today, this word is not much hurting me. but many times, it does. honestly, it’s like the new f word in my life, and more times than not, makes me want to spit and scream and cry, makes my insides all watery and sick. coz i want it. i want it so badly. so badly i wonder if one desperate day i’ll just retract all of it, like the false memory syndrome people say we all will.
nearly every time i hear this word, i feel orphaned, small, and alone. because no matter what, the truth is that i have no parents, not anymore. i don’t have a mom, or a dad. i mean yeah, they’re alive…but not in my life, they’re not. the pain of that feels like it won’t ever fade because no matter how okay or how good i am, no matter how much healing i do, no matter how much i know that it’s not my fault and no matter how much they continue to disappoint me…i still want it. not them, specifically. but i miss the idea of family, i bought into it hook, line, and sinker. that sense of history, those people who knew you back when, the people who are meant to hold you, stay with you, be yours forever, the people you see for holidays and birthdays and special occasions. i feel the absence of it all the time.
this word holds shame, as well, because i do have a family – my wife, my daughter, beloved friends (looking at you across the pond, my lovely) and even my in-laws. but my family of origin, relatives, and extended family i had growing up…are dead (either literally or figuratively), or faraway, or rendered faraway by the big gross secret i’ve been keeping.
it is a lonely, isolating experience. to have chosen this, in some sense, but having so much grief, shame, and hurt about it. i wonder all the time whether i will come out the other side.
I think I actually made an ‘ugh’ sound and scrunched up my nose when I read this word out today. Lost in my own world despite being in a busy classroom. Because, well, fuck this word.
I don’t agree with any bullshit notion that somebody will never move on from the things that happened to them until they forgive the perpetrator. Really, come on, that’s so fucking minimising and arseholeish to suggest. It’s not that I am vehemently against the notion of forgiveness, (and I’m most definitely not vehemently for it), it’s that I just don’t agree that I need to rise above all of it and ‘forgive in order to find peace’….don’t mind me, I’ll just be over in the corner puking.
And, maybe I would forgive them, except one thing I am extremely set on is that I will not ever forgive them, unless they actually come up to me and ask to talk about it. To face it, stop pretending, apologise, and are actually meaningfully regretful, and also, seem to actually understand the fucking colossal effects of what they did. Until then…fuck forgiveness. No fucking way.
The one and only person that I do want to forgive (and maybe forgiveness actually isn’t even the right word), is myself back then. For doing what she did, for surviving how she did, for not choosing to do the things that adult me wishes she had. Maybe that’s not really about forgiveness, but about accepting the situation…but from where I stand today, feeling so hateful towards a younger me, forgiveness maybe does feel like the right word. Maybe? I don’t know.
This ones a bit sticky for me. In our house gratitude was horribly interlinked with not complaining, keeping your mouth firmly shut.
“Shut up and be grateful for what you’ve got”.
And yes, we should all be grateful for the things in life that we have, nothing is a given, not a home, or a job, or safe people or loved ones. Some people currently have none of those things. And yet, as I’ve grown up, I don’t for one minute agree with this notion that talking about things we wish were different, “complaining”, expressing negative sentiments towards things, makes us ungrateful people, or ungrateful for those things that we do have.
I was extremely grateful to go to a private school (although to begin with I begged to go to the local school with all my friends, and would have done perfectly well there), and yet in our house we were continually reminded of how much sending each of us to a private school had cost them, (quite literally, we were given the figures), and everything they had missed out on in order to do so. And I am grateful, truly, for my school was in fact a bit of a safe haven for me for a few years, and yet it does not make right the pressure placed to do well and “make all the money worth it”. It also doesn’t make right the rest of the shitshow of a childhood we had at times. In order to be grateful for the sacrifices they made (and they did do it with the best of intentions), I do not need to be grateful for the rest of my childhood, or pass it off as being ‘made up for by’ that one thing, or ‘well, think about everything we gave up for to send you to that school, how much it cost’.
One right (and actually, a questionably necessary right) does not make okay other wrongs. Being grateful for one thing doesn’t automatically mean you should forget other wrongs.
I am not grateful for the sexual, physical and emotional abuse I endured growing up. Nor the neglect. I will not ignore or forgive those things simply because I “ought to be grateful” for the house we had, the food and clothes, the gifts my father bought us in the airport each week, the schools we went to, the opportunities we had, the birthday and christmas presents. I won’t allow the violation of my body to be made right by the fact that my dad bought me back a big bar of milka chocolate from Schippol Airport most weeks, and “dads home and he’s bought you a present so you have to be on your best behaviour”.
I’m absolutely positive that in my parents opinion, the rapes at the hand of a member of my own family are made okay by the fact that I never went without food or clothes, things I needed, and very often things I didn’t need. I am to keep quiet, keep the secret, no make a fuss, be grateful for all those things that I did get, not be selfish and focus on the negative, make out that it was all awful, and make life difficult for them.
And I still cannot comprehend this response of theirs. I don’t believe I am being ungrateful at all, I am grateful for the things I got.
Their disregard for all of my hurt however, has me floored.
Music is important to me. I like to have sound, particularly if it’s loud out, busy with people, if I just want to be in my own world, or quiet all the noise. I can’t sleep without noise, either a film, or music. Always, if I really can’t sleep, there’s one song that I turn to, and the best thing of all is that my best friend sang it for me and recorded it (along with her cat), and on nights like last night where I was sick, I put her recording on and not only did I have my favourite song, I had my best friend singing it. It is safety to me, a place to rest and be loved. I haven’t been able to sleep without music in years, and in my family, there is a lot to be said for being able to put earphones in and no longer have to hear conversations that are hurtful.
This ones very much for PC, a little truth telling – I used to, and still do occasionally when the mood takes me, listen to country music…. (Trust me people, she might unfriend me for this one, the blog could be over before we know it….)
Classical music reminds me of my paternal grandparents (both dead now). Something I adored about my grandmother is that every single day, when I arrived at their house after school, I would be greeted with the smell of the house…an old cottage, wood fire smoke in the winter, the smell of freshly baked bread or cake or dinner, the TV on in the sitting room, pot of tea keeping warm on the aga, and the sound of classical FM on the radio, a permanent presence, morning till evening.
I have also always wanted to go the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, particularly standing up in the gods. It kind of makes me sad because I absolutely love the Last Night of the Proms, and it’s always been a tradition of my dads and mine (the only ones who enjoy it) to play it loudly through the stereo system and listen and watch, eyes wide and sparkly, marking the end of summer, and the beginning (back then) of another school year. It was a connection of ours, and I just loved it. I’ve asked a few friends if they would want to go, but never really to any success… but perhaps I’ve just found my answer, PC?(though be warned, I know nothing about music, so I’ll very much be clueless if I’m there with you). If you came to the UK in the summer one year?
This one is kind of mixed in with all the ‘being weak’ stuff that I wrote about the other day (or started to write about) And when I say mixed in, I mean glued together, being smooshed into each other by ten tonnes of iron either side, inside a locked safe with the key thrown away in a room 1,000ft under ground… ie really fucking together, and never not going to be. Crying is weak. That is the message that was planted into me very early on, and fed all the time. So really the first huge thing I think of when I think of me crying, is massive amounts of shame. And that’s all thanks to my family
I mean, to begin with I grew up with two older brothers, and that just in itself probably tends to result in a girl being a little tougher and less likely to cry (maybe? Maybe not. Depends on the family and the kids, but with my kind of brothers definitely so). Then you can include my hard mother, who doesn’t cry, never has been a crier. She was tough, not soft, and that was how I was to be. And then, y’know, you can add into the mix my entire childhood experiences. Violent father, abusive family, sexually abusive family, for that matter. And I was the mediator, the one required to keep her cool and keep the peace and make sure everything was okay. I was needed to be emotionless, and to a great extent I was. Different parts generally held different emotions, and I appeared to the outside world devoid of all ‘bad’ ones… Or “fine”. (that word had better not come up any time soon or I really will cry).
So, what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t cry much. I absolutely could get upset, but as I got older I started to switch my emotions off. But to do that, I absolutely did cry… late at night, all on my own. About things that were happening to me, about imagining family members dying, about characters in books and films. I had books and films that I would turn to when I felt like I needed to cry. And I would sob into my stuffed elephant, like really really cry… About fictional characters, and yet also about the feelings of things that were actually happening to me, in my very real life.
And that was almost every single night for a while. I took myself to bed and I read if I needed to, and I cried myself to sleep.
Fast forward on a few years and I felt like I must’ve cried myself out, used up all my tears, because I could no longer cry…my tactical books and films no longer worked, I was immune to them. I was noticeably hardened, to the point where people commented on it. All of it had been turned off because it was all far too much.
Im still so ashamed of crying, of being weak, of allowing there to be a place for my hurt and of people knowing that I am hurting. But I’m so much better with it. And I do think a certain Canadian friend has helped so much with that, by being kind and gentle and reassuring and sitting with me when it happens. I’m relearning to cry, and I really hate it sometimes, but it feels much better and safer with her by my side. She uses the phrase that “it feels like you will down in the grief” or “die from the pain of it”, and it really really does sometimes. Just today it all felt like too much to bear, it felt like I would never stop crying, and yet always, always, I have.
All of this is not to say that I cry a lot, because I don’t, I’m still getting there. But it’s more. Its also only ever on my own or with safe people, which so far only includes pocketcanadian, (though my therapist is close to being added to that list I think, if she stops disappointing me enough that I actually go back to her). But it’s so much better to give it space, to feel those feelings, even when you feel like you won’t survive them.
Lastly, this makes me think of pocketcanadian and how heavy my heart feels that she let’s me be there when she’s crying, that I’m safe enough. And it makes me think about how being on the phone to her and hearing her cry, is sometimes enough to make me cry too.
i keep thinking of the weathered hands of elderly people: the geography of aging. the smattering of brown speckly age spots, the raised, snaking veins, wriggling their way between bumpy knuckles and fragile tendons. the delicate creases in the pliable dough of their palms. i love hands, anyway, and i love the hands of old people perhaps the very very most of all.
and now, i am thinking of their skin. have you ever held the wrinkled hands of someone very old? or brushed your lips against their soft, lined cheek? their skin is like silk… so soft. so dry and so soft. the calluses of their younger days mellowed, the strength of their grip and sharpness of their joints diminished by time.
even though it has been nearly thirty years since i held the cool, knotted hands of my grandmother in my own, as i sat with her, in the throes of fitful dreams induced by the narcotics to dull the cancer that was eating her body from within…even though it’s been so long, i can still imagine her soft, soft hands like it were yesterday. as though she were right here, smoothing my hair back, wiping the tears that are suddenly on my cheeks, stroking my face so gently, so carefully, with such love.
i have a fair number of people with a variety of addictions (food, alcohol, gambling, drugs) on both sides of my extended family (and my wife does, too), so i thought immediately about enabling in that sense; that is, an unhealthy interdependence, whereby the person with the addiction is protected by another/others from the consequences of their behaviour.
i of course also thought about abuse (when don’t i?) and about how angry/sad/crazy it makes me feel when i think about how long i was complicit with the story my parents had woven about me. how long it went unchallenged, how deeply i believed it, how hard it was to consider that the wrongness i had always believed was mine, maybe wasn’t. how difficult it is to shake, even now. that its familiarity, its tune, has been bred into my very cells, it seems.
i enabled that story. meaning, i actively participated in it, for years. in fact, that story is still being told, and i wish i could say it doesn’t hurt me, but it does, it really fucking does. i’m a grown-ass woman, but they can still make me feel miniscule.
that i’m not seen, that i’m not known by them, feels like a wound that might never fully close over. i think we’re doing so good but then a word…a text…a fucking greeting card aisle…a stupid holiday…and it’s weeping again, the pain fresh and new and sharp.
i have a bunch of unrelated thoughts. i’ll just write them here.
i don’t usually have baths, usually only if i’m feeling little and triggered and i need to calm down i do. and when i do, i make it so so hot, put in baby soap or essential oils, and, as i cry (which i often do) i let my head sink under the water so my ears are covered, and i close my eyes, and just listen to my ragged breathing and my heartbeat until they both slow. sometimes i add more hot water. then i lie there some more. until the tears are done, or, more often, until someone bangs on the door with an urgent need to pee in this particular toilet or until someone pokes her head in to check if i’m alive in there.
i also thought about ani difranco’s song everest, and about one my favourite lines: that the moon was so beautiful, the ocean held up a mirror. i love that. water as a reflection of the sky, as a mirror of what’s above.
i am from a province where there are many beautiful lakes and rivers, but not near the sea. my wife has the atlantic ocean in her blood, and for her, coming home means being near the sea. it is so interesting that i have come to love it with the passion that i do, given my origins and my roots. but i just find i can breathe there. that it soothes me. that the sound of it, the smell of it, the coming and going of the tide, its movement and constant life, also feels like home to me.
i got married by the water. and, water poured from the sky as we exchanged vows…our original plans of being outdoors foiled. we had a backup plan though, we didn’t even care, we were the furthest thing apart from bridezillas you could imagine. and the sunset that night, and then the meteor shower later on? more than made up for it.
this blog is also about water; about the sea, the place where pocketbrit and i meet. ages ago i asked what her sea looked like, and it gave me chills, because it was so similar to mine. more recently, i asked her what her cottage looked like, and there were more variations there, but the basics were the same: the pounding surf outside the windows. warmth. coziness. a fireplace. room to stretch out or curl up into a ball, depending. blankets. each other, as close or as far as feels tolerable, given the day. love.
did you know that our bodies are up to 60% water? that’s wild. also wild: the amount of tears i shed earlier today, while i sat on my bathroom floor, on the phone to pocketbrit, as i panicked. i was so young. she was so gentle. and then, part deux, tonight with my wife, as i confessed how so very not okay i have been, how i’ve been hiding it from everyone (i’m sorry), how lately, i just keep thinking how much better things would be for everyone if i weren’t here. i couldn’t see anything, for hours, for the water; the struggle continues as i try to finish these words.
i recently watched a video of me bathing our newborn daughter in the NICU, the second bath of her life (the first given by a gruff nurse as she screamed bloody murder) (our baby, not the nurse) and i was struck by how very…purposeful i was. i was gentle, but i was confident, i knew what i was doing, was not remotely swayed by her tiny slippery body or her (numerous) indignant protests or her newness or the fact that this was the first bath i was giving our baby, the one i’d waited for my whole life, the one i thought would never come, especially after five rounds of fertility treatment and a huge bleed early in the pregnancy. no, in this video, i had a job to do. she had sticky molasses-like poop up her back and down her legs, and i was tasked with getting it off.
but then, by the end, when she was really yelling, her fists waving, her legs kicking, i gathered her up onto my chest, and i rocked her, and i swayed, and i apologized as i pressed my cheek onto her wet hair, and she quieted. and the video kept playing for a number of seconds with me doing that, and watching those last few seconds the other night (over and over again), it all got very watery then, too.
whenever someone’s child has a birthday, i wish the kiddo a happy birthday…and then, wish their parents, a happy birth day.
never mind the nausea and heartburn and ten-month takeover of your mood and hunger by a growing parasite who seems to reside simultaneously on your bladder, in your crotch, and between your second and third ribs…or the physical pain pushing a miniature human out a narrow stretchy tunnel that happens to be an intimate part of your body, or the weeks of bleeding afterwards. i’m talking about the creation of a whole new person and being responsible for bringing them into the world. yeah, it happens every day, in all sorts of ways, all over the world. but it changes you.
it changes your body. your identity. your shape. your function. your meaning in life. your role. how your body works. who you are. who you’ve been.
birthing our daughter changed me in ways i never thought possible. most obviously, i became a mother (and what a tangled identity that is, more so now than ever). i grew her in my body, from a microscopic bundle of cells, to a fully formed tiny human. and then, i fed her from my body, on the outside, for several more months. i never felt more powerful than i did in those first few weeks; at least once a day, i would find myself looking at her in wonder, thinking, i made that. as her cheeks filled out and the dimples on her knuckles deepened, i marveled that i was sustaining her, growing her, nourishing her.
it was the one time in my life i appreciated my body for what it had done, and was doing. it was the one time in my life i felt i was in the right place…if not just for a few months.
this is a word that is both meaningful and hard for me.
meaningful, because i hold kindness in high esteem…value it greatly. aspire to it, try to embody it, cultivate it, and live it in my daily life. i fail often, of course. but i won’t ever stop trying, because i know its profound impact, and i believe in it, am a devout follower.
and yet, hard, because there was a bit of a shortage of kindness in my household, growing up. my parents were purposely unkind fairly often, but even when they were not, i would not describe them as especially kind. things at home felt very particular, all sharp edges and expectations and discipline. measured responses. a lot of impatience. it is difficult for me to recall spontaneous cuddles or affection or praise. when i think of kindness in my childhood, it is not their faces i see (but thankfully, i can think of other instances of kindness. kind eyes and kind faces and kind hands and kind acts, and i am grateful to have those.)
many times, even a stranger unexpectedly calling me ‘dear’ or ‘sweetheart’ invites a massive lump into my throat, floods my eyes, even before i can control it. it is so so embarrassing, how a correctly-timed kind word, or a loving glance, or someone speaking gently can entirely do me in. i used to say to my therapist that my idea of torture would be to have someone say a bunch of loving, positive, things about me to my face. like in a row, one after another. it makes me squirm even now, ugh, where would i look, what would i do with it all, when would it stop ugh ugh ugh. but tie me to a chair and criticize me, withhold praise, shrug at me or otherwise act indifferently for hours, and i’d snuggle in like i was home.
speaking of therapy…yesterday, i had an appointment and we were about to do some work that i had been avoiding. my therapist was asking me to check in with my little one inside about something, and i didn’t fucking want to, i just didn’t want to hear about it. i crossed my arms, pulled faces, fidgeted in my seat. she waited, and watched, patiently, and then, right in the middle of my huffing and puffing and eye-rolling, surprised me with a snort and a belly laugh. you’re so, so cute, she said. i could just see her in you right then, that sweet wee girl. i could’ve laid in her lap and cried just from that, for hours and hours and hours. my face is wet just remembering it. why is she like that with me?
and why weren’t they?
the most pride i feel as a mother is when people say our daughter is kind; we’ve heard it from her teachers, our friends, her friends’ parents, her grandparents. she is kind, so kind to nearly everyone.
and when i am reminded of that, when i see that and hear how mean she is to her little self, how intolerant, when she makes a simple innocent mistake and is sobbing and telling me that she is the worst kid, she is a rotten person, she doesn’t deserve to be here, it is the most desolate i ever feel as a mother. it is hard not to just quit, right then and there. did i do that to her? is it just in my blood, something i can’t help being and giving to her? is it a cultural affliction, or just a genetic one?
years ago, i remember hearing about amma, a woman colloquially called ‘the hugging saint’ from a province at the southern tip of india. i don’t remember where exactly i heard of her, or read of her, but i remember seeing a picture of her and being struck by her kind face. and also recall a video of her, quietly but meaningfully hugging people, hordes of them, one by one, for hours on end. searching out their eyes, and holding them close to her, smiling gently as people dissolved into tears in her arms. when asked why she did it, she responded simply that we all deserve love, no matter who we are. at last count, she has apparently comforted over 34 million people…that amazes me. how much love she gives, but also how much she gets back. she must be brimming, all of the time.
this is not really finished but it’s all i’ve got for tonight…sorry it’s just trailed off in the middle, i’m overcome by sadness and tiredness and the kindest thing feels like burying myself in my flannel sheets and succumbing to sleep.