A good friend who I've only met in person once, who I've gotten to know through our mutual love of the healing power of words--I've read her novels and she reads my blog and we correspond via social media--sent me a book in the mail after she read a sad post I'd written about my dad. The book is Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed.
I had never heard of the book, or the online advice column it came from, until my friend recommended it to me. Just as having a child has taught me I don't know everything, that sometimes our roles get reversed and even though it's my job to teach my child about life I often learn just as much from her as she does from me, I'm amazed when non-librarians recommend books to me that are so spot on, so just right for what I need in this moment, and I'm grateful for these reciprocal relationships.
I'm only on page 31 and I can see already it's just what I need right now. I suspect it's just what you need right now too. Like this:
Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.
I once had a wonderfully odd, homeless hippie guy in Westport tell me I had the yellowest aura of anyone he had ever met. This guy was probably crazy, and definitely drunk, certainly depressed. My cool friend Heather had a car. She would drive us to Westport to hang out and be cool. We were too young to drink, so we'd sit outside the bars and listen to the music and the drunk people talking through the open doors. That's where we met this homeless hippie guy who read my aura out on the sidewalk one night.
I didn't know what an aura was, so I asked Homeless Hippie Guy to tell me what he meant. He said it means I'm kind and loving and open-minded. Think of sunshine. He then took a swig out of his brown paper sack and told me about the 38 confirmed kills he had when he was in Vietnam. I didn't know what to say. I wished I could read auras and cheer him up by telling him he had a good one too.
I haven't been feeling very kind and loving and open-minded lately. These last couple of weeks have been difficult and have left me feeling selfish and lonely and inflexible. Reading Tiny Beautiful Things, reading about people who struggle and hurt and wallow in agony and think no one understands them reminds me of Homeless Hippie Guy. I did some research on yellow auras and found this:
Individuals observed with yellow auras, are most vibrant, fun-loving and enjoyable. They are wonderful persons who are loving, humorous and intellectual. They love to please and seek love from everyone. They are extremely creative and imaginative. Person with yellow aura are genuinely happy, up-beat, friendly, positive, generous, social, optimistic and generous.
What a bunch of bullshit.
I got into a fight with my ex a few days ago. She reminded me what an asshole I was to her twenty years ago and how the horrible things I did to her back then have contributed to her current misery. She accused me of ignoring the pain I've caused her and pretending my life is so perfect now. She said this, and it stung because it's probably true:
Maybe some time when you're writing how you are all the perfect parent, partner, and human, maybe you'll think of our relationship and realize you are not perfect! Sorry, Becky I love you , but there is a darker past with you and I'm a part of it!
I told her I was sorry. Once again. How do you apologize to someone you've hurt? I fucked up. I'm sorry. I'm trying. How many years must pass before you can forgive yourself for the bad things you've done to other people? At least I don't have thirty-eight confirmed kills haunting me.
I've gotten into several fights with my dad these past couple of weeks too, although he isn't aware of it. They are more internal fights. I long ago gave up arguing with him. It doesn't help anything. But my internal struggles with him continue. Some people have recurring dreams. I have recurring fights with my dad inside my head.
A couple of weeks ago Will showed me this distressing yet fascinating episode of Anita Sarkeesian's YouTube series about women and sexism in gaming:
It pissed me the fuck off.
I had to go to work that day. Six inches of snow had dumped onto my car and our driveway overnight, the third heavy snow in a month. Will had shoveled the driveway the previous two times it snowed, and since he didn't have to work that day, I decided it was my turn to shovel the driveway. Katie asked me why I didn't just "have Daddy do it." I had just come upstairs to put on my long underwear after having just watched the Sarkeesian video.
I snapped at her, "Because I can do it. I don't need Daddy to rescue me from the dungeon of my snow-covered car. I'm the one who has to get to work so I'm the one who should shovel the driveway!"
She went outside with me so she could play while I shoved. After about ten minutes of lifting heavy, wet snow my forearms began to shake and I began to cry. Katie asked me what was wrong. I gave up and told her to go ask Daddy to come help me shovel the driveway.
"Tell him I'm sorry, I just can't do it by myself."
I sobbed like a baby the whole time Will and I shoveled the driveway. Not because it was hard. Not because I'm lazy. I sobbed because I'm a girl.
My mom and I have a very open relationship. We don't always agree, but she's one of the few people I feel I can honestly say anything around and she'll still love me. But an open relationship with Mom is a double-edged sword. It feels good to be able to be honest around her, but sometimes she tells me things I would be better off not knowing.
When I was a teenager, after a particularly awful fight with my dad, Mom told me she had only seen Dad cry two times. Once when his mother died and once when I was born. At first I was touched. He was so happy to have me he cried! But no, he cried because I was a girl.
Dad had been married to another woman before he married my mom. The other woman had RH negative blood. My dad, like most people, has RH positive blood. Back then, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for couples with opposite types of RH blood to suffer many miscarriages. Dad and his wife were able to have my sister Glenda, but after that all their babies were either miscarried, stillborn, or died a couple of days after they were born. Nowadays there is a treatment doctors can give patients so their babies don't die from the mother's antibodies attacking them. There wasn't that treatment back then, so my Dad and his wife suffered three losses, two girls and one boy.
My dad and his first wife divorced and Dad married my mom in 1969. I was born one year later, healthy and strong. But I lacked something my dad wanted me to have: a penis. He wanted a son to carry on his name or some such shit. I don't know why he wanted a son. All I know is he cried when he found out I was a girl and my knowing that my father was disappointed with me from the get-go has altered the course of my life in many negative ways.
So I'm outside shoveling snow with Will. Feeling like a failed feminist. I'm crying and cussing and throwing a big temper tantrum because I'm so upset that I'm such a pathetic, weak, frail girl I can't even shovel my own damn driveway and get myself to work. Will and Katie both tried to console me, but all I kept saying was, "My dad's a fucking asshole!"
We got the driveway shoveled and I made it to work, putting on my best happy face to help the public. When I got home that night, Will and I talked about the big fit I'd thrown earlier in the day. He said he understood that it was much more than feeling helpless about shoveling the snow and that it stemmed from the deep sadness I carry within me related to my father's disappointment in my not being a boy. Will is a guy, but he's a feminist too. He loves women and he doesn't think women are the weaker sex. He also knows his wife needs help. I told him I was sorry for yelling at him and he said he understood and it was ok.
Then last night I got home from work and we got into another fight. We're better this morning but I'm still sad about it. Stupid extended family and financial bullshit. A lot of it was my fault--my being too controlling. My being too much like my dad. Part of my problem too, I suspect, is that Benedryl is the only medication I've found that controls the massive snot production inside my head this time of year. Unfortunately one side-effect is it makes me go out of my mind with irritability and crushing depression. So I have to ask myself, Do I want to surround myself with fifty kazillion balls of wadded up Kleenex, or do I want to find myself curled up into a ball in the fetal position, yelling at people I love, unable to get out of bed?
After Will and I quit fighting last night, when we were both tired and calmed down enough to start genuinely talking and listening to each other, Will said, "I love you, Babe, but you have to quit yelling at me all the time. I am not your dad. And anyway, you've got to quit blaming your asshole dad for your problems. You're a wonderful, caring person. You are in charge of your own life now."
The sad thing is, I thought I was doing better. I've improved so much over the years. I was such an awful girlfriend twenty years ago, but I thought I'd improved and I'm a pretty decent wife now. I thought I used to be a horrible yeller but I'd learned to get over it for the most part. I try so hard to talk calmly and rationally to people, but evidently I've been fooling myself into thinking I've grown more than I actually have.
It will all work out. Sometimes life sucks and then it doesn't suck any more. I just have to learn to be strong and flexible at the same time. I need to get over my yeller aura.