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?

2 thoughts on “The Terrible Fear In Tenderness

  1. I can definitely relate to this. I’ve found that rather than trying to soak up every moment and be “present”, I find a few moments each day that feel like wins and tuck them away in my head and heart. We’re human, not perfect. And our kids are human too. So that’s a whole lot of human that’s not perfect. But every now and then, the stars align and there’s joy. That’s what I want to remember, and I hope my kids will too.

Comments are closed.