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.


Sideshow Goshko said...

You've totally captured "holidays with the family" in one post! This is heartbreaking, relevant, and oh-so-relateable.

If you ever find yourself wanting to tell your mom how you *really* feel (and your thoughts on your's and her's relationship) you can always follow my formula: get drunk, call your mom, and say, "Fuck God!"

...I feel we've grown since then:)

Love you and have a great visit with the fam!

little miss gnomide said...

Just remember: there is the family you are born with and there is the family that you choose. You have brothers and sisters (and probably some weird cousins) out here who love you and support you with loud cheers and hoorahs.

David said...

I aggree with Gwen. Choose the family you want and let fade the rest.

David said...

Lemme add something my dear old Gram once told me: "Wish me well or go to hell!"