Untethered

The other day, I was flipping through my journal and ran across an old entry from almost seven years ago. (Hey, this journal has been neglected. What can I say?) Reading through it made me somewhat wistful, but nowhere near as sad as it used to. I think, quite possibly, it is because I finally have closure. My father is no longer in my life due to my choosing and I am glad of it.

I no longer have to live this particular lie of pretending our family is fine nor force my children into that lie’s bondage. We are free and all the better for it. It takes an entry like this one to remind me of the hold and sway he used to have over me.

Good riddance.

September 22, 2008

I avoid thinking about Dad. He’s coming home for a few days on Saturday.

Truthfully, I forget he exists. It’s easier that way. Otherwise, the tacit acknowledgment of his absence is too painful. And even though I know it has everything to do with him, it cannot help but feel as if it is about us.

Every time he comes home, I feel such intense pressure. I feel as if I have to make his time here spectacular or make him feel like a king – otherwise, he may never come home again. I always feel as if I have to make him miss us. And if I stop playing to his ego, he’ll forget us.

After all, isn’t that what’s already happened? He used to call/IM me much more. But ever since I confronted him about the kids in the background, he’s stopped. And ever since then, I’ve cut the “Poor Daddy” act. Because quite frankly, I’m mad and I cannot force myself to be sweet and cute anymore. I want to smack him and be confrontational. I am angry at him. I am terribly disappointed in him. How time after time, he chooses himself.

I am incredibly angry. How dare he come back, waltz into our lives and expect that we should fawn all over him? How dare he come home, acting like the martyr, this suffering servant. As if we’re just ingrates, treating him like shit. Poor Daddy. So misunderstood. Bullshit.

What a selfish bastard.

I am also incredibly afraid. Afraid that he won’t come back. That I will never see him again. That I may not want to. That sometimes, I wish he were dead – so that things could be simpler. That we could have closure and just move on with our lives. That we could be free.

Because we are tethered to him. It may be a tether that is halfway across the world, but we are still tied. Even if they divorced, it’d still be there. But if he died? Perhaps that pull would disappear. We could start over.

Does this make me a bad person?

He makes me so terribly sad. Fine. He can’t make me do anything. But I feel so terribly sad. So, so sad. Sad seems too weak a word. My heart is broken.

Every time he leaves, he re-breaks my heart.

I feel the ache of uncried sobs in the back of my throat, the prick of unwet tears in my eyes. I tamp it down – for what good would it bring to weep?

I do not have enough imagination to think of – to hope for – something different. It hurts too much.

Sometimes, I think I have no father. And though I hope prayer works, clearly, I don’t believe it. For if I did, I’d be praying for him every day.

Instead, I am resigned. Why stir up false hope? God will not force his hand. And he doesn’t want to change.

What a fucking shame.

The Terrible Fear In Tenderness

“You know it’s okay to love your husband, right?” Dr. T asked me.

“Yeah, but you know, that would conflict with the image I’ve cultivated for myself,” I replied, only half-joking. “It runs counter to my inner narrative.”

There are few Facebook posts that grate on me more than the ones of folks gushing and humble-bragging about their “brides” or “smoking hot wives” or “hottest man in the world.” It always strikes me as insincere. (And before you get all huffy about it, I realize that people are are free to post whatever they want on Facebook and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to read it. I know it’s my problem and my personal preference. I’m not trying to tell people what or what not to post. Chill out.)

I don’t even like pretending Hapa Papa and I like each other let alone love. Personally, I find it more comforting and secure to pretend that we are together out of mutual laziness (eg: my lack of wanting to train a new partner and his lack of wanting to learn – and fail at – a new set of “rules”) than because we love and are devoted to each other.

I trust Inertia. Feelings? Not so much.

Over these past 6-8 months in counseling, I am realizing more and more just how little I actually feel on a daily basis. My close friends seem surprised since I am often angry or frustrated or laughing or disappointed – but I don’t actually feel anything deeply other than rage and frustration.

I rarely am present.

I am most often anesthetizing myself with food, Facebook, or texting. I kill time, waiting for my kids to sleep so I can actually “live” my life, only to feel such regret and shame when they are finally down because I wasted my day with them and I know these days are fleeting.

I am there but not there.

As if I’m an alcoholic but instead of vodka, the phone is my drug of choice.

I feel intense shame, guilt, and grief for I know all too well the slipperiness of time. I know the sting of abandonment and neglect. The worthlessness, the confusion, the self-blame left in its wake.

How much greater the insult if your mother is actually physically present but STILL doesn’t want to be with you? At least my father wasn’t actually there. It seems as if that detail makes all the difference.

Of course I love my children and my husband. Yet I rarely feel it. I rarely live it or embody it.

Dr. T says my anger is an armor, a way to protect myself from feeling my feelings. As a child, I was never really allowed to feel my feelings so I never learned to deal with them. My father would yell at me, “I know what you’re thinking! Don’t you dare!”

As if he could force me to feel any differently just because he willed it so. As if I were not my own person. He had the audacity to forbid me even my own thoughts.

So I stuffed everything inside and out leaked anger. Rebellion. No hurt. No pain. Shove it all down.

I seethe.

In college and as a young adult, I was in relationships that were roiled in emotion. When it was good, I had SO MANY FEELINGS! When it was bad, I wanted to die. When Hapa Papa and I started dating, I sought solace in his evenness. His zen.

Though my relationship issues smoothed out, my rage didn’t go away. Like a gasket being popped or a pipe bursting, rage would arc out every now and then. Then things would be okay for awhile until the next incident.

When Cookie Monster was born, I vowed to never raise my voice at him and I held it for about eighteen months. It’s easy to love an infant and an only child. Not so much when they turn into defiant little humans with thoughts and feelings of their own. Especially when you’re pregnant again or have more than one child or pregnant when you already have more than one child.

Now, I catch myself screaming at Gamera to stop crying. That I don’t want to see or hear her cry. (There is something about Gamera’s crying, acting like a helpless little girl that triggers my inner Hulk Smash.) This unbearable weakness.

In my calmer moments, I weep.

I do not want Gamera (or my other two) to stuff their feelings until all they know is rage.

What a heartbreaking legacy.

I have been working on being present with my children and with my life. Truthfully, though Dr. T has been encouraging me to be mindful since day one, I am only just now starting to kinda maybe sorta understand what she is talking about.

It depends on the week.

But now that I am actively trying to make changes, I find that I am overcome with fear any time I start feeling any tenderness or love.

I will be playing with Glow Worm at night before his bedtime instead of waiting in his room for him to fall asleep while on my phone (as an unintended side affect, my vision may improve, too). Glow Worm will be laughing and chuckling in that glorious rasp of his and all I can think of as I am happy and glad and horsing around with my darling baby boy is, “If I die now, will Glow Worm even remember this?” (This is hard for me even in the writing. Fear’s fingers are long and far-reaching.)

If I die now, will Cookie Monster or Gamera remember me enough to tell Glow Worm how much I loved them? How I played with them or acted around them? How much joy he and they brought me? How can they tell him of our sweet before bed tickles and laughter if they aren’t here to witness it? How will he know the safety and security of my love and our moments if I’m the only one who will remember because he is too small? Will the truth of these formative experiences be enough to to carry over into his muscle memory so that when he thinks of me, though he may rely solely on the borrowed memories of Cookie Monster and Gamera, that at least he can have this “feeling” all for his own?

How could Hapa Papa possibly love Glow Worm as much as I do to pass it on to him? And even Cookie Monster and Gamera – they are all under six. If I were to die today, how much would they actually recall?

Would their memories of me fade and be lost? To be doubly robbed of my physical being as well as their memories?

Or worse yet – what if all they remember of me is my anger or absentee parenting? What if all they feel is my judgment, cold and harsh?

These are my thoughts when I actually allow myself to feel , even partially, my joy and love for my children. A gripping fear that all this happiness and sweetness and tenderness is fleeting; biding time until it will all be inevitably ripped away.

How much less painful then, to keep these feelings at arm’s length; at bay, a safe distance from my heart?

My fragile, fragile heart.

But now that I think about it, how much worse then, if it IS fleeting, to have been so afraid of joy and its inevitable loss, to have not felt it in full when I could have had it? How much worse, then, to preemptively rob myself and my children of my presence and memories?

My fears seem so cliché.

Well, clichés exist for a reason.

I suppose if I were braver, I would be existential about it. That if I am fated to lose my loves, I better get to holding them close. Especially if it turns out I am wrong. If I don’t end up losing my loves but then am not present, won’t I have lost them in the end anyway?

Prophecy is a paradox.

Perhaps it is like a muscle. Perhaps the more I exercise the “mindfulness” muscle, either my “fear” muscle will atrophy due to disuse or (the more likely scenario) my “joy” muscles become strong enough to cancel out and perhaps someday, even overpower my instinct of fear.

Who knew love required so much math?

When The One You Love Is The One Who Hurts You

Today is my father’s birthday. (Well, I suppose technically it was yesterday.)

Honestly, I thought it would hit me more – the grief, I mean. I’m not sure why since I’ve never felt particularly sad on his birthday before. I guess I just thought that maybe since I’m going to counseling, I would be more vulnerable to the date. Instead, I thought about him sporadically throughout the day, but nothing really heavy hitting or weep inducing (for which I am grateful).

It’s been almost four years. Four years since I kicked my father out of my life for being a Grade A Asshole. 

Yet today, as I drive around in my car, I find myself thinking of all the things he brought into my life that I otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to. Not bad things, either. Good things. Happy things. Things I still enjoy. 

I think of him while listening to Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov or Pavarotti and remember listening to this symphony and many others like it in the van while on road trips. 

I think of him when I play mah jong with friends late into the night. I remember him teaching me, my brother, and family friends how to play mag jong and Napoleon and Hearts and poker. He was a lot of fun. 

I think of him when I take the kids cherry picking and remember all the times he took my family cherry, apricot, and peach picking as we all piled into our old Family Wagon van. 

I think of him when I rush to Glow Worm’s side after he gets a nasty cut and remember the time I cut my finger while chopping okra and he ran to my side as soon as he saw blood. 

I hear him when I make non-committal grunts at the children or make joking noises and pull silly faces at them. 

The memories are soft and half-focused. Almost like a forgotten time. 

I wonder if I should tell my kids more about my father than “He was a bad man.” Because truthfully, He wasn’t always bad. He could be kind and sweet and loving. He could be the life of the party and so much fun. He taught me to enjoy games and family traditions. A lot of the traditions I want to pass down are things he did with us.

I wonder why it is that neither Hapa Papa or I tell stories about when we were little. Stories about ourselves or our parents. We should start doing that more. The kids love stories about us or themselves or their grandparents. They make it part of their stories. 

I wonder if I am betraying my mother by telling the kids some nice things about my father. Or if I will need to always append the good stories with “but he was a bad man.” 

But he was a pretty good guy some of the time. Just not enough. Not good enough. And not what we deserved. 

I want my kids to know that people who are bad for them can be good, too. That good and bad can exist all in one person. And that the people who are sometimes the worst for you happen to be people you love – and love deeply. 

And that sometimes, out of love for yourself and other people you love, you have to cut off and out the people who are terrible to and for you. 

I wonder if my remembering my father in some fond memories is a good, bad, or a neutral thing. 

I decide it is just a thing. 

Happy Birthday, Dad. I don’t know if you are happy or even if I want you to be happy. But there you go.