Feeling a bit dim

22 12 2016

rv-ad529_divorc_g_20110708181412So, I’m walking home today and thinking about Christmas traditions and how we as a family have so few of them and it suddenly dawned on me that I had actually destroyed my family when I left my ex.

I feel like an idiot. I hadn’t actually realized that before. Well, I had, but not in such detail.

I destroyed the family traditions, such as they were, destroyed the extended family, messed up the getting together for everyone.

I mean, I knew I was wreaking havoc when I left, but the kids were grown up, pretty well. I thought they’d be okay, and though I still care about and respect my ex, I wasn’t as concerned about him for a variety of reasons.

And I suppose I shoulda realized the eddies of my decision to save myself. But at first, the relief I felt at my escape was so huge, and then I had to deal with the MS thing, and the depression thing and I thought, maybe, we were okay with separate holidays and traditions as we weren’t that into Christmas and all that. Everyone SEEMED okay.

As I watch the families getting together for the holidays, the joy expressed by parents on FB, the happiness I hear about and remember when we were all together, I wonder. I wonder how the kids felt when I left. Did they feel gutted? Did they feel there was nothing left? Did I inadvertently cast them out onto the sea of isolation without meaning to?04-how-could-this-happen2

They never spoke much about it. We explained everything calmly. We didn’t yell and fight over things. We co-wrote our separation agreement and all was civilized, but the kids were quiet. I should perhaps have pried more.

A few years ago, one said, “I understand that you two are better off on your own.” Which makes me wonder if they thought I left singing and happy and destroyed their home life just out of selfishness, gaily stabbing my ex on the way out the door.

In a way, I guess I did. I couldn’t stay, though. It was not possible. I never dreamed I’d get divorced – but I somehow married the wrong fellow, and it wasn’t sustainable after the heavy work of raising children was done. It hadn’t been warm and friendly for over ten years, and in a way I knew it was over when he dropped me home with my brand new firstborn and went back to work. No fault to him or me – just our mutual differences were too much to take. And by the time I left, neither of us were willing to put in the 100% needed to save things. dave-willis-quote-quotes-marriages-love-marriage-is-not-50-50-divorce-is-marriage-is-100-100-not-dividing-everything-in-half-but-giving-everything-you-got-davewillis-org_

And in the midst of that life change, I tore much apart. At this time of year, I can’t help but wonder where we’d be if I hadn’t.

I’m so sorry, kids. In all of the things I’ve done, I’ve always wanted to spare you hurt. But I guess I still did.

And it only took me ten years to realize it. Forgive me…

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Dear mum

25 01 2016
MollyBrownPoster

Well, Margaret Warner, actually. Unsinkable, certainly.

I’m thinking of you today. I’m not sure why this bright winter day brings you to mind, but maybe it’s a confluence of two things I’ve read. The first was “Dear Fatty”, by Dawn French – her memoir, written as a series of letters to people she knows and loves. We never shared Dawn – she came on the scene here a little bit after you left. I know you’d have loved her, her crazy humour – that is, if you could get past her being so round and the occasional shocking bit.  I can hear your voice saying something like, “She’d be so pretty if she weren’t so heavy,” much as you said to me on more than one occasion that I needed to lose weight but, I “could still move well.” And I had “such lovely skin.” I think you’d have loved her parish council in The Vicar of Dibley, given your work with the church and probably a very similar council.

I don’t think you’d have liked French and Saunders – I think something about their drinking and fooling around would have left you profoundly uncomfortable, as you seemed to be with Monty Python. Do you remember when Life of Brian came out and there was all this fuss about the sacrilege? You came down on the “not to be seen” side, as I recall, but I saw it anyways and it remains one of my favourite movies.

Thank you for being that someone I could test myself against, push my ideas against, form myself against. We didn’t think alike in most ways, and now that I am about your age when you discovered your cancer, I realize that I missed getting to really know you. We spent so much time butting heads, politely, always politely, but I missed getting to know the fun you you shared with my cousins and your friends.

You had mothering goals with me and I suppose I am the same with my kids, trying to be accepting and encouraging and laugh endlessly with them but always having that motherhood light attached, blinking concern at the wrong moment, putting my foot wrong. I used to think I was such a good mom. Funny how that changes as you grow older, how you see the gaps where you could have done better, where you missed that bit, where that little bit of mothering knitting dropped a stitch, purled when it should have knitted. I wonder if you ever felt that.

You always seemed supremely confident. But maybe you, like me, sang “Whistle a Happy Tune” as you stepped into new situations, faking confidence, you with such élan. I wish I knew. Maybe if I thought you’d had doubts I would have felt closer to you, as I fought my way to adulthood. As it is, I felt all weakness was an embarrassment to you. God knows how you would have taken my bouts of depression. Mental illness, to you, was a sign of weakness. And scary as hell. Because of this we barely saw my father’s family with their admitted mental health problems – though to tell the truth I often thought your family could have done with a little counselling now and again.

But maybe, maybe, it was so scary to you because you knew it, fought against it, dreaded the contagion that comes when a depressed person gets pulled into another depressed person’s circle. I know that feeling. I hide, too.

The other thing that brings you to mind is a short story, “The Woman who Sold Communion” by Kate Braverman (McSweeney’s early fall, 2004). In this, a woman is denied tenure and falls apart, heads down to meet up with her mother, a woman she ran away from, a woman who lives like a hippie out in the desert. She goes there because she knows she is safe there, even though she and her mum don’t seem to have much in common.

Once, when my marriage was falling apart, in the early days when I was expecting my youngest, I called you. I had had enough, I said. I couldn’t bear being with such an angry man. Your response was: “Come home.” I was shocked. You were, above all, a staunch Catholic. Leaving a marriage was a big thing.

I sometimes wish I had trusted you and perhaps taken that step. Instead I thought you were looking for company, and resisted. But the fact that you said what you did to me made it safe for me to continue on, to stick it out for another 15 years, some good, some bad. Because you gave me permission not to, and a safe place to go.

Miss you.





Serpent’s teeth and the brilliance of Shakespeare

30 08 2015

db-0100I hated reading Shakespeare as I grew up. The language seemed difficult, the concepts dry and old. I was, of course, ignorant. And a philistine. Now I know better, and am continually gobsmacked by what Shakespeare was able to contain in his works.

I wonder who I was when I was younger – so sure of myself, so sure I knew things, terrified of being caught out yet pushing my way through, singing “Whistle a Happy Tune” and “You’ll never walk alone” to keep my chin up – but as an old friend said, it WAS up. Though I knew nothing, and inside I knew I knew nothing. I knew enough to fake it til I made it, just about. So I did.

I blame my mother. She told us we were special, and though we never really believed it, we carried it around. My adopted aunt once gave me a book which had a marvelous poem in it about “Mary-Alice”, who had great potential, and because she was so afraid of losing that potential, she kept it hidden under her bed in a very secure box and got it out now and again to look at it but never showed it to anyone.

That poem has haunted my entire life. Thanks, Aunt Shirlianne. (Love her so much, and there’s no reason she should have expected that that poem would have such an effect on me). Between my mother assuring me I was meant to do great things and my aunt inflicting overly wise poetry on me, I was and probably still am, a mess. I figure I still have to contribute – have to have an effect on the world, have to use my potential before it vanishes like Mary-Alice’s.

potential

It’s encouraging in one way, terrifying in another. Here I am, gently losing my mind with the cognitive effects of MS, and I am flogging myself to write, to agitate, to exercise, to model healthy behaviour, blah blah blah. Add in a generous dose of Roman Catholic guilt and it’s almost unbearable in here. Wine helps. And chocolate.

Sad thing is, I seem to have visited it upon my kids, this same sense of “you have great gifts and you’d better use them to better the world or else”. It’s a lot of pressure, and I didn’t mean to make their lives the same living ratrace mentally that I spin upon, but I did.

So now they have secret lives, and are afraid to tell me their plans and are snarky at me so they don’t have to feel that I am judging them.

Which, of course, I am NOT. Funny thing about parenting. That unconditional love thing is the code.You get it through the umbilical cord, I think. So I don’t care what they do, though of course I would be sad if they got arrested or hurt somebody or sat about being unhappy and unfulfilled. But then I think they wouldn’t like that, either, so I assume we are on the same page, sort of. Maybe.

I have to guess, though, because, like those ungrateful children in Shakespeare, two out of my three wonderful offspring speak rarely to me. It hurts me, yes it does. I’m sure they have reasons to avoid me, and it’s pretty much due me as I recall I kind avoided my mother for a spell, and still argue with her though she is 24 years gone. I guess I also passed on the serpent’s tooth.

In a way, it’s good – I raised my kids to be independent, questioning individuals, and so they are. Just wish a bit that they’d be a little less questioning of me, sometimes.

Ah well, at least when we DO talk, they are interesting, witty, intelligent, and worth the wait. Perhaps you can’t have that without the tooth…

quote-he-d-be-sharper-than-a-serpent-s-tooth-if-he-wasn-t-as-dull-as-ditch-water-charles-dickens-326928





Families, or what would we write about without them?

26 05 2015

stick-figure-family-stickers-12Saw a mini-van today with a partial stick-figure family on the back – just the dad and the son. The mom and another child had obviously been peeled off (in a fit of pique? In sorrow? In rage?). So I wondered. What happened to the other figures (there might even have been a dog there, or a cat)? What happened to the family? Was it a divorce, one kid each arrangement, or was it a terrible tragedy? Did the dad murder the other two and then rip off the stick figures so no one would wonder (ineffectively)? Does the mom have a car with the other two figures stuck on?

So many authors write about their dysfunctional families. It’s tempting. Fits right in with the “write what you know” dictum, especially given that we really have no idea how other families live. I used to try to imagine how my friends lived at home, but unless you were there 24/7, you could never be sure they weren’t putting on an act for you. They always seemed quieter than my family…

As a parent, you are learning all the time. You make mistakes. You try again. You fight with your kids, your partner. You break up. People stop speaking to one another. They start again. I used to think it was all good as long as there were some feelings – when I did home visiting, that saddest children were the ones who were neglected – no one cared about them. At least if their parent was yelling at them, they noticed they were there, I figured.

In my head, I’m the sort of parent who would peel off the stickers on the back of the car in a fit of pique. How I long for the Jewish tradition of rending clothing while shouting “I have no son!” It would be so cathartic, but my Roman Catholic upbringing means I get to sit around instead, feeling awful when my kids ignore me or treat me badly because somewhere in my guilty heart, I know I must have done something, sometime, to deserve such treatment. Or if something bad happens with friends or complete strangers, I know that it must’ve been because of something I did. In a way, it’s nice to always have an explanation.

So I get hurt, and then my brain gets busy. How could I use this pain in a story? How can I take the feelings and put them to good use, as so many other authors have done?

God knows I have enough meat for several novels. The question is, do I make them mysteries and kill off all those I want to hurt back (mwah hah hah), or do I make everything turn out all right in the end? Maybe I should have aliens from another planet intercede. Or maybe something in-between?

All I know is that despite the slings and arrows, I’m grateful. If everyone were sweet as pie, why, I’d have nothing interesting to say.

images-2

(But sometimes, sometimes, that might be nice.)





The warped door

29 08 2013

images-5In every life, there seems to be a closet of unresolved feelings, undealt-with crises, unhealed wounds. I know I have one, and sometimes  it’s all I can do to shove things in there out of my everyday sight so that I can focus on what needs to be done to get myself around in a day.

Unfortunately, the door to my closet is, like so many old doors, slightly warped. It allows THINGS to creep out and catch me by surprise, grip me by the throat at the most improper times. Like when I hear the song, “Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics on an oldies station while I’m driving and it brings back my dad’s death with an acuity that feels like it was yesterday, instead of 28 years ago, and I have to pull over the car until I can see again through my tears.

Or an old Rascals’s tune, which sends me back to my childhood. Initially I remembered my childhood as happy and was puzzled why, when I would write about it, trails of greenish-yellow pus would ooze out of my pen, colouring the page with infection and noxious smells. Now, sadly, I know better.

I should never have messed about in that closet.

But you know how it is with those closets filled with junk – suddenly you come over all efficient and say to yourself, “time to tidy THAT up. I can use the reorganized space for new memories, new thoughts.” And then you get mired in old photographs, your grade 2 report card (that said you had great potential, potential you haven’t used, even now). You come across throwaway comments that somehow imprinted on your brain, that experience with a boyfriend that cut you to the quick and showed you the folly of ever, ever falling in love again.

So eventually you tire of digging through, and you slam the door, vowing to never go there again. But it comes to you, through that warping of age.

When I left my ex, I didn’t want to wallow in bad feelings, I forcibly shoved them into the deepest darkest corner of that damn closet in a box with a lock. Somehow that box walks its way to the front of the closet now and again, telling me there are still things to deal with there, that trying to lock things away won’t work, alas. It’s annoying.

I did find a benefit to my leaky closet, in the end. Despite the anguish it sometimes costs me, stories lie there. The stories that lie closest to the bone, the ones that help me write truer, deeper.

Compassion is there, too, wrapped like a warm scarf around the most painful memories. I can take that compassion out and wrap it around others, warm them.

So maybe the warped door isn’t altogether a bad thing. A little escape at a time might be images-6okay. And I might tidy just that one shelf….





Oxytocin and love, or why don’t you just touch me already?

15 02 2013
oxytocin-nasal-health-060812

This can be yours. Just sniff.

I love the luxury I have as a retired person to lie in bed and listen to the radio on the morning.
Sometimes, though, what I hear sends me rocketing into my day, filled with rage or wonderment.
Yesterday, in time for Valentine’s Day, there was a report on the Current about using oxytocin spray to improve failing relationships.
Prairie voles, normally the type of mammal you meet at bars on a Saturday night, don’t have long term relationships with their females. Shoot them some oxytocin and they cleave to their main woman (though they still cheat), heading back to her at the end of a night of partying.
Why this is seen as a benefit, I’m not sure (if you cheat, I would rather you just stay away, thanks).
Some folks are thinking of creating nasal spray oxytocin to help people in failing marriages feel bonded to one another and stick it out for longer.
Oxytocin is the “touch” hormone. We create it naturally with babies when we hold them, nurse them, smell them. We do the same with other adults – building up the hormone as we touch and cuddle and stroke and hold. We create it when we pat cats and play with dogs, when we sit on the couch with our surly teenagers and touch shoulders, when we hug our friends. All of these things make us want to spend more time with the object of our affection.
Maybe the marriage is failing because there hasn’t been enough loving touch. I hardly feel a snort of oxytocin will repair that loss of contact.
Why not just arrange to spend some time together?
I always fell more in love with my husband when we’d hang out together, talking and bumping shoulders and laughing. Unfortunately for our marriage, those times were so few that by the time the kids grew up, I’d fallen out of love. The fault was with both of us- busy, tired, distracted.
Another long time sweetie of mine would request cuddles for oxytocin – it never failed to make me feel more warmly toward him, even if I was grumpy or tired or wanting to be distant.
So hey, all of you, clinging to a sinking ship of a relationship, try the hug now and again. Don’t make it sexual – that implies you are only doing it for your own reward. Just hug. Sit side by side. Touch.
Don’t hope that a magic potion will keep things magic. You might actually have to DO something.





How to kill a friendship

24 05 2011

Once upon a time there was a happy girl, one who had the whole world ahead of her.  She met a happy boy, who said he loved her and asked her to marry him.  She ignored the warnings she felt as he said some hurtful things, as she met some of his family, as she sacrificed her career to follow him. She smiled as he took her to a big city and left her there, arguing that just being there was a honeymoon, not realizing that the honeymoon part was to be the time they were to spend together, loving each other.  He couldn’t do that.  He’d already taken too much time off work.

She gave birth to their firstborn, a daughter, after a long day of labour.  The child was huge, and she needed an operation to get her out.  He came to see her when he could get some time off work. The child screamed a lot. He brought her home and went back to work, came back for lunch that first day and found her crying. He never came home for lunch after that. He was too busy.

They moved, lots of times, and he would look after himself.  She looked after the family, sorted out doctors, dealt with their health crises, smoothed over their hurts, sorted out their schooling, found herself a job.

He worked.

She worked, too, knowing they needed the extra money. She would come home and find that all the children were still up, the house was a mess.  He would be working.

Her parents died, long, suffering deaths.  He came to the funerals.  He didn’t understand how fundamentally her life had changed. He never asked.

He forgot her birthday. He didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day – “after all, you’re not my mother!”.  He waited for her to remind him to call his own parents. He lengthened his overseas tours without asking her. He worked late, late, without telling her where he was.  She’d waken at two AM, wondering if he’d been in a crash somewhere, call his office, and there he’d be.  Working.

She tried to be like him, to find a parallel, working hard, taking a graduate degree at home, being busy, hoping they could find their way back to each other. He’d schedule work trips without telling her, so her plans would be destroyed.

She couldn’t leave the kids so much, and stopped her degree. She got mad and stopped supporting him so much. She grew to hate his work.

After 23 years of being told she and the children were less important than the endless work that filled his days, she left.  It wasn’t unexpected. They’d talked about it years before.  She’d told him she was tired of living alone, with laundry. She told him she had been diagnosed as being clinically depressed. She tried to tell him the children needed him.

Still he expressed surprise, shock even. He struggled to survive without her at first, because she’d done so much, and like many, he hadn’t noticed. She was kind when she left – leaving him with the home, the appliances, and more, all in the hope that it would disturb him the least, that it wouldn’t affect his work. They split their debt 50/50, though his salary was much more than hers. She rented an apartment nearby, so that the kids could see her. She felt awful messing up their lives, but she realized she had to save what was left of herself.

She tried to forget all the reasons she’d left, tried not to mention it to the kids, since she knew she’d said too much before, and she knew that was wrong.

He told them she was trying to steal his money.

Still, she tried to stay friends, for the kids’ sake. And for theirs.  She did miss what few times they’d shared. Some of them were good. She didn’t ask for support, she let the child support payments lapse.  She had her own money, she reasoned.  There was no need to push him.

She started building her career, climbed quickly, and was suddenly felled by illness, and could not work anymore. She went off on disability and lived on low-income for 3 months while she waited for the payments to come in.  She raced through her savings, paying off bills, settling debts, some of which were from their time together.

After a few years like this, she realized she needed help. She needed that spousal support that was rightly hers when she had left. So she asked for it.

She vowed that when she got it, she would only ask for the little bit she needed to keep the wolves from the door. She didn’t want to hurt him or take from him. She just needed a little help, in exchange for all those years she’d helped him.

He ignored her.  He refused to give any information; he delayed. He treated her with disrespect. He lied to her.

The months went by. She asked, politely, again and again for him to at least complete one form.  He told her he was busy looking after his new wife, and couldn’t find the time. He was working too hard, he said.  There were important deadlines to meet. Hers was not one of them.

She was initially surprised, though why, she couldn’t understand.

And, finally, her heart broke.

However, she had good Irish blood in her. A few tears later, it was stirred up. Now she was mad. And her friendship with this man was irretrievably over.

Julia Cameron says:

“Anger is a call to action. It is challenging and important to let our light shine. It is important to name ourselves rather than wait for someone else to do it, or pretend that we can continue to bear it when we can’t. When we complain that others do not take ourselves and our values seriously, we are actually saying that we don’t. If our aesthetics matter so much to us, we must act on them in a concrete and specific form.”








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