Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The gap between us

Back to LA, remember I'm at my sister's apartment and outside it smells like fabric softener, inside it's too hot we’re getting ready to go to dinner except I'm not sure if I can deal with the restaurant because last time it made my body hurt too much I'm not even sure I can deal with going outside into all that fabric softener but I can't stay here with the heat, either. I get my bag ready, and my sister asks do you need all this, kind of like a parent I guess and I just start sobbing it's one of those moments where I can picture Julianne Moore in Safe again, the tiniest irritant in the world is suddenly too much.

That's just a snapshot of how I'm feeling, how I'm feeling until I'm sobbing. The first conversation we have is about my mother, I mean the first conversation we have that goes deeper than the immediate. Deeper but distant, I mean Lauren's literally 20 feet away in the living room, sitting on the sofa with her laptop, watching the election results on TV with her boyfriend on the other sofa, she turns to face me. I'm in the dining room, eating one of my first meals of the day, I like this new glass table they have -- before I guess they always ate on the sofa, which is too soft for me I mean it's one of those sofas that surrounds you. Anyway, we end up talking about our mother, how she doesn't have a sense of self she can’t acknowledge any of her manipulative patterns has she gotten worse?

It's one of those conversations that could intimate and affirming, but Lauren wants to argue about everything, kind of like my father is what I'm thinking -- you have to justify every element of your own emotional reality, it's all about logic. Sure, Lauren and I don't necessarily agree about the specifics. I put a lot more blame on my father, even though I recognize that after a certain time my mother consented to live in a misogynist relationship I still recognize the reality of her living under him. Lauren doesn't think much about my father's effect on my mother's selfhood. She also appreciates her relationship with my mother, even if she wants to tell her to shut up and deal. I say do you ever tell her that? Lauren says I can't tell her what to do.

I say well I'm not asking you to tell her what to do, but I've been having this conversation with her for 15 years, and it would be helpful if someone else were telling her to deal with her shit. Lauren says I would never do anything just because it would be helpful to you. I say well, you were talking about how annoying it is to listen to her, I thought maybe it would be helpful to tell her why, so that's about your relationship with her, not mine. But yes, it would be helpful for me if there were someone else holding her accountable -- I know you don't look at things that way, but that's the way I do. Lauren says I don't want any involvement in your relationship with Mom, I want our relationships to be independent.

And then she says it again: I would never do anything just because it would be helpful to you. She says this at least five times over the week that I'm with her, and there's a way in which it sounds logical, like she wants to be true to herself. But what is the point of a relationship if you never do anything just because it would be helpful to the other person, the person you love? It's this gap that sits between us, larger than the space between my chair and her sofa, the way she looks down at her laptop from time to time, she's looking for a new moisturizer.

This conversation happens before the day we've set to spend alone together, while I'm waiting for Jessica to pick me up. Lauren likes to have the harder conversations when there's a deadline, when she knows it'll be interrupted if it gets too deep. It’s hard not to match her form of engagement, the distance she keeps from emotional intervention -- it's the way we learned to deal. Every technique that no longer serves me, I mean when I'm trying to stay emotionally present. I know the logic, I know the logic of the illogical, thought over feeling. Maybe this is why I cry about the fabric softener too, my sister’s gesture: are you sure you need this?

I need this, and so much more. This is after the first conversation, maybe the next day we go to dinner but I can't say much because we're at dinner. Because I'm too worn out. Because there's too much to say, at dinner, in this restaurant where I'm trying not to hurt too much.

The crying helps, the crying before this restaurant. The food helps too, this is the only restaurant I know about on the West Coast where I can go five times in a row and not get sick. But by the time we get home, Lauren's too tired to talk much more, except to say: I would never do anything just because it would be helpful to you. I'll admit she says it slightly differently each time, it doesn't feel as repetitive until afterwards, afterwards when I'm thinking through everything, wondering about what's next.

When I'm talking to Lauren about how she would scream help, help when we were kids, help in her pink room, help meant my mother would soothe her back to sleep, help she doesn't remember screaming. About the dynamic of our relationship and the way our parents were jealous of any secrets, the way they plotted to make sure no trust was held. The way desire for me meant being thrown into a vat of shit, how I wanted something I could express. How I wanted to be my sister, and wear tights with cutoff shorts. How I struggled so hard to keep every secret, every secret she would tell, the way I wanted to scream help. But I was trying to be perfect, I wanted things to be perfect, that's how I was able to deal and Lauren chose the reverse: to scream and yell and tell every secret. How, on some level I still believe that I deserve to die because I hated her.

That's about as far as I get, through my tears so many tears and this time Lauren is sitting across from me at the glass table it's a small table she's close but far. At the beginning, she says: I don't know what to say. I say you don't have to say anything, I mean you can say anything you want, but all I want is for you to listen. At some point, Lauren interrupts what I'm saying about how our parents couldn't deal with us being close, they wanted to make sure that we didn't build the trust I wanted so desperately, at some point when I'm talking about the dynamic where Lauren told every secret, tried to use it all against me and how I don't blame her, I blame our parents, at some point Lauren says I don't remember that, but it sounds right. Which is strange, because she's the one who reminded me of that whole pattern, maybe two years ago she said I'm sorry I was such a terrible sister. And that's the first time I said I don't blame you, I blame them. Maybe not the first time.

Lauren also interrupts when I say something about jerking off, she says I don't think I want to hear this I’m your sister. But actually I'm not talking about jerking off I'm talking about desire and shame and wanting to die, and Lauren says oh. Oh, meaning this isn't what I thought you were going to say so it's okay. But then, when I'm talking about how I knew I was evil so I had to act perfect I didn't want anyone to realize I deserved to die, I looked at other kids and couldn't understand them -- Lauren says this is too much, I think this is too much for me to deal with I'm not good at expressing that boundary.

I say I wonder if it's too much to deal with because you're not feeling it, I mean you're not emoting -- I'm sobbing, and you're sitting still. Lauren says you're right.

But I guess that doesn't change anything, I mean it doesn't change the fact that it's too much for her to deal with. I say one of the reasons that I feel a sort of urgency around telling you all of these things -- Lauren interrupts to say I noticed that urgency. I smile -- it's something a therapist would say -- not like the emotional distance arguments we were having earlier, or maybe this same technique but more affirming. Did I mention Lauren's in a psychotherapy training program, to become a better therapist? Hopefully not a therapist like our father, the psychotherapist, but Lauren says there are other ways to do therapy, I don't think the method is the problem it's the practitioner. But that's a different conversation.

Anyway, I say, one of the reasons I feel this sort of urgency is that, when I was here last year and we were talking about Dad and my feeling that you were basically trying to protect him against me, instead of to support me in expressing anything I wanted to say, which is obviously what I would have done for you. And you said: you're right, I was there for him, he was in a vulnerable situation and I did feel protective. And I wrote about this on my blog, I can't remember exactly what it was but you said that it was hard to read about something that I hadn't told you first. And I thought about that, and decided that made sense, so then I was thinking about all these things about our childhood, but I didn't want to talk about it over the phone because that wouldn't feel as intimate, would you rather talk about it over the phone?

No. So I was waiting to say all these things, because it's what I want to write about, and I've been waiting a while. Lauren says: I guess I'd rather read about it first. Which is funny, because it's exactly the reverse of what she said earlier, and she doesn't really acknowledge that she's changed positions. But I guess that makes it easier for me, anyway. It's hard enough to write about all of this, but then when I worry about what Lauren's thinking that makes it harder. I mean I'll worry anyway, but at least now I don't have to worry that I haven't kept a promise.

I'm glad I got to say that on some level I feel like I still deserve to die, because I hated my sister. That was the most important thing. I say well, I said most of what I needed to say, the other thing isn't about childhood but about when I told you I'd asked Mom to create an account for me that would pay my basic expenses, and I guess it surprised me that you weren't supportive. I mean, I've always supported you in taking whatever you can get, I've always said they have the money, they supposedly made the money so that they could support you, so take that support if you want it. And, until the last few years, I structured my whole life so that I never needed to depend on them for anything. I mean, part of the reason I was a whore was so that I could make a living completely outside of everything they had ever imagined. And so, now, when I'm asking for money because it's something Mom could do that would actually make a big difference in my life, and it wouldn't change anything about hers.

Lauren interrupts to say that's not the way I look at it. I say she has 4 1/2 million dollars, and that doesn't even include the condo she lives in. Lauren says 4 1/2 million dollars? I say yeah, you got the financial statement too, right? Lauren says I worry that she won't have enough, but also I don't want to have any part in her finances -- it's her money to do whatever she wants with.

I'm doing this strange thing where I'm trying to give my sister space, even if she's not allowing mine. I say oh, I can understand why you wouldn't want to have any part in her finances, when that was how Dad controlled everyone. Lauren says I mean she pays for therapy, but I wish I could afford it without her -- if she offers me money, I'm going to take it. I say that's why I felt like you are imposing on me when I mentioned that I’d asked her to create that account -- you've always depended on them for money, and you feel guilty about it. But that doesn't have anything to do with me, and I guess I felt kind of shocked that you projected that onto me.

Lauren says of course I think that if you need money, then you should have it. I just don't want any role in it, I want my relationship with Mom to be separate from yours. And I don't even know what I think about your idea -- I mean I’d have to think about it more. But then she says something about disability, which is exactly what my mother says, which makes me think that she must have talked about it with her. But at least she said she didn't want to have any part in her mother's finances, at least that means I don't have to worry that everything isn’t out in the open. I mean I’ve put it out in the open -- I've even said that if she wants the same account, I think that my mother could easily do it and nothing would change about her life. But still I worry, I want to make sure that I'm not playing games, the games they want me to play, they meaning my father and mother, my father who's dead but still this is his legacy.

No comments: