May 19, 2009

pepsi

August named for Augustus Caesar, conquering ruler. August, the month that conquers me with cravings. Years of habit made manifest in compulsions that open me to melancholy I have only begun to understand. End of summer, when I would fly back to my mother and leave my desert home for another year. Stuffing myself with food, until my belly is gorged, until even the idea of food is repulsive, and then opening the fridge to consume more ice cream, more Pepsi, more of my past assimilated into my cells. More of my grief consumed and stored as fat on my thighs. 

My first love, my father. The reason dark haired, unemotional men drew me in. Long haired hippies with bristly mustaches and a twinkle in their eye were irresistible and dangerous. I wove a blanket of excuses for him to keep me warm. That clothe protected me from the fear that somehow I wasn’t enough to catch his interest. While he chases windmills, I chase my dreams of having him care enough to call. I expect so little of him, he rarely lets me down anymore.

I try to cover my craving for my father’s interest with other, more attainable cravings. I know he loves me, but in the passive way that someone loves a painting or the precise way in which someone loves a car. He admires my qualities, and details them. He is always happy when happenstance unites us. But he attends to me in a dutiful manner– tune up cards and gifts for the appropriate holidays. A relationship through others, through god. When I ask him to come and help me work on my house he tells me to call my home teachers. The men assigned by the church to take care of me. He’s not responsible as my father, god is. He spends all his love and energy on god, the third party mediator in our relationship. If he loves god enough and I choose to be his kind of righteous I’ll be taken care of. But if I don’t fit into his god’s kind of righteous, why waste the effort? God needs it more, right? God may have thousands of worshipers, I may have only one father, but somehow god’s need is greater. 

When I was 2 years old my father shaved his mustache. I remember going into the bathroom to watch him do it. I stood beside him as he looked in the mirror and carefully removed the thick black facial hair. The first mask he wore for me. When he turned to me and asked “What do you think?” I screamed and began to cry. “Where’s my daddy?” I ran from the room, terrified of the stranger before me. Shortly thereafter my mother left him. He’s never worn a mustache since — and I still want to ask, “where are you dad?” but I think know, and I can’t go there with him. 

I spent my summers trying to be the daughter I thought he wanted. Copying my Barbie –like sisters with their perfect blond hair, delicate features, and model make up. I belonged in another world, but this was the world he wanted to share with me. I dutifully submitted to hair perms and cuts that fried and frizzed my carrot colored hair. I let my dad buy me clothes that felt strange like a costume. I tried to be what he wanted, I was so grateful for any interest he showed in me, it never occurred to me to be myself.

My father was generous with me but always on his terms. I remember asking him to come to my high school graduation. He was too busy, it was too expensive. 11 years later when I invited him to my wedding he was too righteous to come. Reality was still something we couldn’t share.

Every year my father and I would go deer hunting. He used a compound bow that required a strength beyond mine, Ideaddeer could barely pull the practice arrows out of the hay stacks we used for targets. My sisters and I would start on one side of a wooded area and drive the deer through the forest while my father waited on the other side for a shot at the fleeing deer. The memories associated with those yearly trips are assorted vignettes of love and absurdity. My sister leaping 5 foot cactus plants when I screamed in pain from a bee sting in the eye. Boiling hot chocolate melting spoons in styrofoam cups– melting shoe rubber when the car had a major malfunction. The power of the desert in my blood; dreaming of magic beside a blazing moonlight fire; yearning for something beyond the everyday. Flannel, scratchy and dirty, frosty wet mornings, family love– somehow they stay connected and just the scent of summer desert fills me with the peace of being at home. 

I was with my father when he got his last deer with a bow. I begged to hunt with him every year because I knew my sisters didn’t like to go. It was one part of my father that belonged to me. Despite my hatred of death and pain nothing said love like hunting with my dad. Our last hunt together we used a tree stand. We spent the day sitting together on a five by five platform 15 feet up drinking pepsi and waiting for dusk. I read fantasy books all day with my walkman on while my father sat quietly with his thoughts in the wild trees–listening to the sound of nature the way a musician listens to a symphony. Occasionally he would tap me to show me wildlife my book obsessed self wouldn’t notice. I wonder now what he thought of me. This strange female creature, blood of his blood, talkative, loud, cerebral. Did he know how I yearned to understand him? That he knew things I dreamed of knowing? 

As dusk fell, my bladder reached its waiting limit. Unfortunately, my timing was off. Getting down at that point was not an option. So I held on and watched the cautious deer approach the river while we predators waited for our chance. THWACK! the bow string smacked his wrist guard, the leaves below us jumped and writhed. “Let’s go,” he said with eager determination. We climbed down and Dad told me to wait where I was. 

“I didn’t kill it,” he said, “I paralyzed it.” He stooped below the underbrush and came back a few minutes later with his knife casually at his side. I fixated on the blade, smudged brown in the fading light. It wasn’t until later that I heard the story of its death. When I overheard him tell his friends the story of having to kill a deer with his daughter. It was only through these overheard tales that I learned of the fountain of blood he’d had to avoid in his grim reaper role. This was grimy reality. This was death. This was something I couldn’t share with him. While he proudly told me stories of teaching his boy scout troop how to hunt and kill rabbits for dinner, I couldn’t watch him finish the deer we had waited all day to kill. 

I watched him wash the blood off of his hands and knife but he bagged the carcass without me ever seeing the body. He struggled to put it in the truck alone. Grimy, bloody reality– it was too much for his image of his daughter. It wasn’t something we could share.

byebyeloveMy kids have been through two divorces. Their father and I used to be very close, despite the legal separation, doing family holidays, vacations, and birthdays. Despite our desire for very different things in a relationship, in parenting we worked to give them as much stability and love as we could do. 

Until he met his current lover/wife. She loved everything about him, except us. She insisted that as long as he was spending time on his first family, it was because he was in love with me and they could never be happy. So he calls and says, “I’m starting over, like the kids. I get to have my own life. And my own kids.” Then he calls and tells his kids he wants to be their uncle, not their father. 

I don’t blame her, although I think she is off-the-hook selfish. He’s the dad. He chose. It was his responsibility to choose his children. Of course, this brings up lots of guilt on my part. Guilt that creeps into me in the early hours of the morning when I should be sleeping. Guild that inspires me to doubt myself and my judgement in very fundamental ways. Guilt. So very productive. Going hand in hand with sorrow and shame. 

I loved him, deeply, as a friend, co-parent, and partner. And my son is so very like him, it is nearly impossible not to remember all the things about him that I adored. And a few of the things I found exasperating. So the kids start over (mostly). And he starts over. And I have moved on. And I embrace the love I have for him in the mannerisms of our son. And I hope, with all my heart, that I will give my children enough to find the strength in themselves to know who they are and how to be joyful.

And I try, really hard, not to wish him ill. Most days, I succeed.

Express yourself.

May 13, 2009

dirt

I can remember the first time I swore. My childhood playmate, Todd, and I had heard the words we knew were somehow dangerous. So we gathered rotting apples from the front yard of my grandparents home and then hunkered down behind the bushes. As cars passed, we stood up and threw the apples at the cars and shouted some kind of cuss word. I don’t even remember which ones. Probably things like “damn”.  I can remember the fear I felt, doing this terribly wrong thing. I can remember the power I felt, doing this terribly wrong thing. 

I don’t really feel anything when I cuss now. It’s usually an accident, more than a choice. The power of the words has been lost in repetition and familiarity.

I grew up in complete denial that I had emotions. I could see how very dangerous they were. I convinced myself it washeart simply a case of mind over matter. And I was fairly good at delivering on that. Of course, they eventually erupted, volcano style and I’ve spent the last several years letting the lava flow and cool. 

I can still remember the very first time I saw my mother cry. It almost ended my world. She had lost everything in a bad business deal and we were living her sister’s two upper rooms trying to adjust to our new, dependent, lifestyle. Moving in with her family brought to life some lifestyle issues we had been unaware of. Such as my aunt’s raging alcoholism and her husband’s petty stinginess. The good news is that when your home life sucks, you become a very active student, so I can honestly say that at least some of my success in life is due to my desire to be home as little as possible. 

At one particularly low point, my mom called her mom and asked if we could move in with her. My mom idolized her mom. And she really wanted to be cared for — to have a safe place of retreat– something she never felt she had. Grandma said, no, she really didn’t want anyone to live with her. My mom hung up the phone and wept in her little room that overflowed with bed, desk, and living room furniture. A few months later, my cousin and her family moved in with Grandma and I saw something break in my mom that I don’t know was ever fixed.

Maybe this is why I have always been so terrified of leaning on anyone. Between my mother’s bitterness and the things I witnessed, is it any wonder I got the idea that people will let you down when you need them most? Any wonder that it took me until I was 29 to be able to turn to someone and let them comfort me when my hurt was hurting? Any wonder that I denied the power of emotion when I saw it consistently create sorrow in the one person I loved the most in the world? 

I am learning, slowly, to be present with my heart. To allow my feelings to exist without catering to them. To risk and love without losing myself in the process. 

Very slowly.

rumorsI grew up with great truisms like “There are three sides to every story. Your side. My side. And the truth.” and “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” So how much of what you remember should you believe? I thought keeping a journal would give me an edge on remembering “how things really were”.

But there a few problems with that:

1. I was highly focused on things I no longer find interesting. Some of which I actually find embarrassing. So I don’t actually read much of the journals I diligently kept. Even though I also can’t bear to throw them away, just in case

2. I wrote poetry. I thought it was good.*

3. (and this is where I get really philosophical) What I felt about what I was experiencing when I was 12 or 16 or 22 is no more real than how I understand it in hindsight. Recording bare facts is problematic because they are boring (I have a few journal entries that are fact focused so you can really trust me on this one). But recording feelings/responses to experiences doesn’t tell as much about the experiences as it does about where I was at or who I was when I wrote about my experience.

I like the way Jeannette Winterson dealt with this whole problem by embracing the nature of the memory and classifying her autobiography, Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit, as fiction. 

I’m not sure people are capable of telling the truth, try as we might. There is too much in the way of us even really seeing the truth, how can we hope to tell it to someone else? So I guess what I am saying is that while I will work to be accurate in my retelling and presentation of my memories, I can’t actually promise that it’s true. 

Hopefully it will be interesting. 

* This is a constant reminder of the possibility of self-delusion at any point in my life.

cards-in-glassThese stories of the church and community get mixed up in my memories of my family. It is an odd dichotomy. The family I belonged to most completely was my mother’s family and our holidays were a combination of booze, cigarettes, and card games. As the youngest in the family, I eagerly anticipated being old enough to sit with the adults and play cards. I remember one of my first games, 9 years old, at the table in my grandparents home over Thanksgiving. I don’t remember who won, just that I finally got to play.

It’s strange to me that I craved family the way I did, when I really think about my family. We spent most major holidaysraspberries together and some holidays most people have never heard of (the Gaspee Days parade was an annual tradition my entire youth). I have fond memories of digging for gold in the backyard with the neighbor boy. I learned to swim in my grandparents pool and would stuff myself on raspberries in the summer after a day of playing.

I could try blaming my mom again. I may have to dedicate my journal to Freud if I go all parental focused. She was definitely the odd-one out in the family. And since I was her “best” friend, I heard all about how we didn’t belong. How she wasn’t wanted. How she was treated badly. She was a born victim. But, to be fair, they weren’t very nice to her either. 

So she was probably part of it. We see with the eyes we have and mine were tinted by relationship dynamics I was too embroiled in to have any hope of seeing or understanding.

Voids and yearnings.

May 2, 2009

lonelinesI wonder what I was trying to fill in myself when I joined the LDS church. I was paradoxically highly devout and not very good at following some of the rules. I craved people in my life, family and community. As a teenager I attended church alone, every week, without fail. My mother never joined me. I sat alone in the pews, surrounded by large families with two parents and a loads of kids. I heard stories of people who adopted youth attendees like myself, giving them a surrogate family. And I hoped I might someday be chosen to join one of those bustling homes. When I was included in one family, I spent my time avoiding unwanted sexual advances from their son who was my age. So maybe I should be grateful it was a one-time thing, as far as I can remember. 

There were signs of my hunger. I would often gather with other kids in the church halls during sacrament or other meetings. I loved going to church, but I don’t think I realized then how much of what I craved was human connection. And one thing the mormons do better than anyone else is build community. I craved a family and community more than I craved a religion. I was so jealous of those rows of happy groups I sat behind, beside, and around, but not within. Not even when I was married did I ever have that golden standard of a family unit. 

The closest I came in the mormon church was my freshman year of college. We were all lonely and we bonded in groups trying to live the ideals of the church as we believed them to be. We took care of each other, laughed, created, bought each other groceries, and ignored the things that kept us from believing, all the way, that we could have this dream we had been taught was real. It was a heavenly experience in many ways. 

I might still be looking for someone to choose me to be part of their family. Even grown as I am, partnered and parenting, I yearn for a larger family to keep me safe from the loneliness in my heart.