Monday, December 22, 2008

Pre-traumatic stress disorder

I have noticed, over the years, that in the weeks preceding my going home for any extended (read: longer than two days) period of time, I lapse into a curious verbal mood--that of complaining about my mother. I don't really mean to, and it's not like I sit around thinking about how much I don't want to go home or how much I dislike her (because I don't really mind going home, and i don't really dislike her), but the idea of going home, especially for Christmas, for an entire week, carries with it a certain amount of stress.

Granted, all families are crazy and stressful. The holidays are nostalgic, frustrating, beautiful, frenzied, happy, sad, terrible--they are your childhood and your teen years and the breaks from college, and now that you're an adult, all of those things piled up and mashed and sifted through your memory and I stand in my grandmother's kitchen surrounded by people who I am completely comfortable with because they know me as well as anyone, even though they may not know the current me, they know my history, they are my history, and so we are familiar, and in that familiarity is comfort and discomfort, a longing for the past and some discomfort with the present. I see the new lines around my mother's eyes; the slightly less coherent sentences of my grandmother; my teenage cousins who suddenly look like adults; my nephew who has grown two feet every time I see him. Every year, I am further away from this, from them. Every year, the small shocks at the things that have changed since I've been home get bigger. And yet...this is home, even though it is no longer home, it's as close as I ever get, and even though I can't talk to my mother without her getting that quiet, strained look, or without her not responding to something I said because she doesn't want to be judgmental, though she doesn't realize that her silence is judgment enough, and so we keep everything superficial and we avoid the hard things, but what i really want to do is scream at her all of the things that i've ever wanted to say.

i suppose this is where the stress comes, beforehand...the knowledge that these silences are coming, the silences in which we do not say all of the things that we would need to in order for us to have a good relationship. i cannot say to her that i feel that she resents me, or that i think she blames her unhappiness on me. i can't say to her that there is nothing that i will ever do, no amount of success that can ever make up for her mistakes, and in any case, that it is not my responsibility to atone for her sins. i don't understand how, as an adult, our childhoods affect us so much still, even when we have tried and tried and tried to either forget them or forgive them, or if nothing else, to let them go. I see that all of those things that I felt and learned as a child affect so much of my life now--that believing i was unwanted informs my relationships (or lack thereof) with men and with friends, that believing that I could somehow do enough to make it worth their while, that if i was only good enough or successful enough, that somehow i could earn their love...that leads me to feel now that there is nothing i can ever do to be good enough. not for me or for anyone.

These are the things I think about while I'm Christmas shopping, while I wrap the scarves and earrings and children's toys i've bought. i think about those silences and what they mean. i think about all of the things that i can't quite understand, as if my mind now cannot understand things beyond what my six-year-old mind could understand back then.

and i know that i will go home, and it will be familiar and comfortable. and those silences that i dread will only come once or twice, and they will pass, as they always do, with nothing being resolved. But maybe there are things we don't want to know. And maybe there are things better left in the past. And in the end, I know it's no different for most people, in similar ways--family knows your beauty and your ugliness, and love you. They believe in you whether or not you do the same. They tell you the truth, if you're lucky, and support your decisions whether they agree or not, though sometimes with more stoic silences than others. And in the end, they are as close as you can get to unconditional love. And if the price of all of that is those goddamn silences, then I guess I'll take them along with all the rest.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The sugar cookie effect

Tonight, I had cookie dough, wine, and a banana for dinner.

I decided to have a few people over for a Christmas-housewarming party because 1) I have put up a tree that is beautiful and I would like other people to enjoy it, too; 2) I feel myself spiraling into the winter blues and felt a holiday party would be a good way to claw at the edges of my sanity to slow the descent into dark, winter madness; and 3) it gives me an excuse to bake. Also 4) now that it is winter, i do not wish to leave my house and therefore will resort to any means to entice others to come here so that I do not have to leave.

On the street, people are meowing loudly. Through the floor below my feet, a dog barks incessantly. A small dog. A dog I would like to strangle.

There are many, many things to love about my new apartment. I could probably sit here most of the evening listing them for you, but I'll try to keep it to the biggest. First and foremost, there is no giant, loud, crazy person here judging me, speaking ill of me behind my back to her friends, yelling, or taking up space in the fridge. It is glorious to finally be alone after two years of living with people in small spaces. Glorious. Secondly, I now have a real living room that is not also a tiny hallway in which to entertain guests. See number 4 above. I have lived here for a month and comfortably entertained more guests than I ever had in the entire time I was in my last apartment. Thirdly, there are no drunk teenagers yelling outside of my window at 2 in the morning. Or 3. Or 4. No more 2 am trash pickups. No more sirens. The only sound is of the door across the hallway occassionally opening and closing; the rumble of the train carrying across the frozen air; the tires swishing down the avenue; the occassional person meowing loudly on the street. And that damn tiny dog, but that's only sometimes.

Also, I now have room to bake. I've always been more of a baker than a cooker, and I still don't understand how one can understand baking in an intuitive way and freeze up in the face of things like vegetables and meat. But I understand baking, and it understands me. We are one, me and the butter and sugar and flour and eggs. And so, because I'm having a holiday party on Saturday and because my heart is hurting and because it is something that I know I can do well, tonight I made sugar cookies. And I thought about all of the things I feel like I'm terrible at or that I just don't understand--men, writing, relationships--and then I looked at the 7 dozen or so perfectly browned, beautiful cookies I just baked, and I felt relieved that at least I understand something, at least I am good at something, at least, even if I cannot bring joy in ways I would like all the time--why can't I be happy with anything I write?--at least the cookies are good and the people who come to my party will like them, and it brings me joy to bake them. And even though it is such a small thing, making cookies, it calmed me and centered me, and now I'm not feeling so bad about the writing that is frustrating me or the boy that has hurt me, and even if I was, I've got 7 dozen cookies at my disposal to soothe me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Third time's not a charm at all, actually

This is my third attempt at a post. Maybe this one will stick. I wrote the first two, and then realized that I'm not ready to write them. Maybe soon.

My friend Ronald died last month. I found out two weeks after the fact, on Facebook. That was my first failed attempt at a post.

I really like a guy with whom things are, sadly, going the same way they seem to always go. That post was a whiny "what's wrong with me?" one step away from terrible teenage angsty poetry journal entry mess that you would probably gag on and then wonder why on earth anyone would post anything remotely so terrible on their blog as an adult. So.

It's winter again. I walked to the library during lunch today while snowflakes I swear to God the size of my head dropped on me like fluffy clouds falling from the sky. The giantest of giant snowflakes. It was as if God was throwing snowballs from heaven.

Third post, about snowballs from heaven. I'd rather hear about dead friends and scared lovers, wouldn't you?

How about this? I will post all three, and you can vote. I won't edit them. I'll just post them. And you, dear readers, can decide. My vote is for none of the above, btw. I think they're all awful. But you people won't leave me alone, so I'm going to just blame this on you.

The fear of the unknown

I fear loving you more than I fear hating you. The truth is that the latter is much easier, and temporary. If you walk into and then out of my life, I have no lasting obligation to you, I cannot be fully known by you, I am not given over and over and over again the opportunity to disappoint you. This idea of permanence terrifies me--Ronald's death, for instance, or, rather, not so much that he is dead but that he always will be--I want it to be a temporary state, so that he can come visit me for his 30th birthday after all.

I see the used condoms in the trash, and think that a part of you is here, but also I think of the fleeting nature of physical love. Sex is a failure without orgasm--orgasm signals its end. I wonder about love, and how similar it is to sex. In my experience, love is just as fleeting as the moment of orgasm, a moment in time, the flame-burst of a match. Yesterday, you lay where I lay now, our bodies slick with each other's sweat. Tonight, I wonder whether she will win you back--or, rather, if you will decide to return to her. Will you come to me, after all, and say, your different face but the same old words, "I'm sorry, but..." And then all we will have between us is the one night and the three used condoms I'll be putting out with the trash in the morning. I am afraid that this is the conversation that we will have, you, with a pained look on your face, ironically, as the hurter, and me, trying to act unmoved, as the one being hurt.

We are already keeping secrets; you, of her and what happened when you left here yesterday, me, of the date with my own ex tomorrow night--a pillow to help soften the blow I'm already flinching in anticipation of, not knowing if or when it will come.

Why only date one man who will use you up and leave you when you can stay unattached to several?

How does anyone continue to hope for love, when everything suggests that it is unsustainable? When the men you have loved have consistently disappointed you, how do you continue to believe that the next one, or one someday, won't? How do you cross the bridge from every relationship failing, failing, failing, to one that doesn't? At a certain point, don't you begin to believe that they simply will, and then you've damned them--they cannot survive.

Part of me wants to kill this thing now, before we get too deep. And then I look up at the invitation on my dresser to my grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary, and i see in front of me the evidence that somewhere, somehow, my logic is off. Love has to be sustainable, at least in some form, even if I don't understand how. My grandparents have been married almost twice as long as I have been alive. It is not possible that I know more about love. I'd like to think that maybe I know more about heartache, but I don't think that after 50 years, that is possible either.

And now you and I are wrapped together with a thin satin white ribbon, and I'm afraid because, as always, the seeds are planted and beginning to grow, and the ax is never far away, and the longer you let it grow, the harder it is to cut it down. If you did it now, I would hate you and move on, to get my hopes up and be disappointed by someone else and someone else and someone else. But what I'm really afraid of is letting this thing between us grow, to see how big and leafy and beautiful it will get, because always in the back of my mind, I'll know that the ax is arm's length away, that you can never get comfortable, you can never let yourself totally go, you must always keep a part of you to yourself, because if I love you, then when will it happen? After 3 years? Marriage? Children? No. Better to enjoy each other now and not dread the day when the world will come crashing in around us, when we will wonder how we were so blind, when we will realize the terrible people we have become with each other. No, I'll put the condoms out with the trash. You won't have to see me any more.

(written December 8, 2008)