s the one where, if my brother or the woman from my practicum who goes to church with my parents tells me about something that they’ve said, I start coming up with everything I would say. I start debating and arguing and having these conversations, most of which I never had and now, realistically, never will have. It really seems unfair in a way because here I am and I’m so much better and I’m so much calmer in general and so much less prone to fits of hysteria and I feel like maybe this time I’d be prepared. I find myself thinking that maybe this time I would be able to argue it more effectively, maybe this time I would be able to say it in a way that they would understand me. Maybe I didn’t say it well enough last time. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough.

And I find myself thinking all of these things and it is so easy to forget that being around them was part of what was making me so sick. It is so easy to forget what it has been like to claw my way away from them, to become my own person, to be independent and happy and content with my life. Even though just hearing a story about my mother being toxic and awful can still raise all of my hackles, I can still somehow forget how being in a room with them by the end made me feel like there was no air left, like I had no space and no traction at all. The closest thing I can compare it to is how easy it can seem to stop being compliant with mental health medications (I haven’t been often guilty of this but I played with it occasionally towards the beginning). It seems crazy, like here is the thing that has demonstrably made you less unhappy but once you are less unhappy, once you’re feeling okay, it starts to seem like maybe you don’t need to do this thing anymore. Like you know, it’s kind-of hard and annoying to have to go get the prescription filled all the time, the trip to the pharmacy is such a drag or it costs money you don’t have right now or whatever it may be. And when you’re honestly feeling really good, not medicated, just good it seems like maybe it would be fine to just like… stop, for at least a bit? And then all hell breaks loose because as it turns out, there was a reason you were taking the pills to begin with. And also because stopping mental health medications suddenly often has unpleasant side effects, but that’s perhaps not quite as applicable to the parents thing.

My point is that the urges are still right there. I still want to save my parents. I have repeated to myself a million times that they are never going to change and very occasionally, in moments of extreme triumph, I believe it. I have distanced myself from them to a point where I am able to be a much healthier person, where I am even able to see them and interact with them calmly and rationally, without feeling much of an emotional hit from it. Would things be different if I reinstated contact with them? Of course they would. I am significantly different and things would inevitably be different as a result. But that doesn’t mean they’d be healthy, that doesn’t mean they’d be better. Almost two years of complete cut-off and my parents have shown no signs of change. They are angry at me, they are bitter, they blame me, but as far as I can tell they are not admitting to any wrongdoing, they’ve not made any attempt to… do much of anything, really. My father informed me that he “missed his little girl” which says a lot of things he probably doesn’t even realize. I can’t imagine what a conversation would look like or just how often I would have to reinstate my boundaries or how hurtful it would be. My mother when angry is vindictive, unpredictable and cruel. She is very, very angry at me.

I have come a long way. But I’m still the daughter who wants to save them. At my core, I still feel like that’s possible, and I could be sucked back in so quickly if I allowed it to happen. I believe change is possible for everyone, even my parents. But if someone is ever going to be able to reach them, it’s not going to be me. I suspect that the next stage of all this will be reaching a place where I can truly accept that.

Families, Facebook and Finding Balance

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Yesterday I was reading through my blogs, as I do every day, and one of them was this blog. I thought it had some very nice points about the poly community, some things that I related to and some I just thought were useful to think about. As I tend to do with blogs I find interesting, I clicked the two little buttons required of me and reposted the article. I made no comment on it, just posted it. A couple of my friends liked it.

Then this morning as I was at work at obscenely early o’clock I got a notification that my aunt had commented on the post. I cannot quote the comment because she’s since deleted it but essentially she quoted a Bible verse about things hiding in darkness and then said that this article was a commentary on the sorry moral state of our times. I was annoyed but figured my best option was to ignore.

Let me explain about my aunt because it’s important. We’re not close. We’ve never been close. Their family lived overseas for the majority of my life and now do again. Growing up I saw them approximately every two years for five days or so. I remember being more fond of my uncle and never quite connecting with my aunt, although I will say I do remember her making attempts. One year she bought me a game they had as a family that I had particularly enjoyed, she took me shopping at least once, a few things like that. Still, we do not have a relationship as such and we never really have. Which made what followed all the more perplexing to me. She deleted her comment and instead sent me a message.

“Hi, this is aunt S here, instead of commenting publicly on your recent post there, I thought it better to send a private message. I have dropped onto your FB only very infrequently in the last years but the recent article on Polyamory has me a little confused. Can I ask you something, do you consider yourself a beleiver? It’s very unclear and I am just curious…wonder if you would indulge me this?”

I’ll be responding this evening and my response will have nothing to do with her question and only to do with the very true fact that I have no desire to discuss my personal life with family, given the rather delicate situation with my parents at present. But I must admit I was thrown. I have had a number of my father’s relatives on my FB for quite some time but they’re not active and I just sort-of forget they’re there.

See, what it really boils down to is that I’ve forgotten how to be careful. I’m 30 years old and for the first time in my life I feel so very safe and so very cared for. I am surrounded by people who love me and who know me and I do not have to hide or be ashamed. It’s everything I ever wanted and it means I lost my stealth skills. I used to be much better at this. I used to always remember who to say what in front of, when it was okay to swear, what conversation topics were the ones we did not touch in which room. I was better at talking  cautiously when necessary. It was a very different life and I did not feel so much like me and I would not go back. I do not find that I care what my parents know about my life, not for myself. But I have siblings still in contact with them; there are still repercussions on people I love. So as much as I would like to never have to worry again, there’s probably still some need for caution.

I guess the best part of all of this is seeing how time does heal. I never thought I would be able to forget how it felt to be so choked all of the time, how it felt to be planning my every move for safety. Those things were second nature to me and as I began to move way from them and understand how toxic it all was, I thought I would never forget what it tasted like. But the truth is that it’s been only a few years and I’m forgetting how heavy the air can feel. That is overwhelmingly positive but I still have to find a way to remember how to keep an audience in mind.

Histories

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Stories never fall apart all at the same time, especially your most important ones. It seems like they should but they don’t. Instead you have to just keep taking them apart, piece by piece, keep trying to reconstruct based on new information. It’s kind-of exhausting, to be honest. And how can you possibly know you aren’t just telling yourself a new story? How can you know it’s any more reliable than the old one?

We’ve been talking about the civil rights movement in class again. It’s not the first time but for whatever reason this time new information stuck with me. Several things have stood out to me but on a personal note, one of the things that seemed important was I think that these classes are probably the first time I’ve actually learned about the civil rights movement. I mean, you know, osmosis, whatever. I knew about it. I knew Martin Luther King Jr. was a thing obviously (conservative Christians love to claim him as one of theirs and ignore the parts of his theology they totally would have hated), I knew Rosa Parks refused to stand up on the bus, I knew that within my parents’ lifetimes schools integrated. When we went to go see Hairspray together my mom told me that she didn’t remember any of this stuff really impacting her in her small hometown but she did remember that when the dormitories integrated in her older sister’s college, my grandparents did not pull my aunt out of them. Some parents did. I was glad to hear that, that seemed important. But we’re talking within the last five or six years that I heard that information. Did I learn about this stuff at all in my “schooling”? Did I read any of it? I’m pretty sure that I didn’t know who Emmett Till was until I saw a video in class last year. His picture looked kind-of familiar, the name rang a bell but I definitely had not heard the story of what happened to him.

Part of the reason that this is so important to me personally is because my father claims to be a history buff. This is one of the central things about my father. He loves history, he loves politics. I have always believed that about my father. It is a story he’s told me many times. But it’s a story I’m struggling with now because if it’s true, why don’t I know more about history? Maybe he liked it but just didn’t want to pass it on. Maybe he doesn’t mean what I think of when I think of that story. Maybe what he really means is that he loves white man’s version of history. Maybe he only loves the history that confirms what he knows. But I never believed that about my dad. I believed he was kind and good and that he wanted to know the truth. Now I think maybe he was nice and meant well and wanted to stay comfortable. And that’s just not the same story at all.

The more I go forward, the more I feel like the majority of my stories were lies. Not intentional lies. I don’t think anyone was conspiring. I think it was all well-meaning, frightened reactions. I think that my parents believed everything they told me because they needed to believe it. I think they probably even more strongly believed everything they didn’t tell me because silence is the strongest weapon they have and I really do believe that they were trying to pass on the things they thought would be valuable to me. It’s no one’s fault, there’s not really blame to lay. But I’m still left here with a puzzle that I’m trying to undo, pieces I’m trying to sort, stories I was never told and stories I have to reconstruct or scrap entirely. To tell you the truth, some days it’s a little hard to know what to do with it all.

Parents and Smoking and Things

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So I guess my parents know I smoke now. I mean, it’s not like I was… okay, yes, I was actively trying to hide it from them. It just didn’t exactly feel like it because it’s not like it’s been challenging. I don’t see them, I don’t speak to them. So it’s not like I’m a teenager sneaking around about it. But yeah, when I went to the memorial service a few weeks ago, I made it a point not to smoke until we were well away from there. In large part because of my parents, somewhat because of the rest of my family too. As far as I know we don’t have any smokers.

Realistically it’s not a thing I’m proud of. I started smoking at 28 years old, shortly before I turned 29 because apparently it seemed like a super awesome idea. No, honestly I don’t really understand why myself. I lived with smokers for like five or six years before that and I was never the slightest bit tempted to take it up. Then I didn’t live with them anymore and I would find myself thinking about it periodically and then I bummed one off my friend (who, by the way, was merciful and did not give me grief even though I totally  deserved it after all the grief I gave her when she started) and then I bought a pack and here we are over a year later. I don’t… I mean, you know. It’s gross. I don’t like the smell, I don’t like that my clothes smell like it and my coat smells like it. I don’t really like the taste. I smoke menthol lights, so it’s about as light as a cigarette can be but I still don’t like it. I totally cannot afford it because it is a stupidly expensive vice. And yet I do really like the social rhythms of smoking. I like how when I’m super stressed and freaking out it gives me a way to literally step outside and take some deep breaths. The fact that the breaths are full of poison smoke is apparently irrelevant. And of course the truth is that at this point I’m addicted to it.

As of this year I have worked on keeping myself to three cigarettes per day. I am typically successful at this unless I have a very hard day or go see my friend who is a much heavier smoker than I am. I love smoking with people so that’s a killer for me. Some days I even only smoke two and I have been trying to push myself to go down to two a day. In an ideal world I would like to only smoke socially, if at all. However, I’ve never actually quit a vice before and I’m not totally confident in my ability to do so. I’m also super ambivalent about how much I want to do so, however much I dislike the things about it I dislike. Still. I should stop.

I will say that finding out my parents know now (my mother saw my little bottle of cigarette butts out front last time she came over to see my brother, she told my dad, my dad asked my brother, my brother of course didn’t lie and I wouldn’t expect him to… yeah, whole thing) did not have any real impact on me and that was nice. I mean, you know. I’m sure they’re disappointed, maybe they’re adding it to their internal list of proof I’ve gone bad or whatever. I am almost positive they have one of those. But really… what difference does it make? Frankly I can think of five things about my life now without even trying that would upset them far more than cigarettes. And no matter what I do, it’s not like they’re going to approve anyway, that’s a large part of why we’re not talking to begin with. Still, it’s nice to not feel that sense of panic I know I would have felt once. I used to stand outside of my house smoking and wonder what I would do if one of them drove up, glance at cars I didn’t recognize right off. It just doesn’t matter like it used to and I think that’s probably a good sign. I hope so anyway.

And seriously, I should really quit.

 

Valentine’s Day Thoughts

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Last year my father brought my flowers for Valentine’s Day. I don’t remember what they were, I probably didn’t really even know. I’m not much of a flowers girl. I mean, you know whatever. They’re pretty but they die (faster with me than with other people) and it seems like a bit of a waste of money. This would never have occurred to my father. In fact, I suspect that buying me flowers was trying to make some kind of a statement. He had never done it before, every year before that it had been chocolate or a small stuffed animal of some kind. My mother got flowers. Maybe it was intended to say something. Or who knows, maybe they were just having a sale on the flowers.

Most of my friends do not celebrate Valentine’s Day. They talk about how highly commercialized it is and ask things like why do you need a prescribed day on the calendar to tell someone that you care about them? These are totally valid points of view, they’ve just never rung particularly true for me. Commercialization has rarely bothered me that much. Maybe it’s just remnants of growing up the way I did but although I’ll occasionally roll my eyes at certain things, for the most part I just don’t pay much attention. And of course I’m a big believer in telling the people you love that you love them all the time, any day of the year and I totally try to do that. But I’m also a really big fan of presents and excuses to buy presents and dumb reasons to insert chocolate into your day to day life. Not that I think one necessarily needs a reason but I enjoy having one.

I don’t remember when my parents first started buying us Valentine’s Day gifts. It’s been going on as long as I can remember. It was a notable holiday because it was the only time that my mother and father got us separate things. It wasn’t like they were big things; a lot of years they were just two different bags of chocolate, but still I knew that my dad had gone and picked out that bag of chocolate, which he never did with anything else. At some point when my brothers were teenagers my father explained to them that they would no longer be getting presents from him because apparently it wasn’t “appropriate.” You know how dangerous it can be, buying your teenage sons chocolate to tell them you love them on Valentine’s Day. People might look askance. Nonetheless, I still got presents from both of them. It was around that time that he started getting me small stuffed animals instead, slightly different things. They were no less stereotypical. I don’t think it would ever once have crossed my father’s mind that he could look for a present that would actually have meaning to me. If it had I suspect he wouldn’t have had the first clue where to begin. But the last stuffed animal he got me I kept until my dog found it and chewed it up. It was just a cheap, crappy little teddy bear but I knew he had gone out and gotten it, even though he hated shopping, even though he hated the whole thing. It was his attempt to say he loved me. Even those damn flowers from last year, less then a month before I stopped speaking to them for good, went into a vase and stayed there till there was basically nothing left.

So you know. I’m not particularly sad today about my lack of significant significant other. Valentine’s Day has never been about that to me. Looking back on what it has been about it all seems pretty empty and sad and like a pretense that I can’t believe we all kept up so long. Truthfully that makes me sad in a whole different way. Me playing loving daughter, him playing loving father. Buying the things girls are supposed to like, me keeping all of the things as if I could give them the meaning I wanted them to have by sheer force of will. Nothing works out like you think it will. And this year I don’t even have chocolate.

Memorial Services and Family Pretense

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My apologies for a missed day, readers. Everything caught up to me all at the same time and then my car developed some charming new characteristics which will require money to fix and blogging tragically fell by the wayside. I am disappointed in myself but we must press on because that is the thing to do. So, forward march and all of that.

The memorial of my not uncle is this weekend. I’m honestly not sure what to call him. He and my aunt were together for like 10 years so to call him her boyfriend seems ridiculous but he wasn’t her husband. Partner? Lover? Long-time companion? Titles are stupid. He died just before the new year, after being sick for a very long time. I have realized that I probably need to go. My aunt kind-of dropped out of the picture after they got together. My theory is that she knew my mother would be super judgmental about her living in sin with her boyfriend (she was totally correct) and so just cut her off before she got there? But either way, she cut all of us out and our contact has been nothing but weird Christmas interactions where everyone pretends that things are totally normal and that we’ve been talking for the last decade or so and that this is not the only time we see each other every year. Every year she hugs me and tells me she loves me and how much she misses me and how much she wishes I would come down for a weekend. And I say I love her too and certainly, that would be great, feel free to email or call me anytime. Knowing all the while that she never will and that this is just some strange and bizarre game that we play that apparently makes her feel better. It’s confusing and it kind-of grosses me out. But now he’s dead and he was a nice man and I do love her and I don’t think I can not go.

Of course this means I will almost certainly see my parents. Who, despite the fact that they cared very much about my aunt’s “lifestyle choices”, will almost certainly also feel they have to go and we will all play out a whole different and bizarre thing as a family. I am not great at being in my family. I hate the idea of seeing my parents. But it’s not a great choice either way and not going would make me feel insane amounts of guilt. So I’m going and later that night David has said I can come over so that I can remember that oh yeah, there are people who still like me. Because somehow just by existing my parents can still make me forget that.

Also I need to take my car to a mechanic and find out just how much it’s going to cost to make me be able to put it in park again. Best weekend ever!

 

Christmas and Things

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For my whole life I have loved Christmas. My mother loved Christmas and so, in spite of how messed up our family might have been at any given time, she was happier around the holidays, things were better. I have always found Christmas lights soothing and peaceful and giving gifts is one of my favorite things to do and also kind-of one of my superpowers. I’m pretty awesome at it. Honestly there’s not much about Christmas I haven’t loved. I would even intentionally go to the mall to look at the decorations and watch all the people. I even like the obnoxious and repetitive Christmas music that plays everywhere.

The last few years have been harder. As things with my parents got more tense, Christmas became more a source of stress but I still held on to the things I loved about it. I’ve added different traditions, tossed out a few things occasionally. I found ways. But here I am and it’s Christmas Eve and there’s not a lot I can do with this year, to be perfectly honest. I’m not going to see my family this Christmas. Really that’s for the best. This isn’t nearly as bad as if I was seeing them. But it’s a situation with no good answers. I watched A Muppet Christmas Carol tonight, which is the movie that we have watched as a family every single Christmas Eve for probably over 10 years. I pretty much know it by heart. In different times my mom and I used to sing the love song from the movie together. For the first time in possibly ever I found myself crying at that song. Not so much because of Scrooge’s lost love, just because of what I’ve lost, I suppose. A week and a half ago I came home to find that my mother had left my family Christmas stocking and stocking holder in a plastic bag at my house. Which I guess answered one question I had been kicking around – would they hang my stocking this year even with me gone? Obviously the answer is a resounding no and she wanted to make sure I knew it. My mother likes to send messages and now that I’ve cut off most of her forms of communication, I guess it was what she had left. It hurt, just like it was intended to.

The truth is that to some extent what hurts the most if I’m being honest is not knowing what, if anything, I will get back. I may never love Christmas again like I have, I honestly don’t know. This year is all transition and it seems impossible to say what may happen going forward. Hopefully some year (maybe even next year) I will have at least a little bit of money and can buy presents for people again. Probably the level of pain associated with everything right now will fade given time. But I can’t know what I’ll come out with. It’s possible in some far off future that I’ll end up with my family again for Christmas. I have no idea if that would be good or bad. Right now it seems like it could only be bad and painful but things change. If there’s one thing I have learned over and over again this year it is that things change. But even if I did end up with my family again some Christmas Eve, it’ll never be the same. I’m not the same and there’s no going back. Not that I would want to. But what does that mean for Christmas?

I’ve gained so much this year and I would never want to downplay a single bit of it. I’ve learned so much about myself, I’ve had the opportunity to attend school and I’ve had new people come into my life that at this point I literally don’t even know what I did without them. But gains come with losses. And tonight, and really most of this week, what I’m feeling most keenly is the losses. I walked away from my parents because I felt I had no choice… but it was still a loss. I still miss feeling like I had parents, like I was part of a family. I don’t know if or when that goes away. I’ve lost some friends over the last couple of years, some who I cut out intentionally and some who have just drifted for various reasons. I adapt, I’m actually pretty good at that, but I wish people didn’t leave, I wish I had handled some things better. There are people I miss. I don’t regret my choices about walking away from my faith this year, it was the truth of where I was at and it was what I needed to do but I don’t think you make a call like that and don’t end up with moments of missing things. Even if it’s just feeling like you knew where your place was, feeling like you knew what you were supposed to do or be. And it leaves me wondering about Christmas. Does that change too? Almost every single thing in my life has changed this year. This is such a dumb little thing but it’s always been one of my defining pieces. Am I going to lose it too? No way to tell at this point, I guess. Nothing to do but wait and see.

Sorry for such a sad entry but, you know. It’s a sad night.

Merry Christmas to all.