/*amazon_ad_exclude = "christian"*/ The Skin I Am In

Sunday, November 8, 2009


What is love? The ultimate question which has no finite answer--what love is to one may not be to another. Not to mention the ambiguity in the word "love", for there is romantic love, the love we have for our friends, and what is revered to be the supreme of all types: a mother's love. I know this to be the most powerful kind not only from my own experience as a mother, but as well as what seems to be a unanimous consensus the world over. Regardless of race, culture or social status, it is one element that remains constant. This unique bond is so important that it even surpasses the likes of mankind.

Scientifically the reason mothers--whether they be birds, bears, chimps, or humans--are protective of their young is obviously necessary for survival. The maternal spirit is deeply wired within us women essentially for the same purpose as is the insatiable sex drive of males: to ensure the continuance of the species.

Yet it is much more complex than that. Providing food, shelter and clothing obviously isn't enough to satisfy what we have come to respect as the most important job on earth. I have recently been reading Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul since receiving it as a birthday gift from my 11-year old daughter. In addition to the varied and personal stories shared about mothers and motherhood, the book is peppered with quotes attempting to encapsulate just what the term "mother" means. One such example:

"A mother's love perceives no impossibilities." -Paddock

Of the many circumstances shared throughout the book, from harrowing to seemingly trivial, the common thread among the stories is that each is a touching and inspirational account. Reflecting on the disappointing relationship I have with my own mother, I've begun to wonder: What is a mother's responsibility to her children? And do her responsibilities end when the child is grown? Is the kind of love we expect mothers to bestow upon her child always pure and selfless? All parents desire for their children to be happy and successful; however, it's often expected the child will follow the path that we have defined for success in our own minds. When that wish is pure from selfish motivations we encourage them to attain that in the manner which satisfies them, not merely through means which we deem appropriate. We should encourage our children to think freely by communicating our own values--without forcing them--and, likewise, be there to provide emotional support when needed.

I suppose my own mom has afforded me more than the bare necessities for survival; however, as an adult now in my thirties I realize more than ever how her needs are continually put above my own, her values insidiously used to judge mine. There are by far worse mothers in this world, of that I am greatly aware. Yet I also recognize how, while my survival needs were met, my emotional needs have been, and still are, greatly neglected.

I know she loves me--as in me, her daughter. But she doesn't love me, the person. Quite frankly, she doesn't even know me. Nor does she seem to care to. I am often envious of other mother-daughter relationships and have put a great deal of thought into why I feel so disconnected and unaccepted by her. As a result, I avoid her calls a great deal of the time and only do pick up the phone when I'm in a particularly forgiving mood and feel up to the 60-minute monologue that will accompany the receiver. She does complain that we don't talk as much as she would like, but I can't help but wonder: Is she really so clueless not to realize that perhaps if she offered even a smidgen of understanding, acceptance and emotional support I would actually want to talk to her?

Although her opening line--without fail--is, "how are you?" the inflection is delivered with utmost predictability and drawn out just enough to sound more like an obligatory question than a sincere inquiry. I have learned that answering with a simple "fine" is just fine with her and certainly one sentence or less is preferred. Then, content with my contentedness she proceeds to fill me in on the mundane details of her past week, including what colors she has painted on what walls throughout the home--never mind that I have spent the past year redecorating my house--of which the details would certainly bore her. Never mind that I am presently embarking on the life-altering and emotionally tumultuous journey of ending a 13-year marriage. About which (rather than offer words of comfort or encouragement or even just lend a listening ear) she musters a pathetic "that's too bad" in a tone so listless it's clear she'd rather not be bothered with anything so sinister. It's as if she wishes I were a wall she could sweep a quick coat of paint over to change into something that fits her personal taste.

It is difficult not to feel immensely hurt when the one person on this earth who is supposed to be there for me no matter what--the one who is supposed to offer unconditional support and understanding--makes me feel used rather than loved. Evidently, I disappoint because I am unable to always paint a pretty picture about life to place within her nice little package of oblivion. Well, sometimes life is great; sometimes it's not. And when it isn't, I have only to imagine how comforting it would feel to be showered by a mother's selfless love.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Delightful Dave

Dave hadn't always been a complete dunce to Diane. Obviously she had seen some redeeming qualities in him at one point for them to marry and have children together. In fact, once upon a time she had been very much in love with Dave.

By Diane's own admission, it isn't that Dave is a bad person (albeit careless and oblivious), rather she surmises it's a case of outgrowing one another. The traits that attracted her to him in the first place are either now obsolete, or simply qualities that her current, grown-up self no longer needs. As you may have imagined by now, Diane is a more dramatic and emotionally-charged individual than the quieter, "keep-the-peace-at-all-costs" Dave. And naturally in her youth she was more so than ever. Dave was her anchor, ever so patient and reliable. Add his sensitivity and compassion to the list--traits that Diane had found to be very rare in a man--and she felt very lucky indeed.

In fact, there were only a couple of red flags both of which, in her youthful naivety, Diane wrongfully assumed would resolve over time. The first, his excessive drinking at social events, she barely gave a second thought about effecting the future because at that stage in their lives it was relatively normal. She herself was often guilty of overindulging at parties or get-togethers. Yet as the years would show, she slowly learned the art of pacing herself, while Dave continues to drink like a teenager who is out for the very first time, still painfully ignorant to the ill-effects of massive alcohol consumption. What to this day seems like a non-issue to Dave, is a worrisome and infuriating habit to Diane.

The second annoyance was one that began upsetting her very early on, although she could not have conceived of it's magnitude until it was too late: the contemptible in-laws. She now knows (ain't hindsight something else!?) that it was because of the extraordinary dysfunction and emotional abuse which caused Dave to minimize their inappropriate and hateful behavior. So early in their relationship and therefore only having Dave's word to take on the matter, Diane did her best to grin and bear it. She also foolishly expected, should they cross the line, that his love for her would not stand for it and that he would defend her against them. After all, Dave and Diane were building a life together. Yes, his parents were his past. But she was his future.

Boy! If only it worked that way! It has become painfully obvious, not only in observing him, but in dealing with her own perceptions about the world, how unshakable our childhood conditioning is. For this reason, Dave learned to build his existence around the premise of not rocking the boat. Dave is not interested in living life, as Diane so often puts it, but surviving it. What he fails to realize is that what you don't know (or refuse to see) can hurt you. Turning a blind eye when your wife desperately reaches out to you or when she tells you she's not happy or when she tells you to wake up or get out, is not going to make the issues disappear. As Dave is learning the hard way, unattended problems don't vanish, they simply fester.

And now, after all these months of Diane goading Dave and Dave finally realizing that something must be done, it is possibly too late. Thanks to Dave's procrastination, Diane had a great many months to think and reflect. There have recently been times when she feels a spark of hope, that maybe, just maybe if he could continue like this and she could change her frame of mind....but, alas, he quickly reminds her how many things are wrong. I suppose after standing over the cliff for so long like Diane did, it doesn't take much to push you right back. Plus, with all that time to think, Diane has realized that even when Dave is on his best behavior, he doesn't necessarily provide her with the things she longs to share with a partner. It's true, no body is perfect, nor are any two people 100% compatible; however, Diane can't help but think there must be closer than this.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Suicidal Thoughts

Don't worry. I have no current plans to do myself in. But because while in my hometown visiting my family for Christmas last week, I was informed -- for the second time this month -- of a suicide, I must say that it has been on my mind. Because the holidays are so incredibly commercialized as being "the happiest time of the year" it seems counter-intuitive to imagine how those very expectations have the opposite effect on so many. But if things are not going swimmingly, I can see how it could be hard to cope having such excessive cheer rubbed in your face everywhere you turn for the better part of two months. After all, Christmas day is probably the last day on earth anyone would want to spend alone.

I didn't know either of the individuals well (one not at all) and they were in no way connected to one another; one was a friend of a friend and the other a friend and neighbor of my parents'. Tom killed himself two weeks before Christmas and Mary, my mom's walking companion, three days after. Obviously without knowing their situations I can not begin to fathom the pain they must have suffered to lead them to choose such a devastating end to their problems, but considering the timing it would seem negligent not to deem the holidays an aggravating factor. Other than the proximity of their ages, the only common denominator in their lives that I am aware of was a failed marriage. Although Tom was still married, it was rocky at best. Mary's husband of 25 years had left her some time back, from which she had never emotionally recovered; in fact, she had already attempted suicide once, the details of which are rather graphic and disturbing. She was hospitalized for several weeks as a result and treated for depression, but unfortunately it never really resolved.

Albeit the most important in many of our lives, marriage is still but just one of our relationships, and each of the remaining individuals to which these two were connected were therefore left behind. Tom's three daughters -- who happen to be triplets -- are 13 years old. While Mary's children are grown and able to fend for themselves, she had 5 grandchildren all under the age of ten. These two strangers, who were apparently overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair, both chose to selfishly unburden themselves at the cost of inflicting immeasurable grief upon those who cared for them the most -- upon children who will never fully comprehend and who will bear the weight of guilt indefinitely, quietly wondering why they weren't enough, thinking that perhaps they could have saved them if only they had smiled more or hugged them more or reminded them how much they loved them.

We have all been anguished at some point in our lives. Some of us, myself included, at one time or another have probably even asked, "what's the point?" But obviously for most of us the answer comes or we find something, anything, worthwhile to hold onto. Being a soul who rarely takes things at face-value, I have to wonder what factors weighed the most heavily on these people in making such an irrevocable decision. Was it a vision of disturbingly grim futures they saw for themselves? Or were their current circumstances so overwhelming that they were unable to see beyond the present? How much did their pasts tip the scale? For on one hand, if life had previously been relatively happy and unburdened, it may have been more difficult to cope when things are falling apart and made what they envisioned the future to be that much more daunting. Alternately, if life had frequently been tumultuous, perhaps they simply hadn't experienced enough joy to envision a future worth living.

I believe at least one of them did leave a suicide note which would likely answer some of these questions and possibly give the slightest sliver of peace to their loved-ones. I can't imagine someone taking their own life and at least not giving their family that -- for although they no longer bear the burden of their pain, it is by no means over; it has become their legacy, passed on to the hearts of their near and dear, an inheritance like no other. An inheritance no one would claim if given the choice.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dying Diane

Diane had been struggling with her situation for what seemed like an eternity (although considering the tenure of their marriage and the magnitude of her impending decision, it hadn't been exceptionally long) when she realized her strength was waining and her indignation sadly reducing to resignation. Make no mistake about it: she was not resigning to try to work it out with Dave, for the more they spoke about life and love her contempt for him only grew deeper; rather, she resigned to admitting that her fervent attempts at finding a happier existence were futile and idealistic. She had no earning potential. She loathed the city Dave had dragged her to five years previously, but could not afford to live where she thought she could thrive on a single mothers budget. And most ironically of all, she knew she'd be forced to bear the brunt of the blame, the glares from her children, family, or friends, every time the smallest thing went wrong, because she was the one who left, after all. Poor, innocent Dave. The one whose self-fulfilling prophecy it was to portray a calm and bewildered affect while refusing to listen, understand, communicate or care. Of course Diane was at fault for everything! She wears her heart on her sleeve. Dave remains stoic, but her emotions are palpable. And the more callous Dave behaves, the stronger the emotional undercurrent coursing through Diane's veins. Therefore, the longer he remains apathetic to the volatility of her well-being, the more her exasperation shows and the more resentment she oozes, superficially solidifying Dave's role as victim. Yet, as many of the others don't understand, she has come to him so many times. Expressed her needs. Her desires. Her pain. Her suffering. Yet time and again he turns his back. It's a situation children just can't comprehend -- for they can't see his neglect, only her disdain -- and it pains her so to think they will resent her.

Amidst these thoughts her biggest roadblock, and that which causes her the most distress, is not only her skepticism in what the future holds, but in the more immediate question, where would they live? Because of their current location she has lost her sense of optimism about the world. She has grave doubts that she could find happiness anywhere at all. She feels completely trapped. In Hell. She can no longer see the sun and she genuinely fears that the large cloud looming overhead will simply follow wherever she goes. And she is slowly dying.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Doggy Paddling Diane

(This is a continuation of the tale of Dave and Diane, who were introduced in The Basket of Denial: A Short Story.)

Doggy paddling is instinctual, yet inefficient. It requires too much energy to do for long and it doesn't get you far; it merely keeps you afloat. And only for a little while until your muscles tire and cramp and eventually refuse to work. Assuming rescue is not imminent, one must adapt their skills beyond the primitive in order to endure.

Before she actually made the break from Dave (the physical one anyway -- as she had emotionally broken away long before) many thoughts ruminated in Diane's head. She knew in all likelihood she was a hopeless romantic--or was she just hopeless? she wondered. She felt that over time she had learned to keep her expectations of love to be more practical, although she couldn't help subconsciously but to imagine how it could be. There were certain things she intrinsically longed for, certain things that spoke love to her and she couldn't help but feel that she was settling -- there just had to be more to relationships than simply muddling through life together. Sure, that was a big part of it; but in order to feed and nurture the relationship, to keep it from souring, there had to be something sweet added and it only made sense that each partner contribute some of the "sugar." As it turned out, the less sugar Dave added to the relationship, the more bitter Diane grew. And for anyone who knows a lick about psychology, bitter people generally have little sugar to give.

Interestingly, just preceding their most serious marital troubles, Diane felt she was making great strides in her own emotional health. She realized that most of the negative behaviors she had engaged in when younger had dissolved and she was learning to better cope with resentment. Another benefit she encountered as a result of the maturation process was learning to better defend herself from others in a constructive manner, along with developing the ability to do so with less justification and more resolution. However, amidst these advancements challenges also arose. As she became more insightful, the dysfunctional patterns in her relationships became much clearer and, being a person who strives for personal growth, naturally Diane could no longer thrive with them in place. Now, this should have been a good thing -- it was an opportunity to interrupt the cycles and rebuild troubled relationships into healthier ones. Yet unfortunately, some people cling desperately to the adage that ignorance is bliss -- and, as we know from The Basket of Denial, ignorance is not only Dave's condition of choice, it appears to be his adopted religion.

After the initial setbacks and getting nowhere but frustrated, Diane attempted to focus less on her and Dave and more simply on her. The conditions, however, were just too poor: still lacking in sugar and drowning in a sour sea, it was nearly impossible for her to make any emotional gains and, in fact, if anything, she saw herself slipping. She was overwhelmed by frustration and resentment with too few ways to vent or express it. Anchored by Dave and being pulled under by the current of familiar patterns, she regressed to having outbursts of anger and spells of hopelessness. Just the way, she assumed, Dave wanted it to be. For then he could play the part of hero and caretaker -- all the while dismissing his responsibility in the matter -- by picking up the pieces and wordlessly expressing, "see? You need me." Ironically, however, was that seemingly it was the reverse that were true. For how will he continue his delusions when Diane is finally gone? He will have no choice but to further develop his spirituality (the blissfulness of ignorance) lest he succumb to the harshness of the cold and unaccommodating foreign land of Reality -- a place he has heard of, but never ventured to. A place you do not reach easily relying on doggy paddle alone.

But what ultimately happens to Dave is neither here nor there; this chapter is dedicated to Diane and her struggle to grow emotionally. Upon realizing that she had fallen right back to where she began (not in her ultimate goal, rather her emotional health) she began losing all hope that she could become a better person after all. Who was she kidding? She would only be fooling herself if she thought she was capable of nurturing a strong and healthy partnership with anyone. Considering, here she was, these many years later and she was functioning with an unrefined and inefficient method of frantic and desperate movements. She had so desperately wanted to try the breast stroke or the butterfly but, alas, she was not swimming alone and her teammate was not interested in learning anything new -- even at the expense of their own survival. She spent several weeks lamenting the fates of her emotional vitality and romantic future when a spark went off in Diane's head and ignited an epiphany that maybe -- just maybe -- once she was cut lose from the anchor and she rose above the sour sea to catch her breath, her metamorphosis would continue. "After all, it is a biological fact," she thought, "that not a single thing grows in the absence of air."

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Quickie

This is just something I jotted down on a piece of cardboard a while back as I suddenly felt inspired at one of my children's softball games. I could turn it into a much longer post, but will leave it simple for now:

While it isn't the responsibility of others to endow our emotional needs, common philosophy says that love makes the world go 'round. So while we alone must find happiness for ourselves, a life without love is a lonely one indeed. Perhaps truly healthy relationships are those which are maintained not out of need or the sense that the other person "completes" you, but instead of the desire and ability to enhance one another's lives. Simply put: We shouldn't need our partners, but want them.