Tuesday, October 02, 2007


My mother’s at my kitchen table, telling me how she’s feeling: this trip has been very difficult -- I expected it to be difficult, I thought I might feel good about myself but I don’t -- I haven’t flown alone in 37 years.

Me: why 37 years? My mother: When I was young I flew frequently -- every month or so, but I was married to Dad for 37 years. Seeing you and Lauren is very difficult for very different reasons. I don’t know what would’ve helped with this trip -- Lauren came to meet me, and I took a first-class flight for the first time in my life -- I don’t know if it would be easier if Dad were living, because he would want to know every detail about you. My situation is more complicated, but my self-esteem should be a little bit better but it isn’t. There have been many good moments -- the weather has been fabulous, but the meals have been terribly way-off and neither you nor Lauren are particularly empathic, I just wish for more support.

Me: that’s why you need to concentrate on making closer friends. My mother: I’ve been more social than at any time in my life, and it’s not like I don’t have any friends, but I don’t know that I want to confide in them. Me: but you need friends you can confide in. My mother: I don’t know if I would be comfortable with that, if it’s something I want. Me: what about your therapist? Do you confide in your therapist? My mother: to a point, but I’m not sure how much I want to confide. Me: isn’t that the point of therapy?

I’m worried that I’m going to keep listening to my mother like I'm her therapist and then I’ll never say what I need to say, I ask her if she wants to hear what I’m thinking. she says: I know what you think, that nothing has changed. I say that’s not what I think. She says: is it negative? Me: what do you mean is it negative? My mother: I’m feeling very worn down, I don’t know if I can hear anything negative right now. Me: well I don’t even know what that means -- I mean there are some things that are totally negative, like war, but most things can be negative and positive -- but I’m not interested in negative or positive, I’m interested in truth.

Me: anyway, when I left you a message last night saying that I enjoyed seeing you, you told me that was good to hear, that you couldn’t tell. And I do enjoy seeing you. My mother: that sounds positive. Me: it’s just that I never feel safe with you, and I don’t feel safe because I never felt safe growing up and even if I did feel safe for a moment here or there, that safety was always betrayed and as a kid, of course you grow up wanting to be safe around your parents and I don’t think I ever experienced that safety in any meaningful way. You were always distant and Dad was always enraged and the only way I could survive was to be even more distant than either of you and that was a great skill to learn then, I mean otherwise I wouldn’t still be alive, but now I don’t need that skill. I mean, in my life in general I try to be as emotionally present as possible, but around you it’s still not safe and I do hold my emotions in, that’s a coping mechanism and at least I’m good at expressing myself -- I mean I can say what I’m feeling but I can say it in a way that even if I’m being incredibly vulnerable it doesn’t necessarily come through in my body language, like I can tell someone I’m a terrible mess but it just doesn’t register.

What was incredible to me about visiting Dad before he died, is that I was able to be so present in my emotions, and that was something I was never able to do as a kid, and when I see you I do enjoy spending time with you and I like you, but then after you leave I just feel horrible and hopeless, like nothing is possible and nothing will ever be possible and that’s how I felt as a kid, when I always had to hold everything in, and I guess that holding it in now, with you, brings me back to that place and so it’s always hard to see you. There are some things you do that are helpful, like when you ask me if there are any errands that I need to do, because things like that can be really overwhelming to me. The smallest things can take months or years to do, but what’s not helpful is when you act like you’re brainstorming ideas for ways that I could make a living -- I already know all those things, and then you get these crazy ideas from Rose or wherever like I could write a screenplay -- I mean I could write a screenplay, and wallpaper my room with it. Or I could be a model -- I mean, sure, if I were 15 years younger and wanted to be anorexic and shoot myself up with steroids and have seven different plastic surgery procedures and spend all my time hanging out with the most horrifying monstrous individuals doing coke or heroin, sure, maybe that would been a possibility.

But anyway, unless you have something new to suggest, like you have a friend who wants to pay someone $100,000 to write his resume or something -- I already know the practical things I could do and I can’t do any of those things without ruining my life. I mean it’s already difficult to function on any level at all, and I’m trying to do the things that mean something to me and trying to feel better and I wouldn’t be able to do anything if I was using all the energy I have -- all of my energy is just drive anyway -- or the moments when there isn't too much pain or exhaustion-- using all of this to do something I don't get any satisfaction from, for someone else -- I don’t know -- until I can’t function and have to check myself into the hospital or something.

But the worst thing about this whole process is that you have the ability to make it so that I don’t ever have to worry about basic expenses in my life, I mean you could create an account that pays me a certain amount per month and then I don’t have to worry about day-to-day financial issues and I can concentrate on doing what’s meaningful to me and finding ways to heal -- and I wanted to check in and see if that’s still a priority, because originally you said you were going to create that kind of account, but then you said you weren’t ready but that it was a priority once you figured out your situation and I know you’re still waiting for whatever the hell is taking so long, and so I just wanted to see if that’s still a priority.

My mother: it’s still a priority, it’s definitely still a priority. Me: growing up, obviously Dad used money as power, I mean that's how he controlled all of us, like you would say to you Karin I'm taking away your credit card -- I mean that happened all the time, or he'd just create these elaborate lies about how we didn't have any money -- all of that -- it's how he controlled us. And now that he's dead, I feel like you've internalized his way of dealing with money, and instead of making my life easier and trying to shift away from using money as power, you're enacting some of the same dynamics and I want you to know that what I'd like is for you to create that account that's totally separate from your finances and not only would that make my life easier financially, but it could also make our relationship stronger because I would at least be able to trust you in that way, and maybe it would also make me feel safer because you were using money to care for me instead of for control.

My mother: I understand what you're saying. Me: really it's all about safety, I'm trying to talk about things that would make me feel safer. And the other thing... My mother: I know what the other thing is. Me: the other thing is that I want you to acknowledge that you sexually abused me.

This is where my mother's pupils get very big for a moment, like she's terrified, and she says: that's not what I thought you were going to say. Me: of course, that's what I asked Dad to do before he died, and obviously we know that's not going to happen now, but you're still alive and we’re still in a relationship and I want you to know that it's not about right or wrong, it's about making it easier for me to live. That's why I want you to acknowledge the sexual abuse, and I'm not asking you to do that right now I just want you to know that's the other thing that would make me feel safer, I mean so much of my pain and exhaustion comes directly from being a child and having no way to express the horror that was happening to me, and taking all of that pain and anguish and despair and storing it in my body. I mean I stored everything in my body -- everyone's anger and everyone's hopelessness. As a kid, I was the one who was holding the family together, I wanted everything to be perfect and so I had to be perfect -- I thought I was a horrible monster because of all the horrible things that were done to me and so I had to convince the world that I was valuable. I didn't have a way to express anything except the façade that our family was living -- this upper-middle-class success story that hid all the violence underneath, that's how everything remained hidden because there was such a veneer of success.

But anyway, even though I've been away from you for 15 years now, there's still a part of me that doesn't know that it's okay to fall apart -- I mean I have fallen apart, my body had given way because for so many years I was holding so much in, and then my body couldn't do it anymore. But still in public I appear so functional, actually I appear hyper-functional and I can't really deal with engaging with the world in any other way. But this all relates because I'm talking about safety, that's what I'm asking for I'm asking for you to help me feel safer.


D. said...

hey pretty lady,

i think these conversations about safety are some of the most difficult ones we can have. how do we make ourselves safe when the people we're talking to don't get it? i don't know. good for you for putting it out there, though. i'm glad i know you.


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Deena, you are so right -- it's such a conundrum/problem/drama drama drama oh no more drama! It's hard to write about too, and ask for, when of course I'm not feeling safe but I think writing and putting it out there does help make me feel safer and I know that hearing other people's conversations also helps me too...

And I'm so glad I know YOU!

Love --