I wrote to my friend Diana, a breast cancer survivor, about how great she looks, at least from behind, because she is always way ahead of me at bootcamp, but I wonder how this will be received. I have mixed reactions to being complimented about my appearance. I gobble it up but with a tinge of consciousness about how shallow this is. What’s weirder though is that in a way, compliments make me angry because there is an intimation that just because I look better than I used to, all of my suffering is over. People like it very much when they can perceive you as not suffering because it gets them off the hook.
The fifteen year old and I continue to cause each other to suffer. He delivers his indictment and tells me I should be the grown up, the adult one and practically orders me to make it stop. I don’t know how. Last night he raged at me. It began, perhaps, as a legitimate expression of pain but soon degenerated into a flagrant attempt to manipulate himself out of a consequence. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before and there was absolutely nothing I could think of to say, so I picked up a book.
A dullness and fearfulness has hovered with me for a few days. I want to engage the fifteen year old but everything comes out wrong. Business changes and grows challenging in a sucko economy and as technology seems to redefine the universe every second. It demands my wile and creativity to diversify but I distrust the accuracy of my inner compass. Often I feel beaten and discouraged and tired of having to get it up again and again, and suffer the weight of payroll. This began on the 26th and since I began to write here I have seen Leslie and had a chill dinner with my family. I talked with Leslie about how mediocre I was feeling. Desiccated. But I noted that in forcing myself to write for this blog yesterday and coming far short of a finished piece, I was at least able to give voice to what seems to be sapping me creatively and emotionally. I worry that I am a shitty mom and also that the way I am earning a living is not the way I should be earning a living.
I described how I struggle sometimes to come up with a few skeletal lines of prose, dicking back and forth to Chowhound and e-mail and nabbing rice cakes smeared with hummus, frustrated that the words won’t flow and always fearing they never will again. I close the little file and save it by date in the blog file. Some of these scant paragraphs are never revisited but often after a day of stomping around and just being me, I return to these fragmentary emissions and find it suddenly easy to flush fears out into more fully formed thoughts and ideas and lift myself out of the morass and closer to a state of self confidence and hope.
The fifteen year old drives me out of my mind and it is ok (says Leslie) to protect myself. I see too though that I sometimes overact and unfairly lay unwarranted weight on the fifteen year old (and also on Himself too apparently, as he hurt my feelings but accurately confronted me with my frequent dramatic desperation) because I remember being fifteen and remember the friggin’ torturous pain of the age and also, what, at age fifteen, I was capable of. The depth of the pain and fear and frustration of being me at fifteen is fucking terrifying and my own fifteen year old is slapping me back there again and again. But it is 2008 and not 1972.
I feel like an asshole holding myself superior to my dead father and my faded far from me mother. Perhaps it is only the dumb luck of circumstance but my fifteen year old lives in a home where he doesn’t have to be afraid of being slapped around. He lives in a house filled with music and with a mom and dad who sleep there under the same roof with him every night and who love each other and love him and tell him so. I never had more than a glimmer of understanding of my parents’ pain but I can look at both of them and list with specific detail how their pain caused me pain. It is revealing to meet the parents of someone you are close to. Those close to me who were also intimate with my parents have a more refined understanding of what makes me the way I am. I never really knew my grandparents and I suspect that a connection with them would have been a Rosetta Stone towards filling out the picture of what made my parents who they were and perhaps this would have led me to live with them and/or remember them with greater compassion. My parents are far away now and I do not know how much, if any, insight they ever had into their own suffering. I think it is safe to say that neither of them really had any but the most superficial insight into mine.
When we see people suffer we feel guilty and uncomfortable. My parents saw a fat daughter for many years and I think they assumed that when I was fat I was unhappy and that this was the source of all of the unhappiness in my world. My folks felt my fatness was an indictment of them as parents and because of the harshness of their responses to it, I came myself to perceive my fatness not only as an indictment of them as parents and was also conditioned to hold the very core of my self suspect. I am just a bit overweight now and my body is probably in the best condition of my life. My parents would look at me now and assume I am happy. Perhaps this is why it is double edged to be told I look good. From my parent’s point of view, thinness was the key to the kingdom and it makes me sad that they understood so very little about who I truly am and that they will never beg me to forgive them for not making the effort to see me more clearly. The fifteen year old’s indictments of me have some validity but he cannot accuse me of not trying to see and feel who he really is. After I am gone he may resent my failing him in ways I never apologized for, but I hope that he never has to demand my contrition for lacking compassion.
There are things that frustrate and frighten me but the truth is, keeping my body thinner and stronger is part of my repertoire for remaining an essentially happy and optimistic person. I am actually one of the happiest people I know and I guess it’s ok to be told I look nice, even if it does let my parents off the hook.
I am letting myself off the hook a bit now too. Writing these words here convinces me that I while there will be small failures and missteps, I am not destined to fail as a mother. Professional challenges and my enormous, literally and figuratively, payroll still dogs me and I admit my sleep has been broken often by the cold sweat of financial worries. However, just like I rely on Leslie’s professionalism to keep me on course emotionally, my brutish Welsh trainer to whip my body into shape and our sweet smiling Yogi to help me integrate the two, I am also surrendering myself to professional business consultants and taking on what I refer to as a financial therapist.
Plus, I spill it all out here, challenging myself to stay clean and honest. I am surrounded by friends and I have smart children who make me laugh. I wake each morning beside a man I’ve been in love with for nearly twenty years but with whom the definition of being love lifts further beyond the realm of mere words with every breath. There are those who I love and have loved who will treat and have treated me unfairly and failed to see what is beautiful in me. And, inevitably my selfishness and imprecision will cause me to treat the ones I hold the dearest unfairly and make them feel diminished. I strive to feel forgiveness and to feel forgiven and while it’s like Atlas holding up the fucking world, I know that as I get closer and closer to this light, I’ll need less to be told that I am beautiful, but when and if I am, I will hear it more gracefully. And fragments of fear will spin out into pages of prose.