Can you go back once you know?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The humor comes in short bursts, in funny places. Emily's laughter triggers my own laughter, this little not quite carbon copy of me finding the absurd funny.

Last week, it came when she expected my arm to curl around her in the morning...and it was my foot, stretch out and over her side. Oh, the belly laugh as she realized it was my foot she was trying to hold hands with...which then crawled into my throat and echoed her laugh.

In some ways, this space feels not unlike the weeks before childbirth. It is quiet, and watching. I also feel able to say things - things because I simply don't care about the consequences. I mean, whats the worst he can do? Divorce me?

Gallows humor, I'll be here all week.

The temperature in the house warmed with a talk on Friday, but bedrooms remain separate.

"I don't want to get to the point where I hate you so much that I want to fuck you over for the joy of it", I said. And I don't. I really don't. For I do love him. He is the father of my child, and as such we are bound forever.

There are many things we do well together, but living isn't one of them. We are the married version of the Odd couple - and my nesting messiness irks him beyond belief, making his blood pressure rise to nose bleed levels. For me, his incessant need to clean and straighten feels like criticism - plunging a knife into the cocoon I am trying to build around myself.

I ignore. He pushes back. I ignore harder and he reacts by trying to control my options. While that gets my attention, it can not be said that it gets it in a good way. No. No, sir. If there is one thing that will get me to rise out of my lair, it is the perception that I am being bullied. Good god. Don't bully me. Don't give me ultimatums and for fucks sake, DO NOT touch my stuff.

So the cycle continues. If you threaten to divorce me for 14 years, one day I will look at you and say "Do it."

We are tangled in a foreign country, with me in school and not working, bound by the conditions of my visa that I am a student, and that we are here together because I am a student. Financially bound together in a way that feels stifling - don't want to stay together but can't extricate ourselves from one another....until I get my doctorate and a job. Nothing like a little pressure to make that writing go smoothly, right?

Can't go back. Can't go forward. Just have to wait. Staring at the bear with the cheesecake in my hand. Waiting for it all to pass.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

At the risk of sounding like a complete and utter bummer, its been a hard week.

Things that have been laying like embers in the charcoal of my marriage have flared up, and words were said.

Not untrue words, but ones that indicate a change must take place - for the sake of everyone.

And so I mourn...and swing to relief....and mourn some more...and then remember when I fell in love with Terrance and think that I want to change - I want that back...and then I realize that those moments were seen with the eyes of a 21 year old girl who was willing to forgive anything, and that I am now a 39 year old woman who must care for her daughter first, and then herself.

Like anything that nears the end of its life, there can be fingers pointed, blame assigned, scorecards tallied. There is no defined winner, no TKO. Neither of us gets our victory lap, and that is disconcerting. We win or we lose - so this middle space is unfamiliar - separated by doors in different bedrooms, and polite conversation on the phone or over dinner about our shared child.

We harden our shells in preparation for the next stage, trying to remain civil, while having to stay in place for the foreseeable future.

Second Hour

Thursday, May 21, 2009

So I came back for another round. Almost a month after our first time together.

“It’s been awhile” you said as I sat down. You knew that I had weighed and balanced you in my mind. My need to be in therapy with my expectation that I will never find a therapist who will challenge me.

I almost started to giggle then, you know. I am not accustomed to having others see through me so transparently. I mean, I shield most things from my husband and he sees me every damn day. I shield everything from nearly everybody. I am a chameleon. I can be whatever you want me to be or not be there at all.

To walk in and have you see me so clearly is still new. Like a scab that is still itchy.

So I sat down and began to unravel the tangled mess of yarn that is my story. You wrote nothing down this time. You remembered it all.

I became so absorbed in my self pity and justifications that I didn’t even dodge the first punch. But I felt it. And stopped talking. I looked at you. You looked back, waiting.

“You are an active author in the script that disappoints you, Dawn. Why do you keep doing that? I know you are an incredibly smart woman so it makes no sense that you are acting so helpless in the very thing that is making you so angry….”

Well. I’ll be dammed. I may have even cocked my head at you, like a puppy when their owner does something unique and unexpected.

“You’re right.” It was all I could say. You ARE right. And the first person to really call me on it. In three years, you are the first therapist that has laid it out. It IS my script and I make sure that the patterns never deviate from my expectations. Which we all know are expectations of disappointment and failure. Not my own failure, of course – but that of the other people in my life to meet my needs – or not, as the more accurate case may be. I, after all , survive. I overcome. I deal with the shitty hand that I have been made sure that I will be dealt and power through it.

To do this, though, to be able to maintain this part of my identity, I keep my eyes shut until the last possible moment. And as the point of the knife is at my neck, cutting, I scream and rage and fight back. Until that point, I freeze in place – a willing victim. An open and inviting victim. What I have categorized as patience is nothing like patience. It is the stillness of the trap being laid.

You praise me for not being defensive as you detail the fa├žade that has taken me 39 years to cultivate. No, not defensive. Illuminated. Shaken up a bit, but not defensive. Never defensive. I know myself too well to deny a truth when it is presented to me in such a way.

“Next week?” you ask at the end of the session.

Yes. I am coming back.

The first hour

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We've only spent an hour together, so I know it may be too soon to be hopeful.

But I liked you. I liked having that hour with you.

But more than that, I felt like maybe you could help me find a way out of this forest of shit I am dealing with at the moment.

I'm not entirely sure what it was - the way you kept track of the names I used, the way you did not look phased at some of the more shocking things I prance out at a first therapy meeting, the way you gently chided me for an action I deserved to be chided for and did not back down when I glared at you.

I mean - lets face it. I am a hell of an intimidating subject to take on. When you asked about my "history" and I started to laugh - finally saying "Do you want from birth - or simply the last three years?" - You took me head on. "Start with now" you said "and we'll work our way back." I've been in therapy for 19 years - that alone makes me more knowledgeable and self aware than some of the therapists I have interviewed.

You are tiny. I towered over you in my three inch heels. I also decided I hated your shoes and purse moments after you called me into your office. I can be a miserable judgemental bitch, you know. A pretentious snob, I believe is the name used.

Maybe it was when you nodded as I talked about my post partum experiences. Maybe it was when I talked about how I actively planned to kill my baby - but only held back because I didn't want to go to jail, not because I considered infanticide wrong and you didn't even lower your eyes.

Maybe it was when you asked why I had terminated the other three therapists and I told you - one didn't listen to me and was pushing lithium - one didn't challenge me enough - and one was all right, until I felt judged by him. He was the last one. Who had the good grace to at least look a little bashful when he saw me today.

I don't know. When you asked me at the end if I felt we could work well together....I was pleased. First - not a one of the others had asked that. You clearly respected my ability to judge what I needed as a patient...and it isn't a mother. I need a partner in this next part of my soul journey. It is going to be a hell of a rugged road - my resistance to going back to therapy coupled with my weird quirk of picking at spots on my skin until I am raw and bleeding which have kicked into high gear - indicate that I am ready - if not entirely willing to leap into this .

This next part is hard...and I know from hard. So when I say Hard I mean that while I want to work, I will most likely fight you - kicking and screaming - as you help me drag my sorry ass to the next level.

So I called for another appointment today, after three weeks of thinking about it. It was wise of you to leave it up to me to seek you out. I hope you're ready.

Slow Burn

Monday, May 11, 2009

I wrote this reflection after reading the book , "The Burn Journals" by Brent Runyon. It is part of my thinking about this line between childhood and adulthood , what drives adults to "forget" the experiences of being a teen. As Emily walks - no, runs - into this stage of her life, I struggle with my fears. As a parent, I use these reflections to remind me to Watch. Really watch. Not assume that no news is good news, or that her physical body in the house = everything is fine. My family is rife with depression (and other more exciting mental illnesses) and to ignore the clinical evidence that most depressions begin with the onset of puberty would be foolish.

Yes, Teenagers are kind of alien. I think it is something built into the human transitional phase that is kind of healthy. We need to experience this metamorphosis in order to emerge on the other side. It is my role as a "Guide" that I ponder. I do not want to throw up my hands and say "Oh, Teenagers - You Know How they Are!". I struggle with the distance to maintain, while never abandoning her to the durm and strang of being a teen.

One of the intriguing ideas that I have been grappling with following the Thursday evening discussion of The Burn Journals is my awareness of which “voice” I am reading.

Like many others in the group, I found myself frustrated at times with Brent's subtle refusal to look inwards as to why he attempted suicide, as well as his non-cooperative attitude towards the therapists who were attempting to draw these reasons out into the open. In my “adult reader” voice, I felt annoyed that Brent had so clearly cried out for help through the suicide attempt, and yet seemed to actively resist the help that he had finally attracted. Towards both his family members and his doctors, Brents inability to be honest about his motivations – while simultaneously taking pleasure in the attention he drawn to himself strikes my “adult reader” as incredibly self centered and solipsist.

However, once I have recognized that my irritation is coming from my reaction as an adult and parent, I must step back and look further into the source of that anger.

What is it about this young man and his internal dialogue that is rubbing me the wrong way?

If I examine Brent's story from the reading perspective of “teen Dawn”, I must admit some uncomfortable similarities in thinking. I, like Brent, believed that my events and tribulations were all encompassing and ever lasting. No mean comment, no heartbreak, no bad grade was ever going to be able to be overcome. Everything was all or nothing.

In fact, while preparing for the Picture Essay, I re-read my high school journals and was struck by the rollercoaster of my emotions. While the 38 year old woman wanted to reach through those pages and soothe the 17 year old girl, tell her that things aren't that bad, and that she IS lovely and talented and smart....I couldn't. In reading those entries in my own journal, I could once again acutely feel the turmoil of my feelings.

Frankly, the adult in me didn't like it very much. I didn't like looking backwards into that space and feeling so powerless, so out of control, and so self isolated. Upon taking up the mantle of adult, I have prided myself on my problem solving skills, my calm and my ability to weather storms. Seeing my inner teenage self laid so bare was viserally uncomfortable. I had left that person behind, and Brents' story brought her back into the spotlight of my gaze.

If I view Brents memoir through the lens of “teen Dawn”, I recognize the confusion, the lack of ability to describe the “why” of my actions. I believe that Brent is being truthful when he states that he simply doesn't know why he lit himself on fire, beyond being the result of a series of decisions which don't make a lot of sense. I believe that the pain he caused himself, and as an extension his family, seemed like a reasonable trade off to Brent at the time he did it. He made his inner pain external. Brent made it impossible for anyone to deny that he was hurting, all the while denying it himself.

This is where my discomfort lay. My role as parent steps in to reasure my inner voice that I would always know my child, and would certainly know if she was so deeply unhappy. My “teen Dawn” voice pipes up and tells me that I would ( and did) hide the depth of my despair carefully from the adults in my life. As an adult, I want to believe that I have control over my world and the people in it.

Brent's memoir, and it's connection with the inner voice of the teenage Dawn, reminds me that I don't have control, nor are there always concrete reasons for individuals behaviors.

Rethinking Yoko

Monday, May 04, 2009

I was a huge Beatles fan as a child and teen. Partially it was because I was born in 1970, to a young mom who came of age during the British invasion. I grew up handling the real vinyl albums that she had bought when they came out, pouring over the liner notes and staring at the pictures. The four men who changed from album cover to album cover were a solid fixture in my life.

When I began to come of age, I started collecting my own Beatles paraphernalia. My collection grew to include rare copies of Quarrymen tapes, and first editions of 45's (the complete set) and a first printing of Lennon's "Spaniard in the Works". In addition to all my adoration came the decision that it was indeed Yoko Ono who had broken the Beatles. Yep. Things were good until Yoko. She's the one. And then John moved to New York and got shot. Yep. More Yoko. Her fault.

This weekend, Terrance demanded that I come to the John and Yoko exhibit at the Museum here in Montreal. He had taken Emily a week or so prior and was genuinely taken with the experience.

Fine, I said. I'll go. Because it is Sunday and we should do a family thing. But I didn't promise to love it. I didn't tell him of my long history with Yoko. It was between she and I, after all.

Walking into the exhibit is a sign. Take pictures, Touch things, it exhorts. You make the art.
I parted the black velvet curtains and entered.

"John?" a voice floats out. "Yoko?", another voice responds. "John", the voice calls again - sweeter. "Yoko", the other voice responds, and sounds deeply content.

Pictures of each of them, John and Yoko as children are blown up and one the walls. Their voices surround you as they call to each other from 30 years ago.

A shift happens inside me. I know the tone of these voices. These are voices in love. These are the voices that call from the bed when you wake and wonder where the man has gone, so you call out. He mimics the tone because he doesn't realize that you are looking for him...and then crawls back into the warm bed and slides up next you you. You say his name again, happy for him to return. And He says your name, folding his arms around you.


I move into the next gallery, where the exhibit that John met Yoko is re-created. I hammer a nail into the wall, and climb the ladder to see the word printed in tiny font on the paper.


We move to the next installation, where the bed is revealed. The bed where they staged their protest in Montreal after their wedding. Their voices roll from the bed and ceilings - talking about peace and love. Laughing. You see John cuddling Yoko from one side of the bed. I lay down with Emily and hold her.

The exhibit moves you to New York, which became their cultural home for the rest of their lives together. The piano on which Imagine was composed is there. It asks you to sit and play.


The hall opens and invites you to leave your own mark. I laugh when I see the sign the museum has put up "Please don't use stamps on the walls". Which have been roundly ignored and laughed at by the people seeing this exhibit. The stamps are everywhere. I ignore the stamp and use my thumb as a marker. I will leave my thumbprint. My unique and distinct stamp. One and only. I wonder if Yoko will see what has been done to the walls and laugh the same way I did.

And then we are at the end. Yoko invites us to make a wish and leave it in the wish trees.

My wish? For Bravery and Strength. Compassion and Persistence. The ability to do what is right and not just what is easy. Courage to Love and be Loved. And forgiveness.

I understand Yoko. I understand it all. Thank you for being brave enough to love and be loved regardless of opinions or what was easy. Thank you for reminding me that these rich feelings of life are not convenient or neat, and that pain is as much a part of this tapestry as the joy.

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