one hundred & seventy two: pride

this word actually reminded me of the endless lectures we got as kids, usually regarding doing our ‘jobs.’ we often got accused of having a lack of pride if we didn’t delight in our 500 chores (washing/drying/putting away dishes after every meal, vacuuming the entire house, dusting, scrubbing toilets and sinks, washing the floor, wiping mirrors, putting laundry out onto the line, taking it off, folding it), or if we didn’t do them up to their standards.

in particular, it makes me think about one of my dad’s most regular speeches about how our family was a team, and as team members, we all needed to do our part, we all needed to contribute, they worked so hard to provide all these things for us, how our laziness, lack of enthusiasm and pride in our chores was an insult to them, was proof of how we were ungrateful, selfish, spoiled kids. i can hear the pseudo-patient, long-suffering tone of his voice even now, and i simultaneously roll my eyes outwardly, while i feel my insides shrinking up.

the one persistent, childish fuck you for my apparent lack of pride was one i maintained as long as i lived in their house: i kept my room a a total mess. and even now, i tend to be more messy than tidy, and it is yet another example of the way they have a hold on me, even still. my doing the opposite of what they would do just shows how much control i continue to let them have. it’s ridiculous. insta-shame.

*

my parents were incredibly stingy with praise and in being proud of us. they were proud of us to other people, but rarely in earshot. they bragged about our accomplishments to their friends (as reflections on themselves as excellent parents, mostly) but were very intentional about keeping our sense of pride in ourselves miniscule. we learned that ‘getting a big head’ was one of the worst things that could happen, and any sense of self-confidence was evidence of this. compliments or praise that we shared with them, from teachers or our friends’ parents, were considered highly suspicious, and their intentions were always questioned: ‘what are they playing at?’ and ‘hmm, they’re probably just buttering you up because dad teaches their son.’ compliments paid to us when they were present were quickly batted away: ‘oh you don’t know what she’s usually like at home’ or ‘oh but you should see the state of her room’ and ‘we just wish his math grades would reflect that!’

i don’t know why they were like this. i don’t know why some pride was sanctioned but others wasn’t. i don’t know what they thought would happen if we were proud of ourselves, or if they showed that they were proud of us. we would like ourselves? we would be comfortable in our own skin? we would get better than them?

(though honestly, isn’t that the fucking goal of it all?! i think so. i desperately want our daughter to be better than us, to struggle less, to achieve more, to be happy, to be satisfied, to be loved, to be safe. i want her to be okay. i want her to be as big as she wants to be, to take up as much space as she needs, to chase whatever dreams she has, to have the hugest expanse of what is possible for her lying ahead. why would i want to curb that? why would i want her to pack herself away?)

i don’t get any of it. yet i get all of it, very intimately, because i live with its effects, every minute of my life.

one hundred & seventy one: playfulness

i’ve just written a fairly despairing addendum to yesterday’s post, so this word is quite a contrast, and i’m not sure i’ll do it justice.

i am a playful sort of person. i delight in making people laugh, i am incredibly silly and appreciate ridiculousness (and am adept at finding it anywhere), and love when people play along with me. i am self-deprecating and although i write incredibly seriously on this site, many people in my day-to-day life would have little to no idea i was capable of it.

i keep things light, for the most part. it is my comfort zone, it is easy for me to be clever and amusing (and amused), it is a major defense mechanism to keep me safe. bathroom humour? totally in my wheelhouse. bodily function jokes/sound effects? yes, please. (it is why i am a favourite with 8-12 year old boys. and british people. right, pocketbrit?! ;))

on that note, i absolutely love making pocketbrit laugh, it is the best sound. i love teasing her, having her tease me. i love that she is so so silly, that we have that in common too, alongside all the heavy stuff. it is so important to me.

my wife and i have our own stupid language that we speak…well, not a language exactly, but a uniformly wonky sort of way we pronounce words. i have no idea of its origins anymore but it’s persisted for over a decade. sometimes our daughter will ask us to speak it to each other so she can try to emulate it (she can’t, goofy girl) and then we’ll all laugh because it’s so entirely dumb. but it always makes me smile. especially if we try to spell it as we pronounce it, it always brings a smile to my face.

and a last confession in relation to this word: i totally find myself funny sometimes. like, absolutely crack myself up. even as a kid, i would do completely silly things around my family and wait for them to notice and to say something. they would notice, but my parents in particular would often refuse to give me the satisfaction of acknowledging whatever idiotic thing i was doing, and this cracked me up, endlessly. i mean it strikes me as a bit sad, just now, but as one small example: i took the green leafy top part of a strawberry and went to dinner with it sticking out of one of my nostrils. both my mom and dad saw it but didn’t say a word. (it eventually got launched onto the table after i unsuccessfully stifled a chortle, five minutes in…)

but the game of it, the fact that i knew i was being ridiculous and inappropriate, the fact that they wouldn’t play…i don’t know. i think it’s funny. and sad, now that i write it. but mostly funny, because i guess it was one of the times when i was in on the joke, when i was controlling the situation.

one hundred & sixty one: anger

i don’t do anger very well, either. let’s just get that straight.

*

a few years ago i would have said i was fluent in anger. it was an acceptable expression of emotion, just like with pocketbrit’s family, but there was no awareness of what drove it. what it was covering. what lay underneath.

at the beginning of my marriage, when my wife and i argued, i’d often end up really angry. super frustrated, sharp words, defensive, prickly, unfair, terrible. and her response was to cajole, distract, or check out, coz that’s what kept her safe in her home as a kid, being able to interrupt a volatile situation or just exit. coz she also came from a home where anger was dangerous; where there was screaming and violence and arguing. in fact, she remembers often taking refuge on the roof of her house, where the shouting and crashing were muffled, where she’d sit, with her knees drawn up, watching the stars, waiting for it to end. that makes me so so sad.

it just occurred to me that we triggered the fuck out of each other. i got angry, and she got absent. she didn’t get angry, she just got quiet, and then i got absent.

*

over the ensuing decade and a bit, we worked it through. she knows that when i am lashing out at her, that i am hurt. and i know that if i want her to hear me, i need to dig deeper, and let her know what’s beneath all my spikes. similarly, i know that when she starts raging about the house being out of order or going silent, that she is scared, and needing to exert control somewhere. she has learned that disappearing when she is angry is far scarier for me than any words or actions she may take.

however, these last few years have really fucked with that vibe. separately, we’re each working through our trauma(s) in therapy, and it’s been hard, really hard, to figure it out with each other while we’re evolving individually. she is learning to find her voice, her entirely justified anger, her inner advocate, and it is so good, and so important, and so necessary. by no means am i always good with it, coz sometimes i’m just terrible, ask her. and on the flip side, i am learning (so so fucking slowly, like turtle-with-four-broken-legs slow) to allow room for my hurt, to feel the stuff beneath all those angry, prickly layers i built up, to unpack the reflex to get mad. it is the worst timing, and the best timing both, and it is hard.

*

more often than not these days, i am terrified by anger. my own, and that of others. i get instantly small, instantly triggered, instantly wanting to bolt out of wherever i am so i can hyperventilate and panic. and it is really fucking inconvenient, and so shameful. i mean, fuck, i grew up with a goodly dose of violence, parents who yelled and hit us fairly frequently, i used to have no problem getting enraged, why am i getting so fucking weird about it now?

i don’t know, but nowadays, anger undoes me. i’ve gone the opposite direction.

ask the people closest to me (my wife, pocketbrit, even my kid) and they’ll tell you. a hint of anger and i’m outta there. it’s the worst, the absolute worst.

i really want to get better with it.

eighty-six: discovery

i’ve opted to go somewhat silly here, because i’ve been backwriting a bunch of these blog entries and they’re a bit heavy…

…but it’s also genuinely what my first thought was. which was about shark week, on the discovery channel.

my wife, you know, the one with the ocean in her blood, who grew up by the sea, is addicted to shark week. like, PVRs it, and has, stored in her very smart brain, millions of facts about sharks. best, though, is that she uses this information to back up why she can’t swim in any body of water other than a chlorinated swimming pool. yes folks, you heard it here, she will not step past her ankles in a single pond, river, lake or ocean because of sharks.

so thank you, discovery channel, for making me the only parent that will swim with our child on holidays…you and your bastard shark week!!

eighty-three: dignity

all day saturday, i couldn’t think of what piece of what song it was, circling in my head, that had the word dignity in it…and then it came to me, finally, as we drove from brunch. it was from whitney houston’s ‘greatest love of all.’

when i was younger, my dad had this record, and i remember studying it for a really long time. she was so so beautiful. i mean, look at her.

Whitney_Houston_-_Whitney_Houston_(album)

i was in the fourth grade, so i had already had loads of crushes on girls and women (my friend’s sister, my grade three teacher, a few random tv stars) (but truly had no idea i may have been gay, that didn’t come til later) but i reaaaaaalllly loved me some whitney. my ten year old self thought she was so exotic…and that voice, phew.

*

in fact, one of my first big concerts was to see whitney houston (i feel like it was in junior high), at an arena. i was on the floor, maybe eight rows back? (i have no idea who i went with…i totally can’t remember!) i was mesmerized. i knew all the songs. and, i swore up and down that she looked straight at me as she blew a kiss to the crowd.

*

later, in high school, i auditioned for a musical with this song. ambitious much?! shit. clearly too young and naive to have any sense of how ridiculous it was for a teenaged white girl to sing it, ugh i’m cringing now thinking of our theatre director, good lord must he have rolled his eyes.

but…i got the part. whitney was on my side.

*

the other thing i thought of in relation to this word was about death…dignity at the end of one’s life. if you read obituaries (which i used to, routinely) this is a word that is used often in relation to death, and i’m fairly curious about it.

the ironic part of my association game with whitney houston is how completely undignified a death she had. face down in a bathtub, possibly drowned, with a motley cocktail of alcohol and drugs in her system, at the age of 48.

but honestly, what does a dignified death even mean? that you don’t go sobbing and kicking and screaming? that you accept that it’s happening? that you welcome it? that you lie back with a peaceful beatific smile on your face and drift off to sleep? i don’t quite have a sense for what it all entails, but i do know that i want one, when the time comes.

yes, i will go with dignity. i’ve decided.

eighty-one: outside

i wish i could launch myself outside of this brain of mine. i just want to be outside of me entirely. outside of this body, this head, these thoughts, these emotions. i know it’s just coz i’ve just been a bucket of triggers lately, but still. get me out.

*

i feel like kids play outside way less than they used to. when i was a kid, i would spend hours outside, with my cousins or my brother, or on my own. singing to the trees. playing with my dollies. throwing the ball for my dog. catching tadpoles, making forts, befriending worms. searching for four-leaf clovers. hanging from the monkey bars. running through the sprinkler.

*

when it was warm, i used to climb outside my window as a kid after i’d been put to bed, i’m not sure how old i was. six maybe? seven? when i was sure the coast was clear, i slid open my screen and jumped down (i can still feel that thud under my bare feet) to the green grassy carpet below. usually i’d sit and pet my cat, sing to her, but lots of times, i remember being sad, tucking my knees up to my chest and feeling the tears spill down my legs, as i sat on the ground, in between sheets and towels that were hanging to dry on the clothesline. i felt safe in there, hidden. and when i was done, when it was getting dark or when the bugs got too bad or when the tears had stopped or if i got sleepy, i’d push the square weathered step stool that was used to hold the laundry basket up to the wall under my window so i could clamber back in.

i don’t remember ever getting caught. or having anyone ask me about it…i mean, they must’ve known i did it. how many mornings must my mom have moved the stool back? or did they notice at all?

*

when i was in my early teens, i remember summer nights, outside with my friends, riding bikes, bouncing balls against the school walls, playing tag by streetlight in their richly-kid-populated neighbourhoods (mine was full of old people and babies). drinking gigantic slushies together with the same two straws (or with red twizzlers – yum!). all of that was as close to bliss as i could imagine, then. free and wild. sweaty necks, dusty shoes, smiles glinting in the night.

seventy-four: uncertain

this word makes me feel sad.

for some reason, i have in my head this picture of me, when i was fairly small, maybe it was the first day of school or preschool or easter, but i’m posing in front of our white picket fence (yes really – ha!), hands at my sides, wearing a short-sleeved white dress with a pleated skirt and a green sash, hair in matching green yarn ribbons, all of it moving slightly with the breeze. i’m squinting and smiling into the camera, i really was cute, like so so cute in this picture, and all looks completely normal. just a sweet little kid in her front yard, white knee-high socks nearly even, hair shimmering in the sun.

but look closer, and i’ve got my one foot tilted outwards, not quite standing square, and just that one detail entirely belies the illusion of fineness. it’s like a subtle shrug or something, a tiny little giveaway about how it really was, how unsure i felt, and it makes me feel so fucking sad. because i’m totally looking fine and normal and okay…but that little foot, supinating…it’s what i still do now, decades later, when i’m nervous or worried or fidgeting.

so i feel it all differently, thinking about that picture today. i wasn’t okay, then, but no one knew, no one noticed. i was on my own.

fifty-four: birth

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.

twenty-four: time

i have always been petrified by the passage of time; that i would forget sweet and wonderful and delicious and beautiful things, never to be recovered. like grains of sand swept out to sea, rendered unrecognizable when they are returned to the shore with the tide, i feared losing all traces of them.

even as a little girl, i can recall lying awake and feeling panicky, as i imagined not remembering all sorts of things in my life: moments, tastes, smells, feelings, people, names, faces, experiences. i have always been so so scared that as time went on, i would forget, i would lose sight, and lose track, and lose…i don’t know what. become lost, in general?

as i grew older, i compensated for this terror by capturing moments, in a near-obsessive fashion via writing, photographs, music, and sometimes, keepsakes. i hold on to them, to help transport me back to the things i won’t remember.

so you can understand the irony of that anxious little girl becoming a woman whose world has been rocked by memories that i purposely forgot, as a way to survive my childhood. memories that i didn’t want to remember, or revisit, or be transported towards.

*

right now, there are lumps in various places in my wife’s body. we don’t know their nature, or their intentions, but they have cast new lines in her face and shadows under her eyes. they make her wince, interrupt her sleep, make wearing certain types of clothing uncomfortable, and have inflamed her lymph system. they are showing themselves on ultrasound, they are physically palpable, and they are getting louder and more threatening.

tomorrow, we find out who they are. or hopefully, who they are not.

and all i keep thinking is, as the hot stupid babyish tears flood my eyes, seventeen years is not enough. please, please, please let us have more time. 

*

a couple of my favourite songs have the word time in the title. this ani difranco song. this version of time after time. and, for days, through the seemingly-permanent lump in my windpipe, i’ve found myself humming this verse (from this version of sting’s beautiful, musical poem – so much love and thanks to pocketbrit for reminding me of it):

i never made promises lightly/and there have been some that i’ve broken/but i swear in the days still left we’ll walk in fields of gold/we will walk in fields of gold

*

every once in awhile, i get lost in my google drive, looking at photos and videos. me, her, our daughter…faces fuller or thinner, hair all shades and lengths, baby turning chubby toddler turning sassy willowy girl-child. sunsets, holidays, ordinary days, snow, sun, fog, rain. friends past and present, family past and present.

the times before we knew, and the times after. we don’t look much different, but everything is different, all of it changed.

i’ve said it before, even here, some point in the past twenty-three days, that i’m not sure i have enough life left, enough time, to actually sort through all the mess of what i forgot. and lately, there is so much fucking grief; it’s everywhere, and it’s sticking to all my old throbbing wounds and my new scary ones about ticking clocks and draining hourglasses and please, goddess or god or universe or whoever is in charge, i just need more time.

*

in the midst of this terror of loss, though, are flashes of memories, of smells, of sights, of sounds…tethers to the past i did not purposefully garner: the huge furry head of my beloved first pet, giggling as his wet warm doggy breath in my ears sent shivers down my spine…the lusty wail of our wee girl, shock of dark wet hair, as she first emerged from my body…the warm doughy smell of my grandmother’s apron against my cheek, as i pressed myself into the refuge of her lap…slipping a silver band smoothly over her finger on our wedding day, her joints yet-unravished by disease…the tickly whiskers of a now-aged cat against the curve of my calves…the upside-down views of the world from my dangling perch on the monkeybars in our front yard…the acrid smell of incense competing with cloying frangipani blooms in the heavy, damp monsoon evenings of mumbai…

i didn’t take pictures of any of these moments, have no visual or audible recordings or keepsakes. i’ve no proof that they happened at all. and yet…tonight, they arise, unbidden, flushing me with comfort and warmth and reassurance. as maybe, the timestamps of my life will reveal themselves, and fade, as they are meant to. maybe there are thousands of days left, maybe there are endless fields of gold. maybe it will be okay. maybe it will be okay.

twenty: storm

20180710_154030

this might not look too stormy, but what followed was ferocious. the rain blew sideways, forcing itself into cracks in the windows and between the doors. the wind howled. trees were felled. branches spread across the field, the driveway, on the beach. car alarms activated. flowers decapitated and plastered to the side of the house. an eight year old terrified. her mama (me) delighted, revitalized, awe-struck by the power.

i love storms. the more flashing fury and thunderous applause, the better. if my wife didn’t beg me not to (she is less delighted about storms), i would’ve stood out in the middle of this one, arms outstretched, grinning.